What Is David Hume's View of Personal Identity?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Mar 28, 2020 5:59:23 AM ET

David Hume argued that there is no simple, constant "self" to be found within a person's aggregate experiences and actions throughout their conscious life. For Hume, anybody attempting to view his true self sees instead a version colored by their own subjectivity. Thus, a true self is impossible to see.


David Hume believed that while people may have notions of some unchanging personal characteristics embedded within themselves, people have actually mistaken their perceptions of themselves as the genuine article. The perception of self is a subjective interpretation of reality and is necessarily colored by the subject's own preconceived notions of self. For followers of Hume, a true, objective observation of reality is impossible.

Hume argued that man's tendency to give meaning to correlating qualities colored the perception of self. He believed that humans associate certain memories or observations, stringing them together into a patchwork of a "self." The idea of a soul or of some immutable person within the human lends false credence to these associations, but in Hume's eyes, the associations that humans make meant more than what the associations claim to argue. For Hume, how humans interpret the world meant more than what humans claimed to have found in their interpretations.