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Hume's Imagination

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Mary Banwart

Hume's Treatise of Human Understanding (1739-1740) was published in the midst of a century of dramatic literary, political, and moral change. Banwart argues that interpreters of the Treatise have focused too exclusively on the causal influence of constantly conjoined experience on the imagination. When causality is restored to its social context, we can see that imagination is influenced not just by regularity but also by familiarity, by the contiguity and resemblance of other people. Our ability to see a resemblance is more basic than our ability to make habitual associations. It affects and is affected by those who teach us to attend to experience in particular ways. Acknowledgement of the social origin of ideas calls us to be more responsible for correcting our beliefs and for maintaining genuine conversation with our community.