Representation and Copying in Hume’s Treatise and Later Works

  • Jonathan Cottrell (University of Edinburgh)


Some of Hume’s central arguments in the Treatise—for example, arguments about causality, the self, and motivation—concern which of our perceptions represent, and what these perceptions can and cannot represent. A growing body of literature aims to reconstruct the theory of mental representation that (it is presumed) underwrites these arguments. The most popular type of interpretation says that, according to Hume’s theory, copying plays a significant role in explaining mental representation. This paper raises two challenges to such interpretations. First, they cannot be squared with Treatise Book 2’s account of passions formed via sympathy (hereinafter, sympathetic passions). Second, Hume’s treatment of copying and representation in his later works differs significantly from that of the Treatise, and provides no clear evidence that the mature Hume accepted a theory of mental representation based on copying.

How to Cite:

Cottrell, J., (2021) “Representation and Copying in Hume’s Treatise and Later Works”, Ergo 8: 4. doi:

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Published on
13 Dec 2021
Peer Reviewed