Sect. 2 and 3: Memory and Imagination


  • Method requires that we examine our impressions before we consider our ideas, since:
    • our simple impressions are prior to their correspondent ideas
    • exceptions are very rare.
  • Impressions way be divided into two kinds, those of:
    • sensation
      • Sensation arises in the soul originally, from unknown causes.
    • reflection.
      • Reflection is derived in a great measure from our ideas, in the following order:
        1. An impression first strikes the senses.
        2. It makes us perceive heat or cold, thirst or hunger, pleasure or pain.
        3. A copy of this impression is taken by the mind.
          • This copy remains after the impression ceases.
          • We call this copy an idea.
  • When this idea of pleasure or pain returns on the soul, it produces the new impressions of desire and aversion, hope and fear.
    • These may be called impressions of reflection, because they are derived from this idea.
    • These again are copied by the memory and imagination, and become ideas.
    • These ideas perhaps give rise to other impressions and ideas, so that the impressions of reflection:
      • come before their correspondent ideas, but after the ideas of sensation
      • are derived from the ideas of sensation.
  • The examination of our sensations belongs more to anatomists and natural philosophers than to moral philosophers.
    • We therefore shall not enter it presently.
  • The impressions of reflection which principally deserve our attention are passions, desires, and emotions.
    • These arise mostly from ideas.
    • It will thus be necessary to reverse that method which seems most natural at first sight.
      • To explain the nature and principles of the human mind, I will give an account of ideas before we proceed to impressions.


  • We find by experience that when any impression has been present in the mind, it again makes its appearance there as an idea.
  • It may do this in two different ways:
    1. When, in its new appearance, it:
      • retains a considerable degree of its first vivacity
      • is somewhat intermediate between an impression and an idea, or
        • This faculty is called the memory.
    2. When it entirely loses that vivacity, and is a perfect idea.
      • This faculty is called the imagination.
  • At first sight:
    • the memory’s ideas are much more lively and strong than those of the imagination
    • memory paints its objects in more distinct colours, than any colours employed by the imagination.
  • When we remember any past event, its idea flows into the mind in a forcible way.
    • Whereas in the imagination, the perception:
      • is faint and languid
      • cannot be preserved by the mind steadily and uniformly for any considerable time without difficulty.
  • Here then is a sensible difference between one species of ideas and another.
    • But of this more fully explained in Part 2, Sec. 5.
  • There is another difference between these two kinds of ideas.
  • None of the ideas of the memory or imagination nor the lively nor faint ideas can appear in the mind unless their correspondent impressions have gone before to prepare the way for them.
    • The imagination is not restrained to the same order and form with the original impressions.
    • The memory is tied down in that respect, without any power of variation.
  • The memory preserves the original form in which its objects were presented.
    • Any difference from the original form in recollecting anything proceeds from some defect in memory.
  • A historian might narrate an event before another event conveniently, which was in fact posterior.
    • He notices this disorder and then replaces the idea in its due position.
  • It is the same case in our recollection of places and persons we were formerly acquainted with.
  • The chief exercise of the memory is not to preserve the simple ideas, but their order and position.
    • In short, this principle is supported by such a number of common and vulgar phenomena.
      • We do not need to insist on it any further.
  • The same evidence follows us in our second principle, the liberty of the imagination to transpose and change its ideas.
  • The fables in poems and romances put this entirely out of the question.
    • Nature there is totally confounded.
    • It mentions winged horses, fiery dragons, and monstrous giants.
  • This liberty of the fancy will not appear strange when we consider that:
    • all our ideas are copied from our impressions
    • no two impressions are perfectly inseparable.
  • This is a consequence of the division of ideas into simple and complex.
    • Whenever the imagination perceives a difference among ideas, it can easily produce a separation.

Words: 738

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