Hume's Distinction between Philosophical Anatomy and Painting

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Abstract

Although the implications of Hume's distinction between philosophical ‘anatomy’ and ‘painting’ have been the subject of lively scholarly debates, it is a puzzling fact that the details of the distinction itself have largely been a matter of interpretive presumption rather than debate. This would be unproblematic if Hume's views about these ‘two species of philosophy’ were obvious, or if there were a rich standard interpretation of the distinction that we had little reason to doubt. But a careful review of the literature shows neither to be the case. We are far from scholarly consensus about Hume's vision of philosophical anatomy and painting, and what unity there is rests on extremely unsteady ground and leaves important questions unanswered. In this article, my aim is three-fold: first, to show that the appearance of well-grounded scholarly unity about Hume's distinction is illusory; second, to dispose of those misinterpretations of Hume's distinction that are sufficiently at odds with the text that they can be demonstrated to be false in this context; and third, to explore in sufficient detail the numerous questions one might raise about the content of Hume's distinction so that the stage might at last be properly set for a truly full account of Hume's distinction between philosophical anatomy and painting.

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