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This article is a discussion of Hume's maxim Nothing we imagine is absolutely impossible. First I explain this maxim and distinguish it from the principle Whatever cannot be imagined (conceived), is impossible. Next I argue that Thomas Reid's criticism of the maxim fails and that the arguments by Tamar Szábo Gendler and John Hawthorne for the claim that “it is uncontroversial that there are cases where we are misled” by the maxim are unconvincing. Finally I state the limited but real value of the maxim: it does help us, in certain cases, reliably to make up our minds. Along the way I show that Reid, his criticism of the maxim notwithstanding, actually employs it, and I furthermore argue that the principle What is inconceivable, is impossible is spurious.

Keywords: David Hume; Thomas Reid; conceivability-possibility principles; modal epistemology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands , Email:

Publication date: 2006-04-01

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