David Hume  

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"Nothing is more usual than for philosophers to encroach on the province of grammarians, and to engage in disputes of words, while they imagine they are handling controversies of the deepest importance and concern." [...] - David Hume


"If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." -- An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

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David Hume (7 May 1711 – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist known especially for his philosophical empiricism and scepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, and in the history of Western philosophy. Hume is often grouped with John Locke, George Berkeley, and a handful of others as a British Empiricist.

Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic "science of man" that examined the psychological basis of human nature. In opposition to the rationalists who preceded him, most notably Descartes, he concluded that desire rather than reason governed human behaviour. He also argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience. He argued that inductive reasoning and therefore causality cannot be justified rationally. Our assumptions in favour of these result from custom and constant conjunction rather than logic. He concluded that humans have no actual conception of the self, only of a bundle of sensations associated with the self.

Hume advocated a compatibilist theory of free will that proved extremely influential on subsequent moral philosophy. He was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on feelings rather than abstract moral principles, and expounded the is–ought problem. He held notoriously ambiguous views of Christianity, and famously challenged the argument from design in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1777).

Immanuel Kant credited Hume with waking him up from his "dogmatic slumbers" and Hume has proved extremely influential on subsequent philosophy, especially on utilitarianism, logical positivism, William James, philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive philosophy, and other movements and thinkers. Also, the philosopher Jerry Fodor proclaimed Hume's Treatise "the founding document of cognitive science". Hume engaged with contemporary intellectual luminaries such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith (who acknowledged Hume's influence on his economics and political philosophy), James Boswell, Joseph Butler, and Thomas Reid.

Works

  • A Kind of History of My Life (1734) Mss 23159 National Library of Scotland. A letter to an unnamed physician, asking for advice about "the Disease of the Learned" that then afflicted him. Here he reports that at the age of eighteen "there seem'd to be open'd up to me a new Scene of Thought" that made him "throw up every other Pleasure or Business" and turned him to scholarship.
  • A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects. (1739–40) Hume intended to see whether the Treatise of Human Nature met with success, and if so to complete it with books devoted to Politics and Criticism. However, it did not meet with success. As Hume himself said, "It fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots"Template:Sfn and so was not completed.
  • An Abstract of a Book lately Published: Entitled A Treatise of Human Nature etc. (1740) Anonymously published, but almost certainly written by Hume in an attempt to popularise his Treatise. Of considerable philosophical interest, because it spells out what he considered "The Chief Argument" of the Treatise, in a way that seems to anticipate the structure of the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding.
  • Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (first ed. 1741–2) A collection of pieces written and published over many years, though most were collected together in 1753–4. Many of the essays are focused on topics in politics and economics, though they also range over questions of aesthetic judgement, love, marriage and polygamy, and the demographics of ancient Greece and Rome, to name just a few of the topics considered. The Essays show some influence from Addison's Tatler and The Spectator, which Hume read avidly in his youth.
  • A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh: Containing Some Observations on a Specimen of the Principles concerning Religion and Morality, said to be maintain'd in a Book lately publish'd, intituled A Treatise of Human Nature etc. Edinburgh (1745). Contains a letter written by Hume to defend himself against charges of atheism and scepticism, while applying for a chair at Edinburgh University.
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) Contains reworking of the main points of the Treatise, Book 1, with the addition of material on free will (adapted from Book 2), miracles, the Design Argument, and mitigated scepticism. Of Miracles, section X of the Enquiry, was often published separately.
  • An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) A reworking of material from Book 3 of the Treatise, on morality, but with a significantly different emphasis. It "was thought by Hume to be the best of his writings".
  • Political Discourses, (part II of Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary within vol. 1 of the larger Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects) Edinburgh (1752). Included in Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1753–56) reprinted 1758–77.
  • Political Discourses/Discours politiques (1752–1758), My Own life (1776), Of Essay writing, 1742. Bilingual English-French (translated by Fabien Grandjean). Mauvezin, France: Trans-Europ-Repress, 1993, 22 cm, V-260 p. Bibliographic notes, index.
  • Four Dissertations London (1757). Included in reprints of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (above).
  • The History of England (Sometimes referred to as The History of Great Britain) (1754–62) More a category of books than a single work, Hume's history spanned "from the invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688" and went through over 100 editions. Many considered it the standard history of England in its day.
  • The Natural History of Religion. Included in "Four Dissertations" (1757)
  • "Sister Peg" (1760) Hume claimed to have authored an anonymous political pamphlet satirizing the failure of the British Parliament to create a Scottish militia in 1760. Although the authorship of the work is disputed, Hume wrote Dr. Alexander Carlyle in early 1761 claiming authorship. The readership of the time attributed the work to Adam Ferguson, a friend and associate of Hume's who has been sometimes called "the founder of modern sociology." Some contemporary scholars concur in the judgment that Ferguson, not Hume, was the author of this work.
  • "My Own Life" (1776) Penned in April, shortly before his death, this autobiography was intended for inclusion in a new edition of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. It was first published by Adam Smith who claimed that by doing so he had incurred "ten times more abuse than the very violent attack I had made upon the whole commercial system of Great Britain."
  • Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) Published posthumously by his nephew, David Hume the Younger. Being a discussion among three fictional characters concerning the nature of God, and is an important portrayal of the argument from design. Despite some controversy, most scholars agree that the view of Philo, the most sceptical of the three, comes closest to Hume's own.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "David Hume" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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