DAVID HUME (1711-1776)

"When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? 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 Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding

"Methinks that I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd ship-wreck in passing a small firth, has yet the temerity to put to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to thi nk of compassing the globe under this disadvantageous circumstances...Fain wou'd I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity. I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company apart, but no one will harken to me. Everyone keeps a distance, and dreads that storm that beats upon me from every side. I have expos'd myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theologians; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer?... Can I be sure that in leaving all establish'd opinions I am following the truth?"

A Treatise of Human Nature

David Hume was a Scottish philosopher. historian and economist. Among the interesting features of Hume's empiricist philosophy are a revolutionary view of causality, the problem of induction, and the distinction between fact and value. Hume advocates various forms of moderate or mitigated skepticism. He was a relentless critic of metaphysics and religion. In the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Hume examines and largely refutes the argument from design upon which the natural religion of the British Royal Society was founded.

Biographies of Hume

The Oxford Modern Political Theorists page has a Biography of Hume

Hume Time Line

1711 April 26, is born at Edinburgh to a father who owned a small estate near Berwickshire named "Ninewells" and a mother, Katherine Falconer, who was from a family of lawyers.

1723 After an early education at home enters Edinburg University where he begins the study of law but three years later turns from the study of law to pursue an intense independent study of his own devising.

1734 After an attack of hypocondria he visits France where, over the next three years, he works on his Treatise of Human Nature.

1739 January, the first two volumes of Treatise are published anonymously.

1740 The third volume of Treatise published. Public reaction to his work is sparse, he declares: "It fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinctions even to excite a murmur among the zealots." In response he publishes, once more anonymously, An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature.

1741 Publishes first volume of Essays which is largely successful.

1742 Publishes second edition and second volume of Essays.

1744 Fails to attain the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh. Becomes tutor to the marquis of Annandale.

1746 Appointed secretary to General St. Clair an travles on a military expedition to Brittany (1746) and a diplomatic mission to Turin (1748).

1748 Publishes Philosophical Essays concerning the Human Understanding a condensation of the Treatise. Essays retitled An Enquiry concerning the Human Understanding in the 1758 edition.

1751 Publishes An Enquiry concerning Principles of Morals, also a condensation of the Treatise. Publishes Political Discourses with much success. Fails once more to attain to a professors chair.

1752- Works as keeper of the Advocates Library, Edinburgh, where he 1757 writes History of Great Britain. History publised in five volumes between 1752 and 1764 and while first volume's sales were disappointing at first, within a few years sales made Hume quite rich.

1757 Publishes Four Dissertations: The Natural History of Religion, Of the Passions, Of Tragedy, Of the Standard of Taste.

1763- Appointed private secretary to Lord Hertford, British 1766 ambassador to Paris.

1767- Serves in London as undersecretary of state, Northern 1768 Department.

1769 Settles in Edinburgh and lives out his life as a man of letters and acknowledged patriarch of literature helping young writers critically as well as financially amoungst whom were Thomas Blackwell, Tobias Smollett and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

1776 Dies of cancer.

1779 Postumous publication of Dialogues concerning Natural Religion.

Hume Time Line Sources


        A Treatise on Human Nature
        An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature
        Essays, Moral and Political
        Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh
        An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding
        An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
        Political Discourses
        The History of England
        Four Dissertations
        A Concise and Genuine Account of the Dispute Between Mr. Hume
                and Mr. Rousseau
        My Own Life
        Two Essays ("Of Suicide" and "Of the Immortality of the Soul")
        Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

There is a fair amount of material on-line in the Hume Archives, including an electronic text of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, various reviews of Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature as well as accounts of Hume's life, both biographical and autobiographical.

Ty'sHume Home Page has a variety of useful links and materials about Hume.

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