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David Hume

David Hume
Born 7 May 1711(1711-05-07)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 25 August 1776 (aged 65)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Era 18th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Naturalism, Scepticism, Empiricism,
Scottish Enlightenment
Main interests Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Mind, Ethics, Political Philosophy, Aesthetics, Philosophy of Religion, Classical Economics
Notable ideas Problem of causation, Induction, Is-ought problem, Utility

David Hume (7 May 1711 [26 April O.S.] – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish philosopher, economist, historian and an important figure in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment. Hume is often grouped with John Locke, George Berkeley, and a handful of others as a British Empiricist.[1]

During his lifetime, Hume was more famous as a historian; his six-volume History of England was a bestseller well into the nineteenth century and the standard work on English history for many years, while his works in philosophy to which he owes his current reputation were less widely read during his day.

Hume was heavily influenced by empiricists John Locke and George Berkeley, along with various French-speaking writers such as Pierre Bayle, and various figures on the English-speaking intellectual landscape such as Isaac Newton, Samuel Clarke, Francis Hutcheson, and Joseph Butler (to whom he sent his first work for feedback).[2]

In the twentieth century, Hume has increasingly become a source of inspiration for those in political philosophy and economics as an early and subtle thinker in the liberal tradition, as well as an early innovator in the genre of the essay in his Essays Moral, Political, and Literary.[3]



David Hume, originally David Home, son of Joseph Home of Chirnside, advocate, and Katherine Falconer, was born on 26 April 1711 (Old Style) in a tenement on the north side of the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh. He changed his name in 1734 because the English had difficulty pronouncing 'Home' in the Scottish manner. Throughout his life Hume, who never married, spent time occasionally at his family home at Ninewells by Chirnside, Berwickshire. Hume was politically a Whig.[4]


An engraving of Hume from his The History of England Vol. I (1754)

Hume attended the University of Edinburgh at the unusually early age of twelve (possibly as young as ten) at a time when fourteen was normal. At first he considered a career in law, but came to have, in his words, "an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning; and while [my family] fanceyed I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring".[5] He had little respect for the professors of his time, telling a friend in 1735, "there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books".[6]

Hume made a philosophical discovery that opened up to him "a new Scene of Thought", which inspired him "to throw up every other Pleasure or Business to apply entirely to it".[7] He did not recount what this "Scene" was, and commentators have offered a variety of speculations.[8] Due to this inspiration, Hume set out to spend a minimum of ten years reading and writing. He came to the verge of nervous breakdown, after which he decided to have a more active life to better continue his learning.[9]


As Hume's options lay between a traveling tutorship and a stool in a merchant's office, he chose the latter. In 1734, after a few months occupied with commerce in Bristol, he went to La Flèche in Anjou, France. There he had frequent discourse with the Jesuits of the College of La Flèche. As he had spent most of his savings during his four years there while writing A Treatise of Human Nature,[9] he resolved "to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except the improvements of my talents in literature".[10] He completed the Treatise at the age of 26.

Although many scholars today consider the Treatise to be Hume's most important work and one of the most important books in Western philosophy, the critics in Great Britain at the time did not agree, describing it as "abstract and unintelligible".[11] Despite the disappointment, Hume later wrote, "Being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I soon recovered from the blow and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country".[12] There, he wrote the Abstract[13] Without revealing his authorship, he aimed to make his larger work more intelligible.

After the publication of Essays Moral and Political in 1744, Hume applied for the Chair of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. However, the position was given to William Cleghorn, after Edinburgh ministers petitioned the town council not to appoint Hume because he was seen as an atheist.[14]

During the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, Hume tutored the Marquis of Annandale (1720–92), who was officially described as a "lunatic".[15] This engagement ended in disarray after about a year. But it was then that Hume started his great historical work The History of Great Britain, which would take fifteen years and run to over a million words, to be published in six volumes in the period between 1754 and 1762, while also involved with the Canongate Theatre. In this context, he associated with Lord Monboddo and other Scottish Enlightenment luminaries in Edinburgh. From 1746, Hume served for three years as Secretary to Lieutenant-General St Clair, and wrote Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding, later published as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. The Enquiry proved little more successful than the Treatise.

Hume was charged with heresy, but he was defended by his young clerical friends, who argued that—as an atheist—he was outside the Church's jurisdiction. Despite his acquittal, Hume failed to gain the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.

It was after returning to Edinburgh in 1752, as he wrote in My Own Life, that "the Faculty of Advocates chose me their Librarian, an office from which I received little or no emolument, but which gave me the command of a large library".[16] This resource enabled him to continue historical research for The History of Great Britain.

Hume achieved great literary fame as a historian. His enormous The History of Great Britain, tracing events from the Saxon kingdoms to the Glorious Revolution, was a best-seller in its day. In it, Hume presented political man as a creature of habit, with a disposition to submit quietly to established government unless confronted by uncertain circumstances. In his view, only religious difference could deflect men from their everyday lives to think about political matters.

However, Hume's volume of Political Discourses (1752) was the only work he considered successful on first publication.[17]


Tomb of David Hume in Edinburgh

Hume wrote a great deal on religion. However, the question of what were Hume's personal views on religion is a difficult one.[18] The Church of Scotland seriously considered bringing charges of infidelity against him.[19] He never declared himself to be an atheist, but if he had been hostile to religion, Hume's writings would have had to be constrained to being ambiguous about his own views. He did not acknowledge his authorship of many of his works in this area until close to his death, and some were not even published until afterwards.

There are several places in his works[citation needed] where Hume specifically seems to support the standard religious views of his time and place. This still meant that he could be very critical of the Roman Church, referring to it as superstition and idolatry, as well as dismissing what his compatriots would see as more uncivilised beliefs.[citation needed] He also considered extreme Protestant sects to be corrupters of religion. Yet he also put forward arguments that suggested that polytheism had much to commend it in preference to monotheism. In his works, he attacked many of the basic assumptions of religion and Christian belief, and his arguments have become the foundation of much of the succeeding secular thinking about religion. In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, one of his protagonists demolished what was the main intellectual argument for the belief in God or one god (especially in the Age of Enlightenment): the Argument from Design. Also, in his Of Miracles, he carried out a thoroughgoing condemnation of the idea that religion (specifically Christianity) is supported by revelation.

Nevertheless, he was capable of writing in the introduction to his The Natural History of Religion "The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author". In spite of that, he writes at the end of the essay: "Examine the religious principles, which have, in fact, prevailed in the world. You will scarcely be persuaded, that they are anything but sick men's dreams", and "Doubt, uncertainty, suspence of judgement appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny, concerning this subject".

It is likely that Hume was sceptical both about religious belief (at least as demanded by the religious organisations of his time) and of the complete atheism promoted by such contemporaries as Baron d'Holbach. Russell (2008) suggests that perhaps Hume's position is best characterised by the term "irreligion". O'Connor (2001, p19) writes that Hume "did not believe in the God of standard theism. ... but he did not rule out all concepts of deity". Also, "ambiguity suited his purposes, and this creates difficulty in definitively pinning down his final position on religion".

Later life

From 1763 to 1765, Hume was Secretary to Lord Hertford in Paris. He met and later fell out with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He wrote of his Paris life, "I really wish often for the plain roughness of The Poker Club of Edinburgh ... to correct and qualify so much lusciousness".[20] For a year from 1767, Hume held the appointment of Under Secretary of State for the Northern Department. In 1768, he settled in Edinburgh.

James Boswell visited Hume a few weeks before his death (most likely of either bowel or liver cancer). Hume told him he sincerely believed it a "most unreasonable fancy" that there might be life after death.[21] This meeting was dramatized in semi-fictional form for the BBC by Michael Ignatieff as Dialogue in the Dark. Hume wrote his own epitaph: "Born 1711, Died [—]. Leaving it to posterity to add the rest". It is engraved with the year of his death 1776 on the "simple Roman tomb" he prescribed, and which stands, as he wished it, on the Eastern slope of the Calton Hill overlooking his home in the New Town of Edinburgh at No. 1 St. David Street.

Science of man

Statue of David Hume in Edinburgh, Scotland

In the introduction to A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume writes "'Tis evident, that all the sciences have a relation, more or less, to human nature ... Even Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of Man". Also, "the science of man is the only solid foundation for the other sciences", and the method for this science assumes "experience and observation" as the foundations of a logical argument.[22] Because "Hume's plan is to extend to philosophy in general the methodological limitations of Newtonian physics"[23], Hume is characterised as an empiricist.

Until recently, Hume was seen as a forerunner of the logical positivist movement; a form of anti-metaphysical empiricism. According to the logical positivists, unless a statement could be verified by experience, or else was true or false by definition (i.e. either tautological or contradictory), then it was meaningless (this is a summary statement of their verification principle). Hume, on this view, was a proto-positivist, who, in his philosophical writings, attempted to demonstrate how ordinary propositions about objects, causal relations, the self, and so on, are semantically equivalent to propositions about one's experiences.[24]

Many commentators have since rejected this understanding of Humean empiricism, stressing an epistemological, rather than a semantic reading of his project.[25] According to this view, Hume's empiricism consisted in the idea that it is our knowledge, and not our ability to conceive, that is restricted to what can be experienced. To be sure, Hume thought that we can form beliefs about that which extends beyond any possible experience, through the operation of faculties such as custom and the imagination, but he was skeptical about claims to knowledge on this basis.


The cornerstone of Hume's epistemology is the so-called Problem of Induction. It has been argued that it is in this area of Hume's thought that his scepticism about human powers of reason is the most pronounced.[26] Understanding the problem of induction, then, is central to grasping Hume's general philosophical system.

The problem concerns the explanation of how we are able to make inductive inferences. Inductive inference is reasoning from the observed behaviour of objects to their behaviour when unobserved; as Hume says, it is a question of how things behave when they go "beyond the present testimony of the senses, and the records of our memory".[27] Hume notices that we tend to believe that things behave in a regular manner; i.e., that patterns in the behaviour of objects will persist into the future, and throughout the unobserved present (this persistence of regularities is sometimes called the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature).

Hume's argument is that we cannot rationally justify the claim that nature will continue to be uniform, as justification comes in only two varieties, and both of these are inadequate. The two sorts are: (1) demonstrative reasoning, and (2) probable reasoning.[28] With regard to (1), Hume argues that the uniformity principle cannot be demonstrated, as it is "consistent and conceivable" that nature might stop being regular.[29] Turning to (2), Hume argues that we cannot hold that nature will continue to be uniform because it has been in the past, as this is using the very sort of reasoning (induction) that is under question: it would be circular reasoning.[30] Thus no form of justification will rationally warrant our inductive inferences.

Hume's solution to this sceptical problem is to argue that, rather than reason, it is natural instinct that explains our ability to make inductive inferences. He asserts that "Nature, by an absolute and uncontroulable [sic] necessity has determin'd us to judge as well as to breathe and feel". Although many modern commentators have demurred from Hume's solution, some have concurred with it, seeing his analysis of our epistemic predicament as a major contribution to the theory of knowledge: here, for example, is the Oxford Professor John D. Kenyon: "Reason might manage to raise a doubt about the truth of a conclusion of natural inductive inference just for a moment in the study, but the forces of nature will soon overcome that artificial scepticism, and the sheer agreeableness of animal faith will protect us from excessive caution and sterile suspension of belief".[31]


The notion of causation is closely linked to the problem of induction. According to Hume, we reason inductively by associating constantly conjoined events, and it is the mental act of association that is the basis of our concept of causation. There are three main interpretations of Hume's theory of causation represented in the literature: (1) the logical positivist; (2) the skeptical realist; and (3) the quasi-realist.

The logical positivist interpretation is that Hume analyses causal propositions, such as "A caused B", in terms of regularities in perception: "A caused B" is equivalent to "Whenever A-type events happen, B-type ones follow", where "whenever" refers to all possible perceptions.[32]

power and necessity... are... qualities of perceptions, not of objects... felt by the soul and not perceived externally in bodies[33]

This view is rejected by skeptical realists, who argue that Hume thought that causation amounts to more than just the regular succession of events.[34] When two events are causally conjoined, there is a necessary connection which underpins the conjunction:

Shall we rest contented with these two relations of contiguity and succession, as affording a complete idea of causation? By no means ... there is a necessary connexion to be taken into consideration.[35]

Hume held that we have no perceptual access to the necessary connection (hence skepticism), but we are naturally compelled to believe in its objective existence (hence realism).

It has been argued that, whilst Hume did not think causation is reducible to pure regularity, he was not a fully fledged realist either: Simon Blackburn calls this a quasi-realist reading.[36] On this view, talk about causal necessity is an expression of a functional change in the human mind, whereby certain events are predicted or anticipated on the basis of prior experience. The expression of causal necessity is a "projection" of the functional change onto the objects involved in the causal connection: in Hume's words, "nothing is more usual than to apply to external bodies every internal sensation which they occasion". [37]

The self

According to the standard interpretation of Hume on personal identity, he was a Bundle Theorist, who held that the self is nothing but a bundle of interconnected perceptions linked by relations of similarity and causality; or, more accurately, that our idea of the self is just the idea of such a bundle. This view is forwarded by, for example, positivist interpreters, who saw Hume as suggesting that terms such as "self", "person", or "mind" referred to collections of "sense-contents".[38] A modern-day version of the bundle theory of the mind has been advanced by Derek Parfit in his Reasons and Persons (1986).

However, some philosophers have criticised the bundle-theory interpretation of Hume on personal identity. It is argued that distinct selves can have perceptions which stand in relations of similarity and causality with one another. Thus perceptions must already come parcelled into distinct "bundles" before they can be associated according to the relations of similarity and causality: in other words, the mind must already possess a unity that cannot be generated, or constituted, by these relations alone. Since the bundle-theory interpretation attributes Hume with answering an ontological or conceptual question, philosophers who see Hume as not very concerned with such questions have queried whether the view is really Hume's, or "only a decoy".[39] Instead, it is suggested, Hume might have been answering an epistemological question, about the causal origin of our concept of the self.

Practical reason

Hume's anti-rationalism informed much of his theory of belief and knowledge, in his treatment of the notions of induction, causation, and the external world. But it was not confined to this sphere, and permeated just as strongly his theories of motivation, action, and morality. In a famous sentence in the Treatise, Hume circumscribes reason's role in the production of action:

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.[40]

It has been suggested that this position can be lucidly brought out through the metaphor of "direction of fit": beliefs—the paradigmatic products of reason—are propositional attitudes that aim to have their content fit the world; conversely, desires—or what Hume calls passions, or sentiments—are states that aim to fit the world to their contents.[41] Though a metaphor, it has been argued that this intuitive way of understanding Hume's theory that desires are necessary for motivation "captures something quite deep in our thought about their nature".[42]

Hume's anti-rationalism has been very influential, and defended in contemporary philosophy of action by neo-Humeans such as Michael Smith[43] and Simon Blackburn[44] The major opponents of the Humean view are cognitivists about what it is to act for a reason, such as John McDowell,[45] and Kantians, such as Christine Korsgaard.[46]


Hume's views on human motivation and action formed the cornerstone of his ethical theory: he conceived moral or ethical sentiments to be intrinsically motivating, or the providers of reasons for action. Given that one cannot be motivated by reason alone, requiring the input of the passions, Hume argued that reason cannot be behind morality

Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.[47]

Hume's sentimentalism about morality was shared by his close friend Adam Smith,[48] and Hume and Smith were mutually influenced by the moral reflections of Francis Hutcheson.[49]

Hume's theory of ethics has been extraordinarily influential in modern day ethical theory, inspiring various forms of emotivism,[50][51] error theory[52] and ethical expressivism and non-cognitivism[53] and Alan Gibbard.[54]

Free will, determinism, and responsibility

Hume, along with Thomas Hobbes, is cited as a classical compatibilist about the notions of freedom and determinism.[55] The thesis of compatibilism seeks to reconcile human freedom with the mechanist belief that human beings are part of a deterministic universe, whose happenings are governed by the laws of physics.

Hume argued that the dispute about the compatibility of freedom and determinism has been kept afloat by ambiguous terminology:

From this circumstance alone, that a controversy has been long kept on foot... we may presume, that there is some ambiguity in the expression.[56]

Hume defines the concepts of "necessity" and "liberty" as follows:

Necessity: "the uniformity, observable in the operations of nature; where similar objects are constantly conjoined together..".[57]

Liberty: "a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will..".[58]

Hume then argues that, according to these definitions, not only are the two compatible, but Liberty requires Necessity. For if our actions were not necessitated in the above sense, they would "have so little in connexion [sic] with motives, inclinations and circumstances, that one does not follow with a certain degree of uniformity from the other". But if our actions are not thus hooked up to the will, then our actions can never be free: they would be matters of "chance; which is universally allowed not to exist".[59]

Moreover, Hume goes on to argue that in order to be held morally responsible, it is required that our behaviour be caused, i.e. necessitated, for

Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil".[60]

This argument has inspired modern day commentators.[61] However, it has been argued that the issue of whether or not we hold one another morally responsible does not ultimately depend on the truth or falsity of a metaphysical thesis such as determinism, for our so holding one another is a non-rational human sentiment that is not predicated on such theses. For this influential argument, which is still made in a Humean vein, see P. F. Strawson's essay, Freedom and Resentment.[62]

Problem of miracles

In his discussion of miracles in An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Section 10) Hume defines a miracle as "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent". Given that Hume argues that it is impossible to deduce the existence of a Deity from the existence of the world (for he says that causes cannot be determined from effects), miracles (including prophesy) are the only possible support he would conceivably allow for theistic religions.

Hume discusses everyday belief as often resulted from probability, where we believe an event that has occurred most often as being most likely, but that we also subtract the weighting of the less common event from that of the more common event. In the context of miracles, this means that a miraculous event should be labelled a miracle only where it would be even more unbelievable (by principles of probability) for it not to be. Hume mostly discusses miracles as testimony, of which he writes that when a person reports a miraculous event we [need to] balance our belief in their veracity against our belief that such events do not occur. Following this rule, only where it is considered, as a result of experience, less likely that the testimony is false than that a miracle occur should we believe in miracles.

Although Hume leaves open the possibility for miracles to occur and be reported, he offers various arguments against this ever having happened in history:[63]

  • People often lie, and they have good reasons to lie about miracles occurring either because they believe they are doing so for the benefit of their religion or because of the fame that results.
  • People by nature enjoy relating miracles they have heard without caring for their veracity and thus miracles are easily transmitted even where false.
  • Hume notes that miracles seem to occur mostly in "ignorant" and "barbarous" nations and times, and the reason they don't occur in the "civilized" societies is such societies aren't awed by what they know to be natural events.
  • The miracles of each religion argue against all other religions and their miracles, and so even if a proportion of all reported miracles across the world fit Hume's requirement for belief, the miracles of each religion make the other less likely.

Despite all this Hume observes that belief in miracles is popular, and that "The gazing populace receive greedily, without examination, whatever soothes superstition and promotes wonder".[citation needed]

Critics have argued that Hume's position assumes the character of miracles and natural laws prior to any specific examination of miracle claims, and thus it amounts to a subtle form of begging the question. They have also noted that it requires an appeal to inductive inference, as none have observed every part of nature or examined every possible miracle claim (e.g., those yet future to the observer), which in Hume's philosophy was especially problematic.

Design argument

One of the oldest and most popular arguments for the existence of God is the design argument: that all the order and "purpose" in the world bespeaks a divine origin. Hume gave the classic criticism of the design argument in Dialogues concerning Natural Religion and An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Here are some of his points:[citation needed] For the design argument to be feasible, it must be true that order and purpose are observed only when they result from design. But order is observed regularly, resulting from presumably mindless processes like snowflake or crystal generation. Design accounts for only a tiny part of our experience with order and "purpose". Furthermore, the design argument is based on an incomplete analogy: because of our experience with objects, we can recognise human-designed ones, comparing for example a pile of stones and a brick wall. But to point to a designed Universe, we would need to have an experience of a range of different universes. As we only experience one, the analogy cannot be applied. We must ask therefore if it is right to compare the world to a machine—as in Paley's watchmaker analogy—when perhaps it would be better described as a giant inert animal. Even if the design argument is completely successful, it could not (in and of itself) establish a robust theism; one could easily reach the conclusion that the universe's configuration is the result of some morally ambiguous, possibly unintelligent agent or agents whose method bears only a remote similarity to human design. In this way it could be asked if the designer was God, or further still, who designed the designer? If a well-ordered natural world requires a special designer, then God's mind (being so well-ordered) also requires a special designer. And then this designer would likewise need a designer, and so on ad infinitum. We could respond by resting content with an inexplicably self-ordered divine mind but then why not rest content with an inexplicably self-ordered natural world? Often, what appears to be purpose, where it looks like object X has feature F in order to secure outcome O, is better explained by a filtering process: that is, object X wouldn't be around did it not possess feature F, and outcome O is only interesting to us as a human projection of goals onto nature. This mechanical explanation of teleology anticipated natural selection. The design argument does not explain pain, suffering, and natural disasters.

Political theory

It is difficult to categorize Hume's political affiliations. His thought contains elements that are, in modern terms, both conservative and liberal, as well as ones that are both contractarian and utilitarian, though these terms are all anachronistic. His central concern is to show the importance of the rule of law, and stresses throughout his political Essays the importance of moderation in politics. This outlook needs to be seen within the historical context of eighteenth century Scotland, where the legacy of religious civil war, combined with the relatively recent memory of the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite risings, fostered in a historian such as Hume a distaste for enthusiasm and factionalism that appeared to threaten the fragile and nascent political and social stability of a country that was deeply politically and religiously divided. He thinks that society is best governed by a general and impartial system of laws, based principally on the "artifice" of contract; he is less concerned about the form of government that administers these laws, so long as it does so fairly (though he thought that republics were more likely to do so than monarchies).

Hume expressed suspicion of attempts to reform society in ways that departed from long-established custom, and he counselled people not to resist their governments except in cases of the most egregious tyranny[64]. However, he resisted aligning himself with either of Britain's two political parties, the Whigs and the Tories, and he believed that we should try to balance our demands for liberty with the need for strong authority, without sacrificing either. Neil McArthur (2007, p. 124) characterizes Hume as a 'precautionary conservative': whose actions would have been "determined by prudential concerns about the consequences of change, which often demand we ignore our own principles about what is ideal or even legitimate" [65] , He supported liberty of the press, and was sympathetic to democracy, when suitably constrained. It has been argued that he was a major inspiration for James Madison's writings, and the Federalist No. 10 in particular. He was also, in general, an optimist about social progress, believing that, thanks to the economic development that comes with the expansion of trade, societies progress from a state of "barbarism" to one of "civilisation". Civilised societies are open, peaceful and sociable, and their citizens are as a result much happier. It is therefore not fair to characterise him, as Leslie Stephen did, as favouring "that stagnation which is the natural ideal of a skeptic".[66]

Though it has been suggested Hume had no positive vision of the best society, he in fact produced an essay titled Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth,[67] which lays out what he thought was the best form of government. His pragmatism shone through, however, in his caveat that we should only seek to implement such a system should an opportunity present itself, which would not upset established structures. He defended a strict separation of powers, decentralisation, extending the franchise to anyone who held property of value and limiting the power of the clergy. The Swiss militia system was proposed as the best form of protection. Elections were to take place on an annual basis and representatives were to be unpaid. It is also important to note that the ideal commonwealth laid out by Hume was held to be ideal only for the British Isles in the 18th century. Hume was a relativist, and realized that such a form of government would not be ideal for all cultures, nor would it necessarily be permanent as historical conditions change.[citation needed]

Contributions to economic thought

Through his discussions on politics, Hume developed many ideas that are prevalent in the field of economics. This includes ideas on private property, inflation, and foreign trade.[68]

Hume does not believe, as Locke does, that private property is a natural right, but he argues that it is justified since resources are limited. If all goods were unlimited and available freely, then private property would not be justified, but instead becomes an "idle ceremonial". Hume also believed in unequal distribution of property, since perfect equality would destroy the ideas of thrift and industry. Perfect equality would thus lead to impoverishment.[69]

Hume did not believe that foreign trade produced specie, but considered trade a stimulus for a country's economic growth. He did not consider the volume of world trade as fixed because countries can feed off their neighbors' wealth, being part of a "prosperous community". The fall in foreign demand is not that fatal, because in the long run, a country cannot preserve a leading trading position.

Hume was among the first to develop automatic price-specie flow, an idea that contrasts with the mercantile system. Simply put, when a country increases its in-flow of gold, this in-flow of gold will result in price inflation, and then price inflation will force out countries from trading that would have traded before the inflation. This results in a decrease of the in-flow of gold in the long run.

Hume also proposed a theory of beneficial inflation. He believed that increasing the money supply would raise production in the short run. This phenomenon would be caused by a gap between the increase in the money supply and that of the price level. The result is that prices will not rise at first and may not rise at all. This theory was later developed by John Maynard Keynes.

As historian of England

Between Hume's death and 1894, there were at least 50 editions of his 6-volume History of England, a work of immense sweep. The subtitle tells us as much, "From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688".

There was also an often-reprinted abridgement, The Student's Hume (1859).

Hume's history was that of a Tory, in sharp contrast to the Whiggish works then prevailing.

Another remarkable feature of the series was that it widened the focus of history, away from merely Kings, Parliaments, and armies, including literature and science as well.


  • 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... " which made him "throw up every other Pleasure or Business" and turned him to scholarship.[citation needed]
  • 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 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"[70] 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[71] 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 and Political (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. Hume regarded this as the best of all his philosophical works[citation needed], both in its philosophical ideas and in its literary style.
  • 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 (1753–6) reprinted 1758–77.
  • Political Discourses/Discours politiques (1752-1758), My ovn 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 (Originally titled The History of Great Britain) (1754–62) Freely available in six vols. from the On Line Library of Liberty.[72] 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 until Thomas Macaulay's History of England.
  • The Natural History of Religion (1757)
  • "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".[citation needed] (Ernest Campbell Mossner, The Life of David Hume)
  • 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.[73]

Hume's influence

Attention to Hume's philosophical works grew after the German philosopher Immanuel Kant credited Hume with awakening him from "dogmatic slumbers" (circa 1770).[74]

According to Schopenhauer, "there is more to be learned from each page of David Hume than from the collected philosophical works of Hegel, Herbart and Schleiermacher taken together".[75]

A. J. Ayer (1936), introducing his classic exposition of logical positivism, claimed: "the views which are put forward in this treatise derive from the logical outcome of the empiricism of Berkeley and Hume".[76] Albert Einstein (1915) wrote that he was inspired by Hume's positivism when formulating his Special Theory of Relativity[77]. Hume was called "the prophet of the Wittgensteinian revolution" by N. Phillipson, referring to his view that mathematics and logic are closed systems, disguised tautologies, and have no relation to the world of experience.[78] David Fate Norton (1993) asserted that Hume was "the first post-sceptical philosopher of the early modern period".[79]

Hume's Problem of Induction was also of fundamental importance to the philosophy of Karl Popper. In his autobiography, Unended Quest[80], he wrote: "'Knowledge' ... is objective; and it is hypothetical or conjectural. This way of looking at the problem made it possible for me to reformulate Hume's problem of induction". This insight resulted in Popper's major work The Logic of Scientific Discovery[81]. In his Conjectures and Refutations, p 55, he writes:

"I approached the problem of induction through Hume. Hume, I felt, was perfectly right in pointing out that induction cannot be logically justified".

See also


  1. ^ The Empiricists: Critical Essays on Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, Margaret Atherton
  2. ^ In the Introduction to his A Treatise of Human Nature, (New York: Dover, 2003 edition), p.xi.fn., Hume mentions "Mr Locke, Lord Shaftesbury, Dr Mandeville, Mr Hutcheson, Dr Butler, etc". as philosophers "who have begun to put the science of man on a new footing, and have engaged the attention, and excited the curiosity of the public"
  3. ^ Published in various editions, under several titles, between 1741 and 1777 in London and Edinburgh
  4. ^ Mossner, E. C. (2001). The life of David Hume. Oxford University Press. p. 179
  5. ^ David Hume, My Own Life, in The Cambridge Companion to Hume, op.cit., p.351
  6. ^ In a letter to 'Jemmy' Birch, quoted in Mossner, E. C. (2001). The life of David Hume. Oxford University Press. p. 626
  7. ^ David Hume, A Kind of History of My Life, in The Cambridge Companion to Hume, ibid., p.346
  8. ^ See Oliver A. Johnson, The Mind of David Hume, (University of Illinois Press, 1995), pp.8–9, for a useful presentation of varying interpretations of Hume's "scene of thought" remark
  9. ^ a b Mossner, 193
  10. ^ A Kind of History of My Life, op. cit., p.352
  11. ^ Mossner, 195
  12. ^ Ibid., p.352
  13. ^ An Abstract of a Book lately Published; Entitled, A Treatise of Human Nature, &c. Wherein the Chief Argument of that Book is farther Illustrated and Explained, (London, 1740)
  14. ^ Douglas Nobbs, 'The Political Ideas of William Cleghorn, Hume's Academic Rival', in Journal of the History of Ideas, (1965), Vol. 26, No. 4: 575–586
  15. ^ Grant, Old and New Edinburgh in the 18th Century, (Glasgow, 1883), p.7
  16. ^ Op. cit., p.353
  17. ^ David Hume (1776). My Own Life
  18. ^ Russell, 2008, O'Connor, 2001, and Norton, 1993
  19. ^ Mossner, E. C. (2001). The life of David Hume. Oxford University Press. p. 206
  20. ^ Mossner, p. 265
  21. ^ Boswell, J. Boswell in Extremes, 1776–1778
  22. ^ Treatise, op.cit., p.7
  23. ^ Copplestone, F., A history of Philosophy, v. 6, 2003
  24. ^ A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, (Penguin, 2001 edition), pp.40.ff
  25. ^ See, e.g., Edward Craig, The Mind of God and the Works of Man, Ch.2; or Galen Strawson, The Secret Connexion, (Oxford: OUP, 1989); John Wright, The Sceptical Realism of David Hume, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983)
  26. ^ John D. Kenyon, 'Doubts about the Concept of Reason', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, Vol. 59, (1985), 249–267
  27. ^ Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, op.cit., p.108
  28. ^ These are Hume's terms. It has been argued that, in modern parlance, demonstration is deductive reasoning, and probability is inductive reasoning: see Dr. Peter J. R. Millican's D.Phil thesis, Hume, Induction and Probability[1]
  29. ^ See Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, op.cit., p.111
  30. ^ See ibid., p.115
  31. ^ Doubts about the Concept of Reason, op.cit., p.254
  32. ^ For this account of Hume's views on causation, see Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, op.cit., p.40–42
  33. ^ Treatise, op.cit., p.168
  34. ^ See Edward Craig, op. cit.; Galen Strawson, op. cit.; and John Wright, op. cit
  35. ^ Treatise, op.cit., p.56
  36. ^ See S. Blackburn, ‘Hume and Thick Connexions', in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 50, Supplement. (Autumn, 1990), pp. 237–250
  37. ^ Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. op.cit., p.147, fn.17
  38. ^ See, e.g., A. J. Ayer's account of Hume on the self, in Language, Truth and Logic, op.cit., p.135–6
  39. ^ See E. J. Craig, op.cit, Ch.2., for this criticism
  40. ^ Treatise, p. 295
  41. ^ The metaphor of direction of fit in this sense has been traced back to Elizabeth Anscombe's work on intention: Intention (2nd Edition), (1963, Oxford: Basil Blackwell)
  42. ^ M. Smith, 'The Humean Theory of Motivation', Mind, New Series, Vol. 96, No. 381 (Jan., 1987), pp. 36–61
  43. ^ M. Smith, ibid
  44. ^ S. Blackburn, 'Practical Tortoise Raising', Mind, New Series, Vol. 104, No. 416 (Oct., 1995), pp. 695–711
  45. ^ J. McDowell, 'Non-Cognitivism and Rule-Following', in S. Holtzman and C. Leich, Wittgenstein: To Follow A Rule, (1981, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul)
  46. ^ C. Korsgaard, 'Scepticism about Practical Reason', The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 83, No. 1 (Jan., 1986), pp. 5–25
  47. ^ Treatise, op. cit., p. 325
  48. ^ Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), ed. K. Haakonssen, (Cambridge: CUP, 2002)
  49. ^ For Hutcheson's influence on Hume, see footnote 7. For his influence on Smith, see William L. Taylor, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume as Predecessors of Adam Smith, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1965)
  50. ^ A. J. Ayer. Language, Truth and Logic, ch.6
  51. ^ C. L. Stevenson. Ethics and Language (1944), (Yale: Yale UP, 1960)
  52. ^ John Mackie. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (1977), (Penguin, 1990)
  53. ^ Simon Blackburn. Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)
  54. ^ Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment, (Harvard: Harvard UP, 1990)
  55. ^ See the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Compatibilism.
  56. ^ Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, op. cit., p. 148
  57. ^ Ibid., p. 149
  58. ^ Ibid., p.159
  59. ^ Ibid., p.159
  60. ^ Ibid., p. 161
  61. ^ See, e.g., R. E. Hobart, ‘Free Will as Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It', Mind 43 (1934), pp. 1–27
  62. ^ First published in 1962 and reprinted in Gary Watson, ed., Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 59–80; second edition 2003
  63. ^ Hume, D (1748), 'Of miracles‘, in Enquiry concerning human understanding, LA Selby-Bigge (ed.), 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, (1902), Section X, pp.116-122
  64. ^ Hume, D. (1740). A Treatise of Human Nature (1817 edition, p. 286)
  65. ^ Neil McArthur, David Hume's political theory. University of Toronto, 2007
  66. ^ Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols. (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1876), vol. 2, 185
  67. ^
  68. ^ Robbins, Lionel A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures edited by Medema and Samuels. Ch 11 and 12
  69. ^ Hume, David An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)
  70. ^ David Hume, A Kind of History of My Life, in The Cambridge Companion to Hume, ibid., p.352
  71. ^ For this see the introduction by J. M. Keynes and P. Sraffa in: Hume, David (1965). An abstract of A treatise of Human Nature 1740. Connecticut: Archon Books
  72. ^
  73. ^ William Crouch, "Which character is Hume in the "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion"?"
  74. ^ Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant, 'Preface'
  75. ^ The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 2, Ch. 46
  76. ^ A. J. Ayer (1936). Language, Truth and Logic. London
  77. ^ in a letter of December 14, 1915, to Moritz Schlick (Papers, A, Vol. 8A, Doc.165)
  78. ^ Phillipson, N. (1989). Hume, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London
  79. ^ Norton, D. F. (ed.) (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, pp. 90–116
  80. ^ Karl Popper: Unended Quest; An Intellectual Autobiography, 1976, ISBN 0415285909
  81. ^ Karl Popper: The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1934 (as Logik der Forschung, English translation 1959), ISBN 0415278449


  • Anderson, R. F. (1966). Hume's First Principles, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
  • Ayer, A. J. (1936). Language, Truth and Logic. London.
  • Bongie, L. L. (1998) David Hume — Prophet of the Counter-Revolution. Liberty Fund, Indianapolis,
  • Broackes, Justin (1995). Hume, David, in Ted Honderich (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, New York, Oxford University Press,
  • Daiches D., Jones P., Jones J. (eds )The Scottish Enlightenment: 1730–1790 A Hotbed of Genius The University of Edinburgh, 1986. In paperback, The Saltire Society, 1996 ISBN 0-85411-069-0
  • Einstein, A. (1915) Letter to Moritz Schlick, Schwarzschild, B. (trans. & ed.) in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, vol. 8A, R. Schulmann, A. J. Fox, J. Illy, (eds.) Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ (1998), p. 220.
  • Flew, A. (1986). David Hume: Philosopher of Moral Science, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Fogelin, R. J. (1993). Hume's scepticism. In Norton, D. F. (ed.) (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, pp. 90–116.
  • Garfield, Jay L. (1995) The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way Oxford University Press
  • Graham, R. (2004). The Great Infidel — A Life of David Hume. John Donald, Edinburgh.
  • Harwood, Sterling (1996). "Moral Sensibility Theories", in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Supplement) (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.).
  • Hume, D. (EHU) (1777). An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Nidditch, P. N. (ed.), 3rd. ed. (1975), Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Hume, D. (1751). An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. David Hume, Essays Moral, Political, and Literary edited with preliminary dissertations and notes by T.H. Green and T.H. Grose, 1:1-8. London: Longmans, Green 1907.
  • Hume, D. (1740). A Treatise of Human Nature (1967, edition). Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Hume, D. (1752-1758). Political Discourses
Bilingual English-French (translated by Fabien Grandjean). Mauvezin, France, Trans-Europ-Repress, 1993, 22 cm, V-260 p. Bibliographic notes, index.
  • Husserl, E. (1970). The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, Carr, D. (trans.), Northwestern University Press, Evanston.
  • Kolakowski, L. (1968). The Alienation of Reason: A History of Positivist Thought, Doubleday, Garden City.
  • Morris, William Edward, David Hume, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Mossner, Ernest Campbell (April 1950). "Philosophy and Biography: The Case of David Hume". The Philosophical Review 59 (2): 184–201. doi:10.2307/2181501. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  • Norton, D. F. (1993). Introduction to Hume's thought. In Norton, D. F. (ed.), (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–32.
  • O'Connor, D. (2001). Routledge philosophy guidebook to Hume and religion, Routledge, London.
  • Penelhum, T. (1993). Hume's moral philosophy. In Norton, D. F. (ed.), (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, pp. 117–147.
  • Phillipson, N. (1989). Hume, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.
  • Popkin, Richard H. (1993) "Sources of Knowledge of Sextus Empiricus in Hume's Time" Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 54, No. 1. (Jan., 1993), pp. 137–141.
  • Popkin, R. & Stroll, A. (1993) Philosophy. Reed Educational and Professional Publishing Ltd, Oxford.
  • Popper. K. (1960). Knowledge without authority. In Miller D. (ed.), (1983). Popper, Oxford, Fontana, pp. 46–57.
  • Robinson, Dave & Groves, Judy (2003). Introducing Political Philosophy. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-450-X.
  • Russell, B. (1946). A History of Western Philosophy. London, Allen and Unwin.
  • Robbins, Lionel (1998). A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures. Edited by Steven G. Medema and Warren J. Samuels. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  • Spiegel, Henry William,(1991). The Growth of Economic Thought, 3rd Ed., Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Stroud, B. (1977). Hume, Routledge, London & New York.
  • Taylor, A. E. (1927). David Hume and the Miraculous, Leslie Stephen Lecture. Cambridge, pp. 53–4.

Further reading

  • Ardal, Pall (1966). Passion and Value in Hume's Treatise. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
  • Beauchamp, Tom and Rosenberg, Alexander, Hume and the Problem of Causation New York, Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • Ernest Campbell Mossner. The Life of David Hume. Oxford University Press, 1980. (The standard biography.)
  • Peter Millican. Critical Survey of the Literature on Hume and his First Enquiry. (Surveys around 250 books and articles on Hume and related topics.) [2]
  • David Fate Norton. David Hume: Commonsense Moralist, Skeptical Metaphysician. Princeton University Press, 1978.
  • Garrett, Don (1996). Cognition and Commitment in Hume's Philosophy. New York & Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • J.C.A. Gaskin. Hume's Philosophy of Religion. Humanities Press International, 1978.
  • Norman Kemp Smith.The Philosophy of David Hume. Macmillan, 1941. (Still enormously valuable.)
  • Frederick Rosen, Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill (Routledge Studies in Ethics & Moral Theory), 2003. ISBN 0415220947
  • Russell, Paul (1995). Freedom and Moral Sentiment: Hume's Way of Naturalizing Responsibility. New York & Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Russell, Paul (2008). The Riddle of Hume's Treatise: Skepticism, Naturalism and Irreligion New York & Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Stroud, B. (1977). Hume, Routledge, London & New York. (Complete study of Hume's work parting from the interpretation of Hume's naturalistic philosophical programme).
  • Hesselberg, A. Kenneth (1961). Hume, Natural Law and Justice. Duquesne Review
  • Gilles Deleuze, Empirisme et subjectivité. Essai sur la Nature Humaine selon Hume (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1953) trans. Empiricism and Subjectivity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991)

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense, which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities.

David Hume (1711-05-07, N.S. [April 26, O.S.] - 1776-08-25) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist and essayist.



  • A wise man's kingdom is his own breast: or, if he ever looks farther, it will only be to the judgment of a select few, who are free from prejudices, and capable of examining his work. Nothing indeed can be a stronger presumption of falsehood than the approbation of the multitude; and Phocion, you know, always suspected himself of some blunder when he was attended with the applauses of the populace.
    • Playfully ironic letter to Adam Smith regarding the positive reception of "The Theory of Moral Sentiments"
  • Does a man of sense run after every silly tale of hobgoblins or fairies, and canvass particularly the evidence? I never knew anyone, that examined and deliberated about nonsense who did not believe it before the end of his enquiries.
    • Letters
  • With regard to politics and the character of princes and great men, I think I am very moderate. My views of things are more conformable to Whig principles; my representation of persons to Tory prejudices. Nothing can so much prove that men commonly regard more persons than things, as to find that I am commonly numbered among the Tories.
    • E. C. Mossner, Life of David Hume (Clarendon Press, 2001), p. 311.
  • Here am I who have written on all sorts of subjects calculated to excite hostility, moral, political, and religious, and yet I have no enemies — except, indeed, all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.
    • Statement to a friend shortly before his death, as recounted in Men of Letters by Lord Henry Brougham

A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40)

Of The Understanding

  • Nothing is more usual and more natural for those, who pretend to discover anything new to the world in philosophy and the sciences, than to insinuate the praises of their own systems, by decrying all those, which have been advanced before them. And indeed were they content with lamenting that ignorance, which we still lie under in the most important questions, that can come before the tribunal of human reason, there are few, who have an acquaintance with the sciences, that would not readily agree with them. 'Tis easy for one of judgment and learning, to perceive the weak foundation even of those systems, which have obtained the greatest credit, and have carried their pretensions highest to accurate and profound reasoning. Principles taken upon trust, consequences lamely deduced from them, want of coherence in the parts, and of evidence in the whole, these are every where to be met with in the systems of the most eminent philosophers, and seem to have drawn disgrace upon philosophy itself.
    • Introduction
  • For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception. When my perceptions are remov’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist. And were all my perceptions remov’d by death, and cou’d I neither think, nor feel, nor see, nor love, nor hate after the dissolution of my body, I shou’d be entirely annihilated, nor do I conceive what is farther requisite to make me a perfect non-entity. If any one upon serious and unprejudic’d reflexion, thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continu’d, which he calls himself; tho’ I am certain there is no such principle in me... But setting aside some metaphysicians of this kind, I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.
    • Part 4 Of the sceptical and other systems of philosophy, Sect. 6 Of personal identity
  • Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances.
    • Part 4 Of the sceptical and other systems of philosophy, Sect. 7 Conclusion of this book
  • I am first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn solitude, in which I am plac'd in my philosophy, and fancy myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expell'd all human commerce, and left utterly abandon'd and disconsolate. 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 hearken to me. Every one keeps at a distance, and dreads that storm, which 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? I have declar'd my disapprobation of their systems; and can I be surpriz'd, if they shou'd express a hatred of mine and of my person? When I look abroad, I foresee on every side, dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me; tho' such is my weakness, that I feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation, and every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasoning.
    For with what confidence can I venture upon such bold enterprises, when beside those numberless infirmities peculiar to myself, I find so many which are common to human nature? Can I be sure, that in leaving all established opinions I am following truth; and by what criterion shall I distinguish her, even if fortune shou'd at last guide me on her foot-steps? After the most accurate and exact of my reasonings, I can give no reason why I shou'd assent to it; and feel nothing but a strong propensity to consider objects strongly in that view, under which they appear to me. Experience is a principle, which instructs me in the several conjunctions of objects for the past. Habit is another principle, which determines me to expect the same for the future; and both of them conspiring to operate upon the imagination, make me form certain ideas in a more intense and lively manner, than others, which are not attended with the same advantages. Without this quality, by which the mind enlivens some ideas beyond others (which seemingly is so trivial, and so little founded on reason) we cou'd never assent to any argument, nor carry our view beyond those few objects, which are present to our senses. Nay, even to these objects we cou'd never attribute any existence, but what was dependent on the senses; and must comprehend them entirely in that succession of perceptions, which constitutes our self or person. Nay farther, even with relation to that succession, we cou'd only admit of those perceptions, which are immediately present to our consciousness, nor cou'd those lively images, with which the memory presents us, be ever receiv'd as true pictures of past perceptions. The memory, senses, and understanding are, therefore, all of them founded on the imagination, or the vivacity of our ideas.
    • Part 4 Of the sceptical and other systems of philosophy, Sect. 7 Conclusion of this book
  • This deficiency in our ideas is not, indeed, perceived in common life, nor are we sensible, that in the most usual conjunctions of cause and effect we are as ignorant of the ultimate principle, which binds them together, as in the most unusual and extraordinary. But this proceeds merely from an illusion of the imagination; and the question is, how far we ought to yield to these illusions. This question is very difficult, and reduces us to a very dangerous dilemma, whichever way we answer it. For if we assent to every trivial suggestion of the fancy; beside that these suggestions are often contrary to each other; they lead us into such errors, absurdities, and obscurities, that we must at last become asham'd of our credulity. Nothing is more dangerous to reason than the flights of the imagination, and nothing has been the occasion of more mistakes among philosophers. Men of bright fancies may in this respect be compar'd to those angels, whom the scripture represents as covering their eyes with their wings. This has already appear'd in so many instances, that we may spare ourselves the trouble of enlarging upon it any farther.
    • Part 4 Of the sceptical and other systems of philosophy, Sect. 7 Conclusion of this book
  • Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.
    • Part 4 Of the sceptical and other systems of philosophy, Sect. 7 Conclusion of this book

Of the Passions

  • No quality of human nature is more remarkable, both in itself and in its consequences, than that propensity we have to sympathize with others, and to receive by communication their inclinations and sentiments, however different from, or even contrary to our own. This is not only conspicuous in children, who implicitly embrace every opinion propos’d to them; but also in men of the greatest judgment and understanding, who find it very difficult to follow their own reason or inclination, in opposition to that of their friends and daily companions. To this principle we ought to ascribe the great uniformity we may observe in the humours and turn of thinking of those of the same nation; and ’tis much more probable, that this resemblance arises from sympathy, than from any influence of the soil and climate, which, tho’ they continue invariably the same, are not able to preserve the character of a nation the same for a century together. A good-natur’d man finds himself in an instant of the same humour with his company; and even the proudest and most surly take a tincture from their countrymen and acquaintance. A chearful countenance infuses a sensible complacency and serenity into my mind; as an angry or sorrowful one throws a sudden dump upon me. Hatred, resentment, esteem, love, courage, mirth and melancholy; all these passions I feel more from communication than from my own natural temper and disposition. So remarkable a phaenomenon merits our attention, and must be trac’d up to its first principles.
    • Part 1 Of pride and humility, Sect. 11 Of the love of fame
  • We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.
    • Part 3 Of the will and direct passions, Sect. 3 Of the influencing motives of the will
  • What may at first occur on this head, is, that as nothing can be contrary to truth or reason, except what has a reference to it, and as the judgments of our understanding only have this reference, it must follow, that passions can be contrary to reason only so far as they are accompany'd with some judgment or opinion. According to this principle, which is so obvious and natural, `tis only in two senses, that any affection can be call'd unreasonable. First, When a passion, such as hope or fear, grief or joy, despair or security, is founded on the supposition or the existence of objects, which really do not exist. Secondly, When in exerting any passion in action, we chuse means insufficient for the design'd end, and deceive ourselves in our judgment of causes and effects. Where a passion is neither founded on false suppositions, nor chuses means insufficient for the end, the understanding can neither justify nor condemn it. `Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. `Tis not contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me. `Tis as little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledge'd lesser good to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than the latter. A trivial good may, from certain circumstances, produce a desire superior to what arises from the greatest and most valuable enjoyment; nor is there any thing more extraordinary in this, than in mechanics to see one pound weight raise up a hundred by the advantage of its situation. In short, a passion must be accompany'd with some false judgment. in order to its being unreasonable; and even then `tis not the passion, properly speaking, which is unreasonable, but the judgment.
    • Part 3 Of the will and direct passions, Sect. 3 Of the influencing motives of the will

Of Morals

  • There is an inconvenience which attends all abstruse reasoning. that it may silence, without convincing an antagonist, and requires the same intense study to make us sensible of its force, that was at first requisite for its invention. When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the appearance of the morning; and 'tis difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attain'd with difficulty.
    • Part 1 Of virtue and vice in general, Sect. 1 Moral distinctions not deriv'd from reason
  • Morality is a subject that interests us above all others: We fancy the peace of society to be at stake in every decision concerning it; and 'tis evident, that this concern must make our speculations appear more real and solid, than where the subject is, in a great measure, indifferent to us. What affects us, we conclude can never be a chimera; and as our passion is engag'd on the one side or the other, we naturally think that the question lies within human comprehension; which, in other cases of this nature, we are apt to entertain some doubt of. Without this advantage I never should have ventur'd upon a third volume of such abstruse philosophy, in an age, wherein the greatest part of men seem agreed to convert reading into an amusement, and to reject every thing that requires any considerable degree of attention to be comprehended.
    • Part 1 Of virtue and vice in general, Sect. 1 Moral distinctions not deriv'd from reason
  • Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.
    • Part 1 Of virtue and vice in general, Sect. 1 Moral distinctions not deriv'd from reason
  • Actions may be laudable or blameable; but they cannot be reasonable: Laudable or blameable, therefore, are not the same with reasonable or unreasonable. The merit and demerit of actions frequently contradict, and sometimes controul our natural propensities. But reason has no such influence. Moral distinctions, therefore, are not the offspring of reason. Reason is wholly inactive, and can never be the source of so active a principle as conscience, or a sense of morals.
    • Part 1 Of virtue and vice in general, Sect. 1 Moral distinctions not deriv'd from reason
  • Take any action allow’d to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but ’tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind[.]
    • Part 1 Of virtue and vice in general, Sect. 1 Moral distinctions not deriv'd from reason

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748; 1751)

First published as Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding in 1748, revised in 1751, and retitled in 1758.

  • Custom, then, is the great guide of human life. It is that principle alone which renders our experience useful to us, and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past. Without the influence of custom, we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the memory and senses. We should never know how to adjust means to ends, or to employ our natural powers in the production of any effect. There would be an end at once of all action, as well as of the chief part of speculation.
    • Variant (perhaps a paraphrase of this passage): It is not reason which is the guide of life, but custom.
  • Nature has pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable to the human race, and secretly admonished them to allow none of these biases to draw too much, so as to incapacitate them for other occupations and entertainments. Indulge your passion for science, says she, but let your science be human, and such as may have a direct reference to action and society. Abstruse thought and profound researches I prohibit, and will severely punish, by the pensive melancholy which they introduce, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you, and by the cold reception which your pretended discoveries shall meet with, when communicated. Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.
    • Section 1 : Of The Different Species of Philosophy
  • The most perfect philosophy of the natural kind only staves off our ignorance a little longer: as perhaps the most perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphysical kind serves only to discover larger portions of it. Thus the observation of human blindness and weakness is the result of all philosophy, and meets us at every turn, in spite of our endeavours to elude or avoid it.
    • Section 4 : Sceptical Doubts Concerning The Operations of The Understanding
  • Though experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact; it must be acknowledged, that this guide is not altogether infallible, but in some cases is apt to lead us into errors.
    • Section 10 : Of Miracles Pt. 1
  • In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.
  • ... no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish.
    • Section 10 : Of Miracles Pt. 1; Variant: A wise man... proportions his belief to the evidence.
  • When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.
    • Section 10 : Of Miracles Pt. 1
  • Eloquence, when at its highest pitch, leaves little room for reason or reflection; but addressing itself entirely to the fancy or the affections, captivates the willing hearers, and subdues their understanding. Happily, this pitch it seldom attains. But what a Tully or a Demosthenes could scarcely effect over a Roman or Athenian audience, every Capuchin, every itinerant or stationary teacher can perform over the generality of mankind, and in a higher degree, by touching such gross and vulgar passions.
    • Section 10 : Of Miracles Pt. 2
  • The Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: and whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.
    • Section 10 : Of Miracles Pt. 2
  • 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.
    • Section 12 : Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy Pt. 3

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)

  • In all determinations of morality, this circumstance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind. If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail; as soon as farther experience and sounder reasoning have given us juster notions of human affairs, we retract our first sentiment, and adjust anew the boundaries of moral good and evil.
    • § 2 : Of Benevolence, Pt. 2
  • What would become of history, had we not a dependence on the veracity of the historian, according to the experience, what we have had of mankind?
    • § 8.18
  • "“By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will.
    • § 8.23
  • Hypothetical liberty is allowed to everyone who is not a prisoner and in chains
    • § 8.23
  • Necessity may be defined in two ways, conformably to the two definitions of cause, of which it makes an essential part. It consists either in the constant conjunction of like objects, or in the inference of the understating from one object to another.
    • § 8.27
  • Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense, which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities.
    • § 9 : Conclusion

The Natural History of Religion (1757)

This work first appeared in the collection of essays Four Dissertations (1757). It was republished several times during Hume's life with minor variations.
  • As every enquiry, which regards religion, is of the utmost importance, there are two questions in particular, which challenge our attention, to wit, that concerning its foundation in reason, and that concerning its origin in human nature. Happily, the first question, which is the most important, admits of the most obvious, at least, the clearest, solution. The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion. But the other question, concerning the origin of religion in human nature, is exposed to some more difficulty. The belief of invisible, intelligent power has been very generally diffused over the human race, in all places and in all ages; but it has neither perhaps been so universal as to admit of no exception, nor has it been, in any degree, uniform in the ideas, which it has suggested. Some nations have been discovered, who entertained no sentiments of Religion, if travellers and historians may be credited; and no two nations, and scarce any two men, have ever agreed precisely in the same sentiments.
    • Introduction
  • That original intelligence, say the MAGIANS, who is the first principle of all things, discovers himself immediately to the mind and understanding alone; but has placed the sun as his image in the visible universe; and when that bright luminary diffuses its beams over the earth and the firmament, it is a faint copy of the glory which resides in the higher heavens. If you would escape the displeasure of this divine being, you must be careful never to set your bare foot upon the ground, nor spit into a fire, nor throw any water upon it, even though it were consuming a whole city. Who can express the perfections of the Almighty? say the Mahometans. Even the noblest of his works, if compared to him, are but dust and rubbish. How much more must human conception fall short of his infinite perfections? His smile and favour renders men for ever happy; and to obtain it for your children, the best method is to cut off from them, while infants, a little bit of skin, about half the breadth of a farthing. Take two bits of cloth, say the Roman catholics, about an inch or an inch and a half square, join them by the corners with two strings or pieces of tape about sixteen inches long, throw this over your head, and make one of the bits of cloth lie upon your breast, and the other upon your back, keeping them next your skin: There is not a better secret for recommending yourself to that infinite Being, who exists from eternity to eternity.
    • Part VII - Confirmation of this doctrine
  • The heroes in paganism correspond exactly to the saints in popery, and holy dervises in MAHOMETANISM. The place of, HERCULES, THESEUS, HECTOR, ROMULUS, is now supplied by DOMINIC, FRANCIS, ANTHONY, and BENEDICT. Instead of the destruction of monsters, the subduing of tyrants, the defence of our native country; whippings and fastings, cowardice and humility, abject submission and slavish obedience, are become the means of obtaining celestial honours among mankind.
    • Part X - With regard to courage or abasement
  • To oppose the torrent of scholastic religion by such feeble maxims as these, that it is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be, that the whole is greater than a part, that two and three make five; is pretending to stop the ocean with a bullrush. Will you set up profane reason against sacred mystery? No punishment is great enough for your impiety. And the same fires, which were kindled for heretics, will serve also for the destruction of philosophers.
    • Part XI - With regard to reason or absurdity
  • How can you worship leeks and onions? we shall suppose a SORBONNIST to say to a priest of SAIS. If we worship them, replies the latter; at least, we do not, at the same time, eat them. But what strange object of adoration are cats and monkeys? says the learned doctor. They are at least as good as the relics or rotten bones of martyrs, answers his no less learned antagonist. Are you not mad, insists the Catholic, to cut one another's throat about the preference of a cabbage or a cucumber? Yes, says the pagan; I allow it, if you will confess, that those are still madder, who fight about the preference among volumes of sophistry, ten thousand of which are not equal in value to one cabbage or cucumber.
    • Part XII - With regard to doubt or conviction
  • We may observe, that, notwithstanding the dogmatical, imperious style of all superstition, the conviction of the religionists, in all ages, is more affected than real, and scarcely ever approaches, in any degree, to that solid belief and persuasion, which governs us in the common affairs of life. Men dare not avow, even to their own hearts, the doubts which they entertain on such subjects: They make a merit of implicit faith; and disguise to themselves their real infidelity, by the strongest asseverations and most positive bigotry. But nature is too hard for all their endeavours, and suffers not the obscure, glimmering light, afforded in those shadowy regions, to equal the strong impressions, made by common sense and by experience. The usual course of men's conduct belies their words, and shows, that their assent in these matters is some unaccountable operation of the mind between disbelief and conviction, but approaching much nearer to the former than to the latter.
    • Part XII - With regard to doubt or conviction
  • And any practice, recommended to him, which either serves to no purpose in life, or offers the strongest violence to his natural inclinations; that practice he will the more readily embrace, on account of those very circumstances, which should make him absolutely reject it. It seems the more purely religious, because it proceeds from no mixture of any other motive or consideration. And if, for its sake, he sacrifices much of his ease and quiet, his claim of merit appears still to rise upon him, in proportion to the zeal and devotion which he discovers. In restoring a loan, or paying a debt, his divinity is nowise beholden to him; because these acts of justice are what he was bound to perform, and what many would have performed, were there no god in the universe. But if he fast a day, or give himself a sound whipping; this has a direct reference, in his opinion, to the service of God. No other motive could engage him to such austerities. By these distinguished marks of devotion, he has now acquired the divine favour; and may expect, in recompence, protection and safety in this world, and eternal happiness in the next.
    • Part XIV - Bad influence of popular religions on morality
  • The more exquisite any good is, of which a small specimen is afforded us, the sharper is the evil, allied to it; and few exceptions are found to this uniform law of nature. The most sprightly wit borders on madness; the highest effusions of joy produce the deepest melancholy; the most ravishing pleasures are attended with the most cruel lassitude and disgust; the most flattering hopes make way for the severest disappointments. And, in general, no course of life has such safety (for happiness is not to be dreamed of) as the temperate and moderate, which maintains, as far as possible, a mediocrity, and a kind of insensibility, in every thing. As the good, the great, the sublime, the ravishing are found eminently in the genuine principles of theism; it may be expected, from the analogy of nature, that the base, the absurd, the mean, the terrifying will be equally discovered in religious fictions and chimeras.
    • Part XV - General corollary
  • The universal propensity to believe in invisible, intelligent power, if not an original instinct, being at least a general attendant of human nature, may be considered as a kind of mark or stamp, which the divine workman has set upon his work; and nothing surely can more dignify mankind, than to be thus selected from all other parts of the creation, and to bear the image or impression of the universal Creator. But consult this image, as it appears in the popular religions of the world. How is the deity disfigured in our representations of him! What caprice, absurdity, and immorality are attributed to him! How much is he degraded even below the character, which we should naturally, in common life, ascribe to a man of sense and virtue!
    • Part XV - General corollary
  • What a noble privilege is it of human reason to attain the knowledge of the supreme Being; and, from the visible works of nature, be enabled to infer so sublime a principle as its supreme Creator? But turn the reverse of the medal. Survey most nations and most ages. Examine the religious principles, which have, in fact, prevailed in the world. You will scarcely be persuaded, that they are any thing but sick men's dreams: Or perhaps will regard them more as the playsome whimsies of monkies in human shape, than the serious, positive, dogmatical asseverations of a being, who dignifies himself with the name of rational.
    • Part XV - General corollary
  • Hear the verbal protestations of all men: Nothing so certain as their religious tenets. Examine their lives: You will scarcely think that they repose the smallest confidence in them. The greatest and truest zeal gives us no security against hypocrisy: The most open impiety is attended with a secret dread and compunction. No theological absurdities so glaring that they have not, sometimes, been embraced by men of the greatest and most cultivated understanding. No religious precepts so rigorous that they have not been adopted by the most voluptuous and most abandoned of men.
    • Part XV - General corollary
  • Ignorance is the mother of Devotion: A maxim that is proverbial, and confirmed by general experience. Look out for a people, entirely destitute of religion: If you find them at all, be assured, that they are but few degrees removed from brutes. What so pure as some of the morals, included in some theological system? What so corrupt as some of the practices, to which these systems give rise?
    • Part XV - General corollary
  • The whole is a riddle, an aenigma, an inexplicable mystery. Doubt, uncertainty, suspence of judgment appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny, concerning this subject. But such is the frailty of human reason, and such the irresistible contagion of opinion, that even this deliberate doubt could scarcely be upheld; did we not enlarge our view, and opposing one species of superstition to another, set them a quarrelling; while we ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our escape, into the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy.
    • Part XV - General corollary

Essays Moral, Political, Literary (1741-2; 1748)

  • It is a very comfortable reflection to the lovers of liberty, that this peculiar privilege of Britain is of a kind that cannot easily be wrested from us, but must last as long as our government remains, in any degree, free and independent. It is seldom, that liberty of any kind is lost all at once. Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes, in order to be received. But, if the liberty of the press ever be lost, it must be lost at once. The general laws against sedition and libelling are at present as strong as they possibly can be made. Nothing can impose a farther restraint, but either the clapping an Imprimatur upon the press, or the giving to the court very large discretionary powers to punish whatever displeases them. But these concessions would be such a bare-faced violation of liberty, that they will probably be the last efforts of a despotic government. We may conclude, that the liberty of Britain is gone for ever when these attempts shall succeed.
    • Essay 2 : Of the Liberty of the Press (early editions)
  • Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.
    • Essay 4 : Of The First Principles of Government
  • It is, therefore, a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave: Though at the same time, it appears somewhat strange, that a maxim should be true in politics, which is false in fact. But to satisfy us on this head, we may consider, that men are generally more honest in their private than in their public capacity, and will go greater lengths to serve a party, than when their own private interest is alone concerned. Honour is a great check upon mankind: But where a considerable body of men act together, this check is, in a great measure, removed; since a man is sure to be approved of by his own party, for what promotes the common interest; and he soon learns to despise the clamours of adversaries.
    • Essay 6 : Of The Independency of Parliament; often quoted as "It is... a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave."
  • In all ages of the world, priests have been enemies to liberty; and it is certain, that this steady conduct of theirs must have been founded on fixed reasons of interest and ambition. Liberty of thinking, and of expressing our thoughts, is always fatal to priestly power, and to those pious frauds, on which it is commonly founded; and, by an infallible connexion, which prevails among all kinds of liberty, this privilege can never be enjoyed, at least has never yet been enjoyed, but in a free government.
    • Essay 9 : Of The Parties of Great Britain
  • The slaving Poor are incapable of any Principles: Gentlemen may be converted to true Principles, by Time and Experience. The middling Rank of Men have Curiosity and Knowledge enough to form Principles, but not enough to form true ones, or correct any Prejudices that they may have imbib’d: And ’tis among the middling Rank, that Tory Principles do at present prevail most in England.
    • Essay 9 : Of The Parties of Great Britain; final lines of this essay in the 1741 and 1742 editions of Essays, Moral and Political, they were not included in later editions.
  • Avarice, the spur of industry, is so obstinate a passion, and works its way through so many real dangers and difficulties, that it is not likely to be scared by an imaginary danger, which is so small, that it scarcely admits of calculation. Commerce, therefore, in my opinion, is apt to decay in absolute governments, not because it is there less secure, but because it is less honourable.
    • Essay 12 : Of Civil Liberty
It is a great mortification to the vanity of man, that his utmost art and industry can never equal the meanest of nature's productions, either for beauty or value.
  • It is a great mortification to the vanity of man, that his utmost art and industry can never equal the meanest of nature's productions, either for beauty or value. Art is only the under-workman, and is employed to give a few strokes of embellishment to those pieces, which come from the hand of the master
    • Essay 15 : The Epicurean
  • Art may make a suit of clothes; but nature must produce a man.
    • Essay 15 : The Epicurean
  • If nature has been frugal in her gifts and endowments, there is the more need of art to supply her defects. If she has been generous and liberal, know that she still expects industry and application on our part, and revenges herself in proportion to our negligent ingratitude. The richest genius, like the most fertile soil, when uncultivated, shoots up into the rankest weeds; and instead of vines and olives for the pleasure and use of man, produces, to its slothful owner, the most abundant crop of poisons.
    • Essay 16 : The Stoic
  • The great end of all human industry, is the attainment of happiness. For this were arts invented, sciences cultivated, laws ordained, and societies modelled, by the most profound wisdom of patriots and legislators.
    • Essay 16 : The Stoic
  • All sentiment is right; because sentiment has a reference to nothing beyond itself, and is always real, wherever a man is conscious of it. But all determinations of the understanding are not right; because they have a reference to something beyond themselves, to wit, real matter of fact; and are not always conformable to that standard.
    • Essay 23 : Of The Standard of Taste
  • Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.
    • Essay 23 : Of The Standard of Taste
  • A propensity to hope and joy is real riches: One to fear and sorrow, real poverty.
    • Essay 18 : The Sceptic

The History of England (1754-62)

  • It was a fixed maxim in this reign, as well as in some of the subsequent, that no native of the island should ever be advanced to any dignity, ecclesiastical, civil, or military. The king therefore, upon Stigand’s deposition, promoted Lanfranc, a Milanese monk, celebrated for his learning and piety, to the vacant see. This prelate was rigid in defending the prerogatives of his station; and after a long process before the pope, he obliged Thomas, a Norman monk, who had been appointed to the see of York, to acknowledge the primacy of the archbishop of Canterbury. Where ambition can be so happy as to cover its enterprizes, even to the person himself, under the appearance of principle, it is the most incurable and inflexible of all human passions. Hence Lanfranc’s zeal in promoting the interests of the papacy, by which he himself augmented his own authority, was indefatigable; and met with proportionable success. The devoted attachment to Rome continually encreased in England; and being favoured by the sentiments of the conquerors, as well as by the monastic establishments formerly introduced by Edred and by Edgar, it soon reached the same height, at which it had, during some time, stood in France and Italy. It afterwards went much farther; being favoured by that very remote situation, which had at first obstructed its progress; and being less checked by knowledge and a liberal education, which were still somewhat more common in the southern countries.
    • Volume I, Part IV : William the Conqueror

Four Dissertations (1757)

Of the Standard of Taste

  • The sentiments of men often differ with regard to beauty and deformity of all kinds, even while their general discourse is the same ... In all matters of opinion and science, the case is opposite: The difference among men is there oftener found to lie in generals than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance.
  • It is natural for us to seek a Standard of Taste; a rule, by which the various sentiments of men may be reconciled; at least, a decision, afforded, confirming one sentiment, and condemning another.
  • But though all the general rules of art are founded only on experience and on the observation of the common sentiments of human nature, we must not imagine, that, on every occasion, the feelings of men will be conformable to these rules.
  • But though there be naturally a wide difference in point of delicacy between one person and another, nothing tends further to encrease and improve this talent, than practice in a particular art, and the frequent survey or contemplation of a particular species of beauty.
  • The same good sense, that directs men in the ordinary occurrences of life, is not hearkened to in religious matters, which are supposed to be placed altogether above the cognizance of human reason.

Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779)

Written sporadically from 1757-1776 and published posthumously.
  • What peculiar privilege has this little agitation of the brain which we call thought, that we must thus make it the model of the whole universe? Our partiality in our own favour does indeed present it on all occasions; but sound philosophy ought carefully to guard against so natural an illusion.
    • Philo to Cleanthes, Part II
  • If reason (I mean abstract reason, derived from inquiries a priori) be not alike mute with regard to all questions concerning cause and effect, this sentence at least it will venture to pronounce, That a mental world, or universe of ideas, requires a cause as much, as does a material world, or universe of objects; and, if similar in its arrangement, must require a similar cause. For what is there in this subject, which should occasion a different conclusion or inference? In an abstract view, they are entirely alike; and no difficulty attends the one supposition, which is not common to both of them.
    • Philo to Cleanthes, Part IV
  • In a word, CLEANTHES, a man who follows your hypothesis is able perhaps to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: but beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance; and is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis. This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance: it is the work only of some dependent, inferior deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors: it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him. You justly give signs of horror, DEMEA, at these strange suppositions; but these, and a thousand more of the same kind, are CLEANTHES’s suppositions, not mine. From the moment the attributes of the Deity are supposed finite, all these have place. And I cannot, for my part, think that so wild and unsettled a system of theology is, in any respect, preferable to none at all.
    • Philo to Demea, Part V
  • You need only look around you, replied PHILO, to satisfy yourself with regard to this question. A tree bestows order and organisation on that tree which springs from it, without knowing the order; an animal in the same manner on its offspring; a bird on its nest; and instances of this kind are even more frequent in the world than those of order, which arise from reason and contrivance. To say, that all this order in animals and vegetables proceeds ultimately from design, is begging the question; nor can that great point be ascertained otherwise than by proving, a priori, both that order is, from its nature, inseparably attached to thought; and that it can never of itself, or from original unknown principles, belong to matter.
    • Philo to Demea, Part VII
  • In such a chain, too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct countries into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I shew you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts.
    • Cleanthes to Demea, Part IX
  • And why should man, added he, pretend to an exemption from the lot of all other animals? The whole earth, believe me, PHILO, is cursed and polluted. A perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures. Necessity, hunger, want, stimulate the strong and courageous: Fear, anxiety, terror, agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into life gives anguish to the new-born infant and to its wretched parent: Weakness, impotence, distress, attend each stage of that life: and it is at last finished in agony and horror.
    • Demea to Philo, Part X
  • Were a stranger to drop on a sudden into this world, I would show him, as a specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might justly think, that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow.
    • Demea to Philo, Part X
  • Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!
    • Philo to Cleanthes, Part XI
  • If the whole of natural theology, as some people seem to maintain, resolves itself into one simple, though somewhat ambiguous, at least undefined proposition, that the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence: If this proposition be not capable of extension, variation, or more particular explication: If it affords no inference that affects human life, or can be the source of any action or forbearance: And if the analogy, imperfect as it is, can be carried no farther than to the human intelligence, and cannot be transferred, with any appearance of probability, to the other qualities of the mind; if this really be the case, what can the most inquisitive, contemplative, and religious man do more than give a plain, philosophical assent to the proposition, as often as it occurs, and believe that the arguments on which it is established exceed the objections which lie against it?
    • Philo to Cleanthes, Part XII
  • God's power is infinite. Whatever he wills is executed. But neither man, nor any other animal, is happy. Therefore he does not will their happiness. Epicurus' old questions are yet unanswered. Is God willing to prevent evil, but unable? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
  • It were better, never to look beyond the present material world. By supposing it to contain the principle of its order within itself, we really assert it to be God; and the sooner we arrive at that divinity, the better.


Some of these statements appear to be what could be paraphrases of Hume's ideas rather than quotations of his works.

  • Character is the result of a system of stereotyped principles.
  • Everything in the world is purchased by labor.
  • He is happy whom circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent who suits his temper to any circumstance.
  • Truth springs from argument amongst friends.

Quotes about Hume

  • Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DAVID HUME (1711-1776), English philosopher, historian and political economist, was born at Edinburgh, on the 26th of April (O.S.) 1711. His father, Joseph Hume or Home, a scion of the noble house of Home of Douglas (but see Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 72), was owner of a small estate in Berwickshire, on the banks of the Whiteadder, called, from the spring rising in front of the dwelling-house, Ninewells. David was the youngest of a family of three, two sons and a daughter, who after the early death of the father were brought up with great care and devotion by their mother, the daughter of Sir David Falconer, president of the college of justice.

Of Hume's early education little is known beyond what he has himself stated in his Life. He appears to have entered the Greek classes of the university of Edinburgh in 1723, and, he tells us, " passed through the ordinary course of education with success." From a letter printed in Burton's Life (i. 30-39), it appears that about 1726 Hume returned to Ninewells with a fair knowledge of Latin, slight acquaintance with Greek and literary tastes decidedly inclining to " books of reasoning and philosophy, and to poetry and the polite authors." We do not know, except by inference, to what studies he especially devoted himself. It is, however, clear that from his earliest years he began to speculate upon the nature of knowledge in the abstract, and its concrete applications, as in theology, and that with this object he studied largely the writings of Cicero and Seneca and recent English philosophers (especially Locke, Berkeley and Butler). His acquaintance with Cicero is clearly proved by the form in which he cast some of the most important of his speculations. From his boyhood he devoted himself to acquiring a literary reputation, and throughout his life, in spite of financial and other difficulties, he adhered to his original intention. A man of placid and even phlegmatic temperament, he lived moderately in all things, and sought worldly prosperity only so far as was necessary to give him leisure for his literary work. At first he tried law, but was unable to give his mind to a study which appeared to him to be merely a barren waste of technical jargon. At this time the intensity of his intellectual activity in the area opened up to him by Locke and Berkeley reduced him to a state of physical exhaustion. In these circumstances he determined to try the effect of complete change of scene and occupation, and in 1734 entered a business house in Bristol. In a few months he found " the scene wholly unsuitable " to him, and about the middle of 1734 set out for France, resolved to spend some years in quiet study. He visited Paris, resided for a time at Rheims and then settled at La Fleche, famous in the history of philosophy as the school of Descartes. His health seems to have been perfectly restored, and during the three years of his stay in France his speculations were worked into systematic form in the Treatise of Human Nature. In the autumn of 1737 he was in London arranging for its publication and polishing it in preparation for the judgments of the learned. In January 1739 appeared the first and second volumes of the Treatise of Human Nature, being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, containing book i., Of the Understanding, and book ii., Of the Passions. The third volume, containing book iii., Of Morals, was published in the following year. The publisher of the first two volumes, John Noone, gave him -£50 and twelve bound copies for a first edition of one thousand copies. Hume's own words best describe its reception. " Never literary attempt was more unfortunate; it fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots." " But," he adds, " being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I very soon recovered the blow, and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country." This brief notice, however, is not sufficient to explain the full significance of the event for Hume's own life. The work undoubtedly failed to do what its author expected from it; even the notice, otherwise not unsatisfactory, which it obtained in the History of the Works of the Learned, then the principal critical journal, did not in the least appreciate the true bearing of the Treatise on current discussions. Hume naturally expected that the world would see as clearly as he did the connexion between the concrete problems agitating contemporary thought and the abstract principles on which their solution depended. Accordingly he looked for opposition, and expected that, if his principles were received, a change in general conceptions of things would ensue. His disappointment at its reception was great; and though he never entirely relinquished his metaphysical speculations, though all that is of value in his later writings depends on the acute analysis of human nature to which he was from the first attracted, one cannot but regret that his high powers were henceforth withdrawn for the most part from the consideration, of the foundations of belief, and expended on its practical applications. In later years he attributed his want of success to the immature style of his early exposition, to the rashness of a young innovator in an old and well-established province of literature. But this has little foundation beyond the irritation of an author at his own failure to attract such attention as he deems his due. None of the principles of the Treatise is given up in the later writings, and no addition is made to them. Nor can the superior polish of the more mature productions counterbalance the concentrated vigour of the more youthful work.

After the publication of the Treatise Hume retired to his brother's house at Ninewells and carried on his studies, mainly in the direction of politics and political economy. In 1741 he published the first volume of his Essays, which had a considerable and immediate success. A second edition was called for in the following year, in which also a second volume was published. These essays Butler, to whom he had sent a copy of his Treatise, but with whom he had failed to make personal acquaintance, warmly commended. The philosophical relation between Butler and Hume is curious. So far as analysis of knowledge is concerned they are in harmony, and Hume's sceptical conclusions regarding belief in matters of fact are the foundations on which Butler's defence of religion rests. Butler, however, retained, in spite of his destructive theory of knowledge, confidence in the rational proofs for the existence of God, and certainly maintains what may be vaguely described as an a priori view of conscience. Hume had the greatest respect for the author of the Analogy, ranks him with Locke and Berkeley as an originator of the experimental method in moral science, and in his specially theological essays, such as that on Particular Providence and a Future State, has Butler's views specifically in mind. (See Butler.) The success of the Essays, though hardly great enough to satisfy his somewhat exorbitant cravings, was a great encouragement to him. He began to hope that his earlier work, if recast and lightened, might share the fortunes of its successor; and at intervals throughout the next four years he occupied himself in rewriting it in a more succinct form with all the literary grace at his command. Meantime he continued to look about for some post which might secure him the modest independence he desired. In 1744 we find him, in anticipation of a vacancy in the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh university, moving his friends to advance his cause with the electors; and though, as he tells us, " the accusation of heresy, deism, scepticism or theism, &c., &c., was started " against him, it had no effect, " being bore down by the contrary authority of all the good people in town." To his great mortification, however, he found out, as he thought, that Hutcheson and Leechman, with whom he had been on terms of friendly correspondence, were giving the weight of their opinion against his election. The after history of these negotiations is obscure. Failing in this attempt, he was induced to become tutor, or keeper, to the marquis of Annandale, a harmless literary lunatic. This position, financially advantageous, was absurdly false (see letters in Burton's Life, i. ch. v.), and when the matter ended Hume had to sue for arrears of salary.

In 1746 Hume accepted the office of secretary to General St Clair, and was a spectator of the ill-fated expedition to France in the autumn of that year. His admirable account of the transaction has been printed by Burton. After a brief sojourn at Ninewells, doubtless occupied in preparing for publication his Philosophical Essays (afterwards entitled An Inquiry concerning Human Understanding), Hume was again associated with General St Clair as secretary in the embassy to Vienna and Turin (1748). The notes of this journey are written in a light and amusing style, showing Hume's usual keenness of sight in some directions and his almost equal blindness in others.

During his absence from England, early in the year 1748, the Philosophical Essays were published; but the first reception of the work was little more favourable than that accorded to the Treatise. To the later editions of the work Hume prepared an " Advertisement " referring to the Treatise, and desiring that the Essays " may alone be regarded as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles." Some modern critics have accepted this disclaimer as of real value, but in fact it has no significance; and Hume himself in a striking letter to Gilbert Elliott indicated the true relation of the two works. " I believe the Philosophical Essays contain everything of consequence relating to the understanding which you would meet with in the Treatise, and I give you my advice against reading the latter. By shortening and simplifying the questions, I really render them much more complete. Addo dum rninuo. The philosophical principles are the same in both." The Essays are undoubtedly written with more maturity and skill than the Treatise; they contain in more detail application of the principles to concrete problems, such as miracles, providence, immortality; but the entire omission of the discussion forming part ii. of the first book of the Treatise, and the great compression of part iv., are real defects which must always render the Treatise the more important work.

In 1749 Hume returned to Ninewells, enriched with " near a thousand pounds." In 1751 he removed to Edinburgh, where for the most part he resided during the next twelve years of his life. These years are the richest so far as literary production is concerned. In 1751 he published his Political Discourses, which had a great and well-deserved success both in England and abroad. It was translated into French by Mauvillon (1753) and by the Abbe le Blanc (1754). In the same year appeared the recast of the third book of the Treatise, called Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, of which he says that " of all his writings, philosophical, literary or historical, it is incomparably the best." At this time also we hear of the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, a work which Hume was prevailed on not to publish, but which he revised with great care, and evidently regarded with the greatest favour. The work itself, left by Hume with instructions that it should be published, did not appear till 1779.

In 1751 Hume was again unsuccessful in the attempt to gain a professor's chair. In the following year he received, in spite of the usual accusations of heresy, the librarianship of the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, small in emoluments (40 a year) but rich in opportunity for literary work. In a playful letter to Dr Clephane, he describes his satisfaction at his appointment, and attributes it in some measure to the support of " the ladies." In 1753 Hume was fairly settled in Edinburgh, preparing for his History of England. He had decided to begin the History, not with Henry VII., as Adam Smith recommended, but with James I., considering that the political differences of his time took their origin from that period. On the whole his attitude in respect to disputed political principles seems not to have been at first consciously unfair. As for the qualities necessary to secure success as a writer on history, he felt that he possessed them in a high degree; and, though neither his ideal of an historian nor his equipment for the task of historical research would now appear adequate, in both he was much in advance of his time. " But," he writes in the well-known passage of his Life, " miserable was my disappointment. I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation;. .. what was still more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion. Mr Millar told me that in a twelvemonth he sold only forty-five copies of it." This account must be accepted with reservations. It expresses Hume's feelings rather than the real facts. In Edinburgh, as we learn from one of his letters, the book succeeded well, no fewer than 450 copies being disposed of in five weeks. Nor is there anything in Hume's correspondence to show that the failure of the book was so complete as he declared. Within a very few years the sale of the History was sufficient to gain for the author a larger revenue than had ever before been known in his country to flow from literature, and to place him in comparative affluence. He seems to have received 400 for the first edition of the first volume, £700 for the first edition of the second and 0840 for the copyright of the two together. At the same time the bitterness of Hume's feelings and their effect are of importance in his life. It is from the publication of the History that we date his virulent hatred of everything English, towards society in London, Whig principles, Whig ministers and the public generally (see Burton's Life, ii. 268, 4 1 7, 434). He was convinced that there was a conspiracy to suppress and destroy everything Scottish.' The remainder of the History became little better than a party pamphlet. The second volume, published in 1756, carrying on the narrative to the Revolution, was better received than the first; but Hume then resolved to work backwards, and to show from a survey of the Tudor period that his Tory notions were grounded upon the history of the constitution. In 1759 this portion of the work appeared, and in 1761 the work was completed by the history of the pre-Tudor periods. The numerous editions of the various portions - for, despite Hume's wrath and grumblings, the book was a great literary success - gave him an opportunity of careful revision, which he employed to remove from it all the ' villainous seditious Whig strokes," and " plaguy prejudices of Whiggism " that he could detect. In other words, he bent all his efforts toward making his History more of a party work than it had been, and in his effort he was entirely successful. The early portion of his History may be regarded as now of little or no value. The sources at Hume's command were few, and he did not use them all. None the less, the History has a distinct place in the literature of England. It was the first attempt at a comprehensive treatment of historic facts, the first to introduce the social and literary aspects of a nation's life as only second in importance to its political fortunes, and the first historical writing in an animated yet refined and polished style.2 While the History was in process of publication, Hume did not entirely neglect his other lines of activity. In 1757 appeared Four Dissertations: The Natural History of Religion, Of the Passions, Of Tragedy, Of the Standard of Taste. Of these the dissertation on the passions is a very subtle piece of psychology, containing the essence of the second book of the Treatise. It is remarkable that Hume does not appear to have been acquainted with Spinoza's analysis of the affections. The last two essays are contributions of no great importance to aesthetics, a department of philosophy in which Hume was not strong. The Natural History of Religion is a powerful contribution to the deistic controversy; but, as in the case of Hume's earlier work, its significance was at the time overlooked. It is an attempt to carry the war into a province hitherto allowed to remain at peace, the theory of the general development of religious ideas. Deists, though raising doubts regarding the historic narratives of the Christian faith, had never disputed the general fact that belief in one God was natural and primitive. Hume endeavours to show that polytheism was the earliest as well as the most natural form of religious belief, and that theism or deism is ' See Burton, ii. 265, 148 and 238. Perhaps our knowledge of Johnson's sentiments regarding the Scots in general, and of his expressions regarding Hume and Smith in particular, may lessen our surprise at this vehemence.

2 Macaulay describes Hume's characteristic fault as an historian: " Hume is an accomplished advocate. Without positively asserting much more than he can prove, he gives prominence to all the circumstances which support his case; he glides lightly over those which are unfavourable to it; his own witnesses are applauded and encouraged; the statements which seem to throw discredit on them are controverted; the contradictions into which they fall are explained away; a clear and connected abstract of their evidence is given. Everything that is offered on the other side is scrutinized with the utmost severity; every suspicious circumstance is a ground for argument and invective; what cannot be denied is extenuated, or passed by without notice; concessions even are sometimes made; but this insidious candour only increases the effect of the vast mass of sophistry." - Miscell. Writings, " History." With this may be compared the more favourable verdict by J. S. Brewer, in the preface to his edition of the Student's Hume. the product of reflection upon experience, thus reducing the valiuity of the historical argument to that of the theoretical proofs.

In 1763 he accompanied Lord Hertford to Paris, doing the duties of secretary to the embassy, with the prospect of the appointment to that post. He was everywhere received " with the most extraordinary honours." The society of Paris was peculiarly ready to receive a great philosopher and historian, especially if he were known to be an avowed antagonist of religion, and Hume made valuable friendships, especially with D'Alembert and Turgot, the latter of whom profited much by Hume's economical essays. In 1766 he left Paris and returned to Edinburgh. In 1767 he accepted the post of under-secretary to General Conway and spent two years in London.

He settled finally in Edinburgh in 1769, having now through his pension and otherwise an income of £1000 a year. The solitary incident of note in this period of his life is the ridiculous quarrel with Rousseau, which throws much light upon the character of the great sentimentalist. Hume certainly did his utmost to secure for Rousseau a comfortable retreat in England, but his usually sound judgment seems at first to have been quite at fault with regard to his protege. The quarrel which all the acquaintances of the two philosophers had predicted soon came, and no language had expressions strong enough for Rousseau's anger. Hume came well out of the business, and had the sagacity to conclude that his admired friend was little better than a madman. In one of his most charming letters he describes his life in Edinburgh. The new house to which he alludes was built under his own directions at the corner of what is now called St David Street after him; it became the centre of the most cultivated society of Edinburgh. Hume's cheerful temper, his equanimity, his kindness to literary aspirants and to those whose views differed from his own won him universal respect and affection. He welcomed the work of his friends (e.g. Robertson and Adam Smith), and warmly recognized the worth of his opponents (e.g. George Campbell and Reid). He assisted Blackwell and Smollett in their difficulties and became the acknowledged patriarch of literature.

In the spring of 1775 Hume was struck with a tedious and harassing though not painful illness. A visit to Bath seemed at first to have produced good effects, but on the return journey more alarming symptoms developed themselves, his strength rapidly sank, and, little more than a month later, he died in Edinburgh on the 25th of August 1776.

No notice of Hume would be complete without the sketch of his character drawn by his own hand: " To conclude historically with my own character, I am, or rather was (for that is the style I must now use in speaking of myself, which emboldens me the more to speak my sentiments), - I was, I say, a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions. Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments. My company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the studious and literary; and as I took a particular pleasure in the company of modest women, I had no reason to be displeased with the reception I met with from them. In a word, though most men anywise eminent have found reason to complain of calumny, I never was touched, or even attacked, by her baleful tooth; and, though I wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious factions, they seem to be disarmed on my behalf of their wonted fury. My friends never had occasion to vindicate any one circumstance of my character and conduct; not but that the zealots, we may well suppose, would have been glad to invent and propagate any story to my disadvantage, but they could never find any which they thought would wear the face of probability. I cannot say there is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one; and this is a matter of fact which is easily cleansed and ascertained." The more his life has become known, the more confidence we place in this admirable estimate.

The results of Hume's speculations may be discussed under two heads: - (t) philosophical, (2) economical.

t. The philosophical writings, which mark a distinct epoch in the development of modern thought, can here be considered in two Phlloa only of the many aspects in which they present themselves sophy. as of the highest interest to the historian of philosophy. In the Treatise of Human Nature, which is in every respect the most complete exposition of Hume's philosophical conception, we have the first thorough-going attempt to apply the fundamental principles of Locke's empirical psychology to the construction of a theory of knowledge, and, as a natural consequence, the first systematic criticism of the chief metaphysical notions from this point of view. Hume, in that work, holds the same relation to Locke and Berkeley as the late J. S. Mill held with his System of Logic to Hartley and James Mill. In certain of the later writings, pre-eminently in the Dialogues on Natural Religion, Hume brings the result of his speculative criticism to bear upon the problems of current theological discussion, and gives in their regard, as previously with respect to general philosophy, the final word of the empirical theory in its earlier form. The interesting parallel between Hume and J. S. Mill in this second feature will not be overlooked.

In the first instance, then, Hume's philosophical work is to be regarded as the attempt to supply for empiricism in psychology a consistent, that is, a logically developed theory of knowledge. In Locke, indeed, such theory is not wanting, but, of all the many inconsistencies in the Essay on the Human Understanding, none is more apparent or more significant than the complete want of harmony between the view of knowledge developed in the fourth book and the psychological principles laid down in the earlier part of the work. Though Locke, doubtless, drew no distinction between the problems of psychology and of theory of knowledge, yet the discussion of the various forms of cognition given in the fourth book of the Essay seems to be based on grounds quite distinct from and in many respects inconsistent with the fundamental psychological principle of his work. The perception of relations, which, according to him, is the essence of cognition, the demonstrative character which he thinks attaches to our inference of God's existence, the intuitive knowledge of self, are doctrines incapable of being brought into harmony with the view of mind and its development which is the keynote of his general theory. To some extent Berkeley removed this radical inconsistency, but in his philosophical work it may be said with safety there are two distinct aspects, and while it holds of Locke on the one hand, it stretches forward to Kantianism on the other. Nor in Berkeley are these divergent features ever united into one harmonious whole. It was left for Hume to approach the theory of knowledge with full consciousness from the psychological point of view, and to work out the final consequences of that view so far as cognition is concerned. The terms wh: ch he employs in describing the aim and scope of his work are not those which we should now employ, but the declaration, in the introduction to the Treatise, that the science of human nature must be treated according to the experimental method, is in fact equivalent to the statement of the principle implied in Locke's Essay, that the problems of psychology and of theory of knowledge are identical. This view is the characteristic of what we may call the English school of philosophy.

In order to make perfectly clear the full significance of the principle which Hume applied to the solution of the chief philosophical questions, it is necessary to render somewhat more precise and complete the statement of the psychological view Theory which lies at the foundation of the empirical theory, and to distinguish from it the problem of the theory of knowledge upon which it was brought to bear. Without entering into details, which it is the less necessary to do because the subject has been recently discussed with great fulness in works readily accessible, it may be said that for Locke as for Hume the problem of psychology was the exact description of the contents of the individual mind, and the determination of the conditions of the origin and development of conscious experience in the individual mind. And the answer to the problem which was furnished by Locke is in effect that with which Hume started. The conscious experience of the individual is the result of interaction between the individual mind and the universe of things. This solution presupposes a peculiar conception of the general relation between the mind and things which in itself requires justification, and which, so far at least as the empirical theory was developed by Locke and his successors, could not be obtained from psychological analysis. Either we have a right to the assumption contained in the conception of the individual mind as standing in relation to things, in which case the grounds of the assumption must be sought elsewhere than in the results of this reciprocal relation, or we have no right to the assumption, in which case reference to the reciprocal relation can hardly be accepted as yielding any solution of the psychological problem. But in any case, - and, as we shall see, Hume endeavours so to state his psychological premises as to conceal the assumption made openly by Locke, - it is apparent that this psychological solution does not contain the answer to the wider and radically distinct problem of the theory of knowledge. For here we have to consider how the individual intelligence comes to know any fact whatsoever, and what is meant by the cognition of a fact. With Locke, Hume professes to regard this problem as virtually covered or answered by the fundamental psychological theorem; but the superior clearness of his reply enables us to mark with perfect precision the nature of the difficulty inherent in the attempt to regard the two as identical. For purposes of psychological analysis the conscious experience of the individual mind is taken as given fact, to be known, i.e. observed, discriminated, classified and explained in the same way in which any one special portion of experience is treated. Now if this mode of treatment be accepted as the only possible method, and its results assumed to be conclusive as regards the problem of knowledge, the fundamental peculiarity of cognition is overlooked. In all cognition, strictly so-called, there is involved a certain synthesis or relation of parts of a characteristic nature, and if we attempt to discuss this synthesis as though it were in itself but one of the facts forming the matter of knowledge, we are driven to regard this relation as being of the quite external kind discovered by observation among matters of knowledge. The difficulty of reconciling the two views is that which gives rise to much of the obscurity in Locke's treatment of the theory of knowledge; in Hume the effort to identify them, and to explain the synthesis which is essential to cognition as merely the accidental result of external relations among the elements of conscious experience, appears with the utmost clearness, and gives the keynote of all his philosophical work. The final perplexity, concealed by various forms of expression, comes forward at the close of the Treatise as absolutely unsolved, and leads Hume, as will be pointed out, to a truly remarkable confession of the weakness of his own system.

While, then, the general idea of a theory of knowledge as based upon psychological analysis is the groundwork of the Treatise, it is a particular consequence of this idea that furnishes to Hume the characteristic criterion applied by him to all philosophical questions. If the relations involved in the fact of cognition are only those discoverable by observation of any particular portion of known experience, then such relations are quite external and contingent. The only necessary relation which can be discovered in a given fact of experience is that of non-contradiction (i.e. purely formal); the thing must be what it is, and cannot be conceived as having qualities contradictory of its nature. The universal test, therefore, of any supposed philosophical principle is the possibility or impossibility of imagining its contradictory. All our knowledge is but the sum of our conscious experience, and is consequently material for imagination. " Let us fix our attention out of ourselves as much as possible; let us chase our imagination to the heavens or to the utmost limits of the universe; we never really advance a step beyond ourselves, nor can conceive any kind of existence, but those perceptions which have appeared in that narrow compass. This is the universe of the imagination, nor have we any idea but what is there produced." (Works, ed. of 1854, i. 93, cf. i. 107.) The course of Hume's work follows immediately from his fundamental principle, and the several divisions of the treatise, so far as the theoretical portions are concerned, are but its logical consequences. The first part of the first book contains a brief statement of the contents of mind, a description of all that observation can discover in conscious experience. The second part deals with those judgments which rest upon the formal elements of experience, space and time. The third part discusses the principle of real connexion among the elements of experience, the relation of cause and effect. The fourth part is virtually a consideration of the ultimate significance of this conscious experience, of the place it is supposed to occupy in the universe of existence, in other words, of the relations between the conscious experience of an individual mind as disclosed to observation and the supposed realities of self and external things.

In the first part Hume gives his own statement of the psychological foundations of his theory. Viewing the contents of mind as matter of experience, he can discover among them only and im- one distinction, a distinction expressed by the terms. impressions and ideas. Ideas are secondary in nature, copies of data supplied we know not whence. All that appears in conscious experience as primary, as arising from some unknown cause, and therefore relatively as original, Hume designates by the term impression, and claims to imply by such term no theory whatsoever as to the origin of this portion of experience. There is simply the fact of conscious experience, ultimate and inexplicable. Moreover, if we remain faithful to the fundamental conception that the contents of the mind are merely matters of experience, it is evident in the first place that as impressions are strictly individual, ideas also must be strictly particular, and in the second place that the faculties of combining, discriminating, abstracting and judging, which Locke had admitted, are merely expressions for particular modes of having mental experience, i.e. are modifications of conceiving (cf. i. 128 n., 137, 192). By this theory, Hume is freed from all the problems of abstraction and judgment. A comparative judgment is simplified into an isolated perception of a peculiar form, and a series of similar facts are grouped under a single symbol, representing a particular perception, and only by the accident of custom treated as universal (see i. 37, 38, loo).

Such, in substance, is Hume's restatement of Locke's empirical view. Conscious experience consists of isolated states, each of which is to be regarded as a fact and is related to others in a quite external fashion. It remains to be seen how knowledge can be explained on such a basis; but, before proceeding to sketch Hume's answer to this question, it is necessary to draw attention, first, to the peculiar device invariably resorted to by him when any exception to his general principle that ideas are secondary copies of impressions presents itself, and, secondly, to the nature of the substitute offered by him for that perception of relations or synthesis which even in Locke's confused statements had appeared as the essence of cognition. Whenever Hume finds it impossible to recognize in an idea the mere copy of a particular impression, he introduces the phrase " manner of conceiving." Thus general or abstract ideas are merely copies of a particular impression conceived in a particular manner. The ideas. of space and time, as will presently be pointed out, are copies of impressions conceived in a particular manner. The idea of necessary connexion is merely the reproduction of an impression which the mind feels itself compelled to conceive in a particular manner. Such a fashion of disguising difficulties points, not only to an inconsistency in Hume's theory as stated by himself, but to the initial error upon which it proceeds; for these perplexities are but the consequences of the doctrine that cognition is to be explained on the basis of particular perceptions. These external relations are, in fact, what Hume describes as the natural bonds of connexion among ideas, and, regarded subjectively as principles of association among the facts of mental experience, they form the substitute he offers for the synthesis implied in knowledge. These principles of association determine the imagination to combine ideas in various modes, and by this mechanical combination Hume, for a time, endeavoured to explain what are otherwise called judgments of relation. It was impossible, however, for him to carry out this view consistently. The only combination which, even in appearance, could be explained satisfactorily by its means was the formation of a complex idea out of simpler parts, but the idea of a relation among facts is not accurately described as a complex idea; and, as such relations have na basis in impressions, Hume is finally driven to a confession of the absolute impossibility of explaining them. Such confession, however, is only reached after a vigorous effort had been made to render some account of knowledge by the experimental method.

The psychological conception, then, on the basis of which Hume proceeds to discuss the theory of knowledge, is that of conscious experience as containing merely the succession of isolated impressions and their fainter copies, ideas, and as bound on. together by merely natural or external links of connexion, the principles of association among ideas. The foundations of cognition must be discovered by observation or analysis of experience so conceived. Hume wavers somewhat in his division of the various kinds of cognition, laying stress now upon one now upon another of the points in which mainly they differ from one another. Nor is it of the first importance, save with the view of criticizing his own consistency, that we should adopt any of the divisions implied in his exposition. For practical purposes we may regard the most important discussions in the Treatise as falling under two heads. In the first place there are certain principles of cognition which appear to rest upon and to express relations of the universal elements in conscious experience, viz. space and time. The propositions of mathematics seem to be independent of this or that special fact of experience, and to remain unchanged even when the concrete matter of experience varies. They are formal. In the second place, cognition, in any real sense of that term, implies connexion for the individual mind between the present fact of experience and other facts, whether past or future. It appears to involve, therefore, some real relation among the portions of experience, on the basis of which relation judgments and inferences as to matters of fact can be shown to rest. The theoretical question is consequently that of the nature of the supposed relation, and of the certainty of judgments and inferences resting on it.

Hume's well-known distinction between relations of ideas and matters of fact corresponds fairly to this separation of the formal and real problems in the theory of cognition, although that distinction is in itself inadequate and not fully representative of Hume's own conclusions.

With regard, then, to the first problem, the formal element in knowledge, Hume has to consider several questions, distinct in nature and hardly discriminated by him with sufficient precision. For a complete treatment of this portion of the theory of knowledge, there require to be taken into consideration at least the following points: (a) the exact nature and significance of the space and time relations in our experience, (b) the mode in which the primary data, facts or principles, of mathematical cognition are obtained, (c) the nature, extent and certainty of such data, in themselves and with reference to the concrete material of experience, (d) the principle of inference from the data, however obtained. Not all of these points are discussed by Hume with the same fulness, and with regard to some of them it is difficult to state his conclusions. It will be of service, however, to attempt a summary of his treatment under these several heads, - the more so as almost all expositions of his philosophy are entirely defective in the account given of this essential portion. The brief statement in the Inquiry, § iv., is of no value, and indeed is almost unintelligible unless taken in reference to the full discussion contained in part ii. of the Treatise. (a) The nature of space and time as elements in conscious experience is considered by Hume in relation to a special problem, that of their supposed infinite divisibility. Evidently upon his and view of conscious experience, of the world of imagination, ti such infinite divisibility must be a fiction. The ultimate elements of experience must be real units, capable of being represented or imagined in isolation. Whence then do these units arise? or, if we put the problem as it was necessary Hume should put it to himself, in what orders or classes of impressions do we find the elements of space and time? Beyond all question Hume, in endeavouring to answer this problem, is brought face to face with one of the difficulties inherent in his conception of conscious experience.

For he has to give some explanation of the nature of space and time which shall identify these with impressions, and at the same time is compelled to recognize the fact that they are not identical with any single impression or set of impressions. Putting aside, then, the various obscurities of terminology, such as the distinction between the objects known, viz. " points " or several mental states, and the impressions themselves, which disguise the full significance of his conclusion, we find Hume reduced to the following as his theory of space and time. Certain impressions, the sensations of sight and touch, have in themselves the element of space, for these impressions (Hume skilfully transfers his statement to the points) have a certain order or mode of arrangement. This mode of arrangement or manner of disposition is common to coloured points and tangible points, and, considered separately, is the impression from which our idea of space is taken. All impressions and all ideas are received, or form parts of a mental experience only when received, in a certain order, the order of succession. This manner of presenting themselves is the impression from which the idea of time takes its rise.

It is almost superfluous to remark, first, that Hume here deliberately gives up his fundamental principle that ideas are but the fainter copies of impressions, for it can never be maintained that order of disposition is an impression, and, secondly, that he fails to offer any explanation of the mode in which coexistence and succession are possible elements, of cognition in a conscious experience made up of isolated presentations and representations. For the consistency of his theory, however, it was indispensable that he should insist upon the real, i.e. presentative character of the ultimate units of space and time.

(b) How then are the primary data of mathematical cognition to be derived from an experience containing space and time relations in Hume, in regard to this problem, distinctly separates geometry from algebra and arithmetic, i.e. he views extensive quantity as being cognized differently from number. With regard to geometry, he holds emphatically that it is an empirical doctrine, a science founded on observation of concrete facts. The rough appearances of physical facts, their outlines, surfaces and so on, are the data of observation, and only by a method of approximation do we gradually come near to such propositions as are laid down in pure geometry. He definitely repudiates a view often ascribed to him, and certainly advanced by many later empiricists, that the data of geometry are hypothetical. The ideas of perfect lines, figures and surfaces have not, according to him, any existence. (See Works, i. 66, 69, 73, 97 and iv. 180.) It is impossible to give any consistent account of his doctrine regarding number. He holds, apparently, that the foundation of all the science of number is the fact that each element of conscious experience is presented as a unit, and adds that we are capable of considering any fact or collection of facts as a unit. This manner of conceiving is absolutely general and distinct, and accordingly affords the possibility of an all-comprehensive and perfect science, the science of discrete quantity. (See Works, i. 97.) (c) In respect to the third point, the nature, extent and certainty of the elementary propositions of mathematical science, Hume's utterances are far from clear. The principle with which he starts and from which follows his well-known distinction between relations of ideas and matters of fact, a distinction which Kant appears to have thought identical with his distinction between analytical and synthetical judgments, is comparatively simple. The ideas of the quantitative aspects of phenomena are exact representations of these aspects or quantitative impressions; consequently, whatever is found true by consideration of the ideas may be asserted regarding the real impressions. No question arises regarding the existence of the fact represented by the idea, and in so far, at least, mathematical judgments may be described as hypothetical. For they simply assert what will be found true in any conscious experience containing coexisting impressions of sense (specifically, of sight and touch), and in its nature successive. That the propositions are hypothetical in this fashion does not imply any distinction between the abstract truth of the ideal judgments and the im p erfect correspondence of concrete material with these abstract relations. Such distinction is quite foreign to Hume, and can only be ascribed to him from an entire misconception of his view regarding the ideas of space and time. (For an example of such misconception, which is almost universal, see Riehl, Der philosophische Kriticismus, i. 96, 97.) (d) From this point onwards Hume's treatment becomes exceedingly confused. The identical relation between the ideas of space and time and the impressions corresponding to them apparently leads him to regard judgments of continuous and discrete quantity as standing on the same footing, while the ideal character of the data gives a certain colour to his inexact statements regarding the extent and truth of the judgments founded on them. The emphatic utterances in the Inquiry (iv. 30, 186), and even at the beginning of the relative section in the Treatise (i. 95) may be cited in illustration. But in both works these utterances are qualified in such a manner as to enable us to perceive the real bearings of his doctrine, and to pronounce at once that it differs widely from that commonly ascribed to him. " It is from the idea of a triangle that we discover the relation of equality which its three angles bear to two right ones; and this relation is invariable, so long as our idea remains the same " (i. 95). If taken in isolation this passage might appear sufficient justification for Kant's view that, according to Hume, geometrical judgments are analytical and therefore perfect. But it is to be recollected that, according to Hume, an idea is actually a representation or individual picture, not a notion or even a schema, and that he never claims to be able to extract the predicate of a geometrical judgment by analysis of the subject. The properties of this individual subject, the idea of the triangle, are, according to him, discovered by observation, and as observation, whether actual or ideal, never presents us with more than the rough or general appearances of geometrical quantities, the relations so discovered have only approximate exactness. " Ask a mathematician what he means when he pronounces two quantities to be equal, and he must say that the idea of equality is one of those which cannot be defined, and that it is sufficient to place two equal quantities before any one in order to suggest it. Now this is an appeal to the general appearances of objects to the imagination or senses " (iv. 180). " Though it (i.e. geometry) much excels, both in universality and exactness, the loose judgments of the senses and imagination, yet [it] never attains a perfect precision and exactness " (i. 97). Any exactitude attaching to the conclusions of geometrical reasoning arises from the comparative simplicity of the data for the primary judgments.

So far, then, as geometry is concerned, Hume's opinion is perfectly definite. It is an experimental or observational science, founded on primary or immediate judgments (in his phraseology, perceptions), of relation between facts of intuition; its conclusions are hypothetical only in so far as they do not imply the existence at the moment of corresponding real experience; and its propositions have no exact truth. With respect to arithmetic and algebra, the science of numbers, he expresses an equally definite opinion, but unfortunately it is quite impossible to state in any satisfactory fashion the grounds for it or even its full bearing. He nowhere explains the origin of the notions of unity and number, but merely asserts that through their means we can have absolutely exact arithmetical propositions (Works, i. 97, 98). Upon the nature of the reasoning by which in mathematical science we pass from data to conclusions, Hume gives no explicit statement. If we were to say that on his view the essential step must be the establishment of identities or equivalences, we should probably be doing justice to his doctrine of numerical reasoning, but should have some difficulty in showing the application of the method to geometrical reasoning. For in the latter case we possess, according to Hume, no standard of equivalence other than that supplied by immediate observation, and consequently transition from one premise to another by way of reasoning must be, in geometrical matters, a purely verbal process.

Hume's theory of mathematics - the only one, perhaps, which is compatible with his fundamental principle of psychology - is a practical condemnation of his empirical theory of perception. He has not offered even a plausible explanation of the mode by which a consciousness made up of isolated momentary impressions and ideas can be aware of coexistence and number, or succession. The relations. of ideas are accepted as facts of immediate observation, as being themselves perceptions or individual elements of conscious experience, and to all appearance they are regarded by Hume as being in a sense analytical, because the formal criterion of identity is applicable to them. It is applicable, however, not because the predicate is contained in the subject, but on the principle of contradiction. If these judgments are admitted to be facts of immediate perception, the supposition of their non-existence is impossible. The ambiguity in his criterion, however, seems entirely to have escaped Hume's attention.

A somewhat detailed consideration of Hume's doctrine with regard to mathematical science has been given for the reason that this portion of his theory has been very generally overlooked or misinterpreted. It does not seem necessary to endeavour to follow his minute examination of the principle of real cognition with the same fulness. It will probably be sufficient to indicate the problem as conceived by Hume, and the relation of the method he adopts for solving it to the fundamental doctrine of his theory of knowledge.

Real cognition, as Hume points out, implies transition from the present impression or feeling to something connected with it. As this thing can only be an impression or perception, and is not itself present, it is represented by its copy or idea. Now the supreme, all-comprehensive link of connexion between present feeling or impression and either past or future experience is that of causation. The idea in question is, therefore, the idea of something connected with the present impression as its cause or effect. But this is explicitly the idea of the said thing as having had or as about to have existence, - in other words, belief in the existence of some matter of fact. What, for a conscious experience so constituted as Hume will admit, is the precise significance of such belief in real existence ?

Clearly the real existence of a fact is not demonstrable. For whatever is may be conceived not to be. " No negation of a fact can involve a contradiction." Existence of any fact, not present as a perception, can only be proved by arguments from cause or effect. But as each perception is in consciousness only as a contingent fact, which might not be or might be other than it is, we must admit that the mind can conceive no necessary relations or connexions among the several portions of its experience.

If, therefore, a present perception leads us to assert the existence of some other, this can only be interpreted as meaning that in some natural, i.e. psychological, manner the idea of this other perception is excited, and that the idea is viewed by the mind in some peculiar fashion. The natural link of connexion Hume finds in the similarities presented by experience. One fact or perception is discovered by experience to be uniformly or generally accompanied by another, and its occurrence therefore naturally excites the idea of that other. But when an idea is so roused up by a present impression, and when this idea, being a consequence of memory, has in itself a certain vivacity or liveliness, we regard it with a peculiar indefinable feeling, and in this feeling consists the immense difference between mere imagination and belief. The mind is led easily and rapidly from the present impression to the ideas of impressions found by experience to be the usual accompaniments of the present fact. The ease and rapidity of the mental transition is the sole ground for the supposed necessity of the causal connexion between portions of experience. The idea of necessity is not intuitively obvious; the ideas of cause and effect are correlative in our minds, but only as a result of experience. Hobbes and Locke were wrong in saying that the mind must find in the relation the idea of Power. We mistake the sub j ective transition resting upon custom or past experience for an objective connexion independent of special feelings. All reasoning about matters of fact is therefore a species of feeling, and belongs to the sensitive rather than to the cogitative side of our nature. It should be noted that this theory of Causation entirely denies the doctrine of Uniformity in Nature, so far as the human mind is concerned. All alleged uniformity is reduced to observed similarity of process. The idea is a mere convention, product of inaccurate thinking and custom.

While it is evident that some such conclusion must follow from the attempt to regard the cognitive consciousness as made up of disconnected feelings, it is equally clear, not only that the result is selfcontradictory, but that it involves certain assumptions not in any way deducible from the fundamental view with which Hume starts. For in the problem of real cognition he is brought face to face with the characteristic feature of knowledge, distinction of self from matters known, and reference of transitory states to permanent objects or relations. Deferring his criticism of the significance of self and object, Hume yet makes use of both to aid his explanation of the belief attaching to reality. The reference of an idea to past experience has no meaning, unless we assume an identity in the object referred to. For a past impression is purely transitory, and, as Hume occasionally points out, can have no connexion of fact with the present consciousness. His exposition has thus a certain plausibility, which would not belong to it had the final view of the permanent object been already given.

The final problem of Hume's theory of knowledge, the discussion of the real significance of the two factors of cognition, self and external things, is handled in the Treatise with great fulness and dialectical subtlety.

As in the case of the previous problem, it is unnecessary to follow the steps of his analysis, which are, for the most part, attempts to self substitute qualities of feeling for the relations of thought The . which appear to be involved. The results follow with the cognition utmost ease from his original postulate. If there is nothing in conscious experience save what observation can disclose, while each act of observation is itself an isolated feeling (an impression or idea), it is manifest that a permanent identical thing can never be an object of experience. Whatever permanence or identity is ascribed to an impression or idea is the result of association, is one of those " propensities to feign " which are due to natural connexions among ideas. We regard as successive presentations of one thing the resembling feelings which are experienced in succession. Identity, then, whether of self or object, there is none, and the supposition of objects, distinct from impressions, is but a further consequence of our " propensity to feign." Hume's explanation of the belief in external things by reference to association is well deserving of careful study and of comparison with the more recent analysis of the same problem by J. S. Mill.

The weak points in Hume's empiricism are so admirably realized Negative by the author himself that it is only fair to quote his own Negativ of summary in the Appendix to the Treatise. He confesses result that, in confining all cognition to single perceptions and. supplying no purely intellectual faculty for modifying, treatise recording and classifying their results, he has destroyed real knowledge altogether: " If perceptions are distinct existences, they form a whole only by being connected together. But no connexions among distinct existences are ever discoverable by human understanding. We only feel a connexion or determination of the thought to pass from one object to another. It follows, therefore, that the thought alone feels personal identity, when, reflecting on the train of past perceptions that compose a mind, the ideas of them are felt to be connected together and naturally introduce each other.

" However extraordinary this conclusion may seem, it need not surprise us. Modern philosophers seem inclined to think that personal identity arises from consciousness, and consciousness is nothing but a reflected thought or perception. The present philosophy, therefore, has a promising aspect. But all my hopes vanish when I come to explain the principles that unite our successive perceptions in our thought or consciousness. I cannot discover any theory which gives me satisfaction on this head... .

" In short, there are two principles which I cannot render consistent, nor is it in my power to renounce either of them; viz. that all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences, and that the mind never perceives any real connexion among distinct existences. Did our perceptions either inhere in something simple or individual, or did the mind perceive some real connexion among them, there would be no difficulty in the case " (ii. 551).

The closing sentences of this passage may be regarded as pointing to the very essence of the Kantian attempt at solution of the problem of knowledge. Hume sees distinctly that if conscious experience be taken as containing only isolated states, no progress in explanation of cognition is possible, and that the only hope of further development is to be looked for in a radical change in our mode of conceiving experience. The work of the critical philosophy is the introduction of this new mode of regarding experience, a mode which, in the technical language of philosophers, has received the title of transcendental as opposed to the psychological method followed by Locke and Hume. It is because Kant alone perceived the full significance of the change required in order to meet the difficulties of the empirical theory that we regard his system as the only sequel to that of Hume. The writers of the Scottish school, Reid in particular, did undoubtedly indicate some of the weaknesses in Hume's fundamental conception, and their attempts to show that the isolated feeling cannot be taken as the ultimate and primary unit of cognitive experience are efforts in the right direction. But the question of knowledge was never generalized by them, and their reply to Hume, therefore, remains partial and inadequate, while its effect is weakened by the uncritical assumption of principles which is a characteristic feature of their writings.

The results of Hume's theoretical analysis are applied by him to the problems of practical philosophy and religion. For the first of these the reader is referred to the article Ethics, where Theology Hume's views are placed in relation to those of his pre- and ethics. decessors in the same field of inquiry. His position, as regards the second, is very noteworthy. As before said, his metaphysic contains in abstracto the principles which were at that time being employed, uncritically, alike by the deists and by their antagonists. There can be no doubt that Hume has continually in mind the theological questions then current, and that he was fully aware of the mode in which his analysis of knowledge might be applied to them. A few of the less important of his criticisms, such as the argument on miracles, became then and have since remained public property and matter of general discussion. But the full significance of his work on the theological side was not at the time perceived, and justice has barely been done to the admirable manner in which he reduced the theological disputes of the century to their ultimate elements. The importance of the Dialogues on Natural Religion, as a contribution to the criticism of theological ideas and methods, can hardly be over-estimated. A brief survey of its contents will be sufficient to show its general nature and its relations to such works as Clarke's Demonstration and Butler's Analogy. The Dialogues introduce three interlocutors, Demea, Cleanthes and Philo, who represent three distinct orders of theological opinion. The first is the type of a certain a priori view, then regarded as the safest bulwark against infidelity, of which the main tenets were that the being of God was capable of a priori proof, and that, owing to the finitude of our faculties, the attributes and modes of operation of deity were absolutely incomprehensible. The second is the typical deist of Locke's school, improved as regards his philosophy, and holding that the only possible proof of God's existence was a posteriori, from design, and that such proof was, on the whole, sufficient. The third is the type of completed empiricism or scepticism, holding that no argument, either from reason or experience, can transcend experience, and consequently that no proof of God's existence is at all possible. The views of the first and second are played off against one another, and criticized by the third with great literary skill and effect. Cleanthes, who maintains that the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God is hardly distinguishable from atheism, is compelled by the arguments of Philo to reduce to a minimum the conclusion capable of being inferred from experience as regards the existence of God. For Philo lays stress upon the weakness of the analogical argument, points out that the demand for an ultimate cause is no more satisfied by thought than by nature itself, shows that the argument from design cannot warrant the inference of a perfect or infinite or even of a single deity, and finally, carrying out his principles to the full extent, maintains that, as we have no experience of the origin of the world, no argument from experience can carry us to its origin, and that the apparent marks of design in the structure of animals are only results from the conditions of their actual existence. So far as argument from nature is concerned, a total suspension of judgment is our only reasonable resource. Nor does the a priori argument in any of its forms fare better, for reason can never demonstrate a matter of fact, and, unless we know that the world had a beginning in time, we cannot insist that it must have had a cause. Demea, who is willing to give up his abstract proof, brings forward the ordinary theological topic, man's consciousness of his own imperfection, misery and dependent condition. Nature is throughout corrupt and polluted, but " the present evil phenomena are rectified in other regions and in some future period of existence." Such a view satisfies neither of his interlocutors. Cleanthes, pointing out that from a nature thoroughly evil we can never prove the existence of an infinitely powerful and benevolent Creator, hazards the conjecture that the deity, though all-benevolent, is not all-powerful. Philo, however, pushing his principles to their full consequences, shows that unless we assumed (or knew) beforehand that the system of nature was the work of a benevolent but limited deity, we certainly could not, from the facts of nature, infer the benevolence of its creator. Cleanthes's view is, therefore, an hypothesis, and in no sense an inference.

The Dialogues ought here to conclude. There is, however, appended one of those perplexing statements of personal opinion (for Hume declares Cleanthes to be his mouthpiece) not uncommon among writers of this period. Cleanthes and Philo come to an agreement, in admitting a certain illogical force in the a posteriori argument, or, at least, in expressing a conviction as to God's existence, which may not perhaps be altogether devoid of foundation. The precise value of such a declaration must be matter of conjecture. Probably the true statement of Hume's attitude regarding the problem is the somewhat melancholy utterance with which the Dialogues close.

It is apparent, even from the brief summary just given, that the importance of Hume in the history of philosophy consists in the vigour and logical exactness with which he develops a particular metaphysical view. Inconsistencies, no doubt, are to be detected in his system, but they arise from the limitations of the view itself, and not, as in the case of Locke and Berkeley, from imperfect grasp of the principle, and endeavour to unite with it others radically incompatible. In Hume's theory of knowledge we have the final expression of what may be called psychological individualism or atomism, while his ethics and doctrine of religion are but the logical consequences of this theory. So far as metaphysic is concerned, Hume has given the final word of the empirical school, and all additions, whether from the specifically psychological side or from the general history of human culture, are subordinate in character, and affect in no way the nature of his results. It is no exaggeration to say that the later English school of philosophy represented by J. S. Mill made in theory no advance beyond Hume. In the logic of Mill, e.g., we find much of a special character that has no counterpart in Hume, much that is introduced ab extra, from general considerations of scientific procedure, but, so far as the groundwork is concerned, the System of Logic is a mere reproduction of Hume's doctrine of knowledge. It is impossible for any reader of Mill's remarkable posthumous essay on theism to avoid the reflection that in substance the treatment is identical with that of the Dialogues on Natural Religion, while on the whole the superiority in critical force must be assigned to the earlier work.

2. Hume's eminence in the fields of philosophy and history must not be allowed to obscure his importance as a political economist. Econom i cs. Berkeley had already, in the Querist, attacked the mercan t i le theory of the nature of national wealth and the functions of money, and Locke had, in a partial manner, shown that political economy could with advantage be viewed in relation to the modern system of critical philosophy. But Hume was the first to apply to economics the scientific methods of his philosophy. His services to economics may be summed up in two heads: (I) he established the relation between economic facts and the fundamental phenomena of social life, and (2) he introduced into the study of these facts the new historical method. Thus, though he gave no special name to it, he yet describes the subject-matter, and indicates the true method, of economic science. His economic essays were published in the volumes entitled Political Discourses (1752) and Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1753); the most important are those on Commerce, on Money, on Interest and on the Balance of Trade, but, notwithstanding the disconnected form of the essays in general, the other less important essays combine to make a complete economic system. We have said that Berkeley and Locke had already begun the general work for which Hume is most important; in details also Hume had been anticipated to some extent. Nicholas Barbon and Sir Dudley North had already attacked the mercantile theory as to the precious metals and the balance of trade; Joseph Massie and Barbon had anticipated his theory of interest. Yet when we compare Hume with Adam Smith, the advance which Hume had made on his predecessors in lucidity of exposition and subtlety of intellect becomes clear, and modern criticism is agreed that the main errors of Adam Smith are to be found in those deductions which deviate from the results of the Political Discourses. A very few examples must suffice to illustrate his services to economics.

In dealing with money, he refutes the Mercantile School, which had tended to confound it with wealth. " Money," said Hume, " is none of the wheels of trade; it is the oil which renders the motion of the wheels more smooth and easy." " Money and commodities are the real strength of any community." From the internal, as distinct from the international, aspect, the absolute quantity of money, supposed as of fixed amount, in a country, is of no consequence, while a quantity larger than is required for the interchange of commodities is injurious, as tending to raise prices and to drive foreigners from the home markets. It is only during the period of acquisition of money, and before the rise in prices, that the accumulation of precious metals is advantageous. This principle is perhaps Hume's most important economic discovery (cf. F. A. Walker's Money in its Relations to Trade and Industry, London, 1880, p. 84 sqq.). He goes on to show that the variations of prices are due solely to money and commodities in circulation. Further, it is a misconception to regard as injurious the passage of money into foreign countries. " A government," he says, " has great reason to preserve with care its people and its manufactures; its money it may safely trust to the course of human affairs without fear or jealousy." Dealing with the phenomena of interest, he exposes the old fallacy that the rate depends upon the amount of money in a country; low interest does not follow on abundance of money. The reduction in the rate of interest must, in general, result from " the increase of industry and frugality, of arts and commerce." In connexion with this he emphasizes a too generally neglected factor in economic phenomena, " the constant and insatiable desire of the mind for exercise and employment." " Interest," he says in general, " is the barometer of the state, and its lowness an almost infallible sign of prosperity," arising, as it does, from increased trade, frugality in the merchant class, and the consequent rise of new lenders: low interest and low profits mutually forward each other. In the matter of free trade and protection he compromises. He says on Free the one hand, " not only as a man, but as a British subject I pray for the flourishing commerce of Germany, Spain, Italy and even France itself," and condemns " the numerous bars, obstructions and imposts which all nations of Europe, and none more than England, have put upon trade." On the other hand, he approves of a protective tax on German linen in favour of home manufactures, and of a tax on brandy as encouraging the sale of rum and so supporting our southern colonies. Indeed it has been fairly observed that Hume retains an attitude of refined mercantilism. With regard to taxation he takes very definite views. The best taxes, he says, are those levied on consumption, especially on Taxation luxuries, for these are least heavily felt. He denies that all taxes fall finally on the land. Superior frugality and industry on the part of the artisan will enable him to pay taxes without mechanically raising the price of labour.

Here, as in other points, he differs entirely from the physiocrats, and his criticism of contemporary French views are, as a whole, in accordance with received modern opinion. For the modern expedient of raising money for national emergencies by way of loan he has a profound distrust. He was convinced that what is bad for the individual credit must be bad for the state also. A national debt, he maintains, enriches the capital at the expense of the provinces; further, it creates a leisured class of stockholders, and possesses all the disadvantages of paper credit. " Either the nation must destroy public credit, or public credit will destroy the nation." To sum up, it may be said that Hume enunciated the principle that " everything in the world is purchased by labour, and our passions are the only causes of labour "; and further, that, in analysing the complex phenomena of commerce, he is superior sometimes to Adam Smith in that he never forgets that the ultimate causes of economic change are the " customs and manners " of the people, and that the solution of problems is to be sought in the elementary factors of industry.

Bibliography. - I. Life. - J. H. Burton's Life and Correspondence of David Hume (2 vols., 1846); Dr G. Birkbeck Hill, Letters of Hume to William Strahan; C. J. W. Francke, David Hume (Haarlem, 1907).

2. Works. - Until 1874 the standard edition was that of 1826 (reprinted 1854), in 4 vols. The best modern edition is that in 4 vols. by T. H. Green and T. H. Grose (containing a valuable introduction and excellent bibliographical matter); the Enquiry and the Treatise (1894 and 1896, Oxford), edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge.

3. Philosophic (the more important only can be quoted).- Huxley's Hume (a popular reproduction of Hume's views in " English Men of Letters " series); Sir L. Stephen's English Thought in the XVIIIth Century (1876, especially ch. vi.); J. Orr, David Hume and his Influence on Philosophy and Theology (1903, especially ch. ix. on " Moral Theory of Hume "); H. Calderwood, David Hume (1898, especially ch. vii. on Hume's attitude to religion); A. Seth, Scottish and German Answers to Hume; F. Jodl, Leben and Philosophie D. Humes (1872); E. Pfleiderer, Empirismus and Skepsis in D. Humes Philosophie (1874); G. Spicker, Kant, Hume and Berkeley (1875); G. Compayre, La Philosophie de D. Hume (1873); A. Meinong, Hume-Studien (1877, especially Hume's nominalism); G. von Gizycki (a thorough exposition of Hume's utilitarianism), Die Ethik D. Humes (1878); G. Lechartier, D. Hume, moraliste et sociologue (1900); M. Klemme, Die volkswirtschaftlichen Anchauungen D. Humes (1900); E. Marcus, Kants Revolutionsprinzip. Eine exakte Losung des Kant-Hume'schen Erkenntnisproblems (1902); C. Hedvall, Humes Erkenntnistheorie (1906); R. Honigswald, Uber die Lehre Humes von der Realiteit der Aussendinge (1904); O. Quast, Der Begrif%des Belief bei David Hume (1903). Hume's relation to the society of his time is described in the Rev. H. G. Graham's Social Life in Scotland and Scottish Men of Letters; " Jupiter " in Carlyle's Autobiography. J. MacCosh published a short pamphlet (1884) containing interesting but perhaps not conclusive arguments on the Agnosticism of Hume and Huxley. 4. Economic. - J. Bonar, Philosophy and Political Economy (London, 1893), chapter on Hume; notes to W. G. F. Roscher's Principles of Political Economy (J. Lalor's trans. of 13th ed.,New York, 1878); F. A. Walker's Money (New York, 1877) gives an account of Hume's views on interest and money; H. H. Gibbs (Lord Aldenham), Colloquy on the Currency; for Hume's relation to Adam Smith, John Rae's Life of Adam Smith (London, 1895). See also M. Teisseire, Les Essais economiques de David Hume (1902; a critical study); A. Schatz, L'Ouvre economique de David Hume (1902). (R. AD.; J. M. M.)

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Simple English

Painting of David Hume by Allan Ramsey. The image is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

David Hume (7 May 1711[1] - 25 August 1776) was a philosopher and historian from Scotland.[1] When he was still alive, people thought of him as a historian. He wrote a series of large books called The History of England. But today, people think of Hume as an important philosopher.

In his books on philosophy, Hume said that many of our beliefs do not come from reason. Instead, they come from our instincts or feelings. For example, reason does not tell us that one thing causes another. Instead, we see one thing and then we see another, and we feel a connection between the two. Similarly, reason does not tell us that someone is a good person. Instead, we see that the person is kind and friendly, and we feel a special moral feeling. Because Hume thought that these beliefs do not come from reason, people call him a "skeptical" or "anti-rationalist" philosopher.

Hume was also skeptical about religion.[1] He was not a religious person and religious people did not like his opinions. He did not believe in miracles. He said that suicide was sometimes OK. But Hume never said if he believed in God. In 1776, when he was dying, he was very nice to his friends and very calm about death. Many people were amazed about this, because they thought Hume was going to hell. Today, Hume's books are very important to philosophers who are interested in religion.

Today's philosophers sometimes use the term 'Hume's fork' to refer to Hume calling everything we can think about either a relation of ideas (like math) or a matter of fact (like science or history).

Another philosopher, Immanuel Kant, read some of Hume's books and changed his mind about some important things. Kant said Hume had made him wake up from a sleeping dogmatism, the traditional metaphysics.

File:David hume
Statue of David Hume, in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Here are Hume's most important books:

  • A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects.[1] (1739-40)
In this large book, Hume talks about the human mind and tries to figure out how it works. He talks about knowledge, cause and effect, emotions, right and wrong, and many other things.
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
In this small book, Hume talks about many of the same things from the Treatise, like knowledge and cause and effect. He tried to make this book easy to read.
  • An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)
This is another small book, and again, Hume tried to make it easy to read. The book is about right and wrong.
  • Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion[1] (after Hume died)
In this book, Hume has three characters who argue with each other about God.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Gay, Peter; Time-Life Books (1966). "In Search Of An Ideal Society". Age of Enlightenment. Time. pp. 53. 

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