The Full Wiki

Hume: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hume (Home is an older variant spelling of Hume, still used for the senior branches of the family) is a surname that originated in the South East of Scotland, of which the senior representatives are the Earls of Home. The name can refer to several people and places:



In fiction

  • Hume (see Ivalice), the name of the Human race in the computer role playing game series Final Fantasy
  • Desmond Hume, a fictional character on the television series Lost
  • Nick Hume, the protagonist of Death Sentence (film)

Given name


  • Hume Castle, the historic 13th century eponymous fortress of the Home/Hume family in Berwickshire, Scotland
United States


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

David Hume (7 May 1711 [26 April O.S.] – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish philosopher and historian, regarded as one of the most important figures 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]

Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic "science of man" that examined the psychological basis of human nature. In stark opposition to the rationalists that preceded him, most notably Descartes, he concluded that belief rather than reason governed human behavior, saying famously: "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." A prominent figure in the skeptical philosophical tradition and a strong empiricist, he argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding instead that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience. Thus he divides perceptions between strong and lively "impressions" or direct sensations and fainter "ideas," which are copied from impressions. He developed the position that mental behavior is governed by "custom"; our use of induction, for example, is justified only by our idea of the "constant conjunction" of causes and effects. Without direct impressions of a metaphysical "self," he concluded that humans have no actual conception of the self, only of a bundle of sensations associated with the self. Hume advocated a compatibilist theory of free will that proved extremely influential on subsequent moral philosophy. He was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on feelings rather than abstract moral principles. Hume also examined the normative is–ought problem. He held notoriously ambiguous views of Christianity,[2] but famously challenged the argument from design in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779).

Kant credited Hume with waking him up from his "dogmatic slumbers" and Hume has proved extremely influential on subsequent philosophy, especially on utilitarianism, logical positivism, William James, philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive philosophy, and other movements and thinkers. The cognitive scientist and philosopher Jerry Fodor proclaimed Hume's Treatise "the founding document of cognitive science."[3] Also famous as a prose stylist,[4] Hume pioneered the essay as a literary genre and engaged with contemporary intellectual luminaries such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith (who acknowledged Hume's influence on his economics and political philosophy), James Boswell, Joseph Butler, and Thomas Reid. Hume remains one of the giants of Western philosophy.



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.[5]


File:David Hume
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".[6] 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".[7]

Hume made a philosophical discovery that opened up to him "...a new Scene of Thought," which inspired him " throw up every other Pleasure or Business to apply entirely to it."[8] He did not recount what this "Scene" was, and commentators have offered a variety of speculations.[9] 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.[10]


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,[10] 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".[11] 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".[12] 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".[11] 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 England, which took fifteen years and ran 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 England.

Hume achieved great literary fame as a historian. His enormous The History of England, tracing events from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, 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 (published by Kincaid & Donaldson, 1752)[17] was the only work he considered successful on first publication.[18]


[[File:|thumb|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.[19] The Church of Scotland seriously considered bringing charges of infidelity against him.[20] 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 saw as 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 challenged one of the intellectual arguments for belief in God or one god (especially in the Age of Enlightenment): the Argument from Design. Also, in his Of Miracles, he challenged 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".[21] 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.[22] 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. 21 South St. David Street.

Science of man

File:David hume
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.[23] Because "Hume's plan is to extend to philosophy in general the methodological limitations of Newtonian physics",[24] 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.[25]

Many commentators have since rejected this understanding of Humean empiricism, stressing an epistemological, rather than a semantic reading of his project.[26] 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 skepticism about human powers of reason is the most pronounced.[27] 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 behavior of objects to their behavior 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".[28] Hume notices that we tend to believe that things behave in a regular manner; i.e., that patterns in the behavior 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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31] Thus no form of justification will rationally warrant our inductive inferences.

Hume's solution to this skeptical 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 skepticism, and the sheer agreeableness of animal faith will protect us from excessive caution and sterile suspension of belief".[32]


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.[33]

power and necessity... are... qualities of perceptions, not of objects... felt by the soul and not perceived externally in bodies[34]

This view is rejected by skeptical realists, who argue that Hume thought that causation amounts to more than just the regular succession of events.[26] When two events are causally conjoined, a necessary connection 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 the property of constancy and coherence; 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. They argue that distinct selves can have perceptions that stand in relations of similarity and causality with one another. Thus perceptions must already come parceled 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[42] and Simon Blackburn[43] The major opponents of the Humean view are cognitivists about what it is to act for a reason, such as John McDowell,[44] and Kantians, such as Christine Korsgaard.[45]


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.[46]

Hume's sentimentalism about morality was shared by his close friend Adam Smith,[47] and Hume and Smith were mutually influenced by the moral reflections of Francis Hutcheson.[48]

Hume's theory of ethics has been influential in modern day ethical theory, helping to inspire various forms of emotivism,[49][50] error theory[51] and ethical expressivism and non-cognitivism[52] and Alan Gibbard.[53]

Free will, determinism, and responsibility

Hume, along with Thomas Hobbes, is cited as a classical compatibilist about the notions of freedom and determinism.[54] 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.[55]

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..".[56]

Liberty: "a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will..".[57]

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".[57]

Moreover, Hume goes on to argue that in order to be held morally responsible, it is required that our behavior 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[58]

This argument has inspired modern day commentators.[59] 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.[60]

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:[61]

  • 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".[62]

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.

Hume's main argument concerning miracles is the following. Miracles by definition are singular events that differ from the established Laws of Nature. The Laws of Nature are codified as a result of past experiences. Therefore a miracle is a violation of all prior experience. However the probability that something has occurred in contradiction of all past experience should always be judged to be less than the probability that either my senses have deceived me or the person recounting the miraculous occurrence is lying or mistaken, all of which I have past experience of. For Hume, this refusal to grant credence does not guarantee correctness – he offers the example of an Indian Prince, who having grown up in a hot country refuses to believe that water has frozen. By Hume's lights this refusal is not wrong and the Prince is thinking correctly; it is presumably only when he has had extensive experience of the freezing of water that he has warrant to believe that the event could occur. So for Hume, either the miraculous event will become a recurrent event or else it will never be rational to believe it occurred. The connection to religious belief is left inexplicit throughout, save for the close of his discussion wherein Hume notes the reliance of Christianity upon testimony of miraculous occurrences and makes an ironic [63][64] remark that anyone who "is moved by faith to assent" to revealed testimony "is aware of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience."

Design argument

One of the oldest and most popular arguments for the existence of God is the design argument: that 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. However, Hume argued that 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 often observed to result from presumably mindless processes like the generation of snowflakes and crystals. Design can account for only a tiny part of our experience of order. Furthermore, the design argument is based on an incomplete analogy. Because of our experience with objects, we can recognise human-designed ones, as when we compare a pile of stones with a constructed wall, but to deduce that the Universe is designed, 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 could 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 Universe is designed, is the designer God? It could also be asked, if there is a designer god, 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. Then this designer would need a designer, and so on ad infinitum. Furthermore, if we could be happy with an inexplicably self-ordered divine mind, why should we 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.

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. Thomas Jefferson banned Hume's History from the University of Virginia, fearing that it "has spread universal toryism over the land".[65] Yet, Samuel Johnson thought Hume "a Tory by chance... for he has no principle. If he is anything, he is a Hobbist".[66] 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 peoples not to resist their governments except in cases of the most egregious tyranny.[67] 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",[68] 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."[69]

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,[70] 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.[71]

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.[72]

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..." that 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 of Human Nature met with success, and if so to complete it with books devoted to Politics and Criticism. However, it did not meet with success. As Hume himself said, "It fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots"[11] 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[73] 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 (Sometimes referred to as The History of Great Britain) (1754–62) Freely available in six vols. from the On Line Library of Liberty.[74] 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.[75]

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).[76]

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".[77]

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."[78] Albert Einstein (1915) wrote that he was inspired by Hume's positivism when formulating his Special Theory of Relativity.[79] 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.[80] David Fate Norton (1993) asserted that Hume was "the first post-sceptical philosopher of the early modern period".[81]

Hume's Problem of Induction was also of fundamental importance to the philosophy of Karl Popper. In his autobiography, Unended Quest,[82] 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.[83] 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. ^ Paul Russel (May 17, 2010). "Hume on Religion". First published October 4, 2005. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008 Edition). Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  3. ^ Fodor, Jerry. Hume Variations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 134.
  4. ^ Saintsbury, George, ed. Specimens of English Prose Style: From Malory to Macaulay. London: Macmillan & Co., 1907, p. 196.
  5. ^ Mossner, E. C. (2001). The life of David Hume. Oxford University Press. p. 179
  6. ^ David Hume, My Own Life. In Norton, D. F. (ed.) (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, p. 351
  7. ^ In a letter to 'Jemmy' Birch, quoted in Mossner, E. C. (2001). The life of David Hume. Oxford University Press. p. 626
  8. ^ David Hume, A Kind of History of My Life. In Norton, D. F. (ed.) (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, p. 346
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ a b Mossner, 193
  11. ^ a b c David Hume, A Kind of History of My Life. In Norton, D. F. (ed.) (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, p. 352
  12. ^ Mossner, 195
  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. ^ David Hume, The History of Great Britain, (London, 1754–56) p. 353
  17. ^ Sher, Richard B. (2006). The Enlightenment & the book: Scottish authors & their publishers in eighteenth-century Britain, Ireland, & America. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology Series. University of Chicago Press. pp. 313. ISBN 0226752526. 
  18. ^ David Hume (1776). My Own Life
  19. ^ Russell, 2008, O'Connor, 2001, and Norton, 1993
  20. ^ Mossner, E. C. (2001). The life of David Hume. Oxford University Press. p. 206
  21. ^ Mossner, p. 265
  22. ^ Boswell, J. Boswell in Extremes, 1776–1778
  23. ^ David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, (New York: Dover, 2003 edition), p. 7
  24. ^ Copplestone, F., A history of Philosophy, v. 6, 2003
  25. ^ A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, (Penguin, 2001 edition), pp. 40ff
  26. ^ a b See, e.g.,
    • Edward Craig, The Mind of God and the Works of Man, Ch.2
    • Galen Strawson, The Secret Connexion, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989)
    • John Wright, The Sceptical Realism of David Hume, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983)
  27. ^ John D. Kenyon, 'Doubts about the Concept of Reason', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, Vol. 59, (1985), 249–267
  28. ^ Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 108
  29. ^ 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. "Hume, Induction and Probability". D.Phil thesis. 
  30. ^ Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 111
  31. ^ Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 115
  32. ^ John D. Kenyon, 'Doubts about the Concept of Reason', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, Vol. 59, (1985), p. 254
  33. ^ For this account of Hume's views on causation,
    • A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, (Penguin, 2001 edition), pp. 40–42
  34. ^ David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, (New York: Dover, 2003 edition), p. 168
  35. ^ David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, (New York: Dover, 2003 edition), p. 56
  36. ^ See S. Blackburn, ‘Hume and Thick Connexions', in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 50, Supplement. (Autumn, 1990), pp. 237–250
  37. ^ Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 147, fn.17
  38. ^ For this account of Hume on the self,
    • A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, (Penguin, 2001 edition), pp. 135–6
  39. ^ Edward Craig, The Mind of God and the Works of Man, Ch.2
  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. ^ a b M. Smith, 'The Humean Theory of Motivation', Mind, New Series, Vol. 96, No. 381 (Jan., 1987), pp. 36–61
  43. ^ S. Blackburn, 'Practical Tortoise Raising', Mind, New Series, Vol. 104, No. 416 (Oct., 1995), pp. 695–711
  44. ^ J. McDowell, 'Non-Cognitivism and Rule-Following', in S. Holtzman and C. Leich, Wittgenstein: To Follow A Rule, (1981, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul)
  45. ^ C. Korsgaard, 'Scepticism about Practical Reason', The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 83, No. 1 (Jan., 1986), pp. 5–25
  46. ^ Treatise, op. cit., p. 325
  47. ^ Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), ed. K. Haakonssen, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  48. ^ 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)
  49. ^ A. J. Ayer. Language, Truth and Logic, ch.6
  50. ^ C. L. Stevenson. Ethics and Language (1944), (Yale: Yale UP, 1960)
  51. ^ John Mackie. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (1977), (Penguin, 1990)
  52. ^ Simon Blackburn. Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)
  53. ^ Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment, (Harvard: Harvard UP, 1990)
  54. ^ "Compatibilism". Stanford Encyclopedia. 
  55. ^ Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 148
  56. ^ Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 149
  57. ^ a b Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 159
  58. ^ Hume, D. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 161
  59. ^ See, e.g., R. E. Hobart, ‘Free Will as Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It', Mind 43 (1934), pp. 1–27
  60. ^ First published in 1962 and reprinted in Gary Watson, ed., Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 59–80; second edition 2003
  61. ^ Hume, D (1748), 'Of miracles‘, in An Enquiry concerning human understanding, LA Selby-Bigge (ed.), 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, (1902), Section X, pp. 116–122
  62. ^ Hume, D (1748) "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding." in Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources (R. Ariew, E. Watkins), Hackett 1998
  63. ^ Mackie, J. L. The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Oxford: University Press, 1982), 29
  64. ^ Buckle, Stephen, Hume's Enlightenment Tract: The Unity and Purpose of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), 269–74
  65. ^ Laurence L. Bongie. "David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-revolution (1965)". The Online Library of Liberty. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  66. ^ David Hume. "LETTER LXXXIV.: The Bath Waters injurious: Complaints of Injustice: Hume's Autobiography: Dialogues on Natural Religion. – David Hume, Letters of David Hume to William Strahan (1756)". Note 13. The Online Library of Liberty. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  67. ^ Hume, D. (1740). A Treatise of Human Nature (1817 edition, p. 286)
  68. ^ Neil McArthur, David Hume's political theory. University of Toronto, 2007
  69. ^ Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols. (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1876), vol. 2, 185
  70. ^ "Ida of a perfect Commonwealth". Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  71. ^ Robbins, Lionel A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures edited by Medema and Samuels. Ch 11 and 12
  72. ^ Hume, David An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)
  73. ^ 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
  74. ^ David Hume. "The History of England, 6 vols. (1778)". Online Library of Liberty. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  75. ^ William Crouch. "Which character is Hume in the "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion". 
  76. ^ Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant, 'Preface'
  77. ^ The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 2, Ch. 46
  78. ^ A. J. Ayer (1936). Language, Truth and Logic. London
  79. ^ in a letter of December 14, 1915, to Moritz Schlick (Papers, A, Vol. 8A, Doc.165)
  80. ^ Phillipson, N. (1989). Hume, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London
  81. ^ Norton, D. F. (ed.) (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, pp. 90–116
  82. ^ Karl Popper: Unended Quest; An Intellectual Autobiography, 1976, ISBN 0-415-28590-9
  83. ^ Karl Popper: The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1934 (as Logik der Forschung, English translation 1959), ISBN 0-415-27844-9


  • 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 10 March 2008. 
  • 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.)
  • 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 0-415-22094-7
  • 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
(Redirected to David Hume article)

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.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works written by or about:


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:





  1. A Scottish habitational surname from Home in Berwickshire.
  2. An English, Irish and Scottish surname, a variant of Holme.
  3. David Hume Scottish philosopher and historian.


Up to date as of January 23, 2010
(Redirected to Allan Octavian Hume article)

From Wikispecies


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address