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Hume, David

Hume, David

(b. Edinburgh, Scotland, 26 April 1711; d. Edinburgh, 25 August 1776)

philosophy, economy, political theory, history.

His father, Joseph Home—David Hume preferred the phonetic spelling—was a country gentleman with a small estate, Ninewells, near Berwick-upon-Tweed. His mother, Catherine Falconer, was a daughter of Sir David Falconer, lord president of the Court of Session. Hume retained a lifelong admiration for the gentry, ascribing to them that “moderate scepticism” which he himself sought to foster. His father died young, in 1713, leaving Hume a small legacy on which he later could barely support himself.

Hume matriculated at the University of Edinburgh in 1723, but left three years later without taking a degree. Edinburgh was a center of Newtonian physics, and Hume most probably was taught its elements either by the mathematician James Gregory or by Newton’s popularizer, Colin Maclaurin. On the philosophical side, at Edinburgh there flourished a group of ardent Berkeley disciples. The religious atmosphere was a liberal Calvinism but at an early age, Hume told Boswell, he lost all belief in religion as a result of reading Locke and Samuel Clarke.

Following a family tradition, he set out to study law. He became convinced, however, at the age of eighteen, that he had made a great discovery which “opened up anew scene of thought,” and the determined to devote himself wholly to working out his new ideas.

There is considerable controversy about the nature of Hume’s “new scene of thought,” but there are good grounds for believing that it at least incorporated the idea of constructing a “science of man” by applying Newtonian methods of analysis to the workings of the mind. The further development of Hume’s ideas was delayed by the onset of an acute depression, which he tried to shake off by undertaking a career in business. In 1734 he abandoned business to go to France, taking up residence there at La Flèche, where Descartes had been educated. He had already taught himself French and had familiarized himself with such French sceptics as Pierre Bayle; in the extensive library at La Flèche he developed that intimate acquaintance with French philosophy which exerted so profound an influence upon him, uneasily coexisting with his Newtonianism.

Hume returned to England in 1737 with his Treatise of Human Nature completed. The first two books, “Of the Understanding” and “Of the Passions,” were anonymously published in 1739; the third book, “Of Morals,” was issued in 1740 with an important appendix containing his second thoughts. Hume was confident that the Treatise would create a sensation, but it was unenthusiastically received. In order to draw attention to its merits, he published what purported to be an anonymous review of the first two books as An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature (1740). As an advertising device, it failed, but the Abstract is a useful guide to Hume’s philosophical intentions, especially interesting for the stress it lays on his associationism. Concluding that the failure of the Treatise was a consequence of its length and complexity, Hume henceforth expressed his ideas more fashionably—in essays and dialogues.

In 1741, with a second volume in 1742, Hume published his Essays Moral and Political. It is often said that Hume abandoned philosophy for economics and politics in search of literary fame. But for Hume philosophy was “the science of man,” and economics, politics, history—understood as “philosophy teaching by examples”—formed for him part of it. He modified his literary style to meet the tastes of his age, but not his fundamental conception of the philosopher’s task. The first book of the Treatise had been intended as his theory of social inquiry, his “logic”, the second book as his moral psychology; and the third as his ethics. It was now time to pass on to the other social sciences.

His new prose style having proved successful, Hume made another attempt to present his logic to the public. This time it was in an abbreviated and popular form, no longer as a treatise but as Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1748), renamed in 1758 An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. This was the work which, he told his critics in an advertisement first published in the posthumous edition of 1777, should “alone be regarded as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles,” his Treatise being, he explained, but a juvenile work.

Philosophers have been unwilling to take Hume at his word, for the Treatise contains a great deal of interesting philosophical analysis, especially of perception, which is not to be found in the Enquiry. But the Enquiry is in many ways the best introduction to Hume, especially in relating his philosophy to the history of scientific thought. It contains, too, a number of important essays—on miracles, on liberty and necessity, and on providence—which are not to be found in the Treatise.

Hume followed up the Philosophical Essays with his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), an abbreviated and considerably modified version of book III of the Treatise. Although Hume thought it to be his best work, it has only recently received the detailed attention it deserves. At about the same time, Hume wrote the first draft of his Dialogues on Natural Religion, a potent criticism of the traditional arguments for the existence of God and especially of the argument from design. His friends warned Hume against publishing it; it appeared posthumously in 1779.

The Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding had excluded the sections on space, time, and geometry which formed part of the Treatise. Hume intended to write, he tells us in one of his letters, a separate work on “the metaphysical principles of geometry.” He prepared for inclusion in Four Dissertations (1757) an essay entitled “Some Considerations Previous to Geometry and Natural Science,” but the comments of Lord Stanhope, an able mathematician dissuaded him from publishing it. Hume’s talents, indeed, did not lie in that direction; the sections on space and time in the Treatise add little to what Berkeley had already argued. For very different reasons, he was also persuaded not to publish his essays “Of Suicide” and “Of the Immorality of the Soul”; these first appeared in an unauthorized French translation in 1770 and also in an unauthorized English edition in 1777 as Two Essays. He did include in the Dissertations, however, his “Natural History of Religion,” in which he sets out to show that classical mythologies are at once more reasonable and morally more enlightened than systematic Christian theology.

Knowing that he was about to die of cancer, Hume wrote in 1776 My Own Life, which was first published by his literary executor Adam Smith in 1777 and which is as much an apologia as an autobiography. He died after a long illness, bravely sustained. Hume was a man of exceptional personal qualities, nick-named in France “le bon David” and in Scotland “Saint David.” Adam Smith described him as “approaching as near to the ideal of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as human frailty will admit.”

Methodology. The subtitle of Hume’s Treatise describes it as “an Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects.” Under “moral subjects” Hume includes logic, to which he assigns the task of explaining “the principles and operations of our reasoning faculty”; moral philosophy; political theory, which incorporates economics and history; and literary criticism. He sometimes wrote (as in the introduction to the Treatise) as if he had fulfilled the common eighteenth-century ambition to be the Newton of human nature; as if, that is, he had constructed a science of man, paralleling physical science, by relating the elements of the mind in laws of association comparable to the laws of mechanics (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 1, sec. IV).

Hume’s important contributions to such moral subjects as economics and politics—he contributed nothing to and nowhere reveals any detailed knowledge of the physical sciences—did not depend on the use of a new method; he wrote as an intelligent and critical observer of the European scene, by no means as a methodological innovator. His approach is experimental only insofar as his explanations of social phenomena appeal to everyday human experience, rather than making use of such transcendental entities as “Providence.”

As for his positive methodology, that is dependent upon, and does not go far beyond, the “Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy” which Newton had laid down in the third book of his Principia mathematica. Hume himself wrote of his “rules by which to judge of causes and effects” (ibid., bk. I, pt. 3, sec. XV) that they are so obvious as scarcely to be worth the trouble of setting them out systematically. His importance lies not in his use or description of the experimental method, but quite elsewhere—in the doubts he raised about the rationality of the method.

His analysis of reasoning begins from a presumption universally accepted by his philosophical contemporaries, namely that what we are directly acquainted with are “perceptions in our mind,” as distinct from independently existing physical objects. Hume divides these perceptions into two classes, impressions and ideas. He counts as impressions not only sensations but any operations of the mind, including the passions, which are immediately apprehended. Ideas are “the faint images of impressions”; they are what men have before their mind when they think, as distinct from when they feel.

Since there are no ideas which do not derive from impressions, anybody who uses a word which purports to refer to an idea can properly be asked from what impression that idea derives. If the idea to which the word purports to refer does not derive from any impression, the word, Hume argues, must be meaningless (Abstract, p. 11). This is clearly the case, he tries to show, with such familiar metaphysical words as “substance” and “essence.” Hume’s analysis of perception thus provides him with a powerful polemical weapon to direct against all explanations that make use of concepts not derived from experience; explanations of this kind are, in his interpretation, mere word play.

Perceptions, whether impressions or ideas, occur in spatial and temporal sequences. Furthermore, very similar sequences of perceptions—“constant conjunctions”—regularly recur. Resemblance, spatiotemporal contiguity (in the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding replaced by temporal priority), and constant conjunction are, according to Hume, “to us the cement of the universe” (ibid., p. 32). Men are able to progress from their perceptions to a belief in an orderly systematic world only by virtue of the fact that similar perceptions recur in particular ordered sequences.

Both science and common sense take it for granted, so Hume believes, that there are independently existing objects which are necessarily linked one with another (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 4, sec. II). Perceptions, on the other hand, depend upon the human mind for their existence and have no necessary connection with one another. Berkeley had rejected this contrast; perceptions and objects, he had argued, are identical, and science does no more than correlate perceptions. This analysis of scientific knowledge Hume dismisses, in spite of Berkeley’s protestations, as a form of absolute scepticism. Berkeley’s arguments, he says, if “they admit of no answer [yet] produce no conviction” (Enquiry, sec. XII, pt. 1). Although there are places in the Treatise (bk. I, pt. 2, sec. VI) where Hume writes as if he were a phenomenalist, he for the most part—particularly in the Enquiry (sec. XII, pt. 1)—takes it for granted that there are physical objects which give rise to perceptions in us. He does not seriously question, that is, the general world view constructed by Galileo, Boyle, Newton, and Locke: he asks, rather, what grounds we have for believing in its truth.

So long as science does no more than describe and compare perceptions no problem arises. Mathematics, according to Hume, is secure knowledge because it restricts itself to relating ideas one to another (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 3, sec. I). This is true, at least, of algebra and arithmetic; in the Treatise and the Abstract, although not in the Enquiry, Hume expresses some doubts about geometry. Nor is there any problem with what Hume calls “mental geography” so long as it confines itself to the “delineation of the distinct parts and powers of the mind” (Enquiry, sec. I).

In his more sceptical moods, admittedly, Hume does not allow even mathematics and “mental geography” to escape unscathed. Although the rules of mathematics are “infallible,” he says, the fact remains that mathematicians themselves are properly hesitant about the validity of their proofs and fully accept them only when their colleagues do so (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 4, sec. I); as for “mental geography,” that breaks down when it tries to give a satisfactory account of personal identity (appendix to Treatise, note to bk. I, pt. 3, sec. XIV). But to carry scepticism to the point of questioning the certainty of mathematics and “mental geography,” Hume suggests, is to carry it beyond the point at which it is humanly possible consistently to be a sceptic (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 4, sec. I).

The case is very different, Hume thinks, with what he calls matters of fact, assertions which go beyond perceptions by referring to independently existing, continuous objects and ascribing to them a necessary connection with other objects. Whenever the scientist makes a “matter-of-fact” assertion, according to Hume, he is relying upon some form of causal reasoning. Only causal reasoning can carry the mind beyond what it actually perceives to beliefs about what it has not perceived, for example, from beliefs about perceived smoke to beliefs about unperceived fire (ibid., bk. I, pt. 3, sec. II). Only if causal reasoning is rational, then, can science be securely grounded.

It cannot be demonstrated, Hume is confident, either that whatever happens has a cause or that a particular occurrence is the cause of a particular effect. (Hume counts as demonstrative only those arguments which prove that it is logically impossible for the conclusion to be false.) Metaphysicians who profess to demonstrate that every event has a cause always beg the question. Every perception, Hume tells us, is distinct and separate from every other perception. There can be no contradiction, then, in supposing that a perception, that is, without a cause (ibid., bk. I, pt. 3, sec. III).

For the very same reason it is impossible, according to Hume, to demonstrate that a particular effect has a particular cause. Since perceptions are distinct and separable there is nothing in any perception, taken by itself and prior to any further experience, which logically presupposes the existence of any other perception (ibid., bk. I, pt. 3, sec. VI). Our everyday experience confirms this philosophical conclusion. Prior to experience we have no way of telling how anything will behave, that fire, for example, will burn rather than thicken the human skin. Neither the effect itself, as Descartes thought, nor a power to produce the effect, as was widely presumed, is implicit in the cause; if it were, the scientist should be able simply by examining an object to discover what effects it will have, and this is impossible.

Only experience, then, enable the scientist to determine that a particular cause will have a particular effect. But experience tells him only that in the past certain similar perceptions A1, A2, A3,... have been constantly conjoined with certain other similar perceptions B1, B2, B3,... When the scientist holds that A is the cause of B, however, he ordinarily thinks of himself as being committed to something much stronger than this: that A is necessarily connected with B. Yet he has had no experience of necessary connection, as distinct from mere conjunction. Nor is there any general principle which would enable him to move from “B has, always in the past been produced by A” to “B is necessarily produced by A.” It is quite easy to imagine a change in the course of nature such that A and B will no longer be constantly conjoined one with another; this is by no means a logical impossibility. Hence, Hume concludes, it is impossible to demonstrate that B cannot occur without A’s having occurred. Anybody who perceives the conjunction may be led to believe that A and B are necessarily connected, but this “being led” is a psychological fact, not a logical necessity. It is not that there is a valid inference from constant conjunction to necessary connection; the belief that A is necessarily connected with B is reducible to the fact that we habitually suppose that A must have happened when B is perceived and expect B whenever A is perceived (ibid., bk. I, pt. 3, sec. XIV).

To understand scientific inference, then, we must turn to mental geography and the analysis of our mental habits, not to formal logic. The belief in any matter of fact has only two sources: the existence of a particular relationship between perceptions—constant conjunction—and the tendency of the mind to react in a certain way to constant conjunctions. That is why Hume is prepared to assert that the science of man is the fundamental science on which all other science rests; only with the help of mental geography can we explain why we hold our empirical beliefs.

If we ask, however, exactly what mental geography tells us about nondemonstrative inference, Hume’s answer is by no means clear or consistent. Sometimes he says that reason (that is, empirical reasoning) is “nothing but a wonderful and unintelligible instinct in our soul” which leads us to move from past experience to expectations about the future (ibid., bk. I, pt. 3, sec. XVI). This has led some commentators to assert that Hume is a naturalist who, in the manner of Pope’s Essay on Man, bids us rely on instinct rather than reason for our fundamental beliefs. At other times, however, the responsibility for causal inferences is assigned by Hume to the imagination.

Just how sceptical is Hume’s analysis of empirical inference? That, too, is a point on which he vacillates. On the one hand, he is anxious to dispute the claims of transcendental metaphysicians and theologians that they possess rationally grounded beliefs. With his eye on such opponents, he argues that it is quite absurd to go in search of remote causes for the Universe when we cannot even give a satisfactory reason for believing that a stone will fall or that the sun will rise tomorrow (Enquiry, sec. XII, pt. 3). A belief, he says, is nothing but an unusually vivid idea; to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow is simply to have a vivid idea that it will do so. This doctrine, too, is useful against those who argue that the moral sciences are intrinsically inferior to the physical sciences because they rest upon feeling; every form of science, Hume can reply, does so (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 3, sec. VIII).

On the other hand, Hume is equally anxious to destroy fanaticism and superstition. He can scarcely deny, however, that the superstitious and the fanatical have vivid ideas. He sometimes suggests, therefore, that a belief is rational provided only that it can be traced back to a constant conjunction; hence the rational justification for believing that the sun will rise tomorrow, as opposed to the irrationality of superstitious beliefs. From this perspective Hume distinguishes between demonstrations, proofs, and probabilities. It is ridiculous, he says, to declare as only a probability that the sun will rise tomorrow or that all men are mortal (ibid., bk. I, pt. 3, sec. XI). Inferences from constant conjunction, he suggests, are properly describable as proofs, even though they clearly do not constitute demonstrations. But when conjunctions are irregular—A being only sometimes conjoined in our experience with B, and sometimes with something else—the proper inference is only to probabilities, since the probability of a conclusion depends upon the relative frequency of the conjunctions on which it is founded. The conclusions of the superstitious have a zero or minimal probability because they are contrary to our regular experience.

This attitude is most fully developed in Hume’s critical analysis of the belief in miracles (Enquiry, sec. X). Hume there begins by asserting that a wise man will always proportion his belief to the evidence. A miracle is by definition a violation of the laws of nature, that is, an event which is contrary to our regular experience. The evidence in its favor, as in the case of those miracles on which the historical religions rely, is that some witness or an oral tradition tells us that the miracle happened. We are entitled to accept this testimony only, Hume says, if it would involve a greater miracle, a more manifest divergence from all past experience, to suppose that the testimony is false. Since this condition is not satisfied in the case of any recorded miracle, he says, we cannot properly treat miraculous occurrences as probable, let alone as proved.

Hume sometimes expresses his theory of “proof” in a way that links it closely with the workings of the imagination. The imagination, he tells us, has certain regular, associative ways of working, most clearly manifested in the case of causal inference. These ways we must accept as reliable and rational; to reject them is to undermine the whole foundation of our thought and action. The imagination, however, does not always work in a regular way; it has irregular and erratic tendencies which lead men into superstition. Conclusions derived from these irregular workings ought, on the face of it, to be rejected by rational men (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 4, sec. IV). The problem is that there exist unquestionably true beliefs—the belief in the independent existence of physical objects and the belief in personal identity, for example—which cannot wholly be explained in terms of causal inference, but which depend on the operations of irregular propensities of the imagination. So it is impossible, after all, to adopt a policy of accepting only those beliefs which are founded on constant conjunction (ibid., bk, I, pt. 4, sec VII).

In the Treatise especially, these considerations sometimes lead Hume to a posture of absolute scepticism, rather that the “mitigated scepticism” he generally adopts. But no man can live as an absolute sceptic (Enquiry, sec. XII). Mitigated scepticism, as Hume sums it up in his Dialogues (pts. VIII adn IX), asserts simply that it is impossible to demonstrate any matter of fact and that the nature of our experience, not some a priori principle of rationality, determines what we find intelligible. Such a position is substantially that of expiricism. But it is a different matter if our fundamental beliefs turn out to rest on nothing more solid than a trick of the imagination. We have only one defense against this sceptical conclusion, Hume suggests. Nature has not left our beliefs entirely to our choice; we cannot help coming to conclusions any more than we can help breathing (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 4, sec. I). Mitigated scepticism is therefore useful, for it prevents us from wandering into the wilds of metaphysical speculation by impelling us to reflect on the limits of our knowledge of even everyday physical experience and relationships.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. The classical edition, although an imperfect one, of Hume’s works is T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, eds., The Philosophical Works of David Hume, 4 vols. (London, 1875). This does not include J. M. Keynes and P. Sraffa, eds., An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature (Cambridge, 1938), or Ernest C. Mossner and J. V. Price, eds.,A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1967). Especially for their indexes, consult also L. A. Selby-Bigge’s eds. of A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford, 1888) and Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1902). The best text of the Treatise is the Mossner ed. (London, 1969).

See also Norman Kemp Smith, ed., Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 2nd ed., with suppl. (London, 1947). For Hume’s general writings on religion see Richard Wollheim, compiler, Hume on Religion (London, 1963).

II. Secondary Literature. John Hill Burton, Life and Correspondence of David Hume, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1846; repr. New York, 1968), is still valuable. The best modern life is E. C. Mossner, The Life of David Hume (Austin, Texas, 1954; London, 1955), which includes The Life of David Hume, Esq., Written by Himself or, as entitled in the original MS, My Own Life. See also J. Y. T. Greig, ed., The Letter of David Hume 2 vols. (Oxford, 1932), and Raymond Klibansky and E. C. Mossner, eds., New Letters of David Hume (Oxford, 1954).

It is impossible to give a straightforward, systematic, noncontroversial presentation of Hume’s views. That is one of the principal themes of J. A. Passmore, Hume’s Intentions, 2nd ed., rev. (London-New York, 1968). The most thoroughgoing commentary is N. K. Smith, The Philosophy of David Hume (London-New York, 1941), and the most useful introduction is D. G. C. Macnabb,David Hume: His Theory of Knowledge and Morality (London, 1951).

See also Charles W. Hendel, Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume rev. ed. (Indianapolis, 1963), with an account of recent work on Hume; Antony Flew, Hume’s Philosophy of Belief (London, 1961; New York, 1962), which concentrates on the Enquiuries; H. H. Price, Hume’s Theory of the External World (Oxford, 1940); and Farhang Zabeeh, Hume: Precursor of Modern Empiricism (The Hague, 1960).

John Passmore

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Hume, David

Hume, David

WORKS BY HUME

WORKS ABOUT HUME

David Hume was one of the most distinguished writers of the eighteenth century. Although he was only partly appreciated in his own period, with the passage of time his stature has grown, and his writings have attracted increasing attention from students in many disciplines.

Born in Scotland in 1711, Hume died in 1776, the year of the publication of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. His major work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–1740), lies in the field of philosophy. But the range of Hume’s writings is vast. In a large number of essays (which in 1758 were in corporated into a volume entitled Essays Moral, Political and Literary) Hume dealt with the fields of economics, politics, and aesthetics, as well as with much that would now be regarded as socio logical material. Hume was also a historian. His interest in history is reflected in many of his writings, and in the later years of his life he published (1754–1762), in serial volumes, a History of Eng land that was a pioneering work in the area.

Owing to the subsequent compartmentalization of the fields that Hume explored, students of his thought have tended to treat his work in a compartmentalized fashion. This is difficult to avoid, since Hume dealt with a large variety of problems, and their analysis often requires specialized train ing. An unfortunate consequence of this, however, has been the tendency to overlook the important unifying elements in Hume’s thought. Philosophers have argued that in turning to the essays, Hume was abandoning philosophy—allegedly because of the poor reception accorded his Treatise, and because of his passion for literary fame. Economists, on the other hand, have generally treated Hume’s economic essays (which first appeared in 1752 under the title Political Discourses) as a substantially self-contained segment of his thought, bearing little or no relation to his philosophy.

Hume, however, made it clear that he intended his philosophy to serve as the “capital or center” of all the “moral” (i.e., psychological and social) sciences, or as the center of a general science of human experience ([1739-1740] 1958, p. xix). And as is evident from the prefatory “Advertisement” to the Treatise, he hoped, if the Treatise met with success, to incorporate a study of the various “moral sciences” into a subsequent edition of this work. Many of Hume’s essays thus display relations to the substance of the Treatise; and this is clearly the case in his treatment of economics. Hume was pre-eminently, and notably more so than his close friend Adam Smith, the philosopher-economist of the eighteenth century.

A brief sketch of Hume’s general system of thought will help clarify the relation between his philosophy and his economic thought. The “capital or center” of Hume’s system consists of the “principles of human nature,” those qualities and relations pertaining to the human understanding and human passions that Hume believed to be irreducible and common to all mankind. Discussed in Books I and II of the Treatise, these principles constitute the analytical phase of Hume’s thought. The sec ond and synthetic phase of Hume’s thought consists of laws of human behavior in which Hume sought to show that various aspects of man’s behavior are products of environmental forces operating on “human nature.” The framing of these general uniformities is Hume’s concern in his study of the various “moral sciences.” An emphasis on psychology is thus a major distinctive characteristic of Hume’s treatment of these sciences.

Hume’s interest in history is likewise of major importance in his thought. This interest emerged early in Hume’s life and was integral to his approach to experience. As a philosophical empiricist, Hume repeatedly stressed the importance of the study of history for achieving understanding of human experience, pointing out that history constitutes the exclusive source of our “experiments” concerning human nature and human behavior (ibid., p. xxiii). Moreover, as both “moral scientist” and historian, Hume, by employing his principles of human nature, sought to frame historical laws of behavior, or laws that may explain basic transformations in human behavior. This approach he termed “natural history” (the word “natural” here denoting the “usual” or “probable“). Representing an attempt at “scientific history,” this differs from conventional historiography, with its stress on unique particulars, which predominates in Hume’s own History of England. Historical generalizations, reflecting the “natural history” approach, interlace much of Hume’s work. And within the context of his economic writings the method of “natural history” is of central importance. Its role becomes fully apparent when Hume’s economic thought is considered at three different levels of analysis: his economic psychology, political economy, and economic philosophy.

Before turning to this, however, it is well to consider one other aspect of Hume’s thought: his treatment of the methodology of science, which, as one of the most important of Hume’s contributions, is likewise relevant to his economic thought. Hume considered this question in Book I of the Treatise, where he was concerned with the basis of our “beliefs” concerning empirical events. His position represents an attack on the rationalist acceptance of a “necessary connection” between such events. As Hume argued, all beliefs concerning matters of fact are reducible to associations of ideas that are separable from each other. All causal relations take this form. We thus can “conceive any object to be non-existent this moment, and existent the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a cause or productive principle.” What is conceivable, more over, is possible. And the demonstrability of a “necessary connection” requires that the opposite be shown to be impossible. Hence, “necessary connection” between matters of fact (unlike the logical relations between propositions, where validity depends wholly on the principle of noncontradiction) cannot be demonstrated (ibid., pp. 79-80).

On what, then, are our beliefs in matters of fact based? All that Hume could find here was a psychological process. More specifically, we come to ”believe,” say, that a causal relation exists between two events because, as a result of our repeated observation of their contiguity and reoccurrence (their “constant conjunction“), the mind—simply through a nonrational associative mechanism—so firmly links the two that the occurrence of one leads us to expect its usual attendant (ibid., p. 96). For Hume, “belief” is, in a word, a “habit.” The implication of this for “science” is clear: since we have no a priori justification for beliefs in empirical events, the only way we can enlarge our understanding of experience is through further investigation with a view to establishing additional “constant conjunctions.” It must be recognized, however, that the notion of the uniformity of nature itself, or the view that the future will resemble the past, is based on faith.

Hume’s observations on the prospects for discovering uniformities in the “moral sciences” are also noteworthy. Although he believed that history had already provided an adequate basis for framing “principles of human nature” ([1739-1779] vol. 4, p. 69 in 1898 edition), he was acutely aware of the wide historical variability of human behavior and the difficulty, especially in view of the range and complexity of human passions, of specifying how man would respond to changing circumstance (ibid., vol. 3, p. 163; [1739-1740] 1958, p. 131). With considerable caution, he sought to discriminate between different areas of human behavior in terms of their tractability to scientific treatment. It is very difficult, he pointed out, to discover uniformities in aspects of behavior which are peculiar to small numbers of individuals, since in such cases the passions involved are delicate and subtle and are often affected by imperceptible influences ([1739-1779] vol. 3, p. 175 in 1898 edition). It is difficult, also, to establish reliable generalizations in the field of “politics” (ibid., vol. 3, pp. 156-157). Since mass behavior, on the other hand, is frequently governed by passions that are “gross” and “stubborn,” reliable uniformities may be found here. Its dependence upon such “gross” passions as avarice, for example, would make it easier to account for the “rise and progress of commerce” than for the growth of “learning” (ibid., vol. 3, p. 176). Significantly, it is with a justification of the use of generalization in economics (which he contrasted with the chance-ridden field of foreign diplomacy) that Hume introduced his economic essays ([1752-1758] 1955, pp. 3-4).

With a view to the central role of psychology and history, let us turn now to the substance of Hume’s economic thought and consider first his economic psychology, which links his economic thought to the “capital or center” of all the “moral sciences,” as developed in the Treatise. Here the analysis takes the form of a natural history of the “rise and progress of commerce” in which Hume sought to explain the economic growth of his own general period in terms of the impact of changing historical circumstance on human passions. In the economic essays these passions are regarded as “causes of labour.” Because the analysis stems directly from Hume’s general treatment of human nature, it is notably multidimensional and is considerably more complex than the economic psychology typical of Hume’s own period. Beyond considering the importance of the desire for consumption pleasures as an incentive to economic activity, Hume called attention to the role played by the desire for “action” as well as a desire for “liveliness” (a state of lively passion that is common to the experience both of consumption pleasures and interesting activity). In turn, the desire for “gain,” joined to the desire for action, is treated in large part as a desire for the trophies of success in the “economic game.” All these motives are integral to the “rise and progress of commerce,” the initial stimulus to which is found in the opening of foreign trade and whose self-perpetuating character is traced to the growth of new habits of industry (ibid., chapter 2; Rotwein 1955).

Political economy, the second level of Hume’s economic thought, comprises the main portion of his economic essays. Here, where Hume was concerned with specific aspects of market relations, he dealt with several of the principal controversial questions of his period: monetary theory, interest theory, the issue of free trade, the shifting and incidence of taxes, and fiscal policy. At this level the role of the natural history of the “rise and progress of commerce” is seen in Hume’s critical evaluation of the doctrines of his period; for his analysis is predominantly concerned with one question: Are prevailing beliefs regarding market relations acceptable when considered in the light of economic growth and the psychological and other factors involved in the growth process?

A brief summary of several of the major aspects of Hume’s political economy will serve to make clear the general importance of this perspective. One of the most frequently emphasized of Hume’s contributions to later classical doctrine is his analysis of the quantity theory-specie flow mechanism. Here Hume sought to show that there is no ground for the mercantilist fear that without trade restrictions a nation will lose its money supply. The quantity theory-specie flow doctrine is thus introduced to show that it is ultimately a nation’s level of economic development that determines the quantity of money it can attract and retain. “I should as soon dread, that all our springs and rivers should be exhausted, as that money should abandon a kingdom where there are people and industry” ([1752b] 1955, p. 61). Hume’s interest theory—in its emphasis on the importance of real capital (as against the mercantilist stress on the quantity of money)—also anticipated the classical position. But, more fundamentally, Hume was concerned to show that the availability of real capital is itself determined by the impact of the growth of industry on economic motivation. And here he made use of all the “causes of labour” introduced in his economic psychology. In an industrially advancing economy, he argued, there is increasing opportunity for “action” in the form of “lucrative employment.” This induces frugality both by providing an alternative to pleasure seeking (the preoccupation of the idle landowner in an agrarian economy) as a mode of gratifying the desire for liveliness, and by intensifying the desire for gain, or the desire to accumulate the tokens of economic success. As the income of the industrious class grows, along with its contribution to output, there is thus a substantial increase in the supply of real savings, and the interest rate inevitably falls ([1752-1758] 1955, pp. 53-54).

In his treatment of the issue of trade restrictions, Hume recognized that free trade increases real income (at any given level of economic development) by bringing about a more efficient allocation of resources (ibid., pp. 66, 75, 79)—the argument Adam Smith was later to elaborate more fully and systematically. Growth considerations, however, occupy the center of Hume’s analysis: meeting the mercantilist argument for trade restrictions on its own ground, he sought to show that, far from inhibiting the economic growth of other countries, one nation’s economic growth commonly contributes to the development of its neighbors. An expansion of industry abroad, he emphasized, yields new technology that the home country can emulate, and since such an expansion increases foreign income, it also increases the foreign demand for home exports. In his detailed treatment of the growth of foreign industry that competes directly with domestic output, Hume stressed the stimulating effects of foreign competition on the spirit of industry at home: he argued, for example, that such competitive pressure encourages a nation to divert unemployed resources to new uses and, further, that the resulting diversification will minimize the impact on employment of any subsequent fluctuations of demand in particular markets (ibid., pp. 78-81).

In some respects Hume’s doctrine is a complex of classical elements and elements exhibiting an affinity to the mercantilist position (with inconsistencies between the two remaining unresolved). But this complex can itself be traced mainly to Hume’s interest in stressing the importance of developmental considerations. For example, Hume generally employed the quantity theory of money to show that it is economic growth rather than the quantity of money that is of basic significance to a nation. But with a view to growth considerations he was also led to argue that gradual changes in the money supply (as against large absolute quantities of money as such) are desirable. By repeatedly stimulating employment in the short run, such changes, he contended, will in the long run enhance the spirit of industry itself (ibid., pp. 37-40). Similarly, although on quantity theory grounds Hume argued that money has no effect on interest rates, he also acknowledged that if it affects economic growth, a long-run increase in the money supply will lower interest rates (ibid., p. 59).

Hume’s economic philosophy—the third level of his economic thought—is contained in his essay “Of Refinement in the Arts.” Here, Hume presented a moral justification for a commercial and industrial society and, as a basis for judgment, invoked the utilitarian ethic, which he had earlier elaborated and extensively defended in Book m of the Treatise and in his Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). On this level of Hume’s economic thought the perspective of “natural history” played an especially important role. In this context, where Hume considered the relation between economic growth and the happiness of the individual, the “causes of labour” (the desires for “pleasure,” “action,” and “liveliness“) are treated as “ends” whose attainment is furthered by the development of industry ([1752-1758] 1955, pp. 21-22). His analysis here, both in its detail and in its adoption of a pluralistic position on human happiness, bears a direct relation to his earlier series of essays on the “good life” entitled “The Epicurean,” “The Stoic,” “The Platonist,” and “The Sceptic.” Among all ends, Hume placed the greatest emphasis on “action” (the response to challenge); and a reading of “The Stoic” makes clear that, when treating this end most broadly, Hume had in mind the value that is now generally stressed in justifying a free society—the striving for self-fulfillment (Rotwein 1955, pp. xcv-xcix).

Hume also considered the influence of economic development on the intellectual, cultural, moral, and political life of society; with regard to politics, he argued (in a passage Adam Smith was later to cite for its central importance and originality) that the growth of political liberty itself is traceable to the economic decentralization and individualism brought about by the development of commerce ([1752-1758] 1955, pp. 28-29). Making all allowances for gaps in Hume’s knowledge of medieval society (with which he compared an industrial society) and for other shortcomings in his argument, his analysis—in its statement of the case for a liberal social order—deserves recognition as an early classic.

Compared to the Wealth of Nations, Hume’s treatment of economics is brief. Hume, moreover, gave relatively little attention to the questions of value and distribution which absorbed much of Smith’s analysis, and which were to become the dominant interest of the classical and neoclassical economists. In its theoretical treatment of psychological and historical influences, Hume’s analysis, however, is both more comprehensive and more penetrating than Smith’s, although Smith was more concerned with such influences than the generality of the later classical economists.

Since Hume’s time, however, others have given these influences a prominent place in their work. The “historical” and “institutional” economists are cases in point. Other important themes that occur in Hume’s work are to be found in contemporary economic literature. Most conspicuous is the revived interest in economic growth and in the cultural forces associated with this process, a product of the concern with underdeveloped economies. Also, interest in the question of full employment has led to a consideration of the psychology underlying aggregative behavior, while the shift in emphasis from impersonal markets to the role of individual units or collective entities (including business organizations and trade unions) and to the area of imperfect competition generally has likewise directed attention to a variety of psychological considerations not ordinarily stressed in “orthodox” economic analysis. In view of the rapid ity of institutional change in recent decades, it is not surprising that the very question of the desir ability of alternative institutional “systems” and the consequent normative and historical analysis of institutions should now be receiving increasing attention.

In various ways, these streams of thought differ from Hume’s approach. Nonetheless, owing to Hume’s remarkable capacity to treat important issues with a view to relevant psychological and historical factors, much of his economic thought still retains its freshness. In the standard literature it has long been the practice to give Hume relatively little attention (as one of a group of “predecessors” of Smith), although over the years several major technical aspects of his work have received general recognition. Hume’s contribution can be fully appreciated, however, only when the body of his economic analysis as a whole is related to the context of broad and systematic social inquiry in which it was developed.

Eugene Rotwein

[Other relevant material may be found inEconomic Growth; History, article onTHE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY; Money; Utilitarianism; and in the biographies ofMandeville; Ricardo; Smith, Adam; Turgot.]

WORKS BY HUME

(1739–1740) 1958 A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Clarendon. → Reprinted from the original edition; contains an analytical index.

(1739–1779) 1964 The Philosophical Works. 4 vols. Aalen (Germany): Scientia Verlag. → Volumes 1 and 2 are reprints of the 1886 edition, Volumes 3 and 4 reprinted from the 1882 edition.

(1741–1742) 1912 Essays Moral, Political and Literary. 2 vols. Edited by T. H. Green and T. H. Grose. New York and London: Longmans. → First published as Essays Moral and Political and changed to the above title in the 1758 edition.

(1751) 1957 An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. New York: Liberal Arts Press.

1752a Political Discourses. Edinburgh: Fleming.

(1752b) 1955 Of the Balance of Trade. Pages 60-77 in David Hume, Writings on Economics. Edited by Eugene Rotwein. London: Nelson; Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

(1752–1758) 1955 Writings on Economics. Edited by Eugene Rotwein. London: Nelson; Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press. → Also contains correspondence from 1749–1776.

(1754–1762) 1894 The History of England. 3 vols. London: Routledge.

WORKS ABOUT HUME

Jessop, Thomas E. 1938 A Bibliography of David Hume and of Scottish Philosophy From Francis Hutcheson to Lord Balfour. London and Hull: Brown.

Mossner, Ernest C. 1954 The Life of David Hume. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

Rotwein, Eugene 1955 Introduction. In David Hume, Writings on Economics. London: Nelson; Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Schatz, Albert 1902 L’oeuvre économique de David Hume. Paris: Rousseau.

Smith, Norman K. 1949 The Philosophy of David Hume: A Critical Study of Its Origins and Central Doctrines. London: Macmillan.

Stewart, John B. 1963 The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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Hume, David

Hume, David


David Hume (17111776) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on April 26, 1711. He was educated at home in the Presbyterian parish of Chirnside, near Berwick, and studied at the University of Edinburgh from 1723 until 1726, without taking a degree. Before leaving the university, he had projected his Treatise of Human Nature, and between the ages of fifteen and twenty-three he read widely and methodically in philosophy and other branches of learning, making the study of human nature his principal concern and the source from which he would draw all true conclusions in philosophy, morality, and criticism. In 1734 Hume went to France where he lived quietly for three years composing his revolutionary systematic study of human nature, which was published in three volumes in London from 1739 to 1740. The first volume concerns the understanding, the second the passions, and the third morality.

Finding that the work "fell dead-born from the press without reaching such distinction, as even to excite a murmur among the zealots," Hume penned a review of his own work, which he had anonymously published as a pamphlet: 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 (1740). This remarkable pamphlet is still the best brief guide to the central arguments and conclusions of Hume's theoretical philosophy, so it is unfortunate that a copy of it did not come to light until 1933. Though Hume's Treatise was a commercial failure during his lifetime, it is now almost universally regarded as one of the greatest works of systematic philosophy in the English language. However, because he was so disappointed with its reception and was inclined to blame himself for this fact, he recast the first volume into An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), and the third volume into An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1758), both of which have become philosophical classics.

The Treatise is firmly within the empiricist tradition of John Locke (16321704). No ideas are innate: all are derived, either directly or indirectly, from outer or inner experience. Experience is also the arbiter of all belief. Hume may be regarded as advancing a sophisticated Lockean viewpoint that has benefited greatly from the acute criticisms of Locke made by George Berkeley (16851753) and others. The universally accepted maxim that "every event has a cause" has no basis in reason. Nor does the ubiquitous assumption that what has happened in the past will happen in the future have any basis in reason. The problem of induction is emphasized and shown to be insoluble by reason alone. The faculty of reason is demoted from its historical hegemony at the same time as the nonrational faculty of imagination is promoted. The imagination, however, does not associate or connect ideas at random. It operates according to principles and associates resembling ideas, or ideas of objects that are contiguous in space and time or that are causally related: "Here is a kind of attraction, which in the mental world will be found to have as extraordinary effects as in the natural, and show itself in as many and as various forms." Reason gives way to instinct, custom, and habit. The three types of association "are the only ties of our thoughts," so "they are really to us the cement of the universe." Many items that reason allegedly discerns are reduced to projections or expressions of human nature. In the Abstract, Hume unequivocally describes his system as "very sceptical": "Philosophy wou'd render us entirely Pyrrhonian, were not nature too strong for it." His considered position is that of a moderate or mitigated scepticism, or one whose otherwise extreme conclusions have been somewhat "corrected" by common sense. This is the Hume who woke Immanuel Kant (17241804) from his "dogmatic slumber."

Philosophy of religion

From an early age Hume was preoccupied with religion and science. Before he was twenty, he set down in a notebook "the gradual progress" of his thoughts on theism: "It begun with an anxious search after arguments to confirm the common opinion: Doubts stole in, dissipated, return'd, were again dissipated, return'd again; and it was a perpetual struggle of a restless imagination against inclination, perhaps against reason." It therefore is unsurprising that the Treatise as originally written contained several antireligious sections and remarks that Hume prudently removed before publication. In 1737 he told a friend that he was "castrating" his manuscript, or "cutting off its nobler parts" so that it would "give as little offence as possible." He deleted an essay on miracles and probably also one on the immortality of the soul. But notwithstanding these precautions, the very first notice of the work warned readers of its "evil intentions," evident from the book's motto alone: "Seldom are men blessed with times in which they may think what they like, and say what they think".

Hume must have realized that a discerning reader of the Treatise would have detected echoes of principles and doctrines prominent in the works of Pierre Bayle (16471706), Anthony Collins (16761729), Thomas Hobbes (15881679), Baruch Spinoza (16321677), and other "free thinkers." He therefore should not have been surprised when, in 1745, he applied for a chair in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, and the local clergy defeated his candidacy by charging him with advocating "universal scepticism" and "downright atheism." They also accused him of "denying the immortality of the soul" and of "sapping the foundations of morality, by denying the natural and essential difference between right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice; making the difference only artificial, and to arise from human conventions and compacts." Hume defended himself against these misunderstandings and misrepresentations, but thereafter his writings became increasingly antireligious.

In 1748 Hume published his essay on miracles, in which he argued that there is no reason to believe that any miracle has ever occurred. His argument was attacked by many contemporaries, including William Adams, John Douglas, Richard Price, and George Campbell, whose criticisms are still worth reading. In the same collection Hume devoted an essay to arguing that there is no reason to believe in a particular providence or a future state. This attack on the argument from design was elaborated in Hume's posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), which is modelled upon Cicero's De Natura Deorum.

The historian Edward Gibbon (17371794) regarded the Dialogues as "the most profound, the most ingenious, and the best written of Hume's philosophic works." It remains the classic discussion of the argument from design (or argument a posteriori ), and some regard it as the most important work in the philosophy of religion in English. Had William Paley (17431805) carefully studied it, he might never have written Evidences of Christianity (1794) or Natural Theology (1802). Along the way Samuel Clarke's (16751729) a priori argument for the existence of God is refuted, and the objections to theism from the existence of evil are forcefully presented.

The Dialogues involves three disputants: the orthodox rationalist theologian Demea, the "careless sceptic" Philo, and the scientific theologian Cleanthes, who frequently echoes Bishop Butler's Analogy of Religion (1736). Though the argument from design is subjected to sustained criticism, and the attentive reader may be convinced that the canons of scientific reasoning do not issue in theism, at the end Cleanthes seems to emerge as the winner, leading some mistakenly to conclude that Cleanthes speaks for Hume himself. But the Dialogues were so "artfully written" that Philo the sceptic only appears to be "silenced." In a private letter Hume said that he objected "to everything we commonly call religion, except the Practice of Morality, and the Assent of the Understanding to the Proposition that God exists." But in the Dialogues the concept of God is virtually evacuated of all meaning, so such "assent" amounts to little or nothing. Hume's friend Dr. Hugh Blair, who advised against publishing the Dialogues during Hume's lifetime, remarked that they are "exceedingly elegant" and "bring together some of his most exceptional reasonings, but the principles themselves were in all his former works." Most scholars now hold that Philo represents Hume himself. Hume denied that he was an atheist or a deist, so he is perhaps best viewed as a not-socareless sceptic.

In the Treatise Hume argued that morality is not founded on reason, but on passion. Reason alone cannot motivate people to act, and one cannot logically derive statements about what one "ought" to do from statements about what "is" the case. One's sense of justice rests upon self-interest, limited generosity, utility, human conventions, and sympathy or fellow-feeling with the sentiments of others. Jeremy Bentham (17481832) said that the scales fell from his eyes when he read this part of Hume's work. Though utility enters into his explanation of the evolution of morality, Hume himself was not a utilitarian. But he was one of the first to insist upon the autonomy of morality, and especially its independence from religious belief. In the Natural History of Religion (1757) he inquired into the causes of religion and speculated as to how monotheism had evolved from primitive polytheism, while emphasizing the absurd doctrines and immoral consequences of most world religions. His critics argued that, though his temperament enabled him to be just without being religious, most people require the sanctions of religion in order to be just.


Anonymous writings

Hume counted several of the more liberal Church of Scotland ministers as friends but resented those evangelical ministers who had lobbied against his appointment to a professorship at Edinburgh and Glasgow and who, in the mid-1750s, had unsuccessfully tried to have the Church of Scotland excommunicate him. He carefully cultivated the character of a "virtuous infidel" by encouraging the literary projects of his clerical friends (and potential literary rivals) such as Hugh Blair, Adam Ferguson, and Robert Wallace; and by anonymously publishing favourable reviews of William Robertson's History of Scotland, William Wilkie's epic poem the Epigoniad, and Robert Henry's History of Great Britain, as well as of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. The extent of Hume's clandestine literary activity has yet to be determined.

In "My Own Life" (1777), Hume asserted that he was "a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity." Adam Smith (17231790) testified that his "constant pleasantry was the genuine effusion of good nature and good humour without even the slightest tincture of malignity, so frequently the disagreeable source of what is called wit in other men." Nevertheless, under cover of anonymity, Hume composed several satires against the clergy and corrupt politicians. "The Bellman's Petition" (1751) is directed against an increase in the stipends of ministers of the Church of Scotland. The far more ambitious, lengthy, and scathing Sister Peg (1760) is directed against politicians who had defeated his friends' struggle to reestablish a militia in Scotland. An anonymous satire from 1758 is directed against the commonly felt "antipathy to the corn merchant" during times of famine and "affection for the Parson" who at such times inveighed against the supposedly greedy corn merchants. In it Hume argued that these popular sentiments were based upon ignorance, superstition, and bad reasoning; good reasoning should direct one's passions in the opposite direction, so that one should instead feel affection for the useful corn merchants and antipathy for the useless parsons who "cram us with Nonsense, instead of feeding us with Truth." In these works Hume appears to have revenged himself against those who had previously opposed him.

Political history

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Hume was best known as an historian. His multivolume History of England is not only a narrative history but is a philosophical study of the English constitution in which he never misses an opportunity to satirize the folly and hypocrisy of self-interested politicians and clergymen. His historical research was informed by his political and economic theories, which were less conservative than many have assumed. Believing that the first duty of a historian is to be accurate and impartial, while the next is the be instructive and entertaining, he succeeded so well in fulfilling these obligations that his history is still read, while those of most of his contemporaries have sunk into oblivion. Though born a Scotsman, Hume always strove to write an elegant and correct English and to surpass the best English stylists. Occasionally some vanity is evident in his writings, which gives them a conversational tone and an engaging character. Hume believed that good writing "consists of sentiments, which are natural, without being obvious." He repeatedly revised his works in order to perfect them. His views in philosophy, politics, economics, theology, history, and criticism were generally original and unobvious and so artfully expressed as to disguise his artfulness.

Hume died on August 25, 1776, and was buried in Calton Hill cemetery, overlooking Edinburgh. At his internment someone was overheard to say: "Ah, he was an atheist." To which another answered: "No matter, he was an honest man."


See also Design Argument; Empiricism; God; Human Nature, Religious and Philosophical Aspects; Imagination; Kant, Immanuel; Miracle; Monotheism; Morality; Natural Theology


Bibliography

gaskin, j. c. a. hume's philosophy of religion, 2nd edition. london: macmillan, 1988.

hume, david. an abstract of a treatise of human nature, 1740: a pamphlet hitherto unknown, eds. john maynard keynes and piero sraffa. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1938.

hume, david. sister peg: a pamphlet hitherto unknown, ed. david r. raynor. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1982.

jeffner, anders. butler and hume on religion: a comparative analysis. stockholm, sweden: diakonistyrelsens bokforlag, 1966.

mackie, john l. the miracle of theism: arguments for and against the existence of god. oxford: clarendon press, 1982.

millican, peter., ed. reading hume on human understanding: essays on the first enquiry. oxford: clarendon press, 2002.

mossner, ernest c. the life of david hume, 2nd edition. oxford: clarendon press, 1980.

norton, david fate, ed. the cambridge companion to hume. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1993.

penelhum, terence. themes in hume: the self, the will, religion. oxford: clarendon press, 2000.

raynor, david r. "hume's abstract of adam smith's theory of moral sentiments." journal of the history of philosophy 22 (1984): 5179.

raynor, david r. "who invented the invisible hand? hume's praise of laissez-faire in a newly discovered manuscript." times literary supplement (august 14, 1998): 22.

stewart, john b. opinion and reform in hume's political philosophy. princeton, n.j.: princeton university press, 1992.

stewart, m. a. the kirk and the infidel. lancaster, uk: lancaster university press, 1995.

david raynor

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David Hume

David Hume

The Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) developed a philosophy of "mitigated skepticism," which remains a viable alternative to the systems of rationalism, empiricism, and idealism.

If one was to judge a philosopher by a gauge of relevance—the quantity of issues and arguments raised by him that remain central to contemporary thought— David Hume would be rated among the most important figures in philosophy. Ironically, his philosophical writings went unnoticed during his lifetime, and the considerable fame he achieved derived from his work as an essayist and historian. Immanuel Kant's acknowledgment that Hume roused him from his "dogmatic slumbers" stimulated interest in Hume's thought.

With respect to Hume's life there is no better source than the succinct autobiography, My Own Life, written 4 months before his death. He was born on April 26, 1711, on the family estate, Ninewells, near Edinburgh. According to Hume, the "ruling passion" of his life was literature, and thus his story contains "little more than the History of my writings." As a second son, he was not entitled to a large inheritance, and he failed in two family-sponsored careers in law and business because of his "unsurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general learning." Until he was past 40, Hume was employed only twice. He spent a year in England as a tutor to a mentally ill nobleman, and from 1745 to 1747 Hume was an officer and aide-de-camp to Gen. James Sinclair and attended him on an expedition to the coast of France and military embassies in Vienna and Turin.

Major Works

During an earlier stay in France (1734-1737) Hume had written his major philosophic work, A Treatise of Human Nature. The first two volumes were published in 1739 and the third appeared in the following year. The critical reception of the work was singularly unfortunate. In Hume's own words, the Treatise "fell dead born from the press." Book I of the Treatise was recast as An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and published in 1748. The third volume with minor revisions appeared in 1751 as An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. The second volume of the Treatise was republished as Part 2 of Four Dissertations in 1757. Two sections of this work dealing with liberty and necessity had been incorporated in the first Enquiry. Hume's other important work, Dialogues concerningNatural Religion, was substantially complete by the mid-1750s, but because of its controversial nature it was published posthumously.

During his lifetime Hume's reputation derived from the publication of his Political Discourses (1751) and six-volume History of England (1754-1762). When he went to France in 1763 as secretary to the English ambassador, Hume discovered that he was a literary celebrity and a revered figure among the philosophes. He led a very happy and active social life even after his retirement to Edinburgh in 1769. He died there on Aug. 25, 1776. He specified in his will that the gravestone be marked only with his name and dates, "leaving it to Posterity to add the rest."

"Mitigated Skepticism"

Skepticism is concerned with the truthfulness of human perceptions and ideas. On the level of perception, Hume was the first thinker to consistently point out the disastrous implications of the "representative theory of perception," which he had inherited from both his rationalist and empiricist predecessors. According to this view, when I say that I perceive something such as an elephant, what I actually mean is that I have in my mind a mental idea or image or impression. Such a datum is an internal, mental, subjective representation of something that I assume to be an external, physical, objective fact. But there are, at least, two difficulties inherent in ascribing any truth to such perceptions. If truth is understood as the conformity or adequacy between the image and the object, then it is impossible to establish that there is a true world of objects since the only evidence I have of an external world consists of internal images. Further, it is impossible to judge how faithfully mental impressions or ideas represent physical objects.

Hume is aware, however, that this sort of skepticism with regard to the senses does violence to common sense. He suggests that a position of complete skepticism is neither serious nor useful. Academic skepticism (the name derives from a late branch of Plato's school) states that one can never know the truth or falsity of any statement (except, of course, this one). It is, however, a self-refuting theory and is confounded by life itself because "we make inferences on the basis of our impressions whether they be true or false, real or imaginary." Total skepticism is unlivable since "nature is always too strong for principle." Hume therefore advances what he calls "mitigated skepticism." In addition to the exercise of caution in reasoning, this approach attempts to limit philosophical inquiries to topics that are adapted to the capacities of human intelligence. It thus excludes all metaphysical questions concerning the origin of either mind or object as being incapable of demonstration.

Theory of Knowledge

Even though an ultimate explanation of both the subject or object of knowledge is impossible, Hume provides a description of how man senses and understands. He emphasizes the utility of knowledge as opposed to its correctness and suggests that experience begins with feeling rather than thought. He uses the term "perception" in its traditional sense—that is, whatever can be present to the mind from the senses, passions, thought, or reflection. Nonetheless he distinguishes between impressions which are felt and ideas which are thought. In this he stresses the difference between feeling a toothache and thinking about such a pain, which had been obscured by both rationalists and empiricists. Both impressions and ideas are subdivided further into simple and complex; for example, the idea of heat is simple, while the idea of combustion is complex.

These simple divisions are the basis for Hume's "phenomenalism" (that is, knowledge consists of "appearances" in the mind). Hume distinguishes the various operations of the mind in a descriptive psychology, or "mental geography." Impressions are described as vivacious and lively, whereas ideas are less vivid and, in fact, derived from original impressions. This thesis leads to the conclusion that "we can never think of any thing which we have not seen without us or felt in our own minds." Hume often overestimates the importance of this discovery with the suggestion that the sole criterion for judging ideas is to remove every philosophical ambiguity by asking "from what impression is that supposed idea derived." If there is no corresponding impression, the idea may be dismissed as meaningless. This assumption that all ideas are reducible, in principle, to some impression is a primary commitment of Hume's empiricism. Hume did admit that there are complex ideas, such as the idea of a city, that are not traceable to any single impression. These complex ideas are produced by the freedom of the imagination to transform and relate ideas independently of impressions; such ideas are not susceptible to empirical verification. This represents the major paradox of Hume's philosophy—the imagination which produces every idea beyond sensible immediacy also denies the truth of ideas.

Theory of Ideas

Hume accepts the Cartesian doctrine of the distinct idea—conceivability subject only to the principle of contradiction—as both the unit of reasoning and the criterion of truth. But the doctrine of the distinct idea means that every noncontradictory idea expresses an a priori logical possibility. And the speculative freedom of the imagination to conceive opposites without contradiction makes it impossible to demonstrate any matter of fact or existence. This argument leads to a distinction between relations of ideas (demonstrations which are true a priori) and matters of fact (the opposite of which is distinctly conceivable). And this distinction excludes from the domain of rational determination every factual event, future contingent proposition, and causal relation. For Hume, since truth is posterior to fact, the ideas of reason only express what the mind thinks about reality.

Distinct ideas, or imaginative concepts, are pure antinomies apart from experience as every factual proposition is equally valid a priori. But Hume does acknowledge that such propositions are not equally meaningful either to thought or action. On the level of ideas, Hume offers a conceptual correlative to the exemption of sensation as a form of cognition by his recognition that the meaning of ideas is more important than their truth. What separates meaningful propositions from mere concepts is the subjective impression of belief.

Belief, or the vivacity with which the mind conceives certain ideas and associations, results from the reciprocal relationship between experience and imagination. The cumulative experience of the past and present—for example, the relational factors of constancy, conjunction, and resemblance—gives a bias to the imagination. But it is man's imaginative anticipations of the future that give meaning to his experience. Neither the relational elements of experience nor the propensive function of the imagination, from the viewpoint of the criterion of truth, possesses the slightest rational justification. Hence the interplay between the criterion of truth and the logic of the imagination explains both Hume's skepticism and his conception of sensation and intellection.

The most celebrated example of this argument is Hume's analysis of the causal relation. Every statement which points beyond what is immediately available to the senses and memory rests on an assumption and/or extension of the cause and effect relation. Let us examine two cases: I see lightning and hear thunder; I see a rabbit and then a fox. The question is why I am right in concluding that lightning causes thunder but wrong in believing that rabbits cause foxes. Experience, in both instances, reveals an A that is followed by B, and repeated experiences show that A is always followed by B. While the constant conjunction of A and B might eliminate the rabbit-fox hypothesis, it is of no help in explaining causality because there are all sorts of objects, such as tables and chairs, which are similarly conjoined but not supposed to be causally related. Thus experience reveals only that constant conjunction and priority are sufficient but not necessary conditions for establishing a causal connection. And it is necessity, understood as that which cannot be otherwise than it is, which makes a relation causal in the propositional form of "If A then B must appear and if no A then no B."

But if necessary connection explains causality, what explains necessity? Experience yields only a particular instance and tells us nothing about the past or the future. Nor is there any necessity discoverable in repeated experiences. That the sun will rise tomorrow because it has in the past is an assumption that the past necessarily causes the future which is, of course, the connection that is to be demonstrated. If experience cannot account for necessity, then reason fares no better. I can always imagine the opposite of any matter of fact without contradiction. If someone tells me that Caesar died of old age or that thunder is uncaused or that the sun will not rise tomorrow, I will not believe him, but there is nothing logically incorrect about such statements since for every probability "there exists an equal and opposite possibility." Thus there is no justifiable knowledge of causal connections in nature, although this is not a denial that there are real causes. Man's supposed knowledge results from repeated associations of A and B to the point where the imagination makes its customary transition from one object to its usual attendant, that is, "an object followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that other."

Because of his skeptical attitude toward the truths of reason Hume attempted to ground his moral theory on the bedrock of feeling—"Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions." In this, Hume followed the "moral sense" school and, especially, the thought of Francis Hutcheson. The notion that virtue and vice are to be derived ultimately from impressions of approbation and blame or pleasure and pain shows that Hume anticipated Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism, a debt which the latter acknowledged. Although Hume considered himself to be primarily a moralist, this doctrine is the least original part of his philosophical writings.

Further Reading

Ernest C. Mossner, who edited several volumes of Hume's correspondence, also wrote the best biography, The Life of David Hume (1954). John H. Burton, Life and Correspondence of David Hume (1846; repr. 1967), is still useful. Good studies of Hume include John A. Passmore, Hume's Intentions (1952); Farhang Zabeeh, Hume, Precursor of Modern Empiricism (1960); and Charles W. Hendel, Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume (1963). Also useful are Alfred B. Glathe, Hume's Theory of the Passions and of Morals (1950); and Antony Flew, Hume's Philosophy of Belief (1961), a study of the first Enquiry. Various aspects of Hume's work are considered in several anthologies of critical opinion: D. F. Pears, ed., David Hume: A Symposium (1963); Alexander Sesonske and Noel Fleming, eds., Human Understanding: Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume (1965); and V. C. Chappell, ed., Hume (1966). □

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Hume, David

David Hume

1711-1776
Scottish philosopher who developed a philosophy of "mitigated skepticism," which remains a viable alternative to the systems of rationalism, empiricism, and idealism.

If one was to judge a philosopher by a gauge of relevancethe quantity of issues and arguments raised by him that remain central to contemporary thoughtDavid Hume would be rated among the most important figures in philosophy. Ironically, his philosophical writings went unnoticed during his lifetime, and the considerable fame he achieved derived from his work as an essayist and historian. Immanuel Kant's acknowledgment that Hume roused him from his "dogmatic slumbers" stimulated interest in Hume's thought.

With respect to Hume's life there is no better source than the succinct autobiography, My Own Life, written four months before his death. He was born on April 26, 1711, on the family estate, Ninewells, near Edinburgh. According to Hume, the "ruling passion" of his life was literature, and thus his story contains "little more than the History of my writings." As a second son, he was not entitled to a large inheritance, and he failed in two family-sponsored careers in law and business because of his "unsurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general learning." Until he was past 40, Hume was employed only twice. He spent a year in England as a tutor to a mentally ill nobleman, and from 1745 to 1747 Hume was an officer and aide-de-camp to Gen. James Sinclair and attended him on an expedition to the coast of France and military embassies in Vienna and Turin.

Major works

During an earlier stay in France (1734-1737) Hume had written his major philosophic work, A Treatise of Human Nature. The first two volumes were published in 1739 and the third appeared in the following year. The critical reception of the work was singularly unfortunate. In Hume's own words, the Treatise "fell dead born from the press." Book I of the Treatise was recast as An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and published in 1748. The third volume with minor revisions appeared in 1751 as An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. The second volume of the Treatise was republished as Part 2 of Four Dissertations in 1757. Two sections of this work dealing with liberty and necessity had been incorporated in the first Enquiry. Hume's other important work, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, was substantially complete by the mid-1750s, but because of its controversial nature it was published posthumously.

During his lifetime Hume's reputation derived from the publication of his Political Discourses (1751) and six-volume History of England (1754-1762). When he went to France in 1763 as secretary to the English ambassador, Hume discovered that he was a literary celebrity and a revered figure among the philosophes. He led a very happy and active social life even after his retirement to Edinburgh in 1769. He died there on Aug. 25, 1776. He specified in his will that the gravestone be marked only with his name and dates, "leaving it to Posterity to add the rest."

"Mitigated skepticism"

Skepticism is concerned with the truthfulness of human perceptions and ideas. On the level of perception , Hume was the first thinker to consistently point out the disastrous implications of the "representative theory of perception," which he had inherited from both his rationalist and empiricist predecessors. According to this view, when I say that I perceive something such as an elephant, what I actually mean is that I have in my mind a mental idea or image or impression. Such a datum is an internal, mental, subjective representation of something that I assume to be an external, physical, objective fact. But there are, at least, two difficulties inherent in ascribing any truth to such perceptions. If truth is understood as the conformity or adequacy between the image and the object, then it is impossible to establish that there is a true world of objects since the only evidence I have of an external world consists of internal images. Further, it is impossible to judge how faithfully mental impressions or ideas represent physical objects.

Hume is aware, however, that this sort of skepticism with regard to the senses does violence to common sense. He suggests that a position of complete skepticism

is neither serious nor useful. Academic skepticism (the name derives from a late branch of Plato's school) states that one can never know the truth or falsity of any statement (except, of course, this one). It is, however, a self-refuting theory and is confounded by life itself because "we make inferences on the basis of our impressions whether they be true or false, real or imaginary." Total skepticism is unlivable since "nature is always too strong for principle." Hume therefore advances what he calls "mitigated skepticism." In addition to the exercise of caution in reasoning, this approach attempts to limit philosophical inquiries to topics that are adapted to the capacities of human intelligence . It thus excludes all metaphysical questions concerning the origin of either mind or object as being incapable of demonstration.

Theory of knowledge

Even though an ultimate explanation of both the subject or object of knowledge is impossible, Hume provides a description of how man senses and understands. He emphasizes the utility of knowledge as opposed to its correctness and suggests that experience begins with feeling rather than thought. He uses the term "perception" in its traditional sensethat is, whatever can be present to the mind from the senses, passions, thought, or reflection. Nonetheless he distinguishes between impressions which are felt and ideas which are thought. In this he stresses the difference between feeling a toothache and thinking about such a pain , which had been obscured by both rationalists and empiricists. Both impressions and ideas are subdivided further into simple and complex; for example, the idea of heat is simple, while the idea of combustion is complex.

Theory of ideas

Hume accepts the Cartesian doctrine of the distinct ideaconceivability subject only to the principle of contradictionas both the unit of reasoning and the criterion of truth. For Hume, since truth is posterior to fact, the ideas of reason only express what the mind thinks about reality. Distinct ideas, or imaginative concepts, are pure antinomies apart from experience as every factual proposition is equally valid a priori. But Hume does acknowledge that such propositions are not equally meaningful either to thought or action. On the level of ideas, Hume offers a conceptual correlative to the exemption of sensation as a form of cognition by his recognition that the meaning of ideas is more important than their truth. What separates meaningful propositions from mere concepts is the subjective impression of belief.

Belief, or the vivacity with which the mind conceives certain ideas and associations, results from the reciprocal relationship between experience and imagination . The cumulative experience of the past and presentfor example, the relational factors of constancy, conjunction, and resemblancegives a bias to the imagination. But it is man's imaginative anticipations of the future that give meaning to his experience. Neither the relational elements of experience nor the propensive function of the imagination, from the viewpoint of the criterion of truth, possesses the slightest rational justification. Hence the interplay between the criterion of truth and the logic of the imagination explains both Hume's skepticism and his conception of sensation and intellection.

The most celebrated example of this argument is Hume's analysis of the causal relation. Every statement which points beyond what is immediately available to the senses and memory rests on an assumption and/or extension of the cause and effect relation. Let us examine two cases: I see lightning and hear thunder; I see a rabbit and then a fox. The question is why I am right in concluding that lightning causes thunder but wrong in believing that rabbits cause foxes. Experience, in both instances, reveals an A that is followed by B, and repeated experiences show that A is always followed by B . While the constant conjunction of A and B might eliminate the rabbit-fox hypothesis, it is of no help in explaining causality because there are all sorts of objects, such as tables and chairs, which are similarly conjoined but not supposed to be causally related. Thus experience reveals only that constant conjunction and priority are sufficient but not necessary conditions for establishing a causal connection. And it is necessity, understood as that which cannot be otherwise than it is, which makes a relation causal in the propositional form of "If A then B must appear and if no A then no B."

But if necessary connection explains causality, what explains necessity? Experience yields only a particular instance and tells us nothing about the past or the future. Nor is there any necessity discoverable in repeated experiences. That the Sun will rise tomorrow because it has in the past is an assumption that the past necessarily causes the future which is, of course, the connection that is to be demonstrated. If experience cannot account for necessity, then reason fares no better. I can always imagine the opposite of any matter of fact without contradiction. If someone tells me that Caesar died of old age or that thunder is uncaused or that the Sun will not rise tomorrow, I will not believe him, but there is nothing logically incorrect about such statements since for every probability "there exists an equal and opposite possibility." Thus there is no justifiable knowledge of causal connections in nature, although this is not a denial that there are real causes. Man's supposed knowledge results from repeated associations of A and B to the point where the imagination makes its customary transition from one object to its usual attendant, that is, "an object followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that other."

Further Reading

Burton, John H. Life and correspondence of David Hume. 1846. repr. 1967.

Chappell, V.C., ed. Hume. 1966.

Flew, Antony. Hume's philosophy of belief. 1961.

Glathe, Alfred B. Hume's theory of the passions and of morals. 1950.

Hendel, Charles W. Studies in the philosophy of David Hume. 1963.

Mossner, Ernest C. The life of David Hume. 1954.

Passmore, John A. Hume's intentions. 1952.

Pears, D.F., ed. David Hume: a symposium. 1963.

Sesonske, Alexander and Noel Fleming, eds. Human understanding: studies in the philosophy of David Hume. 1965.

Zabeeh, Farhang. Hume, precursor of modern empiricism. 1960.

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Hume, David

Hume, David 1711-1776

BIBLIOGRAPHY

David Humes work was crucial in the development of many important social scientific concepts like the fact/value distinction, ideology, and economic equilibrium. Moreover, in a period when the social sciences did not yet exist, he envisioned the transformation of the ancient discipline of moral philosophy into a science of man through the application of an experimental philosophy to moral subjects (Hume 17391740, p. 4). Such a methodological transformation was essential for the creation of the social sciences.

Hume was born in Edinburgh on April 26, 1711, and he grew up at his family home in the Scottish Borderlands. He studied at the University of Edinburgh, and after rejecting a career as a merchant or a lawyer, he made his way in life as an intellectual and author. He joined a circle of Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, including Adam Smith and Lords Kames and Monboddo, who made Edinburgh the center of their social life. They kept a careful distance both from the Scottish Highlanders to the Northwho were prone to violent rebellion against the powers that be in Londonand the English establishment figures to the Southwho were often hostile to ambitious Scots like themselves. Although his philosophical works did not win him fame and fortune, his multivolume History of England (published between 1754 and 1762) did. During his later years, between 1763 and 1768, he broke through the governmental glass ceiling for Scots and was appointed to a number of important diplomatic posts, including charge daffaires in the British Embassy in Paris and under-secretary of state for the Northern Department (which included Scotland). He died in Edinburgh on August 25, 1776.

Humes writings spanned the genres from intricate philosophical studies to belletristic essays and historical narratives. In these texts, Hume created concepts and attitudes that pointed social investigations away from the formal, contractualist framework that dominated Enlightenment social thought and toward a dynamic, empirical approach to human nature.

Hume acerbically made a sharp distinction in the discourse concerning human affairs between the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not and the propositions connecting subject and predicate with ought and ought not. He insisted that one could not validly deduce ought propositions from those stating facts about human behavior alone, and that once small attention was paid to this fallacious reasoning, all the vulgar systems of morality would be subverted (Hume 17391740, p. 302). Indeed, the is/ought distinction became a starting point for the social sciences in the next century.

Along with this categorical revision of the social world, Hume cultivated in his readers a healthy skepticism for the application of crude causal categories in the science of man. Just as Newton rejected the primacy of contact (push-pull) forces in natural philosophy and introduced relational forcessuch as gravitational attraction, which operates instantaneously across huge distanceshe also debunked the primacy of mechanical causation in the social realm and called for a deeper appreciation of tendential, correlational forces expressed in sympathy, convention, and habit.

Hume also rejected an atomistic conception of the self. He argued that the notion of a simple unified self is a fictional product of an ingrained propensity to confound identity with relation. Humes science of man guards against this propensity and seeks to uncover the complex relations and forces at play in the formation of a self, thus proposing one of the key research themes of the future social sciences. A century later, his recognition of the importance of fictions in social life was to be developed further with the notion of ideology.

Hume also emphasized the importance of the precontractual basis of contractual societies by refusing to take the rational, contracting individual as the starting point of social thought. He noted that two men, who pull the oars of a boat, do it by an agreement or convention, tho they have never given promises to each other (Hume 17391740, p. 315), and his new science gave primacy to this level of social cooperation and convention that makes promises and contracts possible.

Although Humes work affected the methodology of the social sciences in general, his discourses on commerce, money, and the balance of trade had a major impact on economic thought, both directly and through his influence on Adam Smith.

Hume also recognized that the rules of property ownership and the use of money are artificial, that they must be constructed both in an individuals life and humanitys history. Consequently, economic laws, such as the quantity theory of money, do not automatically apply, but instead require the development of a state where money has a universal diffusion and circulation (Hume 17421752, p. 294). Moreover, in a fully monetarized society, Hume, like Isaac Newton, differentiated between steady states and accelerating changes of a systems basic quantities. Thus, he argued that though, in the long run, the price of commodities will be proportional to the quantity of money, alterations in the quantity of money are not immediately attended with proportionable alternations in the prices of commodities (Hume 17421752, p. 288). For example, influxes of money, in some circumstances, can stimulate economic activity.

Hume observed that, in a commercial world, money moves across borders in an autonomous manner that makes mercantilist efforts to prevent a countrys loss of specie (e.g., by prohibiting the export of bullion) nugatory and even counterproductive. As long as a nation preserves its people and industry, its money supply will tend almost naturally toward an appropriate equilibrium level, just as all water, wherever it communicates, remains always at a level (Hume 17421752, p. 312).

Finally, although Hume was one of the first major European philosophers to oppose slavery, he was also one of the first to develop the rudiments of a modern race theory claiming to be based on science. His observations of plantation life in the British West Indies convinced him that wage labor was much more productive than slave labor, and that the threat of unemployment had much more disciplinary power for the free workers than the threat of the whip had for slaves (Hume 17421752, p. 390). However, since he also claimed to know of no ingenious manufactures amongst [Africans], no arts, no sciences, either in Africa or among the freed African slaves in Europe, he was apt to suspect the negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites (Hume 17421752, p. 208). Thus, he was an influential founder of a biopolitical racism compatible with a regime of waged labor.

In many ways then, Hume is the most postmodern of Enlightenment thinkers. An appreciation for his subversive, paradoxical, and militantly secular attitudes and concepts has therefore grown among historians in search of alternative genealogies for the social sciences.

SEE ALSO Equilibrium in Economics; Philosophy; Quantity Theory of Money; Smith, Adam

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baier, Annette. 1991. A Progress of Sentiments: Reflections on Humes Treatise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Berry, Christopher J. 1997. Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Broadie, Alexander, ed. 2003. The Cambridge Companion to The Scottish Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1991. Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Humes Theory of Human Nature. Trans. Constantin V. Boundas. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hume, David. 17391740. A Treatise of Human Nature. Ed. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Hume, David. 17421752. Essays Moral, Political, and Literary. Ed. Eugene F. Miller. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1987.

Norton, David Fate, ed. 1993. The Cambridge Companion to Hume. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

C. George Caffentzis

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Hume, David (1711–1776)

HUME, DAVID (17111776)

HUME, DAVID (17111776), Scottish philosopher and historian. Hume was born in the Scottish border country near Edinburgh into an old family of prosperous provincial lawyers. His father died when he was an infant. His mother never re-married and devoted herself to raising Hume and his brother and sister. Throughout his life Hume was deeply attached to his family and proud of its traditions. He studied at the University of Edinburgh until the age of fourteen or fifteen. For the next ten years he pursued a rigorous plan of independent study that surveyed the whole of humanistic learning and cost him a temporary nervous breakdown. From this period, Hume conceived two projects, the later fulfillment of which would complete his career as a writera philosophical science of human nature (comprehending all the sciences) and the writing of history. Hume is unique in being both a great philosopher and a great historian. He is commonly ranked, along with William Robertson, Edward Gibbon, and Voltaire as one of the four most important eighteenth-century historians.

By the age of twenty-six Hume had composed his philosophical masterpiece, A Treatise of Human Nature (17391740). The work was not well received, and Hume quickly began recasting its ideas into the more readable form of essays. Most of these were published from 1741 to 1752 and were warmly received in Britain and America and translated into French, German, and Italian. The most important works from this period are Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary (1752), An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). These essays contain important contributions to epistemology, aesthetics, economics, and moral and political philosophy. The Natural History of Religion (1757) and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (published posthumously in 1779), arguably establish Hume as the founder of the philosophy of religion.

Around 1752 he turned to the second project set for himself in his youth, namely the writing of history. The History of England appeared in six volumes over the years 17541762. It achieved the status of a classic in Hume's lifetime, was viewed as the standard work on the subject for nearly a century, and was in print down to the end of the nineteenth century, passing through at least 160 posthumous editions. Hume had now achieved a European reputation as one of the great writers of his age, and he enjoyed friendships with such illustrious figures as Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Denis Diderot, Jean d'Alembert, and Benjamin Franklin.

In 1983 The History of England was republished after having been out of print for nearly a century. During that period Hume had been narrowly thought of as a technical philosopher. The early skeptical and negative interpretation of The Treatise of Human Nature put forth by James Beattie, Thomas Reid, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill persisted far into the twentieth century. Hume's historical work was considered irrelevant to his philosophy and almost entirely forgotten. Hume, however, thought of the History as an integral part of his philosophical work. This can best be appreciated by considering his skepticism. The ancient Pyrrhonians taught that the main source of misery for highly cultivated people is the attempt to guide life by philosophical speculation. Hume denied that the disposition to philosophize could or should be purged, but he agreed with the Pyrrhonians that philosophical speculation can be a source of disorder in the soul. The first problem for Hume's science of human nature, then, was to distinguish what he called "true philosophy" from its corrupt and corrupting forms. Hume used skeptical tropes to make this distinction. His intention was neither to subvert (Beattie, Reid, Mill) nor to raise skeptical challenges for others to solve (Kant). His goal was to purge the philosophical intellect of its corrupt forms.

False philosophy seeks radical autonomy and imagines itself emancipated from the pre-reflective customs and prejudices of common life. True philosophy knows this to be a psychological and conceptual impossibility. True philosophy may still speculate about reality but only by critically passing through, and rendering more coherent, the inherited prejudices of common life. Hume went beyond the Pyrrhonians in teaching that false philosophy has a corrupting effect not only on the soul but on social and political order as welland especially so under modern conditions where, for the first time in history, the disposition to philosophize was becoming a mass phenomenon. He narrated the tragedy of the English Civil War in the History as just such a corruption. His critique of philosophical rationalism in all its forms (in science, morals, politics, religion, and philosophy itself) is the one theme that unites his philosophical and historical work. And it establishes Hume as the first to work out a systematic critique of modern ideologies.

See also Alembert, Jean Le Rond d' ; Diderot, Denis ; Historiography ; Kant, Immanuel ; Philosophy ; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques ; Skepticism, Academic and Pyrrhonian ; Smith, Adam .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Hume, David. David Hume's Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. Edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge. 3rd ed. revised, edited by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford, 1975.

. Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary. Edited by Eugene F. Miller. Indianapolis, 1985.

. Principal Writings on Religion, Including Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and The Natural History of Religion. Edited by J. C. A. Gaskin. Oxford and New York, 1993.

. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited. by L. A. Selby-Bigge. 2nd ed. with text revised and variant readings by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford and New York, 1978.

Secondary Sources

Bongie, Laurence L. David Hume, Prophet of the Counter-Revolution. Indianapolis, 2000. Shows how important Hume's History was in shaping the ideological conflict in France shortly before, during, and after the French Revolution.

Forbes, Duncan. Hume's Philosophical Politics. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1975. Views Hume's History as an integral part of his political philosophy.

Livingston, Donald W. Hume's Philosophy of Common Life. Chicago, 1984. Argues against the reading of Hume as a radical empiricist; shows how his philosophical and historical writings are internally connected.

. Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium: Hume's Pathology of Philosophy. Chicago, 1998. Fully explores Hume's distinction between true and false philosophy.

Norton, David Fate. David Hume: Common-Sense Moralist, Sceptical Metaphysician. Princeton, 1982.

Penelhum, Terence. Themes in Hume: The Self, the Will, and Religion. Oxford and New York, 2000.

Stewart, John B. Opinion and Reform in Hume's Political Philosophy. Princeton, 1992.

Donald W. Livingston

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Hume, David

HUME, DAVID

David Hume was an eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher, historian, and social theorist who influenced the development of skepticism and empiricism, two schools of philosophical thought. Hume's economic and political ideas influenced Adam Smith, the Scottish economist and theorist of modern capitalism, and james madison, the American statesman who helped shape the republican form of government through his work on the U.S. Constitution.

Hume was born August 25, 1711, in Chirn-side, near Edinburgh, Scotland. He entered Edinburgh University when he was twelve. He left the university after several years of study and attempted to study law. He did not like the subject, and instead read widely in philosophy. In 1729 he suffered a nervous breakdown. After a prolonged recovery, he moved to France in 1734, where he wrote his first work, A Treatise on Human Nature. The book was not published until 1739 and was largely ignored. His next work, Essays, Moral and Political (1741), attracted favorable notice. Throughout the 1740s Hume's religious skepticism doomed his chances for a professorship at Edinburgh University. He spent the decade as a tutor and then as secretary to a Scottish general. During this period he wrote several more works of philosophy, including An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751).

In 1752 he was made librarian of the Faculty of Advocates Library at Edinburgh. From 1754 to 1762, he published his monumental History of England, which for many years was considered the basic text of English history. This work brought him international fame. He later served as secretary to the British counsel in Paris. He died August 25, 1776, in Edinburgh.

"The Heart OF Man IS MADE TO RECONCILE Contradictions."
—David Hume

As a philosopher, Hume espoused a skeptical viewpoint, distrusting speculation. He believed that all knowledge comes from experience and that the mind contains nothing but a collection of perceptions, that all events are viewed and interpreted through the sensations of the mind. He attacked the principle of causality, which states that nothing can happen or exist without a cause. Hume was willing to admit that one event, or set of sense impressions, always precedes another, but he argued that this did not prove that the first event causes the second. A person can conclude that causality exists, but that conclusion is based on belief, not proof.

Therefore, a person cannot expect the future to be similar to the past, because there is no rational basis for that expectation.

Like his philosophical beliefs, Hume's essays on politics and economics were influential in his time. Historians have concluded that James Madison read Hume's Essays, Moral and Political and applied some of the ideas from this work while helping write the Constitution and The Federalist Papers. Hume was concerned about the formation of factions based on religion, politics, and other common interests. He concluded that a democratic society needs to prevent factions, which ultimately undermine the government and lead to violence. Madison agreed that factions can divide government but came to the opposite conclusion: the more factions the better. In Madison's view more factions made it less likely that any one party or coalition of parties would be able to gain control of government and invade the rights of other citizens. The system of checks and balances contained in the Constitution was part of Madison's plan for placing some limits on factions.

further readings

Allan, James. 1999. "To Exclude or Not to Exclude Improperly Obtained Evidence: Is a Humean Approach More Helpful?" University of Tasmania Law Review 18 (October).

Arkin, Marc M. 1995. "'The Intractable Principle': David Hume, James Madison, Religion, and the Tenth Federalist." American Journal of Legal History 39.

Mossner, Ernest Campbell. 2001. The Life of David Hume. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Schmidt, Claudia M. 2003. David Hume: Reason in History. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

Vermeule, Adrian. 2003."Hume's Second-Best Constitutionalism." University of Chicago Law Review 70 (winter).

cross-references

Hobbes, Thomas; Jurisprudence; Locke, John.

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Hume, David

David Hume (hyōōm), 1711–76, Scottish philosopher and historian. Educated at Edinburgh, he lived (1734–37) in France, where he finished his first philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40). His other philosophical works include An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748; a simplified version of the first book of the Treatise), An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), Political Discourses (1752), The Natural History of Religion (1755), and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). Hume also wrote an exhaustive History of England (1754–62), whose purity of style overcame the frequent faultiness of fact and made the work the standard history of England for many years. In 1763, Hume returned to Paris as secretary to the British embassy. It was at that time that he became a friend of Jean Jacques Rousseau, to whom he later gave refuge in England. In philosophy Hume pressed the analysis of John Locke and George Berkeley to the logical extreme of skepticism for which he is famous. He could see no more reason for hypothesizing a substantial soul or mind than for accepting a substantial material world. A complete nominalist in his handling of ideas of material objects, he carried the method into the discussion of mind and found nothing there but a bundle of perceptions. Causal relation derives solely from the customary conjunction of two impressions; the apparent sequence of events in the external world is in fact the sequence of perceptions in the mind. From this statement Hume argued that our expectation that the future will be like the past (e.g., that the sun will rise tomorrow morning) has no basis in reason; it is purely a matter of belief. However, he also asserted that such theoretical skepticism is irrelevant to the practical concerns of daily life. Hume's attack on rationalism is also evident in his two works on religion; in these he rejects any rational or natural theology.

See his autobiography (1777); studies by N. K. Smith (1941), J. B. Stewart (1963, repr. 1973), J. Passmore (1968), and J. Noxon (1973).

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Hume, David

Hume, David (1711–76). Philosopher, religious sceptic, historian, and leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment.

His most important philosophical works were: A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748), and An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). In them Hume took the empiricism of Locke and Berkeley a stage further, reaching sceptical conclusions about the foundations of our knowledge of the external world, about inductive reasoning and rational ethics (he pointed to the logical gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’), and about the existence of the self and a necessary causal nexus in nature.

A similar scepticism is seen in his works on religion. His Natural History of Religion (1757) foreshadows later anthropological accounts of religion in its investigation of the psychological and environmental factors influencing religious belief.

His essay ‘Of Miracles’ argues that an appeal to miracles cannot serve as the foundation of a religion, for it is always much more probable that our evidence for the universal and regular laws of nature will preponderate over the evidence for putative miracles, which Hume defines as violations of such laws.

Hume's most substantial work on religion is his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (written in 1751–7, revised later, and published post-humously in 1779), much of which consists of a critique of Enlightenment natural theology, especially the teleological argument for the existence of God.

Thus already in the 18th cent. there is a radical questioning of the Enlightenment project of rational theism. Unlike many of the French philosophes of his own time, however, and also his own later followers, Hume did not claim to be an atheist, for he regarded atheism too as going beyond the available evidence.

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Hume, David

Hume, David (1711–76). Philosopher and historian, the younger son of a strict presbyterian laird, Hume lost whatever Christian belief he had at Edinburgh University in the 1720s. His Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40) provided a devastating critique of contemporary metaphysics, which cleared the ground for a genuinely empirical account of human understanding. He devoted the 1740s to clarifying the principles of his philosophy and applying them to contemporary political issues. His massive History of England (1754–63) is a neglected masterpiece, which remained a best seller for more than a century. His analysis of party is still one of the most acute investigations of that difficult subject. His account of the rise and fall of the feudal system is now attracting the attention it deserves. In general Hume wanted to reconstruct the political culture of his age and to recommend a ‘sceptical Whiggery’ to his contemporaries as the best antidote to party zealotry and the best ally of commerce. In spite of long absences in England and France and in spite of constant friction with the kirk, Hume remained a loyal and much-loved member of the Scottish literati, whose influence on its thought can be traced in its historical, literary, and scientific thinking as well as in its philosophy. He died in 1776, probably of cancer of the bowel.

Nicholas Phillipson

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Hume, David

Hume, David (1711–76) The most significant philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment and founding figure of empiricism, Hume is best remembered for his ‘constant conjunction’ account of causality, and the associated problem of induction. Hume is also remembered for his insistence that moral values could never be deduced from factual premisses (no inference from ‘is’ to ‘ought’) and for his rejection of the ‘self-interest’ view of human nature and morality. He also attempted to lay the foundations for an empirical science of human nature. See also CAUSE.

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Hume, David

Hume, David (1711–76) Scottish philosopher, historian, and man of letters. Hume's publications include A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), History of England (1754–63), and various philosophical ‘enquiries’. Widely known for his humanitarianism and philosophical scepticism, Hume's philosophy was a form of empiricism that affirmed the contingency of all phenomenal events. He argued that it was impossible to go beyond the subjective experiences of impressions and ideas. See also Berkeley; Locke

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