"Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences" Hume, David (1742)

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"Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences"
David Hume (1742)

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SITE SUMMARY: This document is an excerpt from Volume Two of Essays from The Writings of David Hume, a British philosopher who thought and wrote about science and human nature, while being one of the first thinkers to develop scientific thinking that emerged beyond, yet utilized methods of, philosophical contemplation. The excerpt is reproduced here with modern spelling and pronunciation, and was edited and provided online, by James Fieser, from an 1875 translation of this work that was part of Hume's writings which were published during his lifetime from 1711 to 1776. (Note especially the parts of the document where Hume commented on the sciences.)


  1. See paragraph one, then identify what two things happen negatively, according to Hume, if someone says, "any event is derived from chance."
  2. If, as Hume says, in paragraph one, "[an] event is supposed to proceed from certain and stable causes," then what happens, and what opportunity presents itself? Think of, and describe, an example.
  3. See paragraph two and following paragraphs, then tell how, according to Hume, one can distinguish between chance and causes. What are two natural reasons?
  4. In paragraph twenty-five, what did Hume say is "the only proper Nursery of these noble plants"? Tell what he actually meant by "nursery" and "plants" (i.e., what are they metaphors for?). Identify one group of "plants" and tell where they "take root" and "grow." How did he support his claims? Do you agree? Why or why not? Think of, and describe, examples to support what you think.
  5. See paragraph forty-five in which Hume claimed, in a fourth observation, that once a society achieves perfection in one of the sciences, that particular science declines or does not flourish again. Do you agree? Why or why not? Think of, and describe, an example. Do you think scientists have, even today, achieved perfection in any of the sciences, or is there always room for improvement and new discoveries? Explain your viewpoint. Include examples.
  6. Define emulation as Hume defined it in paragraph forty-eight. Note that Hume claimed that importing arts (including the "art" of scientific thinking) from one nation to another "in too great perfection … extinguishes emulation." Note also what he said the situation would do to youth. Do you agree? Why or why not? Think of, and describe, an example. (Note: See also paragraph forty-nine.)
  7. "Mathematics and natural philosophy" are not, according to Hume, in paragraph thirty-one, "half so valuable as the most considerable branches of science." Consider his comment with reference to a science subject's merit and its existence in a monarchy. (Note: Among the disciplines he identified as sciences, Hume cited some of what is now thought of as science, yet he also cited metaphysics, religion, morals, and politics; so when you answer, be sure to choose a subject which is identified as a science today, and try to include a science that was known, possibly in an early form, during Hume's lifetime. For help, see the Web site Eighteenth Century—Resources—Science—Links, whose url is cited in the Related Internet Sites section below.)
  8. Read paragraph fifty-one (the last paragraph) beginning with "… the sciences, like some plants, require a fresh soil…." Do you agree with all, or part, of this statement? Support your comment with an example. (Note: Keep Question/Activity no. 4 in mind.)
  1. Read Hume's comments related to science and/or learning in one of the following paragraphs: six, seven, eight, twenty, or twenty-four. Do you agree with what Hume claimed in the paragraph and comments you chose? Why or why not?


David Hume at Bjorn's Guide to Philosophers

http://www.knuten.liu.se/∼bjoch509 (click Philosophers link, then Hume link)

Scroll to a biography, and information on his works (e.g., to "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding," with link to online text), papers (e.g., reviews of his writings), discussion lists, images, and a link to another Hume site.

On David Hume's Essays at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


This Web site's page notes the beginning of the essay as a form of writing, in formal and informal formats, and cites Hume as one of the first writers to write this way to express scientific thinking. An annotated list of his writings is provided, including "Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences" (no. 14), "That Politics May Be Reduced to a Science" (no. 3), and "Of Simplicity and Refinement in Writing" (no. 20). See http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/h/humeepis.htm also, for information on Hume being responsible for considering various ideas that are now thought of as aspects of science (e.g., causality).

David Hume Project at Leeds Electronic Text Centre


Click links or scroll to works, plus bibliography, secondary literature (i.e., critical analysis literature), and related sites, at this site which will be a free permanent resource to Hume's works in accurate and authoritative versions, plus constantly updated critical analyses of them by his contemporaries as well as by present-day scholars.

Eighteenth Century—Resources—Science—Links


See links to particular sciences (e.g., medicine, cognitive science's pre-history, and evolution), plus individual scientists (e.g., Galileo, Linnaeus, and Newton).

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"Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences" Hume, David (1742)