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Davide Hume Essay, Research Paper

Hume’s Life

David Hume was the son of a minor Scottish landowner. His family wanted him to become a lawyer, but he felt an “insurmountable resistance to everything but philosophy and learning”. Mr. Hume attended Edinburgh University, and in 1734 he moved to a French town called La Fleche to pursue philosophy. He later returned to Britain and began his literary career. As Hume built up his reputation, he gained more and more political power.

Hume’s Philosophy

HUME’S WRITINGS In 1742, Hume wrote Essays Moral and Political. Then in 1748, he wrote An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and An Enquiry Concerning the Principals of Morals.


 Go HERE for a list of electronically available works of hume.

 Go HERE For a bigger list.

HUME’S BELIEFS Hume believed that all knowledge came from experience. He also believed that a person’s experience’s existed only in the person’s mind. Hume believed that there was a world outside of human conscience, but he did not think this could be proved.

Hume grouped perceptions and experiences into one of two categories: impressions and ideas. Ideas are memories of sensations claimed Hume, but impressions are the cause of the sensation. In other words, an impression is part of a temporary feeling, but an idea is the permanent impact of this feeling. Hume believed that ideas were just dull imitations of impressons.

Hume also attacked the idea of casualty. This idea states that for all effects there is a cause. Hume said that even though the cause preceded the effect, there is no proof that the cause is responsible for the effect’s occurence.

Mr. Hume was a firm believer that the human mind invented nothing. Instead, he claimed, the human mind takes simple ideas, and turns them into complex ideas. A simple example of this is the idea of an angel. Angels are human figures with wings. What Hume claimed that an angel is formed of two simple ideas, the human figure and wings.

A more complicated example of this is heaven. When we attempt to break down the concept of heaven into simple ideas, we are left with things such as pearly gates, angels, and golden palaces. But these are all complex ideas as well (pearls+gates, gold+palaces), so it could be said that heaven is a complex idea formed by other complex ideas. The complex ideas that form it, however, are all made up of simple ideas

Hume, David (1711-1776), Scottish historian and philosopher, who influenced the development of skepticism and empiricism, two schools of philosophy. Born in Edinburgh, Hume was educated at the University of Edinburgh, which he entered at the age of 12. From 1734 to 1737 he wrote his most important philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature (3 volumes, published 1739-1740), which contains the essence of his thinking. In spite of its importance, this work was ignored by the public, probably because of its complex style. From 1762 to 1765 Hume served as secretary to the British ambassador in Paris. There he formed a friendship with French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, which later dissolved after public denunciations between the two men.

Hume’s philosophical position was that reason and rational judgments are merely habitual associations of distinct sensations or experiences. In a revolutionary step, he rejected the basic idea of causation, maintaining that “reason can never show us the connexion of one object with another, tho’ aided by experience, and the observation of their conjunction in all past instances.” His arguments called into question the fundamental laws of science, which are based on the premise that one event necessarily causes another and predictably always will. According to Hume’s philosophy, therefore, knowledge of matters of fact is impossible, although as a practical matter he freely acknowledged that people had to think in terms of cause and effect and had to assume the validity of their perceptions, or they would go mad.

David Hume, who has been described as the most acute thinker in Britain in the eighteenth century, was born in Edinburgh.

His intellectual powers were recognised with the publication of his Essays, Moral and Political in two volumes in 1741 and 1742. Employed as librarian to the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, he wrote a six- volume History of England which was extremely popular and admired for its elegant and lucid style. It placed him in the first rank of historians.

In France in 1763, Hume found himself lionised in the salons of Paris, honoured by royalty and regarded as a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Good natured, an engaging mix of simplicity and shrewdness, Hume was on friendly terms with virtually everyone. His free-thinking did, however, scandalise some: it is recorded that a devout old woman, having found the corpulent philosopher hopelessly stuck in some deep mud, agreed to extricate the great man only if he recited the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

Hume, who never married, had several homes in Edinburgh, the last of them in what is today St David Street. His tomb is in the Old Calton, Waterloo Place.

Hume was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He studied law at Edinburgh, and in 1734 went to La Fleche in Anjou, where he wrote his masterpiece, ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’ (1740). He extended the empiricist ideas of Locke and Berkeley. Hume developed a philosophy of radical scepticism. He repudiated the possibility of certain knowledge, maintaining that what we know is based solely on a series of sensations, and that all deductions from experience were the result of habit, not of logical conclusion.

Later he wrote several essays on Moral, Politics and Religion, and a six-volume History of England (1754–62). His views inspired Kant to argue for the inadequacy of empiricism.

Empiricism = knowledge by experience.

1711-76, Scottish philosopher and historian. Hume carried the EMPIRICISM of LOCKE and George BERKELEY to the logical extreme of radical SKEPTICISM. He repudiated the possibility of certain knowledge, finding in the mind nothing but a series of sensations, and held that cause-and-effect in the natural world derives solely from the conjunction of two impressions. Hume’s skepticism is also evident in his writings on religion, in which he rejected any rational or natural theology. Besides his chief work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), he wrote Political Discourses (1752), The Natural History of Religion (1755), and a History of England (1754-62) that was, despite errors of fact, the standard work for many years.David Hume (1711-1776) was an 18th-century philosopher, historian, and essayist from Scotland. It has been argued by some that Hume was the best philosopher to ever have written in English. Hume wrote about the issues of free will, naturalism, and morality, a topic that we covered in class. Two of his famous works include “Treatise of Human Nature” and “Enquiry

Concerning the Principles of Morals,” in which he proposes a morality structure based solely on personal utility and sentiment and without regard to religious beliefs. David Hume was very influential in the Enlightenment era, and his works continue to be studied today.

Scottish philosopher, historian, and essayist. Hume is the most influentual thoroughgoing naturalist in modern philosophy, and a pivotal figure of the Enlightenment. Born the second son of a minor Scottish landowner, Hume attended Edinburgh University. In 1734 he removed to the little town of La Fl?che in Anjou to write and study. In 1739 he returned to Britain. Hume settled down to a life of literary work, mainly residing in Edinburgh. During this time his reputation slowly grew until he became acknowledged as one of Britain’s principal men of letters. In 1763 he was appointed Secretary to the Embassy and later charg? d’affaires in Paris, and during this period enjoyed unprecedented fame and adulation as one of the principal architects of the Enlightment. In 1766 Hume accompanied Rousseau to England, but the trip ended with paranoid complaints of persecution by Rousseau, against which Hume defended himself with dignity. Adam Smith wrote of Hume that “upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his life-time and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will admit”.


When Hume went back to Britain it was to oversee the printing of his first and greatest philosophical work Treaties of Human Nature. In 1742 he produced the Essays Moral and Political. They where followed by An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding 1748 and An Enquiry Concerning the Principals of Morals. These works are usually regarded as attempts to lay out the philosophy of the Treatise in a more accessible manner. In the following decade Hume began publication of the work he was best known for in his own time, The History of England (1754-1762). His last work, The Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, was published after his death by his nephew.

Other works:

Although his manuscript book was destroyed, several pages of Hume’s study notes survive from his early twenties. These show a preoccupation with the subjects of proof of God’s existence and atheism, particularly as he read on these topics in classical Greek and Latin texts and in Pierre Bayle’s skeptical Historical and Critical Dictionary. During these years of private study, some of which was in France, Hume composed his three-volume Treatise of Human Nature, which was published anonymously in two installments before he was thirty (1739, 1740). The Treatise explores several philosophical topics such as space, time, causality, external objects, the passions, free will, and morality, offering original and often skeptical appraisals of these notions. Although religious belief is not the subject of any specific section of the Treatise, it is a recurring theme. Book I of the Treatise was unfavorably reviewed in the History of the Works of the Learned with a succession of sarcastic comments. Although scholars today recognize it as a philosophical masterpiece, Hume was disappointed with the minimal interest his book spawned.

In 1741 and 1742 Hume published his two-volume Essays, Moral and Political. The essays were written in a popular style and met with better success than the Treatise. In 1744-1745 Hume was a candidate for the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. The position was to be vacated by John Pringle, and the leading candidates were Hume and William Cleghorn. The Edinburgh Town Council was responsible for electing a replacement. Critics opposed Hume by condemning his anti-religious writings. Chief among the critics was clergyman William Wishart (d. 1752), the Principal of the University of Edinburgh. Lists of allegedly dangerous propositions from Hume’s Treatise circulated, presumably penned by Wishart. In the face of such strong opposition, the Edinburgh Town Council consulted the Edinburgh ministers. Hoping to win over the clergy, Hume composed a point by point reply to the circulating lists of dangerous propositions. It was published as A Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh. The clergy were not dissuaded, and 12 of the 15 ministers voted against Hume. Hume quickly withdrew his candidacy. In 1745 Hume accepted an invitation from General St Clair to attend him as secretary. He wore the uniform of an officer, and accompanied the general on an expedition against Canada (which ended in an incursion on the coast of France) and to an embassy post in the courts of Vienna and Turin.

In 1748 he added to the above collection an essay titled “Of National Characters.” In a lengthy footnote to this piece, Hume attacks the character of the clergy, accusing this profession of being motivated by ambition, conceit, and revenge. This footnote became a favorite target of attack by the clergy. Given the success of his Essays, Hume was convinced that the poor reception of his Treatise was caused by its style rather than by its content. In 1748 he published his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, a more popular rendition of Book I of his Treatise. The Enquiry also includes two sections not found in the Treatise and which contain fairly direct attacks on religious belief: “Of Miracles” and a dialogue titled “Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State.”

In 1751 Hume published his Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, which recasts in a very different form parts of Book III of his Treatise. Although this work does not attack religion directly, it does so indirectly by establishing a system of morality on utility and human sentiments alone, and without appeal to divine moral commands. Critics such as James Balfour criticized Hume’s theory for being Godless. However, by the end of the century Hume was recognized as the founder of the moral theory of utility. Utilitarian political theorist Jeremy Bentham acknowledges Hume’s direct influence upon him. The same year Hume also published his Political Discourses, which drew immediate praise and influenced economic thinkers such as Adam Smith, Godwin, and Thomas Malthus.

In 1751-1752 Hume sought a philosophy chair at the University of Glasgow, and was again unsuccessful. In 1752 Hume’s employment as librarian of the Advocate’s Library in Edinburgh provided him with the resources to pursue his interest in history. There he wrote much of his highly successful six-volume History of England (published from 1754 to 1762). The first volume was unfavorably received, partially for its defense of Charles I, and partially for two sections which attack Christianity. In one passage Hume notes that the first Protestant reformers were fanatical or “inflamed with the highest enthusiasm” in their opposition to Roman Catholic domination. In the second passage he labels Roman Catholicism a superstition which “like all other species of superstition… rouses the vain fears of unhappy mortals.” The most vocal attack against Hume’s History came from Daniel MacQueen in his 300 page Letters on Mr. Hume’s History. MacQueen combs through Hume’s first volume of the History, exposing all the allegedly “loose and irreligious sneers” Hume makes against Christianity. Ultimately, this negative response led Hume to delete the two controversial passages from succeeding editions of the History.

At about this time Hume also wrote his two most substantial works on religion: The Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and The Natural History of Religion. The Natural History appeared in 1757, but, on the advice of friends who wished to steer Hume away from religious controversy, the Dialogues remained unpublished until 1779, three years after his death. The Natural History aroused controversy even before it was made public. In 1756 a volume of Hume’s essays titled Five Dissertations was printed and ready for distribution. The essays included (1) “The Natural History of Religion,” (2) “Of the Passions,” (3) “Of Tragedy,” (4) “Of Suicide,” and (5) “Of the Immortality of the Soul.” The latter two essays made direct attacks on common religious doctrines by defending a person’s moral right to commit suicide and by criticizing the idea of life after death. Early copies were passed around, and someone of influence threatened to prosecute Hume’s publisher if the book was distributed as is. The printed copies of Five Dissertations were then physically altered, with a new essay “Of the Standard of Taste” inserted in place of the two removed essays. Hume also took this opportunity to alter two particularly offending paragraphs in the Natural History. The essays were then bound with the new title Four Dissertations and distributed in January, 1757.

In the years following Four Dissertations, Hume completed his last major literary work, The History of England. In 1763, at age 50, Hume was invited to accompany the Earl of Hertford to the embassy to Paris, with a near prospect of being his secretary. He eventually accepted, and remarks at the reception he received in Paris “from men and women of all ranks and stations.” returned to Edinburgh in 1766. Among these was Jean Jacques Rousseau who in 1766 was ordered out of Switzerland by the government in Berne. Hume offered Rousseau refuge in England and secured him a government pension. In England, Rousseau became suspicious of plots, and publicly charged Hume with conspiring to ruin his character, under the appearance of helping him. Hume published a pamphlet defending his actions and was exonerated. Another secretary appointment took him away from 1767-1768. Returning again to Edinburgh, his remaining years were spent revising and refining his published works, and socializing with friends in Edinburgh’s intellectual circles. In 1776, at age 65, he died from an internal disorder which had plagued him for many months.

After his death, Hume’s name took on new significance as several of his previously unpublished works appeared. The first was a brief autobiography, My Own Life, which many have praised as the best short autobiography in English. Even this unpretentious work aroused religious controversy. As Hume’s friends, Adam Smith and S.J. Pratt, published affectionate eulogies describing how he died with no concern for an afterlife, religious critics responded by condemning this unjustifiable admiration of Hume’s infidelity. Two years later, in 1779, Hume’s Dialogues appeared. Again, the response was mixed. Admirers of Hume considered it a masterfully written work, while religious critics branded it as dangerous to religion. Finally, in 1782, Hume’s two suppressed essays on suicide and immortality were published. Their reception was almost unanimously negative.

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