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David Hume Essay, Research Paper
David Hume was a very intelligent man. He was a well-known Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian. He was one of the major intellectual figures of the eighteenth century. Hume was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on the twenty-sixth of April, 1711:
[He] was from good family, both by father and mother: [his] father s family is a branch of the earl of Home s or Hume s; and [his] ancestor s had
been proprietors of the estate which [his] brother posses, for several generations. [His] mother was daughter of Sir David Falconer, president of the college of justice.
His father, Joseph Hume, and his mother, Katherine Falconer, had grown up together as stepbrother and stepsister on the family estate of Ninewells in Berwickshire. [His] father died when [he] was an infant, leaving [him] with an elder brother and a si
er, under the care of [their] mother, a woman of singular merit, who, though young and handsome, devoted herself entirely to the rearing and educating of her children (qtd from Freeman v-vi).
Hume was raised by his mother and at the age of eighteen, he attended the University of Edinburgh. He was an exceptional student, and his mother, noting his brilliance, hoped he would persue a career in the law, a tradition in his family. Hume, however
was interested only in philosophy and general learning (Falcone 82).
Hume most probably choose to study philosophy, not only because of his interest, but because during that period there was a boom in philosophical thinking. Some called it the Age of Enlightenment. During the eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolutio
changed economies and resulted in some changes in thinking. The most immediate changes were in the nature of production: what was produced, as well as where and how. Labor was transferred from the production of primary products to the production of m
ufactured goods and services. This, of course, had profound effects on economic thinking.
One of the changes in economic thinking in the eighteenth century was the thought that mercantilism was inadequate. Mercantilism was an economic policy which prevailed in Europe during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. These policies stressed gove
mental control over industry and trade in accordance with the theory that national strength is increased by an influence of exports and imports. Mercantilism usually ended up in the abuse of a nation s colonies (like the American colonies), by not allo
ng them to trade with other countries. It also demanded that the colonies give all they had to the mother country. This restricted how people wanted to trade and live their lives. This lead to thoughts of how a political and economic units could work to
ther with maximum benefit for both. These thoughts were grouped into a theories of free trade or capitalism. This viewpoint received its most important expression in The Wealth of Nations (1776) by the British economist Adam Smith, who was of course inf
enced by his close friend, David Humes.
David Humes may have influenced Adam Smith in the way of economic thinking, but most of his interest lay in philosophical thought. Hume found law distasteful, and enthusiastically plunged into the study of literature and philosophy. Hume later observed
hat his studies were the ruling passion of my life, and the great source of my enjoyment (Wolff 181). Due to his passion for thinking, he came to be one of the major intellectual figures of eighteenth century Europe.
From 1734 to 1737 Hume occupied himself intensively with the problems of speculative philosophy and during this period wrote his most important philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature, which embodies the essence of his thinking. In spite of its
portance, this work was ignored by the public. Hume s later works were written in the lighter essay or dialogue forms that were very popular in his day.
After the publication of the Treatise, he turned his attention to the problems of ethics and political economy and wrote Essays Moral and Political, which attained immediate success. He failed to obtain an appointment to the faculty of the University
Edinburgh, probably because, even in his early career, he was regarded as a religious skeptic. Hume became, successively, tutor to the insane marquis of Annandale and judge advocate to a British military expedition to France. His Philosophical Essays C
cerning Human Understanding appeared in 1748. This book is perhaps his best known work, but recognized later for his its philosophical content.
Hume s next work to be published was Political Discourses (1752). This book contained his economic essays, where he discusses money, interest, taxes, the balance of trade, and commerce. This book was the only work recognized during this time, that rece
ed a significant amount of attention (Falcone 82). John V. Price says about Hume and Political Discourses:
The extent and effectiveness of Hume s economic thought are not necessarily indicated by the quantity of his writings on economics. He wrote only nine
essays that, strictly speaking, could be called economic essays: Of Commerce, Of Luxury, Of Money, Of Interest, Of the Balance of Trade, Of the Balance of Power, Of Taxes, Of
Public Credit, and Of the Jealousy of Trade. . . Hume s discussion of economics is neither systematic nor thorough; nevertheless, his ideas on economics have been thought to be among the most valuable written in
the eighteenth–or any–century (Price 77).
These discourses turned the searchlight of rational and historical inquiry upon problems of vast interest to an age that was slowly sloughing itself out of mercantilism. The most important features of the new free trade capitalistic thinking is prese
, with are also reiterated later in The Wealth of Nations, by Hume s good friend Adam Smith (Mossner 269).
Here is a view of some of his basic ideas:
1. Labour: Every thing in the world is purchased by labour; and our passions [i.e., our wants] are the only causes of labour . . . . Every person, if
possible, ought to enjoy the fruits of his labour, in a full possession of the necessaries, and many of the conveniences of life. No one can doubt, but such an equality is most suitable to human nature,
and diminishes much less from the happiness of the rich, than it adds to that of the poor.
What Hume is saying here is that with his work, he should be able to get everything he needs and something that he wants. He believed that everything is purchased by labor, and that labor is only motivated by human needs and wants. These beliefs are the
asis of his place in the history of economic liberalism. Of Consumer Goods he says:
Luxury (as it was called in the eighteenth century) is a word of uncertain signification, and may be taken in a good as well as in a bad sense. In general,
it means great refinement in the gratification of the senses; and any degree of it may be innocent or blameable, according to the age, or country, or condition of the person. . . . These
indulgences are only vices, when they are pursued at the expense of some virtue, as liberality or charity; in like manner as they are follies, when for them a man reduces himself to want
This passage basically indicates that luxury purchased can be good or bad, depending on the situation. These luxuries rule our lives, because the choice of luxuries indicate what we will spend our money on. We may spend our money on things like going t
the movies or drugs; and what we spend our money on will decide if our actions are good or bad. On money he says:
Money is not, properly speaking, one of the subjects of commerce; but only the instrument which men have agreed upon to facilitate the exchange of one
commodity for another. It is none of the wheels of trade: It is the oil which renders the motions of the wheels more smooth and easy. . . . Money is nothing but the representation of labour
and commodities, and serves only as a method of rating or estimating them.
Humes believes that money is nothing but a representation of labor and commodities. It doesn t make trade happen, it just makes it easier. Money is a convenient way to trade. And lastly, on commerce:
Form these [above] principles we may learn what judgment we ought to form of those numberless bars, obstructions and imposts, which all nations of Europe, and none more than
England, have put upon trade; from an exorbant desire of amassing money, which never will heap up beyond its level, while it circulates; or from an ill-grounded apprehension of
losing their specie, which never will sink below it. Could any thing scatter our riches, it would be such impolitic contrivances. But this general ill effect, however, results from them,
that they deprive neighbouring nations of that free communication and exchange which the Author of the world has intended, by giving them soils, climates, and geniuses, so different from
In the preceding passage, the obstructions Hume says England creates have to do with Mercantilism. He feels that with his earlier points made, mercantilism would seem stupid to have. He strongly supports the idea of free trade for all nations. He seem
to blame England for the lack of free trade in the world (through the use of its powerful navy). He also alludes to the suppression of other nations and people through mercantilism in England s colonies, such as India (Mossner 270).
Hume was a close friend of Adam Smith, founder of modern economics. Many historians believe that Hume had a considerable influence on Smith. Smith s Wealth of Nations, which was the first book to concisely present free trade, was published shortly aft
Hume s death of an incureable bowel disorder. Capitalism changed the whole world s thinking from mercantilism to free trade. The echoes of Hume s thoughts are heard every day in every open market, in every economics book even though it may not be attri
ted to him.
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