Hauptli’s Lecture Supplement Introducing Hume [1711-1776]

     Copyright © 2013 Bruce W. Hauptli

1. Hume’s Life:

David Hume was born in Edinburgh on April 26, 1711.  His family was well-to-do, though not rich.  His father died while he way young, and the family property passed to his elder brother.  Hume's mother raised him (and his brother and sister) and ensured that they had an excellent education—he went to Edinburgh University at twelve (note that at that time there was not the same structure of secondary and higher education which we have today).  When he was 18 [1729], his continuing and intense studies led to a nervous breakdown.  According to Hume:

my studious disposition, my sobriety, and my industry, gave my family a notion that the law was a proper profession for me; but I found an unsurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of philosophy and general learning; and while they fancied I was poring upon Voet and Vinnius [legal scholars], Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I was secretly reading. 
  My slender fortune, however, being unsuitable to this plan of life, and my health being a little bit broken by my ardent application, I was tempted, or rather forced, to make a very feeble trial for entering into a more active scene of life.1 

He began his adult life with a modest allowance, and in 1734 went off to Bristol to pursue a business career in the office of a West Indies merchant.  He found this unappealing, however, and quickly left for France where he pursued his reading and began to write (for a while he stayed at Le Fléche—Descartes’ college).   During this time he composed his Treatise of Human Nature.  He returned to England in 1737 and it was published anonymously [Books I and II in 1739, Book III and the Abstract in 1740].  Hume noted that this work “fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction, as even to excite a murmur among the zealots.”2  Undeterred, continued to write while he lived with his brother and his mother in his brother’s country house and, in 1741 and 1742 he published his Essays Moral and Political which established him as an important voice in the field of economics.3  These essays were better received than his Treatise, and given this Hume became a candidate for the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University in 1744.  He was unsuccessful (both here and later when he tried for a University post), however, because of broad objections from within both the community and the University regarding his alleged skepticism, atheism, and heresy (objectors pointed to numerous sections of his Treatise as evidence of these faults). 

     In 1745 he went to England to work as a tutor for the young Marquis of Annandale—who, as Anthony Flew notes, “turned out to be certifiably insane.”4  He received an invitation from General St. Clair to serve as his Secretary in 1746 for an expedition against the coast of France, and in the next year he served the General as an aid-de-camp in his Military embassy to the courts of Vienna and Turin.  These appointments yielded enough money (nearly a thousand pounds) to enable Hume continue to pursue his writing career.  He recast the first book of his Treatise as the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding [1748, 1758]. 

     In 1749 he returned to his brother’s country house and composed his Political Discourses, and his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (which recasts Book III of his Treatise).  In 1751 he moved to Edinburgh and published his Political Discourses.  His Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals was also published that year.  In 1752 he became Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates at Edinburgh (the Law School).  While this carried little salary, it gave him the resources to begin his History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688 [1754-1762] for which he became very well-known.5  He had to resign his post as Librarian in 1757 after being found guilty of ordering “indecent Books unworthy of a place in a learned library.”6   In 1757 Hume published his Natural History of Religion, and in 1761 the Catholic Church put some of Hume’s writings on its index of forbidden books. 

     In his “My Own Life,” Hume says that by this point in his life:

...notwithstanding this variety of winds and seasons to which my writings had been exposed, they had still been making such advances, that the copy-money given me by the booksellers, much exceeded anything formerly known in England; I was become not only independent, but opulent.  I retired to my native country of Scotland, determined never more to set my foot out of it....7 

In 1763 he accepted the Earl of Hertford’s invitation to be his Secretary and attend him in his embassy to Paris.  Hume was very well-received there, making many friends and becoming a fixture in the many intellectual salons.  When he returned to London in 1766, he brought Jean-Jacques Rousseau with him helping him find a sanctuary from the persecution he was exposed to on the continent.  Rousseau came to suspect that Hume was plotting against him, however, and “fled” back to France spreading reports of Hume’s bad faith. 

     Hume returned to Edinburgh in 1769 even better off than when he had left.  Having worked as an aide to General St. Clair, as a librarian, and as Undersecretary of the Secretary of State in London, he gained sufficient wealth from his writings (especially from his History of England) that when his publisher offered him a generous contract to add a volume to this work, Hume responded that “I must decline not only this offer, but all others of a literary nature for four reasons: Because I am too old, too fat, too lazy, and too rich.”8 

     In 1775 Hume contracted a bowel disease, and his last months in were spent preparing his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion for publication.  While ill, Hume maintained a vigorous correspondence and met regularly with many individuals.  In his “An Account of My Last Interview With David Hume, Esq.,” James Boswell notes that when he met with Hume on July 7 of 1776, “I asked him if it was not possible that there might be a future state [that is, life after bodily death].  He answered It was possible that a piece of coal put upon the fire would not burn; and he added that it was must unreasonable fancy that he should exist for ever.”9  Hume died on Sunday, August 25, 1776 at about four o’clock in the afternoon. 

     In his The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism , Peter Gay maintains that:

...David Hume was both courageous and modern; he understood the implications of his philosophy and did not shrink from them.  He was so courageous that he did not have to insist on his courage; he followed his thinking where it led him, and he provided through his own life (and, Samuel Johnson to the contrary, in the face of death) a pagan ideal to which many aspired but which few realized.  He was willing to live with uncertainty, with no supernatural justifications, no complete explanations, no promise of permanent stability, with guidelines of merely probable validity; and what is more, he lived in his world without complaining, a cheerful Stoic.  Hume, therefore, more decisively than many of his brethren in the Enlightenment, stands at the threshold of modernity and exhibits its risks and possibilities.  Without melodrama but with the sober eloquence one would expect from an accomplished classicist, Hume makes plain that since God is silent, man is his own master: he must live in a disenchanted world, submit everything to criticism, and make his own way.10 

2. Introduction to Hume’s Philosophy—Three Broad Interpretations:

Garrett Thomson notes that there are three major interpretations of Hume’s overall philosophical orientation:

Hume as an epistemological sceptic: “...Hume accepts the Empiricist principles inherent in Locke and Berkeley and follows them to their logical conclusion—scepticism.  According to this interpretation, Berkeley shows that the notion of material substance is incompatible with Empiricist views about the nature of knowledge, which imply that external objects cannot be known; and Hume shows that the sceptical implications of Empiricism extend also to causality and to the mind.”11 

Hume as a naturalistic philosopher “...who shows how certain beliefs arise naturally and inevitably in response to regular features of our experience.  Our belief in the existence of external bodies, minds, and causality is prompted by the nonrational aspect of our nature.  According to this interpretation, Hume’s aim is to explain the origin of such beliefs and ideas in naturalistic terms.  According to this interpretation his aim is to supply a psychological explanation rather than only a philosophical analysis.  Hume’s intention is to provide a science of man—a psychological study of human nature based on observation....”12  According to Thomson, one of Hume’s main naturalistic aims is to replace Continental Rationalism—instead of seeing man as a (primarily) rational animal, Hume emphasizes the role of our feelings and passions.  His negative (skeptical) arguments “...show that reason and sense experience are not the foundation of our beliefs, and this clears the ground for his own positive naturalistic explanation of their origin.  Such beliefs cannot be philosophically justified, but they can be psychologically explained.”13 

Hume as a linguistic analyst: according to this interpretation, “...Hume is primarily interested in conceptual and linguistic analysis, rather than the study of human nature.  In other words, Hume’s main aim is to provide philosophical analyses of concepts such as “cause,” “personal identity,” and “external bodies,” rather than to give a natural explanation of our beliefs.”14 

I, largely, side with the second interpretation. 

3. On Hume’s Skepticism:

One of the fundamental problems of epistemology is skepticism.15  Since the ancient Greek philosophers, epistemologists have attempted to justify their knowledge claims, and skeptics have maintained that these endeavors can not succeed.  Pyrrho of Ellis (365-275 B.C.E.) maintained that it is impossible to know the true nature of things (since we can not justify our claims or beliefs) and, thus, he claimed that the wise man is one who seeks to attain happiness and tranquility of mind by abstaining from all knowledge claims.  As long as we try to live without asking about the nature of things, without dogmatically defending conclusions or viewpoints, without yearning for knowledge, tranquility can be ours.  Suspending judgment, then, yields happiness.  Two competing stories about of his life are frequently offered: one which holds that he didn’t even look out for carts on the road or other dangers, the other which holds that he lived a common-sense and happy life devoid of the search for knowledge. 

     The problems of perception (bent sticks in drinks, hallucinations, dreaming, and evil demons) all lead one to wonder how one will ever establish that one knows anything at all.  We generally find that we have no problem with such knowledge claims however—they only seem to arise in philosophy class!  If I ask you if you are sure that this room will not turn into an elevator, or that the floor below is not filled with water, or of your name, or even that the person sitting next to you has thoughts, you will have no hesitation in answering—except that this is a philosophy class.  This is the problem with skepticism according to Hume.  It is philosophically powerful, yet practically powerless or absurd (in the sense that, if put into practice, it is absurd).  To understand this, however, we will first have to distinguish good and bad forms of skepticism, and, then, we may be able to see what is wrong with the good version. 

     Descartes attempted to deal with the skeptical problems relating to the justification of human knowledge by beating the skeptics at their own game—he began by attempting to doubt everything until he found something which he could not doubt.  Upon this bedrock he wanted to build his system of knowledge.  Hume terms this procedure antecedent skepticism.  He feels that there are two things wrong with this type of skepticism:

it is impossible; and
if it were possible, it would be incurable

Hume maintains, however, that if we search for the justification or ground of our knowledge claims, we will come up empty—he argues for what he terms a “consequent skepticism.”  Unlike Descartes’ skepticism, Hume’s arises as the result of an investigation into the process of the justification of our knowledge claims—one which comes up empty. 

     Following Leibniz, Hume divides “all of the objects of human reason or inquiry” into relations of ideas and matters of fact.16  The former include propositions which are intuitively or demonstratively certain, and are in effect nothing but tautologies.16a  Denials of such statements are contradictions.  These truths are certain, but they only tell us about the logical relations between our ideas.  They tell us nothing about what exists.  “Matter of fact” statements, on the other hand, are about what exists, and they are not demonstratively certain. 

     Hume maintains that we can’t have knowledge about matters of fact.  He argues that most of our matter of fact claims are not simply based upon memory or present sensation—most of our matter of fact claims are based on cause and effect relations.  He inquires into our justification for claims based on this relation and determines that they cannot be justified a priori.  In effect, he is rejecting the rationalist’s notion of causation which involves the notion of a necessary connection between particular events.  Think here of Spinoza and Leibniz—each contends that everything which happened for a reason, and each contends that the order of reasons must be understood deductively.  This leads (logically) to the conclusion that empirical truths involve necessary connections!  Of course, Spinoza accepted the deterministic consequence here, while Leibniz attempted to circumvent it and ensure that the world had freedom and contingency.  Hume rejects the notion of necessary connections between matters of fact—he contends that there is no logical contradiction involved in the denial of any matter of fact claim, and, thus, concludes that there can be no a priori justification for such claims. 

     The justification must, then, be found, a posteriori, in our experience—must, that is, if there is to be such a justification (and if the choices “a priori” and “a posteriori” exhaust the options).  Hume inquires into the justification of knowledge based upon our experience.  According to him, all such justifications make an inference from what has been the case in the past and present, to what will be the case in the future.  He asserts that there is no a priori justification for this sort of inference (we are trying to determine how one may go from “I have found in the past that...” to “I foresee that....” and no a priori reasonings can license such a move).  What, then, of experience—can it do the job?  No—using induction to justify induction is viciously circular.  Thus, he contends, we are left without a justification for all our matter of fact claims about the world; and here we arrive at consequent skepticism

4. Hume’s Fork:

Hume’s distinction between relations of ideas and matters of fact has come to be known as “Hume’s Fork.”17  In his Bacon to Kant, Garrett Thomson maintains that Hume uses this distinction to deny:

...the central Rationalist assumption that reasoning alone can give us knowledge of the world.  It implies that no matter of fact can be known with demonstrative certainty and that the necessary truths of reason cannot give us knowledge of the world, but can only reveal the logical relations between our ideas.  It implies that the methods of Rationalism cannot yield knowledge of matters of fact.18 

Anthony Flew notes that:

Hume intends his two categories to be mutually exclusive and together exhaustive.  But he starts with two differentiae.  One distinguishes according to whether the contradictory is or is not self-contradictory, the other according to whether its truth-value could or could not be known only by reference to experience.19 

-As Thomson notes, “...Hume actually gives two criteria for distinguishing between relations of ideas and matters of fact: knowledge and truth.  According to the first criterion, statements about the relations between ideas are known by a priori reasoning or, in Hume’s own words, “by the mere operation of thought.”  Statements of matters of fact are not knowable in this way.  According to the second criterion, statements of matters of fact are made true by what exists, and their denial can “never imply a contradiction.”  Statements involving the relations of ideas are true independently of what exists, and their denial implies a contradiction. 
  The difference between the two criteria is important in understanding Kant.  Kant distinguishes between a priori/empirical and analytic/synthetic.  Briefly, a priori truths are known independently of experience, whereas empirical or a posteriori truths can only be known through experience.  Analytic truths cannot be denied without contradiction, whereas synthetic truths can.”20 

-According to Thomson: “Hume claims that his fork has only two prongs.  Kant thinks there is a third prong: synthetic a priori truths. 
  ...Kant’s notion of synthetic a priori truths permits him to claim that the Universal Causal Axiom—that all events have a cause—is a necessary truth without being analytic.  In other words, it is not a statement of a relation between ideas, but neither is it a matter of fact.  Kant agrees with Hume that “Every effect has a cause” cannot be denied without contradiction (that is, it is analytic), and that “Every event has a cause” can be denied without contradiction (that is, it is not analytic).  Yet Kant argues that the claim “Every event has a cause” is a universal and necessary truth of which we can have a priori knowledge.  According to Kant, the claim is a necessary truth, but it is not analytic; it is synthetic a priori.  Kant tries to explain why the thesis “Every event has a cause” is synthetic a priori, by arguing that the concept of causation is a necessary condition of experience.  In this way he attempts to save causation from Hume’s scepticism.”21 

5. Hume’s Naturalistic Response to Skepticism:

As was noted above, Hume claims that the skeptics’ claims make philosophy seem incredibly strange.  He believes we need to explain why we are not skeptics except when we philosophize.  Hume claims that our nonskeptical approach to the world is explained by the fact that we are creatures of custom and habit.  That is, he offers a psychological explanation of our nature which indicates why skepticism exerts so little influence upon us, and why the fact that we lack justification for our knowledge claims troubles us so little. 

     To understand what Hume has to say about the role of custom and habit, we need to look at his initial beginning points.  Like Locke, he begins with sensations and ideas.  Hume terms them impressions and ideas however.  The difference is not simply one of terminology: Hume is well aware of the underlying acceptance of the substance metaphysics which is at the core of Locke’s view and this is an acceptance which he feels is not justifiable.  He endeavors to avoid this, and talks only of the sense contents which we experience—impressions and ideas.  The difference between the impressions and the ideas has only to do with their relative force and vivacity.22 

     Again like Locke, Hume maintains that there is a relationship between the impressions and ideasevery simple idea has a corresponding simple impression.  The simple impressions come first and they can excite the simple ideas.  Regular sequences of impressions create expectations as to the relationships amongst ideas.  For Hume, a belief is “...a lively idea related to or associated with a present impression”—beliefs are ideas which are more like (in terms of their liveliness and vivacity) impressions.23 

     Note that we have here, as we had in Locke and Berkeley, an underlying atomistic and associationistic psychological account—the experiences which we have are to be conceived of atomistically so that complex sensory (and internal) experiences are to be composed of more basic sensory atoms, and the contents of consciousness are to be conceived of as ultimately depending upon the lively ideas of sensory (and internal) experience.  Hume is not forthcoming (or clear) as to what the sensory atoms are (he implies that color, taste, and so on, are simple, but colors have hues and intensities and we can similarly “complicate” other contenders for “atomic status”).  Gestalt psychologists would also dispute the basic picture which we are presented with here.  As Garrett Thomson points out, Kant will also differ from Hume here:

according to Kant, many of the mental activities that Hume, Locke, Descartes, and others tend to characterize as ideas in the mind are more accurately described as practical capacities.  To have the concept of a dog is to be capable of making certain classifications or judgments.  According to Kant, in order to have the concept of a dog it is not necessary or sufficient to have before one’s mind a mental image, picture, or idea of a dog.  In the Critique of Pure Reason, he says at B 180:24 “no image could ever be adequate to the concept of a triangle in general.”  He regards concepts as rule-governed abilities, rather than as images or copies of impressions.  To have the concept of a dog is, among other things, to be able to make and recognize images of dogs.  Kant says “the concept ‘dog’ signifies a rule according to which my imagination can delineate the figure” of a dog (B 180). 
  The difference between Kant’s view and Hume’s view of concepts and judgments may be illustrated with another example.  At Treatise I.I.III, Hume tries to characterize the difference between imagining and remembering.  He thinks that there is an immediately perceptible difference between the ideas of memory and those of imagination; the former are more vivid and lively than the latter.  Now, even if all memory ideas are more vivid than those of imagination, this fact alone does not delineate the difference between remembering and imagining.  But in any case, some acts of remembering seem not to involve having ideas at all.  For example, I can remember that 2+2=4 without bringing any ideas to mind.  This point is important because Hume tends to explain all mental activities in terms of having perceptions, and he thinks of perceptions as impressions or the faint copies of impressions (that is, ideas). 
  A more Kantian approach to distinguishing between imagination and memory would be to describe what capacities are involved in being able to remember something and in being able to imagine something, rather than trying to specify some perceptible difference, or some difference of feeling between a memory idea and an idea of imagination.25 

     In addition to viewing the origin of our ideas as involving atomic impressions, Hume assigns certain limited powers of association to the mind: ideas may be bound to one another (much as gravitation binds objects together) by their resemblance, by their contiguity,26 and by cause and effect. 

     From the atomic inputs of the impressions, through the associationistic processes of the mind, certain expectations and habits result.  For Hume these may be called either ideas or beliefs.  As we have seen, for him ideas are faint copies of the more lively impressions (or composites thereof).  He contends that a belief is a “lively idea related to or associated with a present impression.”27  For him beliefs are “more properly an act of the sensitive than the cognitive part of our natures.”28  They result from the constant conjunction of impressions and ideas which create a “union in the imagination.”  As Barry Stroud says, “past experience is what makes us believe and behave as we do, but not by providing us with premises from which we reasonably infer our beliefs or our actions.  It does so automatically in conjunction with certain principles or dispositions of the mind.”29  For Hume, however, there is a difference between the having of an idea and belief.  As Stroud notes:

...believing cannot be a matter of adding to one’s idea of it a further idea—perhaps the idea of reality or existence.  First, we have no idea of reality or existence distinguishable and separable from the ideas we form of particular objects.  To think of God and to think of God as existing are one and the same.  There is no difference in idea between them.  This is not to say that to think of something is to believe that it exists.  It is only to say that to think of something is to think of it as it would be if it existed, or to think of it as existing; and it is perfectly possible to do that without believing that the thing exists. 30 

....what distinguishes an idea or simple conception from a belief is...whatever it is that distinguishes an impression from an idea.  And an impression differs from an idea only in its degree of ‘force and vivacity’.  So Hume feels he has no alternative but to say that a belief is ‘a more vivid and intense conception of an idea, proceeding from its relation to a present impression’,31 or, in his most common formulation, ‘a lively idea related to or associated with a present impression.’32 

So two different principles are needed to explain the occurrence of beliefs: the principle that an observed constant conjunction creates a ‘union in the imagination’ between things of two kinds, and the principle of the transmission of force and vivacity from a present impression to an associated idea.33 

Of course, Hume does not attempt to justify our beliefs or matter of fact claims.  Instead, he offers an account of how they come about, and of why we attach authority to them.  That is, his account of our beliefs and “knowledge claims” in terms of impressions, ideas, expectations, and custom or habit does not resolve the skeptical problem.  Instead, it explains why although skepticism is philosophically so powerful, we are not skeptics.  Thus, Hume claims:

nature is always too strong for principle.  And though a Pyrrhonian may throw himself or others into a momentary amazement and confusion by his profound reasonings; the first and most trivial event in life will put to flight all his doubts and scruples, and leave him the same, in every point of action and speculation, with the philosophers of every other sect, or with those who never concerned themselves in any philosophical researches.  When he awakes from his dream, he will be the first to join in the laugh against himself, and to confess, that all his objections are mere amusement, and can have no other tendency than to show the whimsical condition of mankind, who must act and reason and believe; though they are not able, by their most diligent inquiry, to satisfy themselves concerning the foundation of these operations, or to remove the objections, which may be raised against them.34 

As a philosopher, he sees how little reason can prove.  He also realizes, however, that men are agents in the world who believe, make claims, and act.  He claims that the basis of reasoning is a-rational—in our reasoning we are actually determined by natural, instinctive [psychological] forces.  If his view is to be understood properly, we must note that he provides both a skepticism and a naturalistic account of our beliefs about matters of fact—an account which claims we make these claims and adhere to them because we are creatures of custom and habit. 

     Garrett Thomson divides Hume’s positive (naturalistic) account (or explanation) into four “stages:”

by becoming accustomed to certain conjunctions of experiences, we come to expect events to follow a certain order—beliefs about the future arise naturally by habit thorough repetition;35 

this repetition produces a feeling of necessity in our minds (a feeling which is an impression of reflection).  “The impression is simple and does not represent anything; it is not a perception of necessity between events in the mind, but a feeling of necessity.  When Hume says that necessity exists only in the mind, he does not mean that there is a necessary connection between distinct mental events.  Hume’s view implies scepticism regarding the claim that there is a necessary connection between events—even mental events.  When he says that necessity exists only in the mind, Hume means that a feeling of necessity arises in the mind.”36 

this simple feeling generates our idea of necessity. 

thus, “the mind has a great propensity to spread itself on external objects, by projecting its impressions and ideas onto the external world.”37 

Before we and assess this analysis, however, we must attend to the text ourselves. 

6. Reading Assignment from Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature:

Book I:

Part I:

Sections 1-7 pp. 1-26. 

Part II:

Section 5 (last four paragraphs)-
Section 6.  pp. 64-68. 

Part III:

Sections 1-8.  pp. 69-106.
Section 10 (first four paragraphs).  pp. 118-120.
Section 12.  pp. 130-142.
Section 14.  pp. 155-172.
and pp. 632-633. 

Part IV:

Sections 1-2.  pp. 180-218.
Section 5 (first six paragraphs).  pp. 232-234.
Sections 6-7.  pp. 251-274.
and pp. 633-636. 

Book II:

Part I:

Section 1.  pp. 275-277.
Section 11 (first five paragraphs).  pp. 316-318. 

Part III:

Section 3.  pp. 413-418. 


Book III:

Part I:

Sections 1-2.  pp. 455-476. 

Total: 196 pps.  

Notes:

1 David Hume, My Own Life [1777], in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1947), pp. 233-240, p. 233.  Back

2 Ibid., p. 234.  Back

3 Hume’s importance as an economist is attested to by the following passage from the Britannica Online: “Hume steps forward as an economist in the “Political Discourses” incorporated in Essays and Treatises as part 2 of Essays Moral and Political.  How far he influenced his friend Adam Smith, 12 years his junior, remains uncertain: they had broadly similar principles, and both had the excellent habit of illustrating and supporting these from history.  He did not formulate a complete system of economic theory, as did Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, but Hume introduced several of the new ideas around which the “classical economics” of the 18th century was built.  His level of insight can be gathered from his main contentions: that wealth consists not of money but of commodities; that the amount of money in circulation should be kept related to the amount of goods in the market (two points made by Berkeley); that a low rate of interest is a symptom not of superabundance of money but of booming trade; that no nation can go on exporting only for bullion; that each nation has special advantages of raw materials, climate, and skill, so that a free interchange of products (with some exceptions) is mutually beneficial; and that poor nations impoverish the rest just because they do not produce enough to be able to take much part in that exchange.  He welcomed advance beyond an agricultural to an industrial economy as a precondition of any but the barer forms of civilization” (“David Hume,” Britannica Online--to view the article, select http://www.britannica.com/bps/browse and enter "David Hume," then select he first returned item ["David Hume (Scottish Philosopher)"], accessed March 22, 1998).  Back

4 Anthony Flew, David Hume: Philosopher of Moral Science (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 8.   Back

5 As the Britannica Online notes, “library catalogs still list Hume as “Hume, David, the Historian.”  Between his death and 1894, there were at least 50 editions of his History; and an abridgment, The Student’s Hume (1859; often reprinted), remained in common use for 50 years.  Though now outdated, Hume’s History must be regarded as an event of cultural importance.  In its own day, moreover, it was an innovation, soaring high above its very few predecessors.  It was fuller and set a higher standard of impartiality.  His History of England not only traced the deeds of kings and statesmen but also displayed the intellectual interests of the educated citizens, as may be seen, for instance, in the pages on literature and science under the Commonwealth at the end of chapter 3 and under James II at the end of chapter 2.  It was unprecedentedly readable, in structure as well as in phrasing.  Persons and events were woven into causal patterns that furnished a narrative with the goals and resting points of recurrent climaxes.  That was to be the plan of future history books for the general reader”  (“David Hume,” Britannica Online, op. cit).  Back

6 W.T. Jones, in his Hobbes to Hume (N.Y.: Harcourt, 1969), p.297 (footnote 3), notes that: “in 1754 Hume purchased, among other books the Contes of La Fontaine and Bussy-Rabutin’s Historie amoureuse des Gaules.  The curators objected that the books were “obscene,” ordered them removed, and decreed that in the future the librarian must secure their approval before making any purchases.  According to Hume, “if every book not superior in merit to La Fortaine be expelled from the Library, I shall engage to carry away all that remains in my pocket.  I know not indeed if any will remain except our fifty pound Bible, which is too bulky for me to carry away....Bussy Rabutin contains no bawdy at all, though if it did, I see not that it would be a whit the worse.”  Cf., “Bussy-Rabutin, Roger de” and “La Fontaine, Jean de” in Wikipedia for more information on these authors.  Back

7 David Hume, “My Own Life,” op. cit., p. 238.  Back

8 Cited in Anthony Flew, David Hume: Philosopher of Moral Science, op. cit., p. 10.  Back

9 James Boswell, “An Account of My Last Interview With David Hume, Esq.” [03/03/1777], in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1947), pp. 76-79, pp. 76-77.  Back

10 Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation--The Rise of Modern Paganism (N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1966), pp. 418-419.  Back

11 Garrett Thomson, Bacon to Kant: An Introduction to Modern Philosophy (second edition) (Prospect Heights: Waveland, 2002), p. 211.  Back

12 IbidBack

13 Ibid., p. 212.  Back

14 IbidBack

15 Hume will use the British spelling (‘scepticism’).  Back

16 David Hume, Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding [1748], ed. Charles Hendel (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1955), p. 40.  Back

16a A tautology is a statement which is logically true--for example: "All dogs are dogs." Such statements are true no matter what the empirical world is like, and they do not give any new information. They are to be contrasted with contingent statements (statements which may be either true or false given the empirical facts--for example, "Fido is a dog"), and contradictory statements (statements which are logically false, and, thus, false no matter what the world is like--for example "No dog is a dog"). 
  We should be careful with such "concepts however. It is not clear what the truth status is of the following statement: "All propositions are either tautologies, contradictions, or contingent." While this might be "true" it might only be "true by definition!"   Back

17 Cf., Anthony Flew, David Hume: Philosopher of Moral Science, op. cit., p. 45 ff.   Back

18 Garrett Thomson, Bacon to Kant, op. cit., pp. 218-219.  Back

19 Anthony Flew, David Hume: Philosopher of Moral Science, op. cit., p. 48.  Back

20 Garrett Thomson, Bacon to Kant, op. cit., p. 219.  Back

21 Ibid., p. 228. Emphasis added to passage. Back

22 As Garrett Thomson notes, Kant rejects Hume’s treatment here: “Hume’s notion of idea, like Locke’s before him, seems to blur the difference between concepts and judgments on the one hand, and images on the other.  His claim that ideas are faint copies of impressions makes the distinction between concepts and impressions one of degree rather than kind.  Kant rejects this.  In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant says of sensation and understanding: “These two great powers or capacities cannot exchange their functions.  The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing” (B75).  In other words, he regards the differences between concepts and sense impressions as one of kind, and not merely of degree.  This enables Kant to forge a view of human experience and reason very different from Empiricism and Rationalism” (Garrett Thomson, Bacon to Kant, op. cit., p. 215). 
   Thomson also notes that “...with respect to impressions, Kant rejects Hume’s view of perception.  Hume claims that we have no sense impression of necessity, and this implies that we can never perceive causal relations between events, or one thing affecting another.  (For example, I can perceive the stone fly and the window break, but not the stone causing the breaking of the window.)  What leads Hume to this claim is his atomistic view of perception, according to which impressions are distinct and fleeting momentary existents.  In reply to Hume, Kant argues that an experience consisting merely of atomic impressions is impossible.  According to Kant, experience has a unity and cannot be reduced to its component parts.  Furthermore, experience cannot consist of raw impressions, because experience requires concepts” (ibid., p. 227).  Back

23 David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature [1739-1740], ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1888; second edition, edited by P.H. Nidditch, 1978), p. 96.  I will frequently make references to the Treatise as follows: Book Part Section (this citation would then be to I III VII).  Back

24 References to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason [1781, 1787] are given in the following form: A 28, B 44, which refers to page 28 of the first edition and page 44 of the second edition.  Back

25 Ibid., pp. 216-217.  Back

26  That is, “being adjacent to one another in place or time.”  Back

27 David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, op. cit., I III VII.  Back

28 Ibid., I III VII.   Back

29 Barry Stroud, Hume (London: Routledge, 1977), p. 69.  Back

30 Ibid., pp. 69-70.  Back

31 Cf., David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, op. cit., p. 103 (I III VIII).  Back

32 Barry Stroud, Hume, op. cit., p. 70. Back

33 Ibid., p. 71.  Back

34 David Hume, Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, op. cit., pp. 168-169.  Back

35 Cf., Garrett Thomson, Bacon to Kant, op. cit., p. 226.  Back

36 Ibid., pp. 226-227.  Back

37 Ibid., p. 227.  Back  

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