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David Hume

(1711 - 1776)
Scottish Philosopher and Historian


Influences

Education

  • Studied at Edinburgh University

Career

  • Librarian to the Edinburgh Faculty of Advocates ( Edinburgh )
  • Private Secretary to the British Ambassador to France ( Paris )
  • Secretary to the British Embassy ( Paris )
  • Chargé d'Affaires at the British Embassy (Paris)
  • Under-Secretary of State ( London )

Ideas and Contributions

Hume is arguably the most influential philosopher ever to write in the English language. An arch empiricist, he believed that all knowledge comes from sense experience, therefore there is neither innate knowledge nor innate concepts, and that metaphysical speculation was but sophistry and illusion. Hume writes in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding :

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Traditionally, philosophers have regarded Hume as a skeptic. Hume famously argued that non-demonstrative (or non-deductive) inferences were unjustified. Philosophers thus attribute to him "The Problem of Induction" or "inductive skepticism." The implications of Hume's problem of induction are, for the sciences, dire since science relies upon inductive inference, especially the statistical sciences. If Hume is right, and there can be no non-circular justification for inductive modes of inference, i.e., no justification that does not presuppose the legitimacy of induction, then data cannot be probative for scientific claims (provided the inferential connection between data and hypothesis is inductive). Moreover, if Hume is correct about induction, all causal claims are unwarranted, since all causal claims are, ultimately, arrived at through induction. The Problem of Induction remains an outstanding problem in epistemology and the philosophy of science.

Hume also argued that it was part of the domain of natural philosophy to explain how sensation works. The most basic elements of sensation are "perceptions", which can come in two forms: "impressions and "ideas". The former are more "vivacious" and "forceful" than the latter. Impressions are further divided into impressions of sensations and impressions of reflection. Ideas can, through belief, be made forceful and vivacious enough to be indistinguishable from impressions, however the fundamental distinguishing characteristic that demarcates impressions from ideas is that the latter are causally dependent upon the former. Hume did not seek to connect perceptions to their external world causes; without such a connection we are left with an epistemological lacuna: the veridicality of sense perception cannot be established. He was content to investigate perception qua objects of the mind without burdening himself with the larger philosophical question of how to prove the existence of an external world.

Hume was also a compatibilist, i.e., he believed in the existence of freedom of the will and that all human actions had causes.

Publications

  • A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, 3 volumes; volumes 1 and 2 (1739); volume 3 (1740). http://www.ecn.bris.ac.uk/het/hume/treat.htm
  • An Abstract of a Book Lately Published, Entitled, a Treatise of Human Nature, etc. Wherein the Chief Argument of That Book is Farther Illustrated and Explained (1740).
  • Essays, Moral and Political, 2 volumes; volume 1 (1742); volumes 1 and 2 republished with Three Essays, Moral and Political (1748) as Essays, Moral and Political, third edition, corrected, with additions, 1 volume (1748).
  • A True Account of the Behaviour and Conduct of Archibald Steward, Esq.; late Lord Provost of Edinburgh (1748).
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). http://www.ecn.bris.ac.uk/het/hume/enquiry
  • Three Essays, Moral and Political (1748).
  • An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751).
  • Political Discourses (1752).
  • Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, 4 volumes, (1753).
  • The History of Great Britain, vol 1, Containing the Commonwealth and the Reigns of Charles II and James II (1757), revised 1759.
  • Four Dissertations (1757).
  • The History of England under the House of Tudor, 2 volumes, (1759).
  • The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Accession of Henry VII, 2 volumes (1762).
  • The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688, 6 volumes (1762) revised, 8 volumes, (1763); posthumous edition with author's last revisions, (1778).
  • A Concise and Genuine Account of the Dispute between Mr Hume and Mr. Rousseau (1766).
  • The Life of David Hume, Esq. Written by Himself (1777).
  • Two Essays (1777)
  • Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779).

Resources

References

Morris, William Edward, "David Hume", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2001/entries/hume/>.

Norton, David Fate, "David Hume", Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (1999), Robert Audi (ed.), New York: Cambridge University Press.

Prepared by S. Brian Hood


Thursday, 14-Nov-2013 04:39:10 EST