David Hume - History

David Hume - History

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Scottish-born philosopher-historian Hume's masterwork, A Treatise of Human Nature, stands as one of philosophy's most influential and compelling achievements, though at the time of its publication it was poorly received. Hume followed up with Essays Moral and Political, a more successful effort although he was not able to secure an appointment to universities at either Glasgow or Edinburgh (probably because of his admitted atheism). After travels abroad, Hume returned to Edinburgh and produced Political Discourses and an immense History of England. These successes led to a happy sojourn in Paris as secretary to the ambassador. Hume was greatly appreciated by the French and referred to his time there as "walk[ing] on flowers." Hume ultimately returned to Edinburgh where, on his death, he was mourned as one of the intellectual giants of his time.


In his autobiography written near the end of his life, David Hume describes himself as a “man of mild disposition, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.” Those who knew him agreed for the most part with his assessment.

Hume was born on February 24, 1711, in Edinburgh. His father died when he was an infant, leaving him and his two older siblings in the care of his mother. Hume went with his older brother to the University of Edinburgh in 1723. He “passed through the ordinary course of education with success” and left the university without taking a degree. Hume writes that from an early age, he “found an insurmountable Aversion to anything but the pursuits of Philosophy and General Learning,” and that his passion for literature (comprising philosophy and history) “has been the great ruling passion of my life, and the great source of my enjoyments.”

At age eighteen, a “new scene of thought” opened up to him, and he applied himself to developing these ideas with such intensity that it eventually led to a kind of nervous breakdown. As a reprieve from his studies, he worked for a few months as a clerk in a firm of sugar merchants before relocating to France to compose his Treatise of Human Nature. Hume returned to London in 1737 to see the book through the final stages of (anonymous) publication and was sorely disappointed with the result. According to him, the book “fell dead-born from the press.” Believing that the failure of the Treatise “proceeded more from the manner than the matter,” Hume reworked his ideas into the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) and the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). He called these two works “incomparably the best” of all his writings. Between 1740 and his death in 1776 Hume worked on and published (in various forms) essays on moral, political, and literary matters. In 1752, as Librarian for the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, Hume began research on his History of England, which he published between 1754 and 1761. His Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion were published posthumously and anonymously.

In 1763, Hume accompanied the Earl of Hertford to Paris to work in the embassy. Hume writes in his autobiography that his readers “will never imagine the reception [he] met with in Paris, from men and women of all ranks and stations.” Hume soon became close to the leading French philosophes, and began a lasting friendship with the Comtesse de Boufflers. When Hume returned to England in 1766, he was accompanied by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was attempting to escape potential persecution. Their friendship did not last, however, as Rousseau soon wrote to friends that Hume was involved in a conspiracy against him, compelling Hume to defend himself.

In 1775, Hume was struck ill with a disorder that would prove fatal. In an obituary of the great philosopher, his close friend Adam Smith wrote: “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 virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will admit.”

1. Hume’s Publications on Religious Belief

Hume is one of the most important philosophers to have written in the English language, and many of his writings address religious subjects either directly or indirectly. His very first work had the charge of atheism leveled against it, and this led to his being passed over for the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. In fact, Hume’s views on religion were so controversial that he never held a university position in philosophy.

Hume addressed most of the major issues within the philosophy of religion, and even today theists feel compelled to confront Hume’s challenges. He leveled moral, skeptical, and pragmatic objections against both popular religion and the religion of the philosophers. These run the gamut from highly specific topics, such as metaphysical absurdities entailed by the Real Presence of the Eucharist, to broad critiques like the impossibility of using theology to infer anything about the world.

Hume’s very first work, A Treatise of Human Nature, includes considerations against an immortal soul, develops a system of morality independent of a deity, attempts to refute occasionalism, and argues against a necessary being, to name but a few of the religious topics that it addresses. Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding re-emphasizes several of the challenges from the Treatise, but also includes a section against miracles and a section against the fruitfulness of theology. Hume’s major non-philosophical work, The History of England, discusses specific religious sects, largely in terms of their (often bloody) consequences. He also wrote numerous essays discussing various aspects of religion, such as the anti-doctrinal essays “Of the Immortality of the Soul” and “Of Suicide,” and critiques of organized religion and the clergy in “Of Superstition and Enthusiasm” and “Of National Characters.” Hume also wrote two major works entirely dedicated to religion: The Natural History of Religion (Natural History) and the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (Dialogues), which merit brief discussions of their own.

Hume wrote the Natural History roughly in tandem with the first draft of the Dialogues, but while the former was published during his lifetime (as one of his Four Dissertations), the latter was not. In the introduction to the Natural History, Hume posits that there are two types of inquiry to be made into religion: its foundations in reason and its origin in human nature. While the Dialogues investigate the former, the task of the Natural History is to explore the latter. In the Natural History, he focuses on how various passions can give rise to common or false religion. It is an innovative work that brings together threads from philosophy, psychology, and history to provide a naturalistic account of how the various world religions came about.

Though Hume began writing the Dialogues at roughly the same time as the Natural History, he ultimately arranged to have the former published posthumously. In the twenty-five years between the time at which he first wrote them and his death, the Dialogues underwent three sets of revisions, including a final revision from his deathbed. The Dialogues are a rich discussion of Natural Theology, and are generally considered to be the most important book ever written on the subject. Divided into twelve parts, the Dialogues follow the discussion of three thinkers debating the nature of God. Of the three characters, Philo takes up the role of the skeptic, Demea represents the orthodox theologian of Hume’s day, and Cleanthes follows a more philosophical, empirical approach to his theology. The work is narrated by Pamphilus, a professed student of Cleanthes.

Both Hume’s style and the fact of posthumous publication give rise to interpretive difficulties. Stylistically, Hume’s Dialogues are modeled after On the Nature of the Gods, a dialogue by the Roman philosopher Cicero. In Circero’s works, unlike the dialogues of Plato, Leibniz, and Berkeley, a victor is not established from the outset, and all characters make important contributions. Hume ridicules such one-sided dialogues on the grounds that they put “nothing but Nonsense into the Mouth of the Adversary” (L1, Letter 72). The combination of this stylistic preference with Hume’s use of irony, an infrequently discussed but frequently employed literary device in his writings, makes the work a delight to read, but creates interpretive difficulties in determining who speaks for Hume on any given topic.

In the Dialogues, all the characters make good Humean points, even Pamphilus and Demea. The difficulty comes in determining who speaks for Hume when the characters disagree. Hume has been interpreted as Cleanthes/Pamphilus, Philo, an amalgamation, and as none of them. The most popular view, though not without dissent, construes Hume as Philo. Philo certainly has the most to say in the Dialogues. His arguments and objections often go unanswered, and he espouses many opinions on both religion and on other philosophical topics that Hume endorses in other works, such as the hypothesis that causal inference is based on custom. The more significant challenge to interpreting Hume as Philo concerns the collection of remarks at the beginning of Part XII of the Dialogues, known as Philo’s Reversal. After spending the bulk of the Dialogues raising barrage of objections against the design argument, Part XII has Philo admitting, “A purpose, an intention, a design strikes everywhere the most careless, the most stupid thinker…” (D 12.2). Nonetheless, whether Philo’s Reversal is sincere or not is fundamentally tied to Hume’s own views on religion.

Hume on causation

Chains of cause and effect seem to be everywhere. Stubbing my toe causes pain clapping my hands makes a noise poking a bear provokes it to eat me.

But Hume's analysis says otherwise. Stubbing my toe, from a Humean perspective, is a bit like lighting a cigarette at the bus stop: just as the lit cigarette only appears to make the bus arrive, so stubbing a toe only appears to cause pain.

All I can say with any certainty is that in my experience thus far, every time I've stubbed a toe it has hurt. But that doesn't determine anything necessary about the future, and it certainly doesn't stack up to an ironclad universal law.

As Helen Beebee, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manchester, puts it: "It's certainly Hume's view that we can't prove any connection between events. There's no 'sensory impression', as Hume would put it, of causation. When you look at two billiard balls, you just see the one hitting the other and then the other one moving, you don't see any connection".

This leads Hume to the conclusion that causation, far from being one of the fundamental laws of the universe, is more a projection of the human mind.

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"As far as we can know, all that's out there in the world is just one thing happening, and then another", says Professor Beebee.

"But then we have this impression of necessary connection, which we somehow impose upon reality. So in a sense, we invent the causal structure of the world".

This sort of analysis has fixed Hume in the popular imagination as an arch sceptic. But was he really?

According to the British philosopher and author Julian Baggini, we need to be careful when we apply the S-word to Hume.

"I think that even Hume scholars sometimes get him a bit wrong on this," he says.

"In some ways, yes, he was a radical sceptic. He didn't believe that by the use of reason alone, one can establish any of the most fundamental truths required for living — in particular, the existence of cause and effect".

But this doesn't mean that Hume was the kind of sceptic who simply suspends judgement about the existence of any and every natural phenomenon.

"You still find philosophy textbooks that say 'Hume did not believe in cause and effect as a real power in nature'. And I think that's just obviously not true", says Baggini.

"What Hume doesn't believe is that by observation or by logic we can prove that causation exists. It's something that reason can't establish — but it has to be taken as true nonetheless. Experience tells us that we're right to take it as true, even though our arguments are weak".

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a philosophical work by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, first published in 1779. Through dialogue, three philosophers named Demea, Philo, and Cleanthes debate the nature of God's existence. Whether or not these names reference specific philosophers, ancient or otherwise, remains a topic of scholarly dispute. While all three agree that a god exists, they differ sharply in opinion on God's nature or attributes and how, or if, humankind can come to knowledge of a deity.

In the Dialogues, Hume's characters debate a number of arguments for the existence of God, and arguments whose proponents believe through which we may come to know the nature of God. Such topics debated include the argument from design—for which Hume uses a house—and whether there is more suffering or good in the world (argument from evil).

Hume started writing the Dialogues in 1750 but did not complete them until 1776, shortly before his death. They are based partly on Cicero's De Natura Deorum. The Dialogues were published posthumously in 1779, originally with neither the author's nor the publisher's name. [1]

In The Blind Watchmaker (1986), evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins discussed his choice to title his book after theologian William Paley's famous statement of the teleological argument, the watchmaker analogy, and noted that Hume's critique of the argument from design as an explanation of design in nature was the initial criticism that would ultimately be answered by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species (1859). [2] In the second part of the Dialogues (1779), the character Philo observes that animal reproduction appears to be more responsible for the intricacies and order of organic bodies rather than intelligent design. [3]

A. Space

On the topic of space, Hume argues that our proper notions of space are confined to our visual and tactile experiences of the three-dimensional world, and we err if we think of space more abstractly and independently of those visual and tactile experiences. In essence, our proper notion of space is like what Locke calls a “secondary quality” of an object, which is spectator dependent, meaning grounded in the physiology of our perceptual mental processes. Thus, our proper notion of space is not like a “primary quality” that refers to some external state of affairs independent of our perceptual mental process. Following the above three-part scheme, (1) Hume skeptically argues that we have no ideas of infinitely divisible space (Treatise, (2) When accounting for the idea we do have of space, he argues that “the idea of space is convey’d to the mind by two senses, the sight and touch nor does any thing ever appear extended, that is not either visible or tangible” (Treatise, Further, he argues that these objects—which are either visible or tangible—are composed of finite atoms or corpuscles, which are themselves “endow’d with colour and solidity.” These impressions are then “comprehended” or conceived by the imagination it is from the structuring of these impressions that we obtain a limited idea of space. (3) In contrast to this idea of space, Hume argues that we frequently presume to have an idea of space that lacks visibility or solidity. He accounts for this erroneous notion in terms of a mistaken association that people naturally make between visual and tactile space (Treatise,

David Hume the Historian

David Hume was born in 1711. In the same year that the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, 1776, Hume died. He’s known as a skeptical Scottish philosopher. He’s a key figure in the Enlightenment and in the study of modern philosophy, especially epistemology, which is the study of knowledge, how we know what we know and how what we know is actually truth.

He was known as an empiricist, that is, he believed knowledge is not innate. Knowledge must come through experience, which of course we relate to or know through the senses. As I mentioned, he was ultimately a skeptic. He argued that the senses could be deceived, and if all knowledge comes through the senses, we must be skeptical. We certainly can’t be certain of our knowledge. He also argued that our experiences are not universal, and certainly not eternal, so we can’t speak of laws. For instance, he said we can’t speak of the law of cause and effect, but instead we can only speak of what Hume called customary relationships.

In terms of the field of ethics, David Hume rejected the idea of moral absolutes. He advanced what he called sentimentalism. Morality and the laws that govern societies and human relations are based on sentiment, even emotion, but certainly not on some moral absolute that is discovered or understood from the rational processes.

Hume is the progenitor of any number of twentieth-century philosophies like logical positivism, analytical philosophy, and, we could say, twentieth-century atheism. He was certainly no friend of Christianity. So all of that raises a question: Why talk about David Hume on 5 Minutes in Church History?

First, he was a historian. He wrote philosophical books, but in his own day nobody bought them, and he wanted to be a popular writer. So he wrote an eight-volume history of England. In the 1786 edition, volume 7, he writes about Charles I. On page 32 Hume writes, “In the summer of 1643, while the negotiations were carried on with Scotland, the parliament had summoned an assembly at Westminster consisting of 121 divines [that is, ministers] and 30 layman celebrated in their party for piety and learning.” This, of course, is referring to the Westminster standards, a confession of faith, the catechisms, and the Westminster divines in the 1640s. They were meeting at Westminster Abbey in London.

Hume continues, “By their advice, alterations were made in the Thirty-Nine Articles or in the metaphysical doctrines of the church.” He’s referring to the Anglican Church, the Church of England. “And what was of greater importance, the liturgy was entirely abolished and in its stead, a new directory for worship was established. By which suitably to the spirit of the Puritans, the utmost Liberty, both in praying and preaching was indulged to the public teachers.”

So Hume the philosopher was also a historian, giving us an account of what happened in the 1640s. The divines gathered in the Jerusalem Chamber inside Westminster Abbey. They gathered not only to hammer out a new way of thinking about doctrine that would be different from the Thirty-Nine Articles or the Anglican Church. But, as Hume notes, they were especially concerned with the worship service. These Puritans gave us a new way of thinking about the church service in England, one that brought prayer and preaching to the fore.

David Hume the Philosopher

We have explored one aspect of David Hume, the skeptical Scottish philosopher from the eighteenth century, that not everyone knows about. Hume was a historian. He wrote an eight-volume series titled The History of England (which mentions the Westminster Standards).

Now we want to talk about an aspect that people do know about: David Hume, the philosopher. He is known as the father of philosophical skepticism. This is the idea that we really can’t know what we know. We can’t have certainty in what we know, and in one sense we’re plagued with doubt.

Hume arrived at this conclusion because of his understanding of how we understand experience and what we can make of experience. We’re talking about the law of causality, and how we know that every effect has an equal or greater-than cause. This goes back, in the history of philosophy, to Aristotle. David Hume questioned, “How can we know?” We can observe what he called customary relationships, but how can we know every time and in every place that the law of cause and effect works? He concluded that we can’t. All we can speak of is customary relationships.

David Hume used that to defeat many of the classical arguments for the existence of God, namely the cosmological argument. He also took on the design argument for the existence of God. This comes from one of his books later in his life, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. This book is set up as a dialogue with various characters, and Hume uses it to walk through the arguments and, from his perspective, dismantle them. When he gets to the design argument, Hume says that the design that we think we see in the world is not really a design. Hume says instead what we see are “the chance permutations of particles falling into a temporary or permanent self-sustaining order, which thus has the appearance of design.”

Let’s unpack that. The human self—you as a person—are ultimately a result of particles falling by chance in what happens to be a perfect order to allow you to function. That’s what Hume’s argument would demand. It would be like saying, “Let’s take a five-thousand piece puzzle and let’s throw all of those five thousand pieces into the air, and by chance all five thousand of those pieces will fall into a perfect place in relationship with each other and form a completed puzzle just like the picture on the box.”

I’m skeptical of what David Hume is trying to say about this world in which we live. The important thing about Hume is where he falls in the history of ideas. He comes right in the eighteenth century as the sciences are maturing and coming into their own in the university. At the same time, theology and religion are getting marginalized. Much of culture is shifting its eyes off of God at the center and putting their eyes on man at the center, and along comes David Hume with his epistemology and his philosophy. It had a huge influence in his day, but it had an even greater influence in the centuries to come.

David Hume - History

David Hume (7 May 1711 Ώ] – 25 August 1776) was a philosopher and historian from Scotland. Ώ] When he was still alive, people thought of him as a historian. He wrote a series of large books called The History of England. But today, people think of Hume as an important philosopher.

In his books on philosophy, Hume said that many of our beliefs do not come from reason. Instead, they come from our instincts or feelings. For example, reason does not tell us that one thing causes another. Instead, we see one thing and then we see another, and we feel a link between the two. Similarly, reason does not tell us that someone is a good person. Instead, we see that the person is kind and friendly, and we feel a special moral feeling. Because Hume thought that these beliefs do not come from reason, people call him a "skeptical" or "anti-rationalist" philosopher.

Hume is famous for his 'Induction Fallacy'. This draws attention to a common mistake people make. People see something, and make claims that what they see will always be as they see it. For example, people see only white swans and claim that all swans are white. This is 'fallacious' or mistaken, because it is always possible that they then will see a black swan.

Hume was also skeptical about religion. Ώ] He was not a religious person and religious people did not like his opinions. He did not believe in miracles. He said that suicide wasn't always wrong, but never said whether or not he believed in God. In 1776, when he was dying, his friends found him very calm about death, despite him not believing in an Afterlife. ΐ] Today, Hume's books are very important to philosophers who are interested in religion.

Today's philosophers sometimes use the term 'Hume's fork' to refer to Hume calling everything we can think about either a relation of ideas (things like mathematics, that must be true) or a matter of fact (like science, where we have to look at things to tell whether or not they are true).

Another philosopher, Immanuel Kant, read some of Hume's books and changed his mind about some important things. Kant said Hume had made him wake up from a sleeping dogmatism, the traditional metaphysics.

The Hume Society holds conferences each year, with a program of papers and formal comments, along with the Society’s annual business meeting. Papers submitted for Hume Conferences are subject to anonymous review. Hume Society Young Scholar Awards are given to qualifying graduate students whose papers have been accepted through the normal anonymous-review process.

The Society also organizes group sessions at the Eastern, Central, and Pacific Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association, as well as at the meeting of the Canadian Philosophical Association. Special meetings are also held, either independently or sponsored jointly with other societies.

Watch the video: Essential Hume: Who Was David Hume?


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