Hume Autobiographical Essay My Own Life

It is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without vanity; therefore, I shall be short. It may be thought an instance of vanity that I pretend at all to write my life; but this Narrative shall contain little more than the History of my Writings; as, indeed, almost all my life has been spent in literary pursuits and occupations. The first success of most of my writings was not such as to be an object of vanity.

I was born the 26th of April 1711, old style, at Edinburgh. I was of a good family, both by father and mother: my father’s family is a branch of the Earl of Home’s, or Hume’s; and my ancestors had been proprietors of the estate, which my brother possesses, for several generations. My mother was daughter of Sir David Falconer, President of the College of Justice: the title of Lord Halkerton came by succession to her brother.

My family, however, was not rich, and being myself a younger brother, my patrimony, according to the mode of my country, was of course very slender. My father, who passed for a man of parts, died when I was an infant, leaving me, with an elder brother and a sister, under the care of our mother, a woman of singular merit, who, though young and handsome, devoted herself entirely to the rearing and educating of her children. I passed through the ordinary course of education with success, and was seized very early with a passion for literature, which has been the ruling passion of my life, and the great source of my enjoyments. 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 every thing but the pursuits of philosophy and general learning; and while they fancied I was poring upon Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I was secretly devouring.

My very slender fortune, however, being unsuitable to this plan of life, and my health being a little 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. In 1734, I went to Bristol, with some recommendations to eminent merchants, but in a few months found that scene totally unsuitable to me. I went over to France, with a view of prosecuting my studies in a country retreat; and I there laid that plan of life, which I have steadily and successfully pursued. I resolved to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible, except the improvement of my talents in literature.

During my retreat in France, first at Reims, but chiefly at La Fleche, in Anjou, I composed my Treatise of Human Nature. After passing three years very agreeably in that country, I came over to London in 1737. In the end of 1738, I published my Treatise, and immediately went down to my mother and my brother, who lived at his country-house, and was employing himself very judiciously and successfully in the improvement of his fortune.

Never literary attempt was more unfortunate than my Treatise of Human Nature. It fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction, as even to excite a murmur among the zealots. But being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I very soon recovered the blow, and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country. In 1742, I printed at Edinburgh the first part of my Essays: the work was favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former disappointment. I continued with my mother and brother in the country, and in that time recovered the knowledge of the Greek language, which I had too much neglected in my early youth.

In 1745, I received a letter from the Marquis of Annandale, inviting me to come and live with him in England; I found also, that the friends and family of that young nobleman were desirous of putting him under my care and direction, for the state of his mind and health required it.—I lived with him a twelvemonth. My appointments during that time made a considerable accession to my small fortune. I then received an invitation from General St. Clair to attend him as a secretary to his expedition, which was at first meant against Canada, but ended in an incursion on the coast of France. Next year, to wit, 1747, I received an invitation from the General to attend him in the same station in his military embassy to the courts of Vienna and Turin. I then wore the uniform of an officer, and was introduced at these courts as aid-de-camp to the general, along with Sir Harry Erskine and Captain Grant, now General Grant. These two years were almost the only interruptions which my studies have received during the course of my life: I passed them agreeably, and in good company; and my appointments, with my frugality, had made me reach a fortune, which I called independent, though most of my friends were inclined to smile when I said so; in short, I was now master of near a thousand pounds.

I had always entertained a notion, that my want of success in publishing the Treatise of Human Nature, had proceeded more from the manner than the matter, and that I had been guilty of a very usual indiscretion, in going to the press too early. I, therefore, cast the first part of that work anew in the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, which was published while I was at Turin. But this piece was at first little more successful than the Treatise of Human Nature. On my return from Italy, I had the mortification to find all England in a ferment, on account of Dr. Middleton’s Free Enquiry, while my performance was entirely overlooked and neglected. A new edition, which had been published at London of my Essays, moral and political, met not with a much better reception.

Such is the force of natural temper, that these disappointments made little or no impression on me. I went down in 1749, and lived two years with my brother at his country-house, for my mother was now dead. I there composed the second part of my Essays, which I called Political Discourses, and also my Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, which is another part of my treatise that I cast anew. Meanwhile, my bookseller, A. Millar, informed me, that my former publications (all but the unfortunate Treatise) were beginning to be the subject of conversation; that the sale of them was gradually increasing, and that new editions were demanded. Answers by Reverends, and Right Reverends, came out two or three in a year; and I found, by Dr. Warburton’s railing, that the books were beginning to be esteemed in good company. However, I had fixed a resolution, which I inflexibly maintained, never to reply to any body; and not being very irascible in my temper, I have easily kept myself clear of all literary squabbles. These symptoms of a rising reputation gave me encouragement, as I was ever more disposed to see the favourable than unfavourable side of things; a turn of mind which it is more happy to possess, than to be born to an estate of ten thousand a year.

In 1751, I removed from the country to the town, the true scene for a man of letters. In 1752, were published at Edinburgh, where I then lived, my Political Discourses, the only work of mine that was successful on the first publication. It was well received abroad and at home. In the same year was published at London, my Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals; which, in my own opinion (who ought not to judge on that subject), is of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best. It came unnoticed and unobserved into the world.

In 1752, the Faculty of Advocates chose me their Librarian, an office from which I received little or no emolument, but which gave me the command of a large library. I then formed the plan of writing the History of England; but being frightened with the notion of continuing a narrative through a period of 1700 years, I commenced with the accession of the House of Stuart, an epoch when, I thought, the misrepresentations of faction began chiefly to take place. I was, I own, sanguine in my expectations of the success of this work. I thought that I was the only historian, that had at once neglected present power, interest, and authority, and the cry of popular prejudices; and as the subject was suited to every capacity, I expected proportional applause. But miserable was my disappointment: I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation; English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, churchman and sectary, freethinker and religionist, patriot and courtier, united in their rage against the man, who had presumed to shed a generous tear for the fate of Charles I. and the Earl of Strafford; and after the first ebullitions of their fury were over, what was still more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion. Mr. Millar told me, that in a twelvemonth he sold only forty-five copies of it. I scarcely, indeed, heard of one man in the three kingdoms, considerable for rank or letters, that could endure the book. I must only except the primate of England, Dr. Herring, and the primate of Ireland, Dr. Stone, which seem two odd exceptions. These dignified prelates separately sent me messages not to be discouraged.

I was, however, I confess, discouraged; and had not the war been at that time breaking out between France and England, I had certainly retired to some provincial town of the former kingdom, have changed my name, and never more have returned to my native country. But as this scheme was not now practicable, and the subsequent volume was considerably advanced, I resolved to pick up courage and to persevere.

In this interval, I published at London my Natural History of Religion, along with some other small pieces: its public entry was rather obscure, except only that Dr. Hurd wrote a pamphlet against it, with all the illiberal petulance, arrogance, and scurrility, which distinguish the Warburtonian school. This pamphlet gave me some consolation for the otherwise indifferent reception of my performance.

In 1756, two years after the fall of the first volume, was published the second volume of my History, containing the period from the death of Charles I. till the Revolution. This performance happened to give less displeasure to the Whigs, and was better received. It not only rose itself, but helped to buoy up its unfortunate brother.

But though I had been taught by experience, that the Whig party were in possession of bestowing all places, both in the state and in literature, I was so little inclined to yield to their senseless clamour, that in above a hundred alterations, which farther study, reading, or reflection engaged me to make in the reigns of the two first Stuarts, I have made all of them invariably to the Tory side. It is ridiculous to consider the English constitution before that period as a regular plan of liberty.

In 1759, I published my History of the House of Tudor. The clamour against this performance was almost equal to that against the History of the two first Stuarts. The reign of Elizabeth was particularly obnoxious. But I was now callous against the impressions of public folly, and continued very peaceably and contentedly in my retreat at Edinburgh, to finish, in two volumes, the more early part of the English History, which I gave to the public in 1761, with tolerable, and but tolerable success.

But, 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 any thing 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; and retaining the satisfaction of never having preferred a request to one great man, or even making advances of friendship to any of them. As I was now turned of fifty, I thought of passing all the rest of my life in this philosophical manner, when I received, in 1763, an invitation from the Earl of Hertford, with whom I was not in the least acquainted, to attend him on his embassy to Paris, with a near prospect of being appointed secretary to the embassy; and, in the meanwhile, of performing the functions of that office. This offer, however inviting, I at first declined, both because I was reluctant to begin connexions with the great, and because I was afraid that the civilities and gay company of Paris, would prove disagreeable to a person of my age and humour: but on his lordship’s repeating the invitation, I accepted of it. I have every reason, both of pleasure and interest, to think myself happy in my connexions with that nobleman, as well as afterwards with his brother, General Conway.

Those who have not seen the strange effects of modes, will never imagine the reception I met with at Paris, from men and women of all ranks and stations. The more I resiled from their excessive civilities, the more I was loaded with them. There is, however, a real satisfaction in living at Paris, from the great number of sensible, knowing, and polite company with which that city abounds above all places in the universe. I thought once of settling there for life.

I was appointed secretary to the embassy; and, in summer 1765, Lord Hertford left me, being appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. I was chargé d’affaires till the arrival of the Duke of Richmond, towards the end of the year. In the beginning of 1766, I left Paris, and next summer went to Edinburgh, with the same view as formerly, of burying myself in a philosophical retreat. I returned to that place, not richer, but with much more money, and a much larger income, by means of Lord Hertford’s friendship, than I left it; and I was desirous of trying what superfluity could produce, as I had formerly made an experiment of a competency. But, in 1767, I received from Mr. Conway an invitation to be Under-secretary; and this invitation, both the character of the person, and my connexions with Lord Hertford, prevented me from declining. I returned to Edinburgh in 1769, very opulent (for I possessed a revenue of 1000 l. a year), healthy, and though somewhat stricken in years, with the prospect of enjoying long my ease, and of seeing the increase of my reputation.

In spring 1775, I was struck with a disorder in my bowels, which at first gave me no alarm, but has since, as I apprehend it, become mortal and incurable. I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution. I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits; insomuch, that were I to name the period of my life, which I should most choose to pass over again, I might be tempted to point to this later period. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company. I consider, besides, that a man of sixty-five, by dying, cuts off only a few years of infirmities; and though I see many symptoms of my literary reputation’s breaking out at last with additional lustre, I knew that I could have but few years to enjoy it. It is difficult to be more detached from life than I am at present.

To conclude historically with my own character. I am, or rather was (for that is the style I must now use in speaking of myself, which emboldens me the more to speak my sentiments); I was, I say, a man of mild dispositions, 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. Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments. My company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the studious and literary; and as I took a particular pleasure in the company of modest women, I had no reason to be displeased with the reception I met with from them. In a word, though most men any wise eminent, have found reason to complain of calumny, I never was touched, or even attacked by her baleful tooth: and though I wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious factions, they seemed to be disarmed in my behalf of their wonted fury. My friends never had occasion to vindicate any one circumstance of my character and conduct: not but that the zealots, we may well suppose, would have been glad to invent and propagate any story to my disadvantage, but they could never find any which they thought would wear the face of probability. I cannot say there is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one; and this is a matter of fact which is easily cleared and ascertained.

April 18, 1776.

Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, Nov. 9, 1776.

DEAR SIR,

IT is with a real, though a very melancholy pleasure, that I sit down to give you some account of the behaviour of our late excellent friend, Mr. Hume, during his last illness.

Though, in his own judgment, his disease was mortal and incurable, yet he allowed himself to be prevailed upon, by the entreaty of his friends, to try what might be the effects of a long journey. A few days before he set out, he wrote that account of his own life, which, together with his other papers, he has left to your care. My account, therefore, shall begin where his ends.

He set out for London towards the end of April, and at Morpeth met with Mr. John Home and myself, who had both come down from London on purpose to see him, expecting to have found him at Edinburgh. Mr. Home returned with him, and attended him during the whole of his stay in England, with that care and attention which might be expected from a temper so perfectly friendly and affectionate. As I had written to my mother that she might expect me in Scotland, I was under the necessity of continuing my journey. His disease seemed to yield to exercise and change of air, and when he arrived in London, he was apparently in much better health than when he left Edinburgh. He was advised to go to Bath to drink the waters, which appeared for some time to have so good an effect upon him, that even he himself began to entertain, what he was not apt to do, a better opinion of his own health. His symptoms, however, soon returned with their usual violence, and from that moment he gave up all thoughts of recovery, but submitted with the utmost cheerfulness, and the most perfect complacency and resignation. Upon his return to Edinburgh, though he found himself much weaker, yet his cheerfulness never abated, and he continued to divert himself, as usual, with correcting his own works for a new edition, with reading books of amusement, with the conversation of his friends; and, sometimes in the evening, with a party at his favourite game of whist. His cheerfulness was so great, and his conversation and amusements run so much in their usual strain, that, notwithstanding all bad symptoms, many people could not believe he was dying. “I shall tell your friend, Colonel Edmondstone,” said Doctor Dundas to him one day, “that I left you much better, and in a fair way of recovery.” “Doctor,” said he, “as I believe you would not chuse to tell any thing but the truth, you had better tell him, that I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.” Colonel Edmondstone soon afterwards came to see him, and take leave of him; and on his way home, he could not forbear writing him a letter bidding him once more an eternal adieu, and applying to him, as to a dying man, the beautiful French verses in which the Abbé Chaulieu, in expectation of his own death, laments his approaching separation from his friend, the Marquis de la Fare. Mr. Hume’s magnanimity and firmness were such, that his most affectionate friends knew, that they hazarded nothing in talking or writing to him as to a dying man, and that so far from being hurt by this frankness, he was rather pleased and flattered by it. I happened to come into his room while he was reading this letter, which he had just received, and which he immediately showed me. I told him, that though I was sensible how very much he was weakened, and that appearances were in many respects very bad, yet his cheerfulness was still so great, the spirit of life seemed still to be so very strong in him, that I could not help entertaining some faint hopes. He answered, “Your hopes are groundless. An habitual diarrhoea of more than a year’s standing, would be a very bad disease at any age: at my age it is a mortal one. When I lie down in the evening, I feel myself weaker than when I rose in the morning; and when I rise in the morning, weaker than when I lay down in the evening. I am sensible, besides, that some of my vital parts are affected, so that I must soon die.” “Well,” said I, “if it must be so, you have at least the satisfaction of leaving all your friends, your brother’s family in particular, in great prosperity.” He said that he felt that satisfaction so sensibly, that when he was reading a few days before, Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead, among all the excuses which are alleged to Charon for not entering readily into his boat, he could not find one that fitted him; he had no house to finish, he had no daughter to provide for, he had no enemies upon whom he wished to revenge himself. “I could not well imagine,” said he, “what excuse I could make to Charon in order to obtain a little delay. I have done every thing of consequence which I ever meant to do, and I could at no time expect to leave my relations and friends in a better situation than that in which I am now likely to leave them; I, therefore, have all reason to die contented.” He then diverted himself with inventing several jocular excuses, which he supposed he might make to Charon, and with imagining the very surly answers which it might suit the character of Charon to return to them. “Upon further consideration,” said he, “I thought I might say to him, Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time, that I may see how the Public receives the alterations.” But Charon would answer, “When you have seen the effect of these, you will be for making other alterations. There will be no end of such excuses; so, honest friend, please step into the boat.” But I might still urge, “Have a little patience, good Charon, I have been endeavouring to open the eyes of the Public. If I live a few years longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfal of some of the prevailing systems of superstition.” But Charon would then lose all temper and decency. “You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease for so long a term? Get into the boat this instant, you lazy loitering rogue.”

But, though Mr. Hume always talked of his approaching dissolution with great cheerfulness, he never affected to make any parade of his magnanimity. He never mentioned the subject but when the conversation naturally led to it, and never dwelt longer upon it than the course of the conversation happened to require: it was a subject indeed which occurred pretty frequently, in consequence of the inquiries which his friends, who came to see him, naturally made concerning the state of his health. The conversation which I mentioned above, and which passed on Thursday the 8th of August, was the last, except one, that I ever had with him. He had now become so very weak, that the company of his most intimate friends fatigued him; for his cheerfulness was still so great, his complaisance and social disposition were still so entire, that when any friend was with him, he could not help talking more, and with greater exertion, than suited the weakness of his body. At his own desire, therefore, I agreed to leave Edinburgh, where I was staying partly upon his account, and returned to my mother’s house here, at Kirkaldy, upon condition that he would send for me whenever he wished to see me; the physician who saw him most frequently, Doctor Black, undertaking, in the mean time, to write me occasionally an account of the state of his health.

On the 22d of August, the Doctor wrote me the following letter:

“Since my last, Mr. Hume has passed his time pretty easily, but is much weaker. He sits up, goes down stairs once a day, and amuses himself with reading, but seldom sees any body. He finds that even the conversation of his most intimate friends fatigues and oppresses him; and it is happy that he does not need it, for he is quite free from anxiety, impatience, or low spirits, and passes his time very well with the assistance of amusing books.”

I received the day after a letter from Mr. Hume himself, of which the following is an extract.

23d August, 1776.

“MY DEAREST FRIEND, I am obliged to make use of my nephew’s hand in writing to you, as I do not rise to-day....

“I go very fast to decline, and last night had a small fever, which I hoped might put a quicker period to this tedious illness, but unluckily it has, in a great measure, gone off. I cannot submit to your coming over here on my account, as it is possible for me to see you so small a part of the day, but Doctor Black can better inform you concerning the degree of strength which may from time to time remain with me. Adieu, &c.”

Three days after I received the following letter from Doctor Black.

Edinburgh, Monday, 26th August, 1776.

“DEAR SIR, Yesterday about four o’clock afternoon, Mr. Hume expired. The near approach of his death became evident in the night between Thursday and Friday, when his disease became excessive, and soon weakened him so much, that he could no longer rise out of his bed. He continued to the last perfectly sensible, and free from much pain or feelings of distress. He never dropped the smallest expression of impatience; but when he had occasion to speak to the people about him, always did it with affection and tenderness. I thought it improper to write to bring you over, especially as I heard that he had dictated a letter to you desiring you not to come. When he became very weak, it cost him an effort to speak, and he died in such a happy composure of mind, that nothing could exceed it.”

Thus died our most excellent, and never to be forgotten friend; concerning whose philosophical opinions men will, no doubt, judge variously, every one approving, or condemning them, according as they happen to coincide or disagree with his own; but concerning whose character and conduct there can scarce be a difference of opinion. His temper, indeed, seemed to be more happily balanced, if I may be allowed such an expression, than that perhaps of any other man I have ever known. Even in the lowest state of his fortune, his great and necessary frugality never hindered him from exercising, upon proper occasions, acts both of charity and generosity. It was a frugality founded, not upon avarice, but upon the love of independency. The extreme gentleness of his nature never weakened either the firmness of his mind, or the steadiness of his resolutions. His constant pleasantry was the genuine effusion of good-nature and good-humour, tempered with delicacy and modesty, and without even the slightest tincture of malignity, so frequently the disagreeable source of what is called wit in other men. It never was the meaning of his raillery to mortify; and therefore, far from offending, it seldom failed to please and delight, even those who were the objects of it. To his friends, who were frequently the objects of it, there was not perhaps any one of all his great and amiable qualities, which contributed more to endear his conversation. And that gaiety of temper, so agreeable in society, but which is so often accompanied with frivolous and superficial qualities, was in him certainly attended with the most severe application, the most extensive learning, the greatest depth of thought, and a capacity in every respect the most comprehensive. Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime 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 permit.

I ever am, dear Sir,
Most affectionately your’s,
ADAM SMITH.

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For other people named David Hume, see David Hume (disambiguation).

David Hume (; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS(26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism. Hume's empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalisticscience of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is ultimately founded solely in experience; Hume thus held that genuine knowledge must either be directly traceable to objects perceived in experience, or result from abstract reasoning about relations between ideas which are derived from experience, calling the rest "nothing but sophistry and illusion", a dichotomy later given the name Hume's fork.

In what is sometimes referred to as Hume's problem of induction, he argued that inductive reasoning and belief in causality cannot ultimately be justified rationally; our trust in causality and induction instead results from custom and mental habit and are attributable to only the experience of "constant conjunction" rather than logic: for we can never, in experience, perceive that one event causes another, but only that the two are always conjoined, and to draw any inductive causal inferences from past experience first requires the presupposition that the future will be like the past, a presupposition which cannot be grounded in prior experience without already being presupposed.[5] Hume's anti-teleological opposition to the argument for God's existence from design is generally regarded as the most intellectually significant such attempt to rebut the teleological argument prior to Charles Darwin.

Hume was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on emotion or sentiment rather than abstract moral principle, famously proclaiming that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions". Hume's moral theory has been seen as a unique attempt to synthesise the modern sentimentalist moral tradition to which Hume belonged, with the virtue ethics tradition of ancient philosophy, with which Hume concurred in regarding traits of character, rather than acts or their consequences, as ultimately the proper objects of moral evaluation.[6] Hume maintained an early commitment to naturalistic explanations of moral phenomena, and is usually taken to have first clearly expounded the is–ought problem, or the idea that a statement of fact alone can never give rise to a normative conclusion of what ought to be done.[6] Hume also denied that humans have an actual conception of the self, positing that we experience only a bundle of sensations, and that the self is nothing more than this bundle of causally-connected perceptions. Hume's compatibilist theory of free will takes causal determinism as fully compatible with human freedom.[7]

Hume influenced utilitarianism, logical positivism, Immanuel Kant, the philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive science, theology, and other movements and thinkers. Kant himself credited Hume as the spur to his philosophical thought who had awakened him from his "dogmatic slumbers".

Biography[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

David Hume was the second of two sons born to Joseph Home of Ninewells, an advocate, and his wife The Hon. Katherine (née Falconer), daughter of Sir David Falconer.[8] He was born on 26 April 1711 (Old Style) in a tenement on the north side of the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh. Hume's father died when Hume was a child, just after his second birthday, and he was raised by his mother, who never remarried.[9] He changed the spelling of his name in 1734, because of the fact that his surname Home, pronounced Hume, was not known in England. Throughout his life Hume, who never married, spent time occasionally at his family home at Ninewells in Berwickshire, which had belonged to his family since the sixteenth century. His finances as a young man were very "slender". His family was not rich, and, as a younger son, he had little patrimony to live on. He was therefore forced to make a living somehow.

Hume attended the University of Edinburgh at the unusually early age of twelve (possibly as young as ten) at a time when fourteen was normal. At first, because of his family, he considered a career in law, but came to have, in his words, "an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning; and while [my family] fanceyed I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring". He had little respect for the professors of his time, telling a friend in 1735 that "there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books". Hume did not graduate.

Aged around 18, he made a philosophical discovery that opened up to him "a new Scene of Thought", which inspired him "to throw up every other Pleasure or Business to apply entirely to it". He did not recount what this scene was, and commentators have offered a variety of speculations. One popular interpretation, prominent in contemporary Hume scholarship, is that the new "scene of thought" was Hume's realization that Francis Hutcheson's "moral sense" theory of morality could be applied to the understanding as well. Due to this inspiration, Hume set out to spend a minimum of ten years reading and writing. He soon came to the verge of a mental breakdown, suffering from what a doctor diagnosed as the "Disease of the Learned". Hume wrote that it started with a coldness, which he attributed to a "Laziness of Temper", that lasted about nine months. Later, some scurvy spots broke out on his fingers. This was what persuaded Hume's physician to make his diagnosis. Hume wrote that he "went under a Course of Bitters and Anti-Hysteric Pills", taken along with a pint of claret every day. Hume also decided to have a more active life to better continue his learning. His health improved somewhat, but, in 1731, he was afflicted with a ravenous appetite and palpitations of the heart. After eating well for a time, he went from being "tall, lean and raw-bon'd" to being "sturdy, robust [and] healthful-like". Indeed, Hume would become well known in his time for his "corpulence", and his fondness for good port and cheese.

Career[edit]

At 25 years of age, Hume, although of noble ancestry, had no source of income and no learned profession. As was common at his time, he became a merchant's assistant, but he had to leave his native Scotland. He travelled via Bristol to La Flèche in Anjou, France. There he had frequent discourse with the Jesuits of the College of La Flèche.

While Hume was derailed in his attempts to start a university career by protests over his "atheism" and bemoaned that his literary debut, A Treatise of Human Nature, 'fell dead-born from the press',[18] he nevertheless found literary success in his lifetime as an essayist, and a career as a librarian at the University of Edinburgh. His tenure there, and the access to research materials it provided, ultimately resulted in Hume's writing the massive six-volume The History of England, which became a bestseller and the standard history of England in its day. Hume described his "love for literary fame" as his "ruling passion"[19] and judged his two late works, the so-called "first" and "second" enquiries, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, respectively, as his greatest literary and philosophical achievements,[19] asking his contemporaries to judge him on the merits of the later texts alone, rather than the more radical formulations of his early, youthful work, dismissing his philosophical debut as juvenilia: "A work which the Author had projected before he left College."[20] Nevertheless, despite Hume's protestations, a general consensus exists today that Hume's strongest and most important arguments, and most philosophically distinctive doctrines, are found in the original form they take in the Treatise, begun when Hume was just 23 years old and now regarded as one of the most important works in the history of Western philosophy.[6]

He worked for four years on his first major work, A Treatise of Human Nature, subtitled "Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects", completing it in 1738 at the age of 28. Although many scholars today consider the Treatise to be Hume's most important work and one of the most important books in Western philosophy, the critics in Great Britain at the time did not agree, describing it as "abstract and unintelligible". As Hume had spent most of his savings during those four years, he resolved "to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except the improvements of my talents in literature". Despite the disappointment, Hume later wrote, "Being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I soon recovered from the blow and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country." There, in an attempt to make his larger work better known and more intelligible, he published the An Abstract of a Book lately Published as a summary of the main doctrines of the Treatise, without revealing its authorship. Although there has been some academic speculation as to who actually wrote this pamphlet it is generally regarded as Hume's creation.

After the publication of Essays Moral and Political in 1741, which was included in the later edition called Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, Hume applied for the Chair of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. However, the position was given to William Cleghorn after Edinburgh ministers petitioned the town council not to appoint Hume because he was seen as an atheist.[27]

During the 1745 Jacobite rising, Hume tutored the Marquess of Annandale (1720–92), who was "judged to be a lunatic".[28] This engagement ended in disarray after about a year. However, it was then that Hume started his great historical work The History of England. This took him fifteen years and ran to over a million words. During this time he was also involved with the Canongate Theatre through his friend John Home, a preacher.

In this context, he associated with Lord Monboddo and other Scottish Enlightenment luminaries in Edinburgh. From 1746, Hume served for three years as secretary to General James St Clair, who was envoy to the courts of Turin and Vienna. At that time Hume also wrote Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding, later published as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Often called the First Enquiry, it proved little more successful than the Treatise, perhaps because of the publishing of his short autobiography, My Own Life, which "made friends difficult for the first Enquiry". In 1749 he went to live with his brother in the countryside.

Hume's religious views were often suspect. It was necessary in the 1750s for his friends to avert a trial against him on the charge of heresy. However, he "would not have come and could not be forced to attend if he said he was not a member of the Established Church". Hume failed to gain the chair of philosophy at the University of Glasgow for his religious views, too. He had published the Philosophical Essays by this time which were decidedly anti-religious. Even Adam Smith, his personal friend who had vacated the Glasgow philosophy chair, was against his appointment out of concern public opinion would be against it.

Hume returned to Edinburgh in 1751. In the following year "the Faculty of Advocates chose me their Librarian, an office from which I received little or no emolument, but which gave me the command of a large library". This resource enabled him to continue historical research for The History of England. Hume's volume of Political Discourses, written in 1749 and published by Kincaid & Donaldson in 1752, was the only work he considered successful on first publication.

Eventually, with the publication of his six volume The History of England between 1754 and 1762, Hume achieved the fame that he coveted. The volumes traced events from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, and was a bestseller in its day.

Hume was also a longtime friend of bookseller Andrew Millar, who sold Hume's History (after acquiring the rights from Scottish bookseller Gavin Hamilton[37]), although the relationship was sometimes complicated. Letters between them illuminate both men's interest in the success of the History.

Later years[edit]

From 1763 to 1765, Hume was invited to attend Lord Hertford in Paris, where he became secretary to the British embassy.[38] Hume was well received in Paris, and while there he met with Isaac de Pinto[39] In 1766, Hume left Paris to accompany Jean-Jacques Rousseau to England. Once in England, Hume and Rousseau fell out.[40] Hume was sufficiently worried about the damage to his reputation from the quarrel with Rousseau (who is generally believed to have suffered from paranoia) to have authored an account of the dispute, which he titled, appropriately enough "A concise and genuine account of the dispute between Mr. Hume and Mr. Rousseau."[41] In 1765, he served as British Chargé d'affaires, writing "despatches to the British Secretary of State". He wrote of his Paris life, "I really wish often for the plain roughness of The Poker Club of Edinburgh ... to correct and qualify so much lusciousness". In 1766, upon returning to Britain, Hume encouraged Lord Hertford to invest in a number of slave plantations, acquired by George Colebrooke and others in the Windward Islands.[44] In 1767, Hume was appointed Under Secretary of State for the Northern Department. Here he wrote that he was given "all the secrets of the Kingdom". In 1769 he returned to James' Court in Edinburgh, and then lived, from 1771 until his death in 1776, at the southwest corner of St. Andrew's Square in Edinburgh's New Town, at what is now 21 Saint David Street. A popular story, consistent with some historical evidence, suggests the street may have been named after Hume.

In the last year of his life, Hume wrote an extremely brief autobiographical essay titled "My Own Life"[47] which summed up his entire life in "fewer than 5 pages",[48] and notably contains many interesting judgments that have been of enduring interest to subsequent readers of Hume.[49][50] The scholar of 18th century literature Donald Seibert judged it a "remarkable autobiography, even though it may lack the usual attractions of that genre. Anyone hankering for startling revelations or amusing anecdotes had better look elsewhere."[49] Hume here confesses his belief that the"love of literary fame" had served as his "ruling passion" in life, and claims that this desire "never soured my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments." One such disappointment Hume discusses in the mini-autobiography was his disappointment that with the initial literary reception of the Treatise, which he claims to have overcome by means of the success of the Essays: "the work was favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former disappointment". Perhaps most notable is Hume's revelation of his own retrospective judgment that his philosophical debut's apparent failure "had proceeded more from the manner than the matter." Hume thus suggests that "I had been guilty of a very usual indiscretion, in going to the press too early." Hume provides an unambiguous self-assessment of the relative value of his works: "my Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals; which, in my own opinion (who ought not to judge on that subject) is of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best." Hume also makes a number of self-assessments in the essay, writing of his social relations that "My company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the studious and literary", noting of his complex relation to religion, as well as the state, that "though I wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious factions, they seemed to be disarmed in my behalf of their wonted fury", and professing of his character that "My friends never had occasion to vindicate any one circumstance of my character and conduct." Hume concludes the essay with the frank admission: " I cannot say there is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one; and this is a matter of fact which is easily cleared and ascertained."[47]

Diarist and biographer James Boswell saw Hume a few weeks before his death, which was from some form of abdominal cancer. Hume told him he sincerely believed it a "most unreasonable fancy" that there might be life after death. This meeting was dramatised in semi-fictional form for the BBC by Michael Ignatieff as Dialogue in the Dark. Hume asked that his body be interred in a "simple Roman tomb". In his will he requests that it be inscribed only with his name and the year of his birth and death, "leaving it to Posterity to add the Rest". It stands, as he wished it, on the southwestern slope of Calton Hill, in the Old Calton Cemetery. Adam Smith later recounted Hume's amusing speculation that he might ask Charon to allow him a few more years of life in order to see "the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition." The ferryman replied, "You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years ... Get into the boat this instant".

Writings[edit]

In the introduction to A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume wrote, "'Tis evident, that all the sciences have a relation, more or less, to human nature ... Even Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of Man." He also wrote that the science of man is the "only solid foundation for the other sciences" and that the method for this science requires both experience and observation as the foundations of a logical argument. On this aspect of Hume's thought, philosophical historian Frederick Copleston wrote that it was Hume's aim to apply to the science of man the method of experimental philosophy (the term that was current at the time to imply Natural philosophy), and that "Hume's plan is to extend to philosophy in general the methodological limitations of Newtonian physics".

Until recently, Hume was seen as a forerunner of logical positivism; a form of anti-metaphysical empiricism. According to the logical positivists, unless a statement could be verified by experience, or else was true or false by definition (i.e. either tautological or contradictory), then it was meaningless (this is a summary statement of their verification principle). Hume, on this view, was a proto-positivist, who, in his philosophical writings, attempted to demonstrate how ordinary propositions about objects, causal relations, the self, and so on, are semantically equivalent to propositions about one's experiences.[not in citation given]

Many commentators have since rejected this understanding of Humean empiricism, stressing an epistemological (rather than a semantic) reading of his project.[58] According to this opposing view, Hume's empiricism consisted in the idea that it is our knowledge, and not our ability to conceive, that is restricted to what can be experienced. Hume thought that we can form beliefs about that which extends beyond any possible experience, through the operation of faculties such as custom and the imagination, but he was sceptical about claims to knowledge on this basis.

Impressions and ideas[edit]

One of the most central doctrines of Hume's philosophy, stated in the very first lines of the Treatise, is his notion that the mind consists of its mental perceptions, or the mental objects which are present to it, and which divide into two categories: impressions and ideas. Hume's Treatise thus opens with the words: 'All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call IMPRESSIONS and IDEAS." Hume states that "I believe it will not be very necessary to employ many words in explaining this distinction" and commentators have generally taken Hume to mean the distinction between feeling and thinking.[59] Controversially, Hume may regard the difference as in some sense a matter of degree, as he takes "impressions" to be distinguished from ideas, on the basis of their force, liveliness, and vivacity, or what Henry Allison calls the "FLV criterion" in his book on Hume.[60] Ideas are therefore "faint" impressions. For example, experiencing the painful sensation of touching the handle of a hot pan is more forceful than simply thinking about touching a hot pan. According to Hume, impressions are meant to be the original form of all our ideas, and Don Garret has thus coined the term "the copy principle" to refer to Hume's doctrine that all ideas are ultimately all copied from some original impression, whether it be a passion or sensation, from which they derive.[60][61]

After establishing the forcefulness of impressions and ideas, these two categories are further broken down into simple and complex: simple impressions and ideas, and complex impressions and ideas. Hume states that “simple perceptions or impressions and ideas are such as admit of no distinction nor separation,” while “the complex are the contrary to these, and may be distinguished into parts.”[62] When looking at an apple, a person experiences a variety of color-sensations, which Hume sees as a complex impression. Similarly, a person experiences a variety of taste-sensations, tactile-sensations, and smell-sensations when biting into an apple, with the overall sensation again being a complex impression. Thinking about an apple allows a person to form complex ideas, which are made of similar parts as the complex impressions they were developed from, but which are also less forceful. Hume believes that complex perceptions can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts until perceptions are reached that have no parts of their own, and these perceptions are thereby referred to as being simple.

A person’s imagination, regardless of how boundless it may seem, is confined to the mind’s ability to recombine the information it has already acquired from the body’s sensory experience (the ideas that have been derived from impressions). In addition, “as our imagination takes our most basic ideas and leads us to form new ones, it is directed by three principles of association, namely, resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect."[63] The principle of resemblance refers to the tendency of ideas to become associated if the objects they represent resemble one another. For example, a person looking at an illustration of a flower can conceive of an idea of the physical flower because the idea of the illustrated object is associated with the idea of the physical object. The principle of contiguity describes the tendency of ideas to become associated if the objects they represent are near to each other in time or space, such as when the thought of one crayon in a box leads a person to think of the crayon contiguous to it. Finally, the principle of cause and effect refers to the tendency of ideas to become associated if the objects they represent are causally related, which explains how remembering a broken window can make someone think of the baseball that caused the window to shatter.

Hume elaborates more on this last principle of cause and effect. When a person observes that one object or event consistently produces the same object or event, it results in “an expectation that a particular event (a ‘cause’) will be followed by another event (an ‘effect’) previously and constantly associated with it."[64] Hume calls this principle custom, or habit, saying that “custom…renders our experience useful to us, and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past."[65] However, even though custom can serve as a guide in life, it still only represents an expectation. In other words, “experience cannot establish a necessary connection between cause and effect, because we can imagine without contradiction a case where the cause does not produce its usual effect…the reason why we mistakenly infer that there is something in the cause that necessarily produces its effect is because our past experiences have habituated us to think in this way."[66] Continuing this idea, Hume argues that “only in the pure realm of ideas, logic, and mathematics, not contingent on the direct sense awareness of reality, [can] causation safely…be applied – all other sciences are reduced to probability."[67] He uses this skepticism to reject metaphysics and many theological views on the basis that they are not grounded in fact and observations, and are therefore beyond the reach of human understanding.

Induction and causation[edit]

The cornerstone of Hume's epistemology is the problem of induction. This may be the area of Hume's thought where his scepticism about human powers of reason is most pronounced. The problem revolves around the plausibility of inductive reasoning, that is, reasoning from the observed behaviour of objects to their behaviour when unobserved. As Hume wrote, induction concerns how things behave when they go "beyond the present testimony of the senses, or the records of our memory". Hume argues that we tend to believe that things behave in a regular manner, meaning that patterns in the behaviour of objects seem to persist into the future, and throughout the unobserved present. Hume's argument is that we cannot rationally justify the claim that nature will continue to be uniform, as justification comes in only two varieties—demonstrative reasoning and probable reasoning[note 1]—and both of these are inadequate. With regard to demonstrative reasoning, Hume argues that the uniformity principle cannot be demonstrated, as it is "consistent and conceivable" that nature might stop being regular. Turning to probable reasoning, Hume argues that we cannot hold that nature will continue to be uniform because it has been in the past. As this is using the very sort of reasoning (induction) that is under question, it would be circular reasoning. Thus, no form of justification will rationally warrant our inductive inferences.

Hume's solution to this problem is to argue that, rather than reason, natural instinct explains the human practice of making inductive inferences. He asserts that "Nature, by an absolute and uncontroulable [sic] necessity has determin'd us to judge as well as to breathe and feel." Agreeing, philosopher John D. Kenyon writes: "Reason might manage to raise a doubt about the truth of a conclusion of natural inductive inference just for a moment ... but the sheer agreeableness of animal faith will protect us from excessive caution and sterile suspension of belief." Commentators such as Charles Sanders Peirce have demurred from Hume's solution, while, some, such as Kant and Karl Popper, saw that Hume's analysis "had posed a most fundamental challenge to all human knowledge claims."

The notion of causation is closely linked to the problem of induction. According to Hume, we reason inductively by associating constantly conjoined events. It is the mental act of association that is the basis of our concept of causation. There are at least three interpretations of Hume's theory of causation represented in the literature: (1) the logical positivist; (2) the sceptical realist; and (3) the quasi-realist.[77]

David Hume acknowledged that there are events constantly unfolding, humanity cannot guarantee that these events are caused by events prior or if they are independent instances. Hume opposed the widely accepted theory of Causation that ‘all events have a specific course or reason.’ Therefore Hume crafted his own theory of causation, which he formed through his empiricist and skeptic beliefs. He split Causation, into two realms “All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact”.[78] Relations of Ideas are a priori, and represent universal bonds between ideas that mark the cornerstones of human thought. Matters of Fact are dependent on the observer and experience. They are often not universally held to be true among multiple persons. Hume was an Empiricist, meaning he believed “causes and effects are discoverable not by reason, but by experience”.[79] Hume later goes onto say that even with the perspective of the past, humanity cannot dictate future events because thoughts of the past are limited, compared to the possibilities for the future. Hume’s separation between Matters of Fact and Relations of Ideas is often referred to as “Hume’s Fork”.[80] Hume explains his theory of Causation and causal inference by division into three different parts. In these three branches he explains his ideas, in addition to comparing and contrasting his views to his predecessors. These branches are the Critical Phase, the Constructive Phase, and Belief.[81] In the Critical Phase, Hume denies his predecessors' theories of causation. Next, Hume uses the Constructive Phase to resolve any doubts the reader may have while observing the Critical Phase. “Habit or Custom” mend the gaps in reasoning that occur without the human mind even realizing it. Associating ideas has become second nature to the human mind. It “makes us expect for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past” [81] However, Hume says that this association cannot be trusted because the span of the human mind to comprehend the past is not necessarily applicable to the wide and distant future. This leads Hume to the third branch of causal inference, Belief. Belief is what drives the human mind to hold that expectancy of the future based on past experience. Throughout his explanation of causal inference, Hume is arguing that the future is not certain to be repetition of the past and the only way to justify induction is through uniformity.

The logical positivist interpretation is that Hume analyses causal propositions, such as "A caused B", in terms of regularities in perception: "A causes B" is equivalent to "Whenever A-type events happen, B-type ones follow", where "whenever" refers to all possible perceptions.[82] In his Treatise of Human Nature, Hume wrote:

power and necessity ... are ... qualities of perceptions, not of objects ... felt by the soul and not perceiv'd externally in bodies.

This view is rejected by skeptical realists, who argue that Hume thought that causation amounts to more than just the regular succession of events.[58] Hume said that when two events are causally conjoined, a necessary connection underpins the conjunction:

Shall we rest contented with these two relations of contiguity and succession, as affording a complete idea of causation? By no means ... there is a necessary connexion to be taken into consideration.

Philosopher Angela Coventry writes that, for Hume, "there is nothing in any particular instance of cause and effect involving external objects which suggests the idea of power or necessary connection" and that "we are ignorant of the powers that operate between objects". However, while denying the possibility of knowing the powers between objects, Hume accepted the causal principle, writing, "I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause."

It has been argued that, while Hume did not think causation is reducible to pure regularity, he was not a fully fledged realist either. Philosopher Simon Blackburn calls this a quasi-realist reading. Blackburn writes that "Someone talking of cause is voicing a distinct mental set: he is by no means in the same state as someone merely describing regular sequences.[88] In Hume's words, "nothing is more usual than to apply to external bodies every internal sensation, which they occasion".

The self[edit]

Empiricist philosophers, such as Hume and Berkeley, favoured the bundle theory of personal identity. In this theory, "the mind itself, far from being an independent power, is simply 'a bundle of perceptions' without unity or cohesive quality". The self is nothing but a bundle of experiences linked by the relations of causation and resemblance; or, more accurately, that the empirically warranted idea of the self is just the idea of such a bundle. This view is forwarded by, for example, positivist interpreters, who saw Hume as suggesting that terms such as "self", "person", or "mind" referred to collections of "sense-contents". A modern-day version of the bundle theory of the mind has been advanced by Derek Parfit in his Reasons and Persons.

However, some philosophers have criticised Hume's bundle-theory interpretation of personal identity. They argue that distinct selves can have perceptions that stand in relations of similarity and causality with one another. Thus, perceptions must already come parcelled into distinct "bundles" before they can be associated according to the relations of similarity and causality. In other words, the mind must already possess a unity that cannot be generated, or constituted, by these relations alone. Since the bundle-theory interpretation portrays Hume as answering an ontological question, philosophers, like Galen Strawson, who see Hume as not very concerned with such questions have queried whether the view is really Hume's. Instead, it is suggested by Strawson that Hume might have been answering an epistemological question about the causal origin of our concept of the self. In the Appendix to the Treatise, Hume declares himself dissatisfied with his earlier account of personal identity in Book 1. Philosopher Corliss Swain notes that "Commentators agree that if Hume did find some new problem" when he reviewed the section on personal identity, "he wasn't forthcoming about its nature in the Appendix." One interpretation of Hume's view of the self has been argued for by philosopher and psychologist James Giles. According to his view, Hume is not arguing for a bundle theory, which is a form of reductionism, but rather for an eliminative view of the self. That is, rather than reducing the self to a bundle of perceptions, Hume is rejecting the idea of the self altogether. On this interpretation, Hume is proposing a "no-self theory" and thus has much in common with Buddhist thought. On this point, psychologist Alison Gopnik has argued that Hume was in a position to learn about Buddhist thought during his time in France in the 1730s.

Practical reason[edit]

An essential question of practical reason for Hume was whether or not standards or principles exist (and if they do, what they are) for practical reason, that are also authoritative for all rational beings, dictating people’s intentions and actions. Hume is mainly considered an anti-rationalist, denying the possibility for practical reason as a principle to exist, although other philosophers such as Christine Korsgaard, Jean Hampton, and Elijah Millgram claim that Hume is not so much of an anti-rationalist as he is just a skeptic of practical reason.[98]

Hume denied the existence of practical reason as a principle because he claimed reason does not have any effect on morality, since morality is capable of producing effects in people that reason alone cannot create. As Hume explains in A Treatise of Human Nature (1740): “Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.”[99]

Since practical reason is supposed to regulate our actions (in theory), Hume denied practical reason on the grounds that reason cannot directly oppose passions. As Hume puts it, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Reason is less significant than any passion because reason has no original influence, while "A passion is an original existence, or, if you will, modification of existence".[100]

Practical reason is also concerned with the value of actions rather than the truth of propositions,[101] so Hume believed that reason’s shortcoming of affecting morality proved that practical reason could not be authoritative for all rational beings, since morality was essential for dictating people’s intentions and actions.

Ethics[edit]

See also: is–ought problem

Hume's writings on ethics began in the Treatise and were refined in his An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). His views on ethics are that "[m]oral decisions are grounded in moral sentiment." It is not knowing that governs ethical actions, but feelings. Arguing that reason cannot be behind morality, he wrote:

Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.

Hume's sentimentalism about morality was shared by his close friend Adam Smith,[not in citation given] and Hume and Smith were mutually influenced by the moral reflections of their older contemporary Francis Hutcheson.Peter Singer claims that Hume's argument that morals cannot have a rational basis alone "would have been enough to earn him a place in the history of ethics".

Hume also put forward the is–ought problem, later called Hume's Law, denying the possibility of logically deriving what ought to be from what is. He wrote in the Treatise that in every system of morality he has read, the author begins with stating facts about the world, but then suddenly is always referring to what ought to be the case. Hume demands that a reason should be given for inferring what ought to be the case, from what is the case. This because it "seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others".

Hume's theory of ethics has been influential in modern day meta-ethical theory, helping to inspire emotivism, and ethical expressivism and non-cognitivism,[not in citation given] as well as Allan Gibbard's general theory of moral judgment and judgments of rationality.

Aesthetics[edit]

Hume's ideas about aesthetics and the theory of art are spread throughout his works, but are particularly connected with his ethical writings, and also the essays Of the Standard of Taste and Of Tragedy. His views are rooted in the work of Joseph Addison and Francis Hutcheson. In the Treatise he wrote of the connection between beauty and deformity and vice and virtue,[113] and his later writings on this subject continue to draw parallels of beauty and deformity in art, with conduct and character.

In Of the Standard of Taste, Hume argues that no rules can be drawn up about what is a tasteful object. However, a reliable critic of taste can be recognised as being objective, sensible and unprejudiced, and having extensive experience.Of Tragedy addresses the question of why humans enjoy tragic drama. Hume was concerned with the way spectators find pleasure in the sorrow and anxiety depicted in a tragedy. He argued that this was because the spectator is aware that he is witnessing a dramatic performance. There is pleasure in realising that the terrible events that are being shown are actually fiction. Furthermore, Hume laid down rules for educating people in taste and correct conduct, and his writings in this area have been very influential on English and Anglo-Saxon aesthetics.

Free will, determinism, and responsibility[edit]

Hume, along with Thomas Hobbes, is cited as a classical compatibilist about the notions of freedom and determinism. The thesis of compatibilism seeks to reconcile human freedom with the mechanist belief that human beings are part of a deterministic universe, whose happenings are governed by physical laws. Hume, to this end, was influenced greatly by the scientific revolution and by in particular Sir Isaac Newton. Hume argued that the dispute about the compatibility of freedom and determinism has been continued over two thousand years by ambiguous terminology. He wrote: "From this circumstance alone, that a controversy has been long kept on foot ... we may presume that there is some ambiguity in the expression", and that different disputants use different meanings for the same terms.

Hume defines the concept of necessity as "the uniformity, observable in the operations of nature; where similar objects are constantly conjoined together", and liberty as "a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will". He then argues that, according to these definitions, not only are the two compatible, but liberty requires necessity. For if our actions were not necessitated in the above sense, they would "have so little in connexion with motives, inclinations and circumstances, that one does not follow with a certain degree of uniformity from the other". But if our actions are not thus connected to the will, then our actions can never be free: they would be matters of "chance; which is universally allowed to have no existence". Australian philosopher John Passmore writes that confusion has arisen because "necessity" has been taken to mean "necessary connexion". Once this has been abandoned, Hume argues that "liberty and necessity will be found not to be in conflict one with another".

Moreover, Hume goes on to argue that in order to be held morally responsible, it is required that our behaviour be caused or necessitated, for, as he wrote:

Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil.

Hume describes the link between causality and our capacity to rationally make a decision from this an inference of the mind. Human beings assess a situation based upon certain predetermined events and from that form a choice. Hume believes that this choice is made spontaneously. Hume calls this form of decision making the liberty of spontaneity.

Education writer Richard Wright considers that Hume's position rejects a famous moral puzzle attributed to French philosopher Jean Buridan. The Buridan's ass puzzle describes a donkey that is hungry. This donkey has on both sides of him separate bales of hay, which are of equal distances from him. The problem concerns which bale the donkey chooses. Buridan was said to believe that the donkey would die, because he has no autonomy

An engraving of Hume from the first volume of his The History of England, 1754

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