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David Hume

David Hume David Hume[1†]

David Hume (born David Home; 7 May New Style; 26 April Old Style 1711 – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist[1†]. He is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism[1†]. Hume was born in Edinburgh, Scotland[1†][2†][1†], and he is renowned for his skepticism and philosophical empiricism[1†][3†]. He is ranked among the pioneering contributors to Western Philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment[1†][3†].

Hume conceived of philosophy as the inductive, experimental science of human nature[1†][2†]. Taking the scientific method of the English physicist Sir Isaac Newton as his model and building on the epistemology of the English philosopher John Locke, Hume tried to describe how the mind works in acquiring what is called knowledge[1†][2†]. He concluded that no theory of reality is possible; there can be no knowledge of anything beyond experience[1†][2†].

Despite the enduring impact of his theory of knowledge, Hume seems to have considered himself chiefly as a moralist[1†][2†]. His work has had a profound influence on a number of disciplines, including philosophy, political science, economics, psychology, and history[1†].

Early Years and Education

David Hume was born on May 7, 1711, in Edinburgh, Scotland[2†][1†]. His father, Joseph Home, was the laird of Ninewells, a small estate near the village of Chirnside, about nine miles from Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish side of the border[2†]. His mother, Catherine, was a daughter of Sir David Falconer, president of the Scottish court of session[2†]. Hume’s father died when he was an infant, leaving him and his two older siblings in the care of his mother[2†][4†].

Hume entered the University of Edinburgh at the age of 12[2†][5†], which was customary at the time[2†]. He left the university at the age of 14 or 15 without taking a degree[2†][4†]. Despite being pressed to study law, following the family tradition on both sides, Hume found it distasteful[2†][6†]. Instead, he read voraciously in the wider sphere of letters[2†]. By the age of 18, after attending the University of Edinburgh from 1724 to 1726 and finding law distasteful, he enthusiastically plunged into the study of literature and philosophy[2†][6†].

Hume’s early education and experiences had a profound influence on his philosophical ideas. His rejection of the traditional career path set for him and his pursuit of knowledge laid the foundation for his significant contributions to Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment[2†][5†].

Career Development and Achievements

David Hume’s career was marked by a rejection of the traditional career path set for him and a pursuit of knowledge[1†]. His career began with the publication of A Treatise of Human Nature in 1739-40[1†]. In this work, Hume strove to create a naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature[1†]. He followed John Locke in rejecting the existence of innate ideas, concluding that all human knowledge derives solely from experience[1†]. This placed him with Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and George Berkeley as an empiricist[1†].

Hume argued that inductive reasoning and belief in causality cannot be justified rationally; instead, they result from custom and mental habit[1†]. He proposed that we never actually perceive that one event causes another but only experience the “constant conjunction” of events[1†]. This problem of induction means that to draw any causal inferences from past experience, it is necessary to presuppose that the future will resemble the past, a metaphysical presupposition which cannot itself be grounded in prior experience[1†].

Hume held that passions rather than reason govern human behaviour, famously proclaiming that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions"[1†]. He was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on emotion or sentiment rather than abstract moral principle[1†]. He maintained an early commitment to naturalistic explanations of moral phenomena[1†].

In addition to his philosophical work, Hume served for some years as secretary and then as chargé d’affaires in the British embassy in Paris[1†][6†]. He returned to London in 1766 and worked for a while as undersecretary of state[1†][6†]. In 1769, Hume retired to live with his sister[1†][6†].

Hume’s career was marked by his commitment to empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism, and his work has had a profound influence on a number of disciplines, including philosophy, political science, economics, psychology, and history[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

David Hume’s philosophical works are renowned for their depth and influence. Here are some of his main works:

These works have had a profound impact on a range of fields, from philosophy to economics[2†][8†]. They continue to be studied and revered today for their deep insights into human nature and knowledge[2†][8†].

Analysis and Evaluation

David Hume’s philosophical works have been the subject of extensive analysis and evaluation. His philosophical skepticism and empiricist theory of knowledge have been particularly influential[9†].

Hume systematically applies the idea that ideas and facts come from experience in order to analyze the concepts of space, time, and mathematics[9†][10†]. He insists that if we have no experience of a concept, such as the size of the universe, that concept cannot be meaningful[9†][10†].

In his moral philosophy, Hume rejects the rationalist conception of morality whereby humans make moral evaluations, and understand right and wrong, through reason alone[9†]. Instead, he contends that moral evaluations depend significantly on sentiment or feeling[9†]. Specifically, it is because we have the requisite emotional capacities, in addition to our faculty of reason, that we can determine that some action is ethically wrong, or a person has a virtuous moral character[9†].

Hume’s philosophy is also known for a novel distinction between natural and artificial virtue[9†]. Regarding the latter, we find a sophisticated account of justice in which the rules that govern property, promising, and allegiance to government arise through complex processes of social interaction[9†].

Finally, the overall orientation of Hume’s moral philosophy is naturalistic[9†]. Instead of basing morality on religious and divine sources of authority, Hume seeks an empirical theory of morality grounded on observation of human nature[9†].

Hume’s work continues to be relevant for contemporary philosophers and psychologists interested in topics such as metaethics, the role of sympathy and empathy within moral evaluation and moral psychology, as well as virtue ethics[9†].

Personal Life

David Hume was born on May 7, 1711, in Edinburgh, Scotland[1†]. He was the second son of Joseph Hume, the laird of Ninewells, a small estate near the village of Chirnside[1†][2†]. His mother was Catherine, a daughter of Sir David Falconer, president of the Scottish court of session[1†][2†]. Hume’s father died when he was very young, and he was raised by his mother[1†][11†].

Despite his family’s legal background, Hume developed a passion for philosophy and literature. He attended the University of Edinburgh at the age of 12, a common practice at the time[1†][2†]. Although he initially studied law, he found it unsatisfactory and was drawn to philosophy[1†][3†].

Hume never married and had no children. He was known to have a close circle of friends and was highly regarded by his peers. Despite his controversial philosophical views, Hume’s personal life was relatively uneventful. He was known for his good humor and sociability, qualities that endeared him to his friends and helped him navigate the social circles of 18th-century Scotland.

Conclusion and Legacy

David Hume’s philosophical work has left a significant legacy that continues to influence a wide range of fields and thinkers[12†][1†]. His philosophical empiricism and skepticism have had a lasting impact, particularly his conclusion that no theory of reality is possible and that there can be no knowledge of anything beyond experience[12†][2†].

Hume’s work has influenced utilitarianism, logical positivism, the philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive science, theology, and many other fields[12†][1†]. His theories have shaped modern understandings of induction and scientific method, and his consistent analysis of Cartesian reason has led to a more nuanced understanding of knowledge and expectation[12†][13†].

One of the most notable testaments to Hume’s influence is that Immanuel Kant, another seminal figure in Western philosophy, credited Hume as the inspiration that had awakened him from his "dogmatic slumbers"[12†][1†].

Despite the enduring impact of his theory of knowledge, Hume seems to have considered himself chiefly as a moralist[12†][2†]. His work continues to inspire and challenge thinkers, demonstrating the enduring relevance of his ideas.

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - David Hume [website] - link
  2. Britannica - David Hume: Scottish philosopher [website] - link
  3. FamousPhilosophers.org - David Hume [website] - link
  4. Great Thinkers - A Biography of David Hume [website] - link
  5. The University of Edinburgh - David Hume (1711 – 1776) [website] - link
  6. Britannica Kids - David Hume [website] - link
  7. Britannica - What did David Hume write? [website] - link
  8. SparkNotes - Selected Works of David Hume: Study Guide [website] - link
  9. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its Authors - David Hume: Moral Philosophy [website] - link
  10. SparkNotes - Selected Works of David Hume A Treatise of Human Nature: Book I: "Of the Understanding" Summary & Analysis [website] - link
  11. The Famous People - David Hume Biography [website] - link
  12. Wikiwand - David Hume - Wikiwand [website] - link
  13. Springer Link - Retrieving Liberalism from Rationalist Constructivism, Volume I - Chapter: Retrieving History: The Legacy of David Hume [website] - link
  14. Biography Online - David Hume Biography [website] - link
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