During these years of private study he began raising serious questions about religion, as he recounts in the following letter:. Although his manuscript book was destroyed, several pages of his study notes survive from his early twenties. During these years of private study, some of which were in France, he composed his three-volume Treatise of Human Nature , which was published anonymously in two installments before he was thirty , The Treatise explores several philosophical topics such as space, time, causality, external objects, the passions, free will, and morality, offering original and often skeptical appraisals of these notions.
Book I of the Treatise was unfavorably reviewed in the History of the Works of the Learned with a succession of sarcastic comments. In and Hume published his two-volume Essays, Moral and Political , which were written in a popular style and were more successful than the Treatise.
The Edinburgh Town Council was responsible for electing a replacement, and critics opposed Hume by condemning his anti-religious writings. Chief among the critics was clergyman William Wishart d.
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In the face of such strong opposition, the Edinburgh Town Council consulted the Edinburgh ministers. Hoping to win over the clergy, Hume composed a point by point reply to the circulating lists of dangerous propositions, which was published as A Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh. The clergy were not swayed, 12 of the 15 ministers voted against Hume, and he quickly withdrew his candidacy. In Hume accepted an invitation from General St Clair to attend him as secretary. He wore the uniform of an officer, and accompanied the general on an expedition against Canada which ended in an incursion on the coast of France and to an embassy post in the courts of Vienna and Turin.
Because of the success of his Essays , Hume was convinced that the poor reception of his Treatise was caused by its style rather than by its content. The work establishes a system of morality upon utility and human sentiments alone, and without appeal to divine moral commands. The same year Hume also published his Political Discourses , which drew immediate praise and influenced economic thinkers such as Adam Smith, William Godwin, and Thomas Malthus.
In Hume sought a philosophy chair at the University of Glasgow, and was again unsuccessful. There, he wrote much of his highly successful six-volume History of England published from to The first volume was unfavorably received, partially for its defense of Charles I, and partially for two sections which attack Christianity. Ultimately, this negative response led Hume to delete the two controversial passages from succeeding editions of the History. The Natural History appeared in , but, on the advice of friends who wished to steer Hume away from religious controversy, the Dialogues remained unpublished until , three years after his death.
“If you can read this sentence, I can prove God exists”
The Natural History aroused controversy even before it was made public. Hume also took this opportunity to alter two particularly offending paragraphs in the Natural History. The essays were then bound with the new title Four Dissertations and distributed in January, In the years following Four Dissertations , Hume completed his last major literary work, The History of England , which gave him a reputation as an historian that equaled, if not overshadowed, his reputation as a philosopher.
In , at age 50, he was invited to accompany the Earl of Hertford to the embassy in Paris, with a near prospect of being his secretary. Among these was Jean Jacques Rousseau who in was ordered out of Switzerland by the government in Berne. Hume offered Rousseau refuge in England and secured him a government pension. In England, Rousseau became suspicious of plots, and publicly charged Hume with conspiring to ruin his character, under the appearance of helping him. Hume published a pamphlet defending his actions and was exonerated. Another secretary appointment took him away from In , at age sixty-five, Hume died from an internal disorder which had plagued him for many months.
After his death, his name took on new significance as several of his previously unpublished works appeared. The first was a brief autobiography, My Own Life , but even this unpretentious work aroused controversy. As his friends, Adam Smith and S.
Again, the response was mixed. Admirers of Hume considered it a masterfully written work, while religious critics branded it as dangerous to religion. Their reception was almost unanimously negative.
Hume begins by dividing all mental perceptions between ideas thoughts and impressions sensations and feelings , and then makes two central claims about the relation between them. That is, for any idea we select, we can trace the component parts of that idea to some external sensation or internal feeling.
This claim places Hume squarely in the empiricist tradition, and he regularly uses this principle as a test for determining the content of an idea under consideration. For example, my impression of a tree is simply more vivid than my idea of that tree. One of his early critics, Lord Monboddo — pointed out an important implication of the liveliness thesis, which Hume himself presumably hides.
Most modern philosophers held that ideas reside in our spiritual minds, whereas impressions originate in our physical bodies. So, when Hume blurs the distinction between ideas and impressions, he is ultimately denying the spiritual nature of ideas and instead grounding them in our physical nature. In short, all of our mental operations—including our most rational ideas—are physical in nature.
Hume goes on to explain that there are several mental faculties that are responsible for producing our various ideas.
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He initially divides ideas between those produced by the memory, and those produced by the imagination. The memory is a faculty that conjures up ideas based on experiences as they happened.
For example, the memory I have of my drive to the store is a comparatively accurate copy of my previous sense impressions of that experience. The imagination, by contrast, is a faculty that breaks apart and combines ideas, thus forming new ones. Hume uses the familiar example of a golden mountain: this idea is a combination of an idea of gold and an idea of a mountain. 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. By virtue of resemblance, an illustration or sketch, of a person leads me to an idea of that actual person.
The idea of one apartment in a building leads me to think of the apartment contiguous to—or next to—the first. The thought of a scar on my hand leads me to think of a broken piece of glass that caused the scar. As indicated in the above chart, our more complex ideas of the imagination are further divided between two categories.
Some imaginative ideas represent flights of the fancy, such as the idea of a golden mountain; however, other imaginative ideas represent solid reasoning, such as predicting the trajectory of a thrown ball. The fanciful ideas are derived from the faculty of the fancy , and are the source of fantasies, superstitions, and bad philosophy.
By contrast, sound ideas are derived from the faculty of the understanding— or reason—and are of two types: 1 involving relations of ideas; or 2 involving matters of fact. He dramatically makes this point at the conclusion of his Enquiry :.
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When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?
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Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion Enquiry , Principles of reasoning concerning relations of ideas involving demonstration : 1 resemblance; 2 contrariety; 3 degrees in quality; and 4 proportions in quantity or number.
Principles of reasoning concerning matters of fact involving judgments of probability : 5 identity; 6 relations in time and place; and 7 causation. Human understanding and reasoning at its best, then, involves ideas that are grounded in the above seven principles. In his analysis of these issues in the Treatise , he repeatedly does three things.
First, he skeptically argues that we are unable to gain complete knowledge of some important philosophical notion under consideration. Second, he shows how the understanding gives us a very limited idea of that notion. Third, he explains how some erroneous views of that notion are grounded in the fancy, and he accordingly recommends that we reject those erroneous ideas. 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.
Following the above three-part scheme, 1 Hume skeptically argues that we have no ideas of infinitely divisible space Treatise , 1. He accounts for this erroneous notion in terms of a mistaken association that people naturally make between visual and tactile space Treatise , 1. The idea of time, then, is not a simple idea derived from a simple impression; instead, it is a copy of impressions as they are perceived by the mind at its fixed speed Treatise , 1. The psychological account of this erroneous view is that we mistake time for the cause of succession instead of seeing it as the effect Treatise , 1.