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22
DAVID HUME

David Hume was born in Edinburgh in 1711 into a strict Scottish Presbyterian family. He was taught at home until the age of twelve, when he entered the University of Edinburgh, where he was to pursue a legal career. Instead he fell in love with philosophy. He lost his religious faith and tended toward skepticism. Still in his early twenties he tried a career in business, but it was not suitable to his personality. He suffered exhaustion and in 1734 he traveled to France and eventually found lodging at La Fleche, Descartes' alma mater. There he argued with the Jesuits about miracles and completed his Treatise on Human Nature. The book was published in England in January 1739, but sold few copies and received very little attention. Hume noted in his autobiography that it “fell dead-born from the press.” Today this work of the youthful Hume is considered one of the classics of philosophy. Encouraged by the success of his work Essays Moral and Political (1741), he decided to revise the Treatise and published it under the title An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding(1748). The entire book is reprinted below. In 1752 Hume became the Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. While in this position he wrote his famous history of England. Hume never married. He was disappointed in love, having been rejected by the woman he proposed to marry—apparently she found him obese and clumsy. He was, nevertheless, a charming man with a good sense of humor, popular at social occasions, modest, mild, and moral, a generous friend. He died of cancer of the bowel on August 25, 1776, the year of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence. Hume's final masterpiece, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, had been written around 1751 but was left unpublished until after his death. Hume apparently thought its critique of religion too dangerous to publish. It appeared in print in 1779. It is reprinted below.


HUME'S THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE

Whereas Descartes was a Rationalist, who believed that reason could discover all truth, especially metaphysical truth, Hume, like Locke, is an Empiricist, who believes that we must start with our perceptions and reason from there. Descartes was a global skeptic, doubting even mathematical truth, whereas Hume is a local skeptic. He does not doubt truths of mathematics or logic as well as commonsense truth (e.g., memory reports and sensory impressions), but he doubts all metaphysical propositions: the existence of God, miracles, the idea of a self, material substance, free will, cause and effect, and induction.

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