The Great Infidel: A Life of David Hume

The Great Infidel: A Life of David Hume

The Great Infidel: A Life of David Hume

The Great Infidel: A Life of David Hume


This complete life story of David Hume, one of Scotland's greatest thinkers, follows the Enlightenment from its early roots to its full blossoming in 18th-century Edinburgh. Using original sources, many for the first time, this biography details every aspect of the philosopher's life- from the lukewarm reception of his now pivotal work, Treatise of Human Nature, to the fame and near excommunication brought about by his famous Essays and History. Also detailed are the stories behind his nickname, "The Great Infidel," the numerous guests seeking an invitation to dine at his table, and his lengthy intellectual involvement with a married aristocrat. This work is a well-rounded picture of the man, the century in which he lived, his famous ideas, and above all, his humanity.


This book is the story of the life of one of Scotland's greatest men. It is not an academic critique of his philosophy or an in-depth study of his political economy. Library shelves already groan under the weight of such works.

David Hume was born in Edinburgh on 26th April 1711 and christened as David Home. He died in the same city on 25th August 1776, his life having spanned the greater part of the eighteenth century.

Historians argue, as historians do, over the concept of a 'Long Eighteenth Century' and it is certainly true that the world did not change absolutely on 1st January 1700, nor were the changes complete by 31st December 1799. But the world and its thinking did change out of all recognition throughout that century and David Hume was not only a witness to, but one of the architects of, that change.

The world into which David Hume was born had already begun to witness the events that would separate the modern age from the last vestiges of the Anglo-Norman systems of government introduced over six hundred years before. Edinburgh in 1700 was still stricken by the financial collapse of the Darien Scheme – a lunatic attempt to found a colony in the swamps of Panama. This disaster, however, was of little or no interest to the farming communities which formed the greater part of the Scottish population, since they had already been coping with a drought which had lasted from 1696 and which would culminate in a severe famine in 1709. There were rumblings throughout Scotland about a parliamentary union with England and both countries were coming to terms with the installation of Dutch Protestants as monarchs in Britain.

Professor T.C. Smout has said that during the century 'practically all classes in Scottish society were conscious of a momentum which was carrying them towards a richer society'. The new frontier for the richer society would move north from the English border to the Highland line. 'A harsh and unlovely type of poverty was the common fate; even among the upper classes it was but little tempered by more gracious ways of life.'

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