Moral and Political Philosophy

Moral and Political Philosophy

Moral and Political Philosophy

Moral and Political Philosophy

Excerpt

David Hume's career was in most respects unusually fortunate. Rarely has there been a more admirable congruence of aspiration and achievement, of personal endowment and outward circumstance. Even occasional disappointments, such as his failure to secure a university professorship, usually served to preserve in him the unremitting independence of mind and breadth of interest which are among his most salient characteristics.

Hume's qualities both as a philosopher and as a man have not always been given their due. Among the orthodox and liberals alike, the detestation of his ideas spread also to his person. Thomas Jefferson, who with better understanding might have discovered in Hume much to admire, spoke of him contemptuously as "the great apostle of toryism... this degenerate son of science, this traitor to his fellowmen." Others, less vehement, found him "curiously cool" and complacent, more eager to raise doubts concerning the ground of virtue than to sing its praises. Even his natural tendency toward corpulence, which gave rise to the tradition that he was a glutton, somehow seemed to typify the character of a man who was capable of minor vices, but otherwise deficient in the normal complement of human sentiments and passions. In short, there has been perpetuated among his detractors the legend of a person lacking in the high seriousness that ought to characterize a true philosopher: a precocious youth who failed to realize his full promise; a man who, having produced his one original work before the age of thirty, gradually lapsed into a rich, barren, and rather: frivolous old age.

What shall be said of this representation of Hume? In the first place, I think we must say that there was a grain of truth in it, although not more. Hume was clearly not a person who felt violently about most things. He was, in a phrase which was used to describe his period but fits Hume much better, a man "more curious than devout." But precisely because of this, there appears throughout his work a . . .

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