If anyone has won the laurel as the contemporary feminist's friend from the past it has been David Hume. Feminists have taken a lively interest in Hume for a variety of reasons. Hume's naming of sentiment as the basis for ethics has been used to support contemporary feminist ethics of care. He has been praised for a non-essentialist social view of personhood that allows women and natives to be included (Sarah Merrill, "A Feminist Use of Hume's Moral Ontology" in Bar On (ed.), Modern Engendering). Hume has been applauded for coming up with a woman-friendly way to think about truth (Genevieve Lloyd in "Hume and the Passion for Truth" in Jacobson (ed.), Feminist Interpretations of David Hume). Even Hume's biases as they surface in aesthetic or moral theory have been recommended as a useful "caution," a way to separate out what is false or true in feminist ethical theory (Marcia Lind, "Indians, Savages, Peasants, and Women" in Bar On (ed.), Modern Engendering). But the most sustained and thoroughgoing presentation and defense of Hume as feminist's friend comes from Annette Baier. In articles and books over a period of decades Baier worked with Hume, weaving her views and his together in a unique style of historical collaboration.
Hume, the radical skeptic, is a staple in the teaching of modern philosophy. His arguments on the failure of reason in the first book of his Treatise of Human Nature are legendary and pivotal in the dramatic plotting of the history of modern philosophy. Like Descartes's dreaming argument, Hume's exposure of the fallacy in basing belief on reason is a standard test for the fledging philosopher, challenging her or him to take a step beyond common sense to appreciate the force of Hume's counter-intuitive skepticism. At a more advanced level, students try to devise answers to that skepticism that preserve knowledge and defend truth.
Baier's Hume was different. Charging that many of her colleagues had read