<history of philosophy, biography> soon after completing his studies at Edinburgh, Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) began writing his comprehensive statement of the views he believed would contribute to philosophy no less than Newton's had to science. But the public reception for the three books of his magisterial Treatise of Human Nature (1739) was less than cordial, and Hume abandoned his hopes of a philosophical career in order to support his family as a librarian, historian, diplomat, and political essayist, a course of action he described in the autobiographical My Own Life (1776). Hume's Essays Moral and Political (1741-1742) found some success, and the multi-volume History of England (1754-1762) finally secured the modest livelihood for which he had hoped. Although he spent most of his life trying to produce more effective statements of his philosophical views, he did not live to see the firm establishment of his reputation by the criticisms of Kant and much later appreciation of the logical positivists. The central themes of Book I of the Treatise receive a somewhat more accessible treatment in An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748), a more popular summary of Hume's empiricism. According to Hume, little human knowledge can be derived from the deductively certain relations of ideas. Since the causal interactions of physical objects are known to us only as inherently uncertain matters of fact, Hume argued, our belief that they exhibit any necessary connection (however explicable) can never be rationally justified, but must be acknowledged to rest only upon our acquired habits. In similar fashion, Hume argued that we cannot justify our natural beliefs in the reality of the self or the existence of an external world. From all of this, he concluded that a severe (if mitigated) skepticism is the only defensible view of the world. Hume recast the moral philosophy of the Treatise's Book III in An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). In both texts Hume clearly maintained that human agency and moral obligation are best considered as functions of human passions rather than as the dictates of reason. In the posthumously published Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1780), Hume discussed the possibility of arriving at certain knowledge of god through the application of reason and considered defense of a fideistic alternative. Recommended Reading: Primary sources: David Hume, Philosophical Works, ed. by T. H. Green and T. H. Grose (Longmans, Green, 1874-1875); David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. by Ernest C. Mossner (Viking, 1986); David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. by Anthony Flew (0812690540); David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (Free Press, 1966); David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. by Martin Bell (Penguin, 1990). Secondary sources: The Cambridge Companion to Hume, ed. by David Fate Norton (Cambridge, 1993); Feminist Interpretations of David Hume, ed. by Anne Jaap Jacobson (Penn. State, 2000); Jonathan Bennett, Locke, Berkeley, Hume: Central Themes (Oxford, 1971); Anthony Quinton, Hume (Routledge, 1999); Donald W. Livingston, Hume's Philosophy of Common Life (Chicago, 1984); Barry Stroud, Hume (Routledge, 1981); Terence Penelhum, David Hume: An Introduction to His Philosophical System (Purdue, 1992); George Dicker, Hume's Epistemology and Metaphysics: An Introduction (Routledge, 1998); Harold W. Noonan, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hume on Knowledge (Routledge, 1999); Hume's Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. by Henry David Aiken (Free Press, 1975); James Baillie, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hume on Morality (Routledge, 2000). Additional on-line information about Hume includes: The Hume Archives from James Fieser. Ty Lightner's excellent David Hume Homepage. Justin Broackes's article in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Also see: backgammon, the bundle theory of the self, causality, the cement of the universe, empiricism, English philosophy, the external world, Hume's fork, induction, 'is' and 'ought', natural or scientific laws, miracles, moral philosophy, moral sense, reason as slave of the passions, skepticism about religion, skepticism, Scottish philosophy, sentiments, suicide, sympathy, taste, utility, and virtues. The thorough collection of resources at EpistemeLinks.com. G. J. Mattey's lectures on Hume. An article in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The article in the Columbia Encyclopedia at Bartleby.com. A section on Hume from Alfred Weber's history of philosophy. William Edward Morris's article in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Snippets from Hume in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Marcia L. Homiak's discussion of Hume's Ethics. A paper on Hume's Construal of the Virtues by James Fieser. Bjoern Christensson's brief guide to on-line resources. A brief entry in The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001.
[A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names]
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<ontology, philosophy of science, epistemology> how can one know that (sensory event) A is the cause of some (sensory event) B? Since A and B are distinguishable, we do not think of one being the cause of the other until, through experience, we find constant conjunction between A and B (coupled with "continguity" (closeness) of A and B, and the priority of A to B). This constant conjunction gives rise to a superstition that there is a necessary connection between A and B but this notion is just superstition, in that we might have had a long run of coincidences. Since A and B are separable, and we can conceive them existing apart, there is no purely rational basis for deriving B from A; and appeal to some general principle derived from experience (i.e., the future will be like the past) is not helpful because any such principle suffers from the same problem as "A causes B" -- because this too can be coincidental.
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