Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume (II of II)

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Morals and historical writing

Until his time chronicles and contemporary memoirs had, generally speaking, been all that had been produced; and though his great work cannot, from its frequent inaccuracies and the fact that it is not based upon original documents, claim the character of an authority, its clear, graceful, and spirited narrative style, and its reflection of the individuality of the writer, constitute it a classic, and it must always retain a place among the masterpieces of historical literature. In character Hume was kindly, candid, and good-humoured, and he was beloved as a man even by many who held his views in what was little short of abhorrence.

Cousin, ].

Anonymous Works (1739-45)

Biographical note Philosopher and historian, second son of Joseph Hume, of Ninewells, Berwickshire, was born and educated in Edinburgh, and was intended for the law. Cadell, and sold by T. Cadell jun. Daveis [sic] Other links Wikipedia Google search Search the library Catalogue. With regard to the first issue, Harris suggests that Hume wrote the first Enquiry as a way of repackaging the contents of Book I of the Treatise in the manner of an "essayist" and that Hume's central motivations and aims in this work concern his account of probabilistic reasoning ; cp.

What makes the Enquiry account different, Harris suggests, is not only the manner of delivery qua "essayist" but that in this work Hume also draws out the religious implications of his account of probable reasoning According to Harris however, irreligious themes are not Hume's exclusive or his primary concern in the Enquiry , any more than they were in the Treatise. It should be evident, however, that if the irreligious interpretation of the Treatise is correct and accurate, then Harris's view of Hume's aims and argument in the first Enquiry are also misguided and mistaken.

The fundamental aim of Hume's set of sceptical arguments relating to the limits of human understanding with respect to both demonstrative and probable reasoning is to discredit the whole edifice of Christian theological speculation and metaphysics -- just as Hume's sharp concluding remarks to the first Enquiry plainly suggest. Harris has absorbed little or none of this. When we turn to the various irreligious themes and concerns that Harris does manage to identify and consider, Hume's attitude with regard to religion is presented as one of consistent "moderation", "impartiality" and "detachment", and as lacking any practical aims or agenda of a specifically irreligious nature see, e.

This is a recurrent theme -- if not a dominant theme -- that runs throughout Harris's study. It is of a piece with his general picture of Hume, outlined in his Introduction, as a "philosophical man of letters", whose primary identity rests with his style rather than any particular doctrine or subject matter viii, 2, 15, 18, According to this view, Hume approached all issues and topics, including religion, with a detached and disinterested attitude that excludes any form of passion or practical aspirations or ambitions of any kind.

It excludes, more specifically, any picture of Hume as being aggressively, consistently, and assertively hostile towards religion -- as this would be entirely at odds with the distant and anodyne picture that Harris wants to draw. The difficulty that he faces, throughout his study, is that there is a mountain of recalcitrant evidence, relating to both Hume's texts and context, that tell against this rather drab and insipid view of Hume's character and thought. Although Harris avoids mentioning, much less reviewing, much of this evidence he still has to engage with any number of passages and episodes that tell against it.

One contribution that disturbs Harris's general easy confidence on this subject is Hume's famously harsh and hostile remarks about the clergy in his essay "Of National Characters". These remarks are plainly directly at odds with Harris's preferred picture of Hume as a friend of the "Moderate" clergy who considers all problems and topics of religion in a detached manner and with little or no agitation or animus. The more fundamental problem for Harris is that this is by no means an isolated example -- as many other strongly worded, hostile "outbursts" can be found.

This is especially true with regard to matters of religion, where Hume's language is frequently anything but detached and moderate and veers heavily in the direction of ridicule, sarcasm and, occasionally, invective. Examples of this can be found within Harris's own work see, e. Contrary to the simplified and distorted picture that Harris tries to force upon his readers, Hume was a complex character with complex and variable motivations and attitudes.


Bibliography - David Hume

Although he was, as the more sentimental and overdrawn picture of " le bon David " would suggest, temperamentally moderate and measured in his modes of expression and his dealings with others, Hume was in no way reluctant to bite hard when an appropriate and deserving target came his way. In general, it is a mistake to try and defang as well as deflate Hume's attitude towards religion -- there is simply too much weighty evidence against it. It should be clear, in light of the above, that Harris's study is deeply flawed in respect of its central claims about the structure, content, and development of Hume's thought.


It is also incomplete and unreliable in respect of many of the important details as they concern these matters. It has, nevertheless, some redeeming features. Consistent with his deflationary views concerning the relative importance of the Treatise and Hume's philosophy, Harris devotes a considerable amount of attention and space to Hume's Essays and his History of England e. Harris's commentary is lucid and occasionally illuminating in relation to these works -- he is at his best here. Although we may all agree that these other works are also of some interest and importance, I doubt that Harris's extended discussion and examination of the Essays and History will persuade many that we should join him in rejecting the privileged view or throw weight back onto the contributions of the Essays and History.

On the contrary, interesting and worthwhile as Harris's commentary may be, in places, these works receive an excessive amount of attention and emphasis in relation to Hume's overall contribution and achievements.

Hume, David (1711-1776) (DNB00)

A more balanced intellectual biography would, for example, have much more to say about the Dialogues , which receive slight and superficial treatment in comparison with both the Essays and the History Finally, although this study is dense with details and facts -- sometimes too many, sometimes too few, and sometimes unreliable -- it is still readable and clearly presented. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, these merits do not compensate for the more serious failings and flaws. Contrary to the portrait Harris paints, although Hume certainly cared about his style, and may well have regarded himself as a "philosophical man of letters", he cared about much more than this.

He was, in particular, deeply and systematically concerned with issues and problems of religion -- especially as they concern the corruption of both philosophy and morality. These themes and issues inform much of what motivates and directs Hume's thought. They constitute, moreover, the strong, sturdy spine of Hume's thought and his intellectual achievement. The whole body of Hume's thought, like the Treatise itself, is to a considerable extent shaped, animated and directed by these core concerns and issues. Harris's study systematically obscures and distorts these features of Hume's fundamental motivation and thought and, as such, to use Harris's own language, does "harm" and poses a real "danger" to our understanding and appreciation of Hume's life, work, and achievement.

Harris in various places emphasizes that Hume was on friendly terms with members of the moderate clergy in Scotland, some of who were among his closest friends 22, , n In contrast with this, Harris suggests that there was "little genuine intellectual affinity between Hume and the philosophes " and that Hume had little sympathy with their more "radical" attitudes about religion , This way of contrasting Hume's respective relations with his friends among the moderate clergy in Scotland and the philosophes in France is misleading and oversimplified.

A more balanced assessment would say that Hume enjoyed close friendships in various degrees with members from both groups and that he also had disagreements with both about matters of religion and philosophy. The crucial point is that one thing Hume certainly shared with the philosophes was that he was highly critical of religion -- even if he did not endorse their dogmatic attitudes and stance.

Although Harris is critical of Mossner's biography ix, n48, n there is, generally speaking, much less distance between their accounts than Harris's remarks would seem to suggest. The claims are: Hume's Treatise has no claim to any sort of "privileged" status in relation to Hume's other major works -- which include his Essays and his History of England. There is no system, doctrine, or fundamental aims or ambitions that serve to unify Hume's thought. Irreligious aims and interests are not of any particular or unique importance for Hume's thought. Moreover, whatever irreligious aims and objectives Hume may have had, they reflect his moderate, neutral and detached attitude to this and all other subjects -- there is no underlying animus or hostility against religion that motivates his contributions to this subject.

Hume's thought should be understood and explained not in terms of his concern with some specific subject matter or body of doctrine but rather in terms of his style and his identity as a "philosophical man of letters".

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I In his Introduction Harris claims that there is a deeply entrenched and persisting consensus within Hume scholarship that the philosophy of the Treatise deserves a "privileged" position with respect to our understanding of Hume's thought and the way it has developed II It is particularly ironic, given Harris's aim to deflate the "privileged" status of the Treatise , that his account of Hume's thought and its development depends entirely on the credibility of his own general interpretation of the Treatise.

He used the time to rewrite the Treatise, which he considered rather juvenile. Their publication allowed Hume to return to Edinburgh, where he was appointed keeper of the Advocates' Library in His new position gave him the time and opportunity to write and study.

During - he published his History of England from its invasion by the Roman armies to , a work that became the standard text for many decades. In Hume became secretary to the British embassy in France.

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He enjoyed life in Paris immensely and met the great French thinkers of the time. When he returned to England in he offered Rousseau refuge from persecution, but Rousseau, quite unjustifiably, suspected treason and secretly returned to France, where he painted Hume in a bad light. Hume was forced to publish their correspondence to prove his good intentions. Hume spent the last years of his life in Edinburgh, Scotland, preparing new editions of his works and writing his autobiography.

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    Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume (II of II) Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume (II of II)
    Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume (II of II) Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume (II of II)
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    Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume (II of II) Life and Correspondence of David Hume, Volume (II of II)
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