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OSO version 0. University Press Scholarship Online. Sign in. Not registered? Sign up. Hume is mainly considered an anti-rationalist, denying the possibility for practical reason as a principle to exist, although other philosophers such as Christine Korsgaard , Jean Hampton , and Elijah Millgram claim that Hume is not so much of an anti-rationalist as he is just a sceptic of practical reason.

Hume denied the existence of practical reason as a principle because he claimed reason does not have any effect on morality, since morality is capable of producing effects in people that reason alone cannot create. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.

Since practical reason is supposed to regulate our actions in theory , Hume denied practical reason on the grounds that reason cannot directly oppose passions. As Hume puts it, "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. Practical reason is also concerned with the value of actions rather than the truth of propositions, [] so Hume believed that reason's shortcoming of affecting morality proved that practical reason could not be authoritative for all rational beings, since morality was essential for dictating people's intentions and actions.

Hume's writings on ethics began in the Treatise and were refined in his An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals His views on ethics are that "[m]oral decisions are grounded in moral sentiment. Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason itself is utterly impotent in this particular. Hume's moral sentimentalism about morality was shared by his close friend Adam Smith, [] [ not in citation given ] and Hume and Smith were mutually influenced by the moral reflections of their older contemporary Francis Hutcheson.

Hume also put forward the is—ought problem , later called Hume's Law , [] denying the possibility of logically deriving what ought to be from what is.

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He wrote in the Treatise that in every system of morality he has read, the author begins with stating facts about the world, but then suddenly is always referring to what ought to be the case. Hume demands that a reason should be given for inferring what ought to be the case, from what is the case. This because it "seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others". Hume's theory of ethics has been influential in modern-day meta-ethical theory , [] helping to inspire emotivism , [] and ethical expressivism and non-cognitivism , [] [ not in citation given ] as well as Allan Gibbard 's general theory of moral judgment and judgments of rationality.

Hume's ideas about aesthetics and the theory of art are spread throughout his works, but are particularly connected with his ethical writings, and also the essays Of the Standard of Taste and Of Tragedy. His views are rooted in the work of Joseph Addison and Francis Hutcheson. In Of the Standard of Taste , Hume argues that no rules can be drawn up about what is a tasteful object. However, a reliable critic of taste can be recognised as being objective, sensible and unprejudiced, and having extensive experience.

Hume was concerned with the way spectators find pleasure in the sorrow and anxiety depicted in a tragedy. He argued that this was because the spectator is aware that he is witnessing a dramatic performance. There is pleasure in realising that the terrible events that are being shown are actually fiction. Hume, along with Thomas Hobbes, is cited as a classical compatibilist about the notions of freedom and determinism. Hume, to this end, was influenced greatly by the scientific revolution and by in particular Sir Isaac Newton.

He wrote: "From this circumstance alone, that a controversy has been long kept on foot Hume defines the concept of necessity as "the uniformity, observable in the operations of nature; where similar objects are constantly conjoined together", [] and liberty as "a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will". For if our actions were not necessitated in the above sense, they would "have so little in connexion with motives, inclinations and circumstances, that one does not follow with a certain degree of uniformity from the other".

But if our actions are not thus connected to the will, then our actions can never be free: they would be matters of "chance; which is universally allowed to have no existence".


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Once this has been abandoned, Hume argues that "liberty and necessity will be found not to be in conflict one with another". Moreover, Hume goes on to argue that in order to be held morally responsible , it is required that our behaviour be caused or necessitated, for, as he wrote:. Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil.

Hume describes the link between causality and our capacity to rationally make a decision from this an inference of the mind. Human beings assess a situation based upon certain predetermined events and from that form a choice. Hume believes that this choice is made spontaneously. Hume calls this form of decision making the liberty of spontaneity. Education writer Richard Wright considers that Hume's position rejects a famous moral puzzle attributed to French philosopher Jean Buridan.

The Buridan's ass puzzle describes a donkey that is hungry. This donkey has on both sides of him separate bales of hay, which are of equal distances from him. The problem concerns which bale the donkey chooses. Buridan was said to believe that the donkey would die, because he has no autonomy. The donkey is incapable of forming a rational decision as there is no motive to choose one bale of hay over the other.

However, human beings are different, because a human who is placed in a position where he is forced to choose one loaf of bread over another will make a decision to take one in lieu of the other. For Buridan, humans have the capacity of autonomy, and he recognises the choice that is ultimately made will be based on chance, as both loaves of bread are exactly the same. However, Wright says that Hume completely rejects this notion, arguing that a human will spontaneously act in such a situation because he is faced with impending death if he fails to do so.

Such a decision is not made on the basis of chance, but rather on necessity and spontaneity, given the prior predetermined events leading up to the predicament. Hume's argument is supported by modern-day compatibilists such as R. Hobart , a pseudonym of philosopher Dickinson S. Strawson argued that the issue of whether we hold one another morally responsible does not ultimately depend on the truth or falsity of a metaphysical thesis such as determinism.

This is because our so holding one another is a non-rational human sentiment that is not predicated on such theses. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that Hume "wrote forcefully and incisively on almost every central question in the philosophy of religion. Here he argued that the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all derive from earlier polytheistic religions. He also suggested that all religious belief "traces, in the end, to dread of the unknown.

Although he wrote a great deal about religion, Hume's personal views are unclear, and there has been much discussion concerning his religious position. In his treatise on miracles, he attempts to separate historical method from the narrative accounts of miracles. The best theologian he ever met, he used to say, was the old Edinburgh fishwife who, having recognized him as Hume the atheist, refused to pull him out of the bog into which he had fallen until he declared he was a Christian and repeated the Lord's prayer.

However, in works such as Of Superstition and Enthusiasm , Hume specifically seems to support the standard religious views of his time and place. This still meant that he could be very critical of the Catholic Church , dismissing it with the standard Protestant accusations of superstition and idolatry, [] [] as well as dismissing as idolatry what his compatriots saw as uncivilised beliefs. In his Treatise on Human Nature , Hume wrote: "Generally speaking, the errors in religions are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.

Philosopher Paul Russell writes that Hume was plainly sceptical about religious belief, although perhaps not to the extent of complete atheism. He suggests that Hume's position is best characterised by the term "irreligion", [] while philosopher David O'Connor argues that Hume's final position was "weakly deistic ". For O'Connor, Hume's "position is deeply ironic. This is because, while inclining towards a weak form of deism , he seriously doubts that we can ever find a sufficiently favourable balance of evidence to justify accepting any religious position.

One of the traditional topics of natural theology is that of the existence of God , and one of the a posteriori arguments for this is the argument from design or the teleological argument. The argument is that the existence of God can be proved by the design that is obvious in the complexity of the world. The fact that the universe as a whole is a coherent and efficiently functioning system likewise, in this view, indicates a divine intelligence behind it. In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding , Hume wrote that the design argument seems to depend upon our experience, and its proponents "always suppose the universe, an effect quite singular and unparalleled, to be the proof of a Deity, a cause no less singular and unparalleled".

Loeb notes that Hume is saying that only experience and observation can be our guide to making inferences about the conjunction between events. However, according to Hume, "we observe neither God nor other universes, and hence no conjunction involving them. There is no observed conjunction to ground an inference either to extended objects or to God, as unobserved causes. Hume also criticised the argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion In this, he suggested that, even if the world is a more or less smoothly functioning system, this may only be a result of the "chance permutations of particles falling into a temporary or permanent self-sustaining order, which thus has the appearance of design.

A century later, the idea of order without design was rendered more plausible by Charles Darwin's discovery that the adaptations of the forms of life are a result of the natural selection of inherited characteristics. Madden, it is "Hume, rivaled only by Darwin, [who] has done the most to undermine in principle our confidence in arguments from design among all figures in the Western intellectual tradition.

Finally, Hume discussed a version of the anthropic principle , which is the idea that theories of the universe are constrained by the need to allow for man's existence in it as an observer. Hume has his sceptical mouthpiece Philo suggest that there may have been many worlds, produced by an incompetent designer, whom he called a "stupid mechanic". Many worlds might have been botched and bungled throughout an eternity, ere this system was struck out: much labour lost: many fruitless trials made: and a slow, but continued improvement carried on during infinite ages in the art of world-making.

American philosopher Daniel Dennett has suggested that this mechanical explanation of teleology, although "obviously In his discussion of miracles , Hume argues that we should not believe that miracles have occurred and that they do not therefore provide us with any reason to think that God exists.

Hume says that we believe an event that has frequently occurred is likely to occur again, but we also take into account those instances where the event did not occur. Hume wrote:.

A wise man [ In all cases, we must balance the opposite experiments [ Hume discusses the testimony of those who report miracles. He wrote that testimony might be doubted even from some great authority in case the facts themselves are not credible. Although Hume leaves open the possibility for miracles to occur and be reported, he offers various arguments against this ever having happened in history. Furthermore, people by nature enjoy relating miracles they have heard without caring for their veracity and thus miracles are easily transmitted even when false.

Also, Hume notes that miracles seem to occur mostly in "ignorant and barbarous nations" [] and times, and the reason they do not occur in the civilised societies is such societies are not awed by what they know to be natural events. Finally, the miracles of each religion argue against all other religions and their miracles, and so even if a proportion of all reported miracles across the world fit Hume's requirement for belief, the miracles of each religion make the other less likely.

Hume was extremely pleased with his argument against miracles in his Enquiry. He states "I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument of a like nature, which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures. It is a common sense notion of veracity based upon epistemological evidence, and founded on a principle of rationality, proportionality and reasonability.

The criterion for assessing a belief system for Hume is based on the balance of probability whether something is more likely than not to have occurred. Since the weight of empirical experience contradicts the notion for the existence of miracles, such accounts should be treated with scepticism.

Further, the myriad of accounts of miracles contradict one another, as some people who receive miracles will aim to prove the authority of Jesus, whereas others will aim to prove the authority of Muhammad or some other religious prophet or deity. These various differing accounts weaken the overall evidential power of miracles. Despite all this, Hume observes that belief in miracles is popular, and that "The gazing populace [ Critics have argued that Hume's position assumes the character of miracles and natural laws prior to any specific examination of miracle claims, thus it amounts to a subtle form of begging the question.

To assume that testimony is a homogeneous reference group seems unwise- to compare private miracles with public miracles, unintellectual observers with intellectual observers and those who have little to gain and much to lose with those with much to gain and little to lose is not convincing to many. Indeed, many have argued that miracles not only do not contradict the laws of nature, but require the laws of nature to be intelligible as miraculous, and thus subverting the law of nature.

For example, William Adams remarks that "there must be an ordinary course of nature before anything can be extraordinary. There must be a stream before anything can be interrupted". This, in Hume's philosophy, was especially problematic. Little appreciated is the voluminous literature either foreshadowing Hume, in the likes of Thomas Sherlock [] or directly responding to and engaging with Hume- from William Paley, [] William Adams, [] John Douglas, [] John Leland [] and George Campbell , [] among others.

Of Campbell, it is rumoured that, having read Campbell's Dissertation, Hume remarked that "the Scotch theologue had beaten him". Hume's main argument concerning miracles is that miracles by definition are singular events that differ from the established laws of nature. Such natural laws are codified as a result of past experiences. Therefore, a miracle is a violation of all prior experience and thus incapable on this basis of reasonable belief.

However, the probability that something has occurred in contradiction of all past experience should always be judged to be less than the probability that either ones senses have deceived one, or the person recounting the miraculous occurrence is lying or mistaken. Hume would say, all of which he had past experience of. For Hume, this refusal to grant credence does not guarantee correctness.

He offers the example of an Indian Prince, who, having grown up in a hot country, refuses to believe that water has frozen. By Hume's lights, this refusal is not wrong and the Prince "reasoned justly"; it is presumably only when he has had extensive experience of the freezing of water that he has warrant to believe that the event could occur.

So for Hume, either the miraculous event will become a recurrent event or else it will never be rational to believe it occurred. The connection to religious belief is left unexplained throughout, except for the close of his discussion where Hume notes the reliance of Christianity upon testimony of miraculous occurrences.

He makes an ironic remark that anyone who "is moved by faith to assent" to revealed testimony "is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience. From to Hume published The History of England , a 6-volume work, which extends, says its subtitle, "From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in ".


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  • Inspired by Voltaire 's sense of the breadth of history, Hume widened the focus of the field away from merely kings, parliaments, and armies, to literature and science as well. He argued that the quest for liberty was the highest standard for judging the past, and concluded that after considerable fluctuation, England at the time of his writing had achieved "the most entire system of liberty that was ever known amongst mankind". In its own day, moreover, it was an innovation, soaring high above its very few predecessors. In this work, Hume uses history to tell the story of the rise of England and what led to its greatness and the disastrous effects that religion has had on its progress.

    For Hume, the history of England's rise may give a template for others who would also like to rise to its current greatness. Hume's The History of England was profoundly impacted by his Scottish background. The science of sociology, which is rooted in Scottish thinking of the eighteenth century, had never before been applied to British philosophical history. Because of his Scottish background, Hume was able to bring an outsider's lens to English history that the insulated English whigs lacked.

    Hume's coverage of the political upheavals of the 17th century relied in large part on the Earl of Clarendon 's History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England — Generally, Hume took a moderate royalist position and considered revolution unnecessary to achieve necessary reform. Hume was considered a Tory historian, and emphasised religious differences more than constitutional issues.

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    Laird Okie explains that "Hume preached the virtues of political moderation, but Tory belief that the Stuarts were no more high-handed than their Tudor predecessors". The debate between Tory and the Whig historians can be seen in the initial reception to Hume's History of England. The whig-dominated world of overwhelmingly disapproved of Hume's take on English history.

    In later editions of the book, Hume worked to "soften or expunge many villainous whig strokes which had crept into it. Hume did not consider himself a pure Tory.

    Hume's political discourses

    Before , he was more akin to an "independent whig. Robert Roth argues that Hume's histories display his biases against Presbyterians and Puritans. Roth says his anti-Whig pro-monarchy position diminished the influence of his work, and that his emphasis on politics and religion led to a neglect of social and economic history. Hume was an early cultural historian of science. His short biographies of leading scientists explored the process of scientific change. He developed new ways of seeing scientists in the context of their times by looking at how they interacted with society and each other.

    Hume particularly praised William Harvey , writing about his treatise of the circulation of the blood: "Harvey is entitled to the glory of having made, by reasoning alone, without any mixture of accident, a capital discovery in one of the most important branches of science". The History became a best-seller and made Hume a wealthy man who no longer had to take up salaried work for others. By , there were at least 50 editions as well as abridgements for students, and illustrated pocket editions, probably produced specifically for women.

    It is difficult to categorise Hume's political affiliations. His writings contain elements that are, in modern terms, both conservative and liberal, [] although these terms are anachronistic. Thomas Jefferson banned the History from University of Virginia , feeling that it had "spread universal toryism over the land". If he is anything, he is a Hobbist", a follower of Thomas Hobbes. He also stresses throughout his political essays the importance of moderation in politics: public spirit and regard to the community.

    Throughout the American Revolution, Hume had varying views. For instance, in Hume encouraged total revolt on the part of the Americans. In , he became certain that a revolution will take place and said that he believed in the American principle and wished the British government would let them be.

    Hume's influence on some of the Founders can be seen in Ben Franklin's suggestion at the Philadelphia Convention of that no high office in any branch of government should receive a salary, which is a suggestion Hume made in his emendation of Harrington's Oceana.

    This outlook needs to be seen within the historical context of 18th-century Scotland. Here, the legacy of religious civil war, combined with the relatively recent memory of the and Jacobite risings, fostered in a historian such as Hume a distaste for enthusiasm and factionalism. These appeared to threaten the fragile and nascent political and social stability of a country that was deeply politically and religiously divided. However, he does write that a republic must produce laws, while "monarchy, when absolute, contains even something repugnant to law.

    Hume expressed suspicion of attempts to reform society in ways that departed from long-established custom, and he counselled peoples not to resist their governments except in cases of the most egregious tyranny. My views of things are more conformable to Whig principles; my representations of persons to Tory prejudices. Canadian philosopher Neil McArthur writes that Hume believed that we should try to balance our demands for liberty with the need for strong authority, without sacrificing either.

    McArthur characterises Hume as a "precautionary conservative", [] whose actions would have been "determined by prudential concerns about the consequences of change, which often demand we ignore our own principles about what is ideal or even legitimate.

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    American historian Douglass Adair has argued that Hume was a major inspiration for James Madison 's writings, and the essay " Federalist No. Hume offered his view on the best type of society in an essay titled "Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth", which lays out what he thought was the best form of government. He hoped that, "in some future age, an opportunity might be afforded of reducing the theory to practice, either by a dissolution of some old government, or by the combination of men to form a new one, in some distant part of the world".

    He defended a strict separation of powers , decentralisation , extending the franchise to anyone who held property of value and limiting the power of the clergy. The system of the Swiss militia was proposed as the best form of protection. Elections were to take place on an annual basis and representatives were to be unpaid. Also, if he wishes to improve a constitution, his innovations will take account of the "ancient fabric", in order not to disturb society. In the political analysis of philosopher George Sabine , the scepticism of Hume extended to the doctrine of government by consent. He notes that "allegiance is a habit enforced by education and consequently as much a part of human nature as any other motive.

    In the s, Hume was critical of British policies toward the American colonies and advocated for American independence. He wrote in that "our union with America However, he introduced several new ideas around which the "classical economics" of the 18th century was built. This includes ideas on private property , inflation, and foreign trade.

    In contrast to Locke, Hume believes that private property is not a natural right. Hume argues it is justified, because resources are limited. Private property would be an unjustified, "idle ceremonial", if all goods were unlimited and available freely. Perfect equality would thus lead to impoverishment. David Hume anticipated modern monetarism. First, Hume contributed to the quantity theory and interest rate theory. Hume has been credited with being the first to prove that, on an abstract level, there is no quantifiable amount of nominal money a country needs to thrive.

    He understood that there was a difference between nominal money and real money. Second, Hume has a theory of causation which fits in with the Chicago school "black box" approach. According to Hume, cause and effect are related only through correlation. Hume shared the belief with modern monetarists that changes in the money supply can affect consumption and investments. Lastly, Hume was a vocal advocate of the stability of the private sector. However, Hume also had some non-monetarist aspects to his economic philosophy.

    For example, he had a stated preference for rising prices and thought of government debt as a sort of substitute for actual money. He called government debt "a kind of paper credit. As can be seen, Hume's economic approach resembles his other philosophies in that he does not choose one side indefinitely, but sees gray in the situation [].

    Due to Hume's vast influence on contemporary philosophy, a large number of approaches in contemporary philosophy and cognitive science are today called "Humean. Attention to Hume's philosophical works grew after the German philosopher Immanuel Kant , in his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics , credited Hume with awakening him from his "dogmatic slumber". According to Schopenhauer , "there is more to be learned from each page of David Hume than from the collected philosophical works of Hegel , Herbart and Schleiermacher taken together.

    Ayer , while introducing his classic exposition of logical positivism in , claimed: "The views which are put forward in this treatise derive from Hume's problem of induction was also of fundamental importance to the philosophy of Karl Popper. In his autobiography, Unended Quest , he wrote: "Knowledge This way of looking at the problem made it possible for me to reformulate Hume's problem of induction ". I approached the problem of induction through Hume. Hume, I felt, was perfectly right in pointing out that induction cannot be logically justified.

    The writings of Scottish philosopher and contemporary of Hume, Thomas Reid , were often criticisms of Hume's scepticism. Reid formulated his common sense philosophy in part as a reaction against Hume's views. Hume influenced and was influenced by the Christian philosopher Joseph Butler. Hume was impressed by Butler's way of thinking about religion, and Butler may well have been influenced by Hume's writings. Hume's rationalism in religious subjects influenced, via German-Scottish theologian Johann Joachim Spalding , the German neology school and rational theology , and contributed to the transformation of German theology in the age of enlightenment.

    The "fact that Christianity is contrary to reason According to philosopher Jerry Fodor , Hume's Treatise is "the founding document of cognitive science ". Hume engaged with contemporary intellectual luminaries such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau , James Boswell , and Adam Smith who acknowledged Hume's influence on his economics and political philosophy.

    Isaiah Berlin once said of Hume that "No man has influenced the history of philosophy to a deeper or more disturbing degree. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes that Hume is "[g]enerally regarded as one of the most important philosophers to write in English. His nephew and namesake, David Hume of Ninewells — , was a co-founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in He is buried with his uncle in Old Calton Cemetery. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian. For other people named David Hume, see David Hume disambiguation. Portrait by Allan Ramsay.

    Edinburgh , Scotland , Great Britain. Scottish Enlightenment Naturalism [1] Scepticism Empiricism Foundationalism [2] Conceptualism [3] Indirect realism [4] Correspondence theory of truth [5] Moral sentimentalism Liberalism. Epistemology Metaphysics. Ethics Aesthetics.

    Problem of causation Problem of induction Constant conjunction Bundle theory Association of ideas Is—ought problem Fact—value distinction Impression—idea distinction Hume's fork Deductive and inductive reasoning Science of man Moral sentiments. See also: is—ought problem. Main article: Of Miracles. Key proponents. Types of utilitarianism. Key concepts. Demandingness objection Mere addition paradox Paradox of hedonism Utility monster. Related topics. Rational choice theory Game theory Social choice Neoclassical economics.

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    In modern parlance, demonstration may be termed deductive reasoning , while probability may be termed inductive reasoning. Zalta ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 19 August Zalta, Edward N. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 20 November The Roots of Romanticism 2 ed. Princeton: Princeton U. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.

    The life of David Hume 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Millican, Peter ed.

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    An enquiry concerning human understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press. History and the Enlightenment. Yale University Press. Retrieved 16 March Retrieved 1 June New Letters of David Hume. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. Hume and Isaac de Pinto. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 12 3 , — As also, the letters of the Hon. Walpole, and Mr. D'Alembert, relative to this extraordinary affair. Internet Archive.