A Blupete Biography Page

The Life & Works of

David Hume

1 From the letters of David Hume, as quoted by John B. Stewart in his work, The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963) at fn 16, p. 343.

2 I should think there have been a vast number of works written on Hume including those done by Greig (1931) and Mossner (1943 & 1954). There is a "short and witty" autobiography. The exclusive works on Hume that I have on my shelf are The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume by John B. Stewart (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963) and Hume by Nicholas Phillipson (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988). I see from Chambers that T. H. Huxley made a study of Hume's life.

3 I here speak of the men of the Scottish Enlightenment, a period that lasted from 1750 to 1830 and boasts of such luminaries, as: David Hume (1711-76), Adam Smith (1723-1790), Henry Home (Lord Kames, 1696-1782, the jurist), Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746, who asserted, as a philosopher, that our morals are instinctive), Dugald Stewart (1753-1828, mathematician, philosopher and biographer of Adam Smith) and Adam Ferguson (1723-1816, philosopher and historian): all being from the Scottish School, or the Common-Sense School of Philosophy.

4 Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

5 Hume's father "died suddenly in 1713." Phillipson, op. cit., p. 5.

6 Hume spent time in Paris and Rheims; but, apparently, most of his time was spent at La Flèche, in Anjou.

7 To use Hume's words, A Treatise of Human Nature fell "dead born from the press." Phillipson writes that Hume "was bitterly disappointed to find that it was little read outside the sophisticated circle of his Scottish friends ..." (op. cit., p. 9.)

8 The family property, as was invariably the case in those days, was left to his oldest brother.

9 Phillipson writes in his prologue: "[Hume] was that most remarkable of eighteenth-century oddities, an untroubled sceptic who declared war on Christianity by showing that an unbeliever who reflected carefully and systematically on human behaviour as it was evidenced in human life could produce a far more closely textured and coherent account of the principles of human nature than theologians or Christian philosophers. He did so in the belief that it was better to teach human beings to gear their lives to the pursuit of happiness in the world of common life rather than pursue the uncertain and imaginary joys of happiness in a life hereafter."

10 In his double capacity of secretary and aid-de-camp Hume would have worn the uniform of an officer. It should be pointed out, that, unlike Hobbes and Locke, Hume led a comparatively peaceful and quiet life, only slightly disturbed "by the Jacobite rising of 1745, by fairly remote foreign wars, and by the squabbling of the political parties at Westminster." (Stewart, op. cit., p. 7.) He was not drawn into public affairs and was to lead his life pretty much as a solitary writer, up, at least, to his involvement in 1763 with Lord Hertford, when, he went off to Paris to work at the British embassy. After this, in 1766, he accepted a position at the Home Office.

11 Phillipson, op. cit., pp. 12-3.

12 "My Own Life," Essays, vol. I.

13 An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding was Hume's simplified version of his first work which, as we have seen was written by Hume when he was a young man. Phillipson (op. cit., p. 9.) writes that the Treatise "was and remains long, dense and difficult." Strachey [Portraits in Miniature and Other Essays (Chatto & Windus), p. 143] writes that the Treatise was a "masterpiece which contains all that is most important in his thought." And Stewart (op. cit., p. 17) thinks it to be Hume's greatest of his works, though incomplete, some parts unpolished and others not fully developed; it is "a kind of Carcassonne of thought in which the builder had lost his joy, but not before the keep had been completed and the main towers and walls had been erected. ... his later writings are not radically different new undertakings; instead, they can best be understood as applications and extrapolations of the principles set forth in the Treatise."

14 See Strachey, op. cit., at page 147 where that author points out that the virtues of a philosopher are the vices of a historian.

15 Hume's works are readily available, full text, on line: see blupete's links .

16 No matter what the process is, in the search for knowledge, one must start at some point. We start with a guess and try to fit it in with what we know and what we know was likely built up with guess-work; thus, it is argued that all we know is but "a woven web of guesses." But not to despair, for while empirical generalizations, for the most part, are not verifiable, they are, at least, falsifiable. (See Sir Karl Popper.) It was through this process (test, not to prove, but to falsify) that Einstein turned Newtonian physics on its ear.

17 Henry Alphern, An Outline History of Philosophy (Forum House, 1969) at p. 117.

18 Bryan Magee, Popper (London: Fontana/Collins, 1973) at p. 20.

19 Reported by Hume in his History of England, ch. 65, to have been said by William III, Prince of Orange (1650-1702.)

20 Trevelyan's England Under Queen Anne (London: Longmans, Green; 1948), vol. 1, p. 60 & vol. 2, p. 211.

21 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 81.

22 Stewart, op. cit., sets out a chronological list and breaks down their content of most all of Hume's publish works, at pp. 405-8.

23 Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), pp. 9,14.

24 Political Discourses dealt with the political management of a state which was being transformed by scientific discovery and increased wealth through commerce. This work, Phillipson writes in his prologue, "had established itself at home and abroad as one of the foundation stones of the new and increasingly influential science of political economy, a status it has enjoyed from that to this (1989)."

25 Von Ruville's biography on Pitt (London: Heinemann, 1907) p. 10. The population levels of France and Britain (including Scotland and Ireland) stood out in stark contrast: Britain, nine million; France, 21 million. Each year with her climate and soil, France renewed her riches; England had to do with what she had, and agriculturally it was much, much less. Louis XIV proved to be England's greatest ally as he went about draining France of her resources in order to support his corrupt court.

26 Ashton's An Economic History of England: The 18th Century (London: Methuen, 1969), p. 28.

27 Von Ruville's biography on Pitt, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 258.


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