David Hume Philosopher, Historian, and Economist Term Paper

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David Hume

Philosopher, historian, and economist David Hume (April 26, 1711 - August 25, 1776) was born in Scotland (Penelhum, 1993). He was seen to be a very prominent figure in history both in the Scottish enlightenment and in Western philosophy. The interest in Hume's work in recent years has become more centered on the philosophical writing that he did, but it was for being a historian that he originally gained some notoriety. His book History of Great Britain was considered to be the standard on English history for over sixty years until T.B. Macaulay published History of England (Norton, 1993).

Historians today predominantly see the Humean philosophy as being a form of very deep skepticism, but there are others that argue that the idea of naturalism is just as important in Hume's thoughts. Humean scholarship, therefore, has tended to go back and forth between individuals that emphasize a more skeptical component and individuals who emphasize a more naturalistic component (Penelhum, 1993). Hume in his early years was very heavily influenced by individuals that dealt with empiricism such as John Locke and George Berkeley, among others (Norton, 1993).

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Throughout much of his life Hume, who was never married, spent some time at his family home in Berwickshire. At 12 years old, he was sent to the University of Edinburgh. Usually, students were not sent there until they were at least 14 (Norton, 1993). Originally, he considered working toward a career in law, but he soon came to have, in his own words, "an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning; and while [my family] fancied I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Vergil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring" (Norton, 1993) He had very little respect for his professors, and in 1735 told a friend that "there is nothing to be learned from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books" (Norton, 1993)

At eighteen Hume made an important philosophical discovery which opened up for him "a new Scene of Thought" (Penelhum, 1993). This then inspired him "to throw up every other Pleasure or Business to apply entirely to it" (Penelhum, 1993).

Term Paper on David Hume Philosopher, Historian, and Economist David Assignment

Despite his excitement with this, however, he never did say what the discovery was. It would seem likely, though, that it was his theory of causality, which was that people's beliefs about the cause and effect in life largely depend upon their sentiment, their custom and their habits, instead of depending upon reason, or upon abstract, timeless, and general Laws of Nature (Penelhum, 1993).

The careers that were open for a poor Scottish man in those days were not many. His only two options were work as a traveling tutor or work sitting on a stool in the office of a merchant, and he chose the latter. In 1734, after he had worked for a few months in Bristol, he went to Anjou, France (Graham, 2004). In that country he enjoyed frequent discourse with Jesuits at the college where Descartes had gained his education. In the four years that he spent there, he laid out a plan for his life and resolved "to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except the improvements of my talents in literature" (Graham, 2004)

While he was there, he also completed a Treatise of Human Nature at the young age of twenty-six (Graham, 2004). Many scholars of today believe the Treatise to be the most important work that Hume created and also one of the most significant books within the history of philosophy, but the public throughout Great Britain originally did not agree. Hume described the public reaction to the publication of his Treatise in 1739-40 by stating that it "fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots. But being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I soon recovered from the blow and prosecuted with great ardor my studies in the country" (Graham, 2004).

After that, he wrote the Abstract.

He decided not to reveal his authorship, and he tried to make this large work become more intelligible by a shortening of it. Even doing this failed to create more interest in the Treatise (Phillipson, 1989). The supreme effort that he undertook in writing the Treatise drove Hume, generally youthful, nearly to insanity. To restore the perspective that he had previously enjoyed, he decided to escape for a while to a more common life (Phillipson, 1989).

After Hume published Essays Moral and Political in 1744, he then applied to be Chair of Ethics and pneumatic philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. His application was rejected. During the Jacobite Rebellion, which took place in 1745, he worked to tutor the Marquise of Annandale (1720-92) who had been officially described as being a "lunatic" (Phillipson, 1989). This arrangement ended in problems after a year. It was at that time that Hume started working on his great historical work the History of Great Britain. It would take him fifteen years to complete it and it ran to over one million words, which were published in six volumes between 1754 and 1762 (Phillipson, 1989).

During that time period Hume was also involved in the Canongate Theatre and associated with Lord Monboddo and others from the Scottish Enlightenment. In 1748 Hume served for three years as the Secretary to General St. Clair, and wrote his Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding during that time. It was later published as an Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Phillipson, 1989).

Hume was later charged with being a heretic, but he was defended by many of his young clerical friends, as they argued that Hume was an atheist and therefore was outside of the Church's jurisdiction (Phillipson, 1989). Despite the fact that he was acquitted, and possibly due to opposition that he faced from Thomas Reid, Hume did not win the Chair of Philosophy at Glasgow. It was only after he returned to Edinburgh in 1752, which he wrote about in My Own Life, that "the Faculty of Advocates chose me their Librarian, an office from which I received little or no emolument, but which gave me the command of a large library" (Phillipson, 1989). It was the having of this library resource that allowed Hume to continue working on his historical research for History.

Although David Hume wrote all of his works in the 18th century, the work that he did remains extremely and surprisingly relevant with respect to philosophical disputes that are addressed today when he is compared to his contemporaries (Penelhum, 1993). A summary and discussion of some of the more influential works of Hume and how he has been influenced by and also influenced other philosophers and their views could include addressing some of the following concerns and issues, generally regarding empiricism.

In David Hume's article on empiricism, he attempts to show how some things that people believe to be real are the product of false knowledge, and there is a difference between things that people perceive to be true and things that actually are true. Hume's theory is that only things that can be proven, such as mathematics, are absolutely true. Other things may seem to be true because something usually happens related to something else, but even though this seems to always be the case there is room for argument in that it does not have to be the case every time, simply because it has happened that way in the past. Hume believes that the only truth is mathematical truth, and that there are many other things in the world that people falsely perceive to be true because they have not subjected those things to an examination that is serious enough to show otherwise (Bongie, 1998).

Hume bases this opinion on the fact that mathematical issues can be proven beyond doubt, but other things are left up to cause and effect. He argues that, while it does seem that there is a relationship between cause and effect, that relationship could change, and the effect would be different in different circumstances. Mathematical things, which Hume believes to be the only things involved in true knowledge, would never change their relationship to something else. It is not in their nature to be able to do this.

They are what they are, and they will stay that way for all time. Hume's theory is a solid one. Mathematics and numbers do not change. They are always the same, and something proven mathematically cannot be wrong. As for cause and effect, Hume is also correct in that respect (Bongie, 1998). There are many cause and effect relationships wherein the effect was somewhat of a surprise, and didn't happen just the way it had in the past, or the way people assumed that it would. There is no way to prove things that are not mathematically based, and therefore Hume's theory holds up… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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