David Hume on Morals, Politics, and Society (Rethinking the Western Tradition)



David Hume on Morals, Politics, and Society (Rethinking the Western Tradition)A Compact And Accessible Edition Of Hume S Political And Moral Writings With Essays By A Distinguished Set Of Contributors A Key Figure Of The Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume Was A Major Influence On Thinkers Ranging From Kant And Schopenhauer To Einstein And Popper, And His Writings Continue To Be Deeply Relevant Today With Four Essays By Leading Hume Scholars Explori

David Hume was a Scottish historian, philosopher, economist, diplomat and essayist known today especially for his radical philosophical empiricism and scepticism.In light of Hume s central role in the Scottish Enlightenment, and in the history of Western philosophy, Bryan Magee judged him as a philosopher widely regarded as the greatest who has ever written in the English language While Hume failed in his attempts to start a university career, he took part in various diplomatic and military missions of the time He wrote The History of England which became a bestseller, and it became the standard history of England in its day.His empirical approach places him with John Locke, George Berkeley, and a handful of others at the time as a British Empiricist.Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature 1739 , Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature In opposition to the rationalists who preceded him, most notably Ren Descartes, he concluded that desire rather than reason governed human behaviour He also argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience He argued that inductive reasoning and therefore causality cannot be justified rationally Our assumptions in favour of these result from custom and constant conjunction rather than logic He concluded that humans have no actual conception of the self, only of a bundle of sensations associated with the self.Hume s compatibilist theory of free will proved extremely influential on subsequent moral philosophy He was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on feelings rather than abstract moral principles, and expounded the is ought problem.Hume has proved extremely influential on subsequent western philosophy, especially on utilitarianism, logical positivism, William James, the philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive philosophy, theology and other movements and thinkers In addition, 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 Immanuel Kant credited Hume with awakening him from dogmatic slumbers.

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10 thoughts on “David Hume on Morals, Politics, and Society (Rethinking the Western Tradition)

  1. Xander says:

    During his twenties, Scottish philosopher David Hume had the idea to write a huge treatise, composed of five volumes, that deals with the Science of Man His plan was to model his study of human beings on the very successful and influential system of Newton What Newton did for natural science, Hume wanted to accomplish for the science of man Back in the days, this was literally the science of man, since its object of study comprised humanity in all its facets In short what Hume planned to During his twenties, Scottish philosopher David Hume had the idea to write a huge treatise, composed of five volumes, that deals with the Science of Man His plan was to model his study of human beings on the very successful and influential system of Newton What Newton did for natural science, Hume wanted to accomplish for the science of man Back in the days, this was literally the science of man, since its object of study comprised humanity in all its facets In short what Hume planned to do was to empirically study how human beings perceive, think, feel, act, and socialize psychology, morality, politics, even literary criticism In 1739, Hume published the first part of a Treatise of Human Nature, dealing with both human knowledge Volume 1 and human emotions Volume 2 in 1740, he published Volume 3, on morality But as Hume himself wrote, his Treatise fell dead born from the presses , attracting almost no attention After overcoming his initial depressed mood, he decided to abandon the project and deal with the subjects of morality, politics and criticism in shorter essays, to be bundled in one book This is what the Essays Moral, Political and Literary 1758 are a collection of dozens of small essays ranging from economic questions like mercantilism versus free trade to political subjects like analyses of British governments During his time, Hume was mostly known for his Essays and his huge project on the History of England For contemporary readers, Hume is mostly known for his sceptical and naturalistic philosophy and his penetrating criticisms of religion For centuries after his death in 1776, Hume was barely read, and it was only in the middle of the twentieth century that he became a subject of interest in the universities mainly in the Anglo Saxon world This historical context makes the Essays both interesting to understand how his contemporaries saw Hume and what they knew of his ideas and superfluous since most of the interesting stuff was not contained in these essays.I read a couple of essays of him on taste, peace of mind, and economics, but I paid the most attention to two infamous essays On Suicide and On the Immortality of the Soul In On Suicide, Hume sets out to dismantle the customary objections to suicide, labelling it a crime According to Hume, there are three types of objections people usually make 1 suicide is a transgression towards God, 2 towards society especially kin folk , and 3 towards the self He uses most of his text on objecting to 1 , which again shows his critical stance on religion According to Hume, man, as a part of nature, is determined by natural laws, the same laws that govern everything else in the universe i.e matter and motion It cannot be a transgression to disrupt these natural processes, since a fundamental part of human nature is exactly the power to fight against natural laws In the grand scheme of things, the universe or God cares as much for us as about an oyster or a stone But not only is this indifference striking, it is also blatantly absurd to claim natural laws should be obeyed this would mean that any human intervention in the natural world would be an insult to Providence This would reduce the digging of canals, the leaving of the room where I m currently at, and dodging the stone that s about to fall on my head, to the status of insults to Providence Clearly this is not how we perceive things to be Hume sharply remarks that empirical evidence proves the naturalness even goodness of intervening in the natural course of things the onus is on the religious believer to explain why suicide is an exception to this general rule Also, the objection that suicide is a transgression towards society 2 fails Hume claims that someone who steps out of his or her life doesn t do harm, the person stops doing good These are two different things, with the latter being the least hurtful towards society for example, crimes are much worse since they actually harm society Hume s objection to 2 centres around the common conception that we ought to do good to society which clearly is not unlimited Again, he empirically observes that no person can be required to undergoharm than he or she benefits society For example, when people grow old and become a burden in the work force, they cannot be asked to work until they die they retire willingly and respectfully When the scale begins to tip, and I become a burden, or even harm, to society, it can even be honourable let alone acceptable that I end my life For Hume, the happiness calculus if we re allowed to use this anachronistic term is most important certain or highly probably personal future harm, with the loss of net benefit of me to society, is a legitimate argument to commit suicide In other words if I m terminally ill and I know I m about to die in horrible pains, while I cannot do much for society in any way, it is perfectly reasonable to end my life But I believe Hume would even favour a voluntarily chosen termination of life a hot topic in Western Europe nowadays , since in these situations the persons involved receive muchharm than they can benefit society The third objection to suicide, the transgression towards the self 3 , is a contradiction in terms Suicide can never be a transgression towards myself, since if I will it, there is no self to object Suicide is a personal calculation, even if unconsciously made, in which I evaluate the proportionality between future happiness and future suffering These differ per person and per situation, so on a personal level there is no objection to be made Hume s stance on suicide is an example of his empirical method he analyses the facts and induces from these the general way of things Most objections are reasonable, but cut off from the real world religious or moral objections to suicide almost all centre around non existent and or non provable metaphysical concepts, and hence should have no place in a rational discourse on for example suicide It is a fact that a structurally depressed person is not a social asset, neither to herself nor to society Hume simply seems to couple utility with happiness and in this sense is a kind of precursor to later utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.The second essay that drew my attention was the one on the immortality of the soul Hume displays the same method and analysis Again, he distinguishes the different types of arguments for a claim in this case the claim that an immortal soul exists and he refutes them one by one The first type of argument is metaphysical, and is rooted in Cartesian substance dualism According to this line of thought, the mind or soul is substantially different from the body and all other matter in the universe Since the material world, including bodies, is finite, perishable and material, the world of the mind cannot be those things and hence is infinite, immortal and immaterial Hume smartly remarks that empiricism proved the impossibility of the existence of substances All our ideas derive from sense experience and reflection, and there is no sense impression of reflection that correlates with a material substance, hence this concept is empty and feigned by the mind, so to speak Since this argument holds for material substances, it evenso holds for immaterial substances because how do we even perceive immaterial things Also, all attributes which we ascribe to this soul are gradually present in animals as well, so either animals have partial souls which religionists deny or these attributes are emerging properties of bodies which they also deny The second type of argument is moral The typical argument says morality has to do with the soul, since it s the soul that s perfect and hence in need of goodness and happiness, and the body is simply an obstruction to these aims The soul survives our bodily death and it is thus important to secure your happiness by aiming at the next life But Hume reverses it our passions are clearly aimed at this life, and our powers are clearly explained best in terms of our tasks in this life, so this cannot be the object of any reward or punishment in the afterlife Here we see again clear empirical observations of the way things are, dispelling the illusions of abstract reasonings The religious person takes passions that are functional in this life, and transposes them to a hypothetical afterlife, in which they acquire totally different and unprovable roles So the passion between the sexes has a clear function to seek out sex and reproduce Hume simply stops here and rests contented The religious believer not he not so much denies the function of amorous passions, but he sees it as a dangerous bulwark to a rewarding afterlife, and hence views its function as a divinely ordered ordeal we should overcome our biological impulses and this supposedly leads to a reward The believer fails to make clear why we should accept all his hidden assumptions, though He simply takes a natural phenomenon amorous passion , rejects its original function reproduction , and gives it a new function a test But this is, ultimately, an empirical claim, and should empirically be verified the hidden assumptions an afterlife, an immortal soul, God, heavenly reward, etc are never argued for and cannot be derived from sensations or reflections Another sharp criticism of Hume is that all religious conceptions are dichotomous heaven hell, good bad, reward punishment, etc The believer is a radical and loses all nuance, since, as Hume remarks, the greatest part of mankind float between vice and virtue But then, what is morality for Hume It is a product of us reflecting on the interests of society as a whole Morality doesn t prove we have an immortal soul, it proves our sentiments, our moral feelings, are a natural object and serve a purpose Their purpose is to live together with other human beings, and this is founded on sympathy, compassion for our fellows Observations and historical study prove this.The third type of argument is physical Hume claims that physical facts prove the soul is mortal When we sleep we are simply not there many diseases disturb the mind, pointing towards its materiality and finitude and fear of death is a universal emotion, pointing to the finiteness of human life Again, empirical observations show us an immortal soul is senseless In short, Hume claims we have no impressions that justify our ideas of immortal souls while all analogical reasonings fail miserably As far as we know, immortal souls do not exist In both his essays on suicide and the soul, Hume illustrates both his humility and his severity He is sharp in his criticism of senseless and nonsensical concepts, while being humble in his own claims to truth Hume s naturalism makes him explain everything in terms of observations of the way things naturally appear to us, while his scepticism labels his own claims with probableprobable than alternative explanations that use concepts which do not relate to experience I think these essays are a great and lively introduction to Hume s main philosophical doctrines, and they re a real treat for those of us who love literary works Nevertheless, I haven t read all of his essays in this bundle, due to constraints of time, so take this review for what it s worth

  2. Einzige says:

    Just a heads up my review isnt taking into account his essays on religion and suicide as I plan to tackle them separately Ever wondered what noted philosopher David Hume thought about trade deficits and the status of the Jacobite controversy in the 18th century Well boy you are in for a treat.Jokes aside like any collection of works not all of them are equal some are certainly 5 star worthy others less so, my ranking is therefore a rough average The general format he takes is Introduction Just a heads up my review isnt taking into account his essays on religion and suicide as I plan to tackle them separately Ever wondered what noted philosopher David Hume thought about trade deficits and the status of the Jacobite controversy in the 18th century Well boy you are in for a treat.Jokes aside like any collection of works not all of them are equal some are certainly 5 star worthy others less so, my ranking is therefore a rough average The general format he takes is Introduction of an issue description of the issue as it currently exists lengthy and precise comparisons to that issue as it was in ancient Rome Greece conclusion All wrapped up in erudite prose with sprinklings of dry wit Whilst some of the essays are universal lot of them are very specific to the time and place they were published in great if that insight is what you are after and whilst its possible to squeeze out some lessons and useful insight if you are going to that much effort you may as well read fiction Some of the essays I would recommend are Of eloquence The epicurean The stoic The platonist The sceptic Of polygamy and divorcesWould recommend to Humeboos or people who think all literary innovation after Montaigne was a mistake.Bonus quote for reading all this Hume tricking a woman into studying history I remember I was once desired by a young beauty, for whom I had some passion, to send her some novels and romances for her amusement in the country but was not so ungenerous as to take the advantage, which such a course of reading might have given me, being resolved not to make use of poisoned arms against her I therefore sent her PLUTARCH S lives, assuring her, at the same time, that there was not a word of truth in them from beginning to end She perused them very attentively, till she came to the lives of ALEXANDER and C SAR, whose names she had heard of by accident and then returned me the book, with many reproaches for deceiving her

  3. Rodrigo says:

    While I consider Empiricism as a whole to be excessively close minded and fundamentally wrong as a philosophic approach not that it isn t useful it is a vital part of the scientific method, after all , most of Hume s attacks against traditional knowledge are extremely well constructed, and pretty much correct in every way Not only that, they re also hilariously offensive, but only after a little reflection The man was a pro at insulting peoples, races and genders Such subtlety, such delicat While I consider Empiricism as a whole to be excessively close minded and fundamentally wrong as a philosophic approach not that it isn t useful it is a vital part of the scientific method, after all , most of Hume s attacks against traditional knowledge are extremely well constructed, and pretty much correct in every way Not only that, they re also hilariously offensive, but only after a little reflection The man was a pro at insulting peoples, races and genders Such subtlety, such delicate delivery If I had to point one thing I haven t liked about this book, it d be just how disgustingly moderate he is about everything It s like reading Nicomachean Ethics all over again The middle ground this, the middle ground that, the middle ground is always the best because blah, blah, blah Ugh also, he s hilariously wrong when predicting future political developments

  4. John says:

    Absolutely phenomenal This collection containshistory and philosophy than many books of essays three times its size David Hume was a genius Even when I do not agree with his positions, I can find his arguments persuasive and complete Of particular note are On Avarice and On the Meanness of Human Nature

  5. Jiayu says:

    I cannot say to have read the whole book I was assigned particular essays to read for my degree and thus focused upon those that were assigned Nonetheless, I am very inspired by the few which I did read Hume s Essays are clearly meant as timely interventions into the political and moral debates of his time his meticulous and continual process of revising these essays, and the attention which he gives to his interpretations of Ancient Greek and Roman history show that he was keenly aware of I cannot say to have read the whole book I was assigned particular essays to read for my degree and thus focused upon those that were assigned Nonetheless, I am very inspired by the few which I did read Hume s Essays are clearly meant as timely interventions into the political and moral debates of his time his meticulous and continual process of revising these essays, and the attention which he gives to his interpretations of Ancient Greek and Roman history show that he was keenly aware of his purpose and his audience in writing these essays.I am impressed by his political philosophy but perhaps, evenso, by his analysis of political economy and commercial society it is possible to find within these essays, arguments related to inflation, monetary policy, credit, credit bubbles, comparative advantage, free trade, and so on and so forth This makes Hume s arguments against the dominant mercantilist logic of his time, but the fact that his arguments can still resonate in this 21st century where we grapple with the contention between bounded political entities and a seemingly unbounded global economy is truly testament to the strength of his ideas It comes as no surprise that contemporary economics owes its debts to Adam Smith, and Smith in turn has his debts to Hume

  6. Ramanqu says:

    Excellen editorial workmanship.

  7. ZaRi says:

    It is a very comfortable reflection to the lovers of liberty, that this peculiar privilege of Britain is of a kind that cannot easily be wrested from us, but must last as long as our government remains, in any degree, free and independent It is seldom, that liberty of any kind is lost all at once Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes, in order to be received But, if the liberty o It is a very comfortable reflection to the lovers of liberty, that this peculiar privilege of Britain is of a kind that cannot easily be wrested from us, but must last as long as our government remains, in any degree, free and independent It is seldom, that liberty of any kind is lost all at once Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes, in order to be received But, if the liberty of the press ever be lost, it must be lost at once The general laws against sedition and libelling are at present as strong as they possibly can be made Nothing can impose a farther restraint, but either the clapping an Imprimatur upon the press, or the giving to the court very large discretionary powers to punish whatever displeases them But these concessions would be such a bare faced violation of liberty, that they will probably be the last efforts of a despotic government We may conclude, that the liberty of Britain is gone for ever when these attempts shall succeed

  8. Stan says:

    I won t pretend that I am so erudite this all made sense to me Maybe, with time and further study of old classicswill become clear There were portions of this book that were clear, concise, and really profound there were portions that I simply could not understand No doubt differences between the world and English of the mid 1700s and the early 2000s had much to do with it Still I gained much from this reading, enough so to finish the book I ll keep my copy and afterstudy, in a I won t pretend that I am so erudite this all made sense to me Maybe, with time and further study of old classicswill become clear There were portions of this book that were clear, concise, and really profound there were portions that I simply could not understand No doubt differences between the world and English of the mid 1700s and the early 2000s had much to do with it Still I gained much from this reading, enough so to finish the book I ll keep my copy and afterstudy, in a few years perhaps, I ll have another go at this

  9. Lisa says:

    Published 1758 Of the Dignity or Meanness of Human Nature He argues that genuine human virtue is possible By comparing one person to another, we can argue that some have virtue wisdom, beauty, etc Even if that virtue is constrained by a measure of self love and other vices, it s still possible to argue that people have true virtue.

  10. T says:

    Reading for class now along with some of Hume s other works Pretty good reading, interesting historical philosophy

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