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David Hume

Hume, David (hyōm) [key], 1711–76, Scottish philosopher and historian. Educated at Edinburgh, he lived (1734–37) in France, where he finished his first philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40). His other philosophical works include An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748; a simplified version of the first book of the Treatise ), An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), Political Discourses (1752), The Natural History of Religion (1755), and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). Hume also wrote an exhaustive History of England (1754–62), whose purity of style overcame the frequent faultiness of fact and made the work the standard history of England for many years. In 1763, Hume returned to Paris as secretary to the British embassy. It was at that time that he became a friend of Jean Jacques Rousseau, to whom he later gave refuge in England. In philosophy Hume pressed the analysis of John Locke and George Berkeley to the logical extreme of skepticism for which he is famous. He could see no more reason for hypothesizing a substantial soul or mind than for accepting a substantial material world. A complete nominalist in his handling of ideas of material objects, he carried the method into the discussion of mind and found nothing there but a bundle of perceptions. Causal relation derives solely from the customary conjunction of two impressions; the apparent sequence of events in the external world is in fact the sequence of perceptions in the mind. From this statement Hume argued that our expectation that the future will be like the past (e.g., that the sun will rise tomorrow morning) has no basis in reason; it is purely a matter of belief. However, he also asserted that such theoretical skepticism is irrelevant to the practical concerns of daily life. Hume's attack on rationalism is also evident in his two works on religion; in these he rejects any rational or natural theology.

See his autobiography (1777); studies by N. K. Smith (1941), J. B. Stewart (1963, repr. 1973), J. Passmore (1968), and J. Noxon (1973).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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