Hume, David

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Hume, David

David Hume was an eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher, historian, and social theorist who influenced the development of skepticism and empiricism, two schools of philosophical thought. Hume's economic and political ideas influenced Adam Smith, the Scottish economist and theorist of modern capitalism, and James Madison, the American statesman who helped shape the republican form of government through his work on the U.S. Constitution.

Hume was born August 25, 1711, in Chirn-side, near Edinburgh, Scotland. He entered Edinburgh University when he was twelve. He left the university after several years of study and attempted to study law. He did not like the subject, and instead read widely in philosophy. In 1729 he suffered a nervous breakdown. After a prolonged recovery, he moved to France in 1734, where he wrote his first work, A Treatise on Human Nature. The book was not published until 1739 and was largely ignored. His next work, Essays, Moral and Political (1741), attracted favorable notice. Throughout the 1740s Hume's religious skepticism doomed his chances for a professorship at Edinburgh University. He spent the decade as a tutor and then as secretary to a Scottish general. During this period he wrote several more works of philosophy, including An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751).

In 1752 he was made librarian of the Faculty of Advocates Library at Edinburgh. From 1754 to 1762, he published his monumental History of England, which for many years was considered the basic text of English history. This work brought him international fame. He later served as secretary to the British counsel in Paris. He died August 25, 1776, in Edinburgh.

"The Heart OF Man IS MADE TO RECONCILE Contradictions."
—David Hume

As a philosopher, Hume espoused a skeptical viewpoint, distrusting speculation. He believed that all knowledge comes from experience and that the mind contains nothing but a collection of perceptions, that all events are viewed and interpreted through the sensations of the mind. He attacked the principle of causality, which states that nothing can happen or exist without a cause. Hume was willing to admit that one event, or set of sense impressions, always precedes another, but he argued that this did not prove that the first event causes the second. A person can conclude that causality exists, but that conclusion is based on belief, not proof. Therefore, a person cannot expect the future to be similar to the past, because there is no rational basis for that expectation.

Like his philosophical beliefs, Hume's essays on politics and economics were influential in his time. Historians have concluded that James Madison read Hume's Essays, Moral and Political and applied some of the ideas from this work while helping write the Constitution and The Federalist Papers. Hume was concerned about the formation of factions based on religion, politics, and other common interests. He concluded that a democratic society needs to prevent factions, which ultimately undermine the government and lead to violence. Madison agreed that factions can divide government but came to the opposite conclusion: the more factions the better. In Madison's view more factions made it less likely that any one party or coalition of parties would be able to gain control of government and invade the rights of other citizens. The system of checks and balances contained in the Constitution was part of Madison's plan for placing some limits on factions.

Further readings

Allan, James. 1999. "To Exclude or Not to Exclude Improperly Obtained Evidence: Is a Humean Approach More Helpful?" University of Tasmania Law Review 18 (October).

Arkin, Marc M. 1995. "'The Intractable Principle': David Hume, James Madison, Religion, and the Tenth Federalist." American Journal of Legal History 39.

Mossner, Ernest Campbell. 2001. The Life of David Hume. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Schmidt, Claudia M. 2003. David Hume: Reason in History. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

Vermeule, Adrian. 2003."Hume's Second-Best Constitutionalism." University of Chicago Law Review 70 (winter).

Cross-references

Hobbes, Thomas; Jurisprudence; Locke, John.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Ryn's critique of moral rationalism, as a pathological condition which permeates the modern world, is one of a family of similar critiques worked out by thinkers as different as Edmund Burke, David Hume, Eric Voegelin, Albert Camus, and Michael Oakeshott.
Although some of the claims made by the authors in this volume may be questioned, in terms of their various attempts to unify the philosophical and historical sides of David Hume, the collection as a whole represents a significant contribution to the growing scholarship on this important aspect of Hume's thought.
(16) But he brazened the whole thing out in a mischievous reply to Hume's letter in which he pretends that the Strictures were citing the opinion of a quite different David Hume, 'a bookseller at Glasgow, who from his employment must be supposed to be well known in the world of letters'.
I believe the David Hume Institute can make a signicant contribution to those debates." |
Quite apart from politics, literature and the arts, those luminaries include (among others): John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, James Dewar, John Boyd Dunlop, Alexander Fleming, James Gregory, Douglas Haig, David Hume, David Livingstone, John McAdam, Robert McAlpine, Charles Macintosh, Adam Smith, Robert Thomson, Robert Watson-Watt and James Watt.
Dawkins was influenced by the eighteenth century Enlightenment philosopher and skeptic David Hume, who questioned the existence of anything that cannot be empirically verified (if I cannot see it, hear it, touch it or taste it, it cannot exist).
Brown and Morris (philosophy, Wesleyan U.) present a comprehensive, introduction to 18th-century Scottish philosopher, David Hume. They chronicle his life, influences, and briefly outline his major contributions to and interests in philosophy.
WORCESTER - Award-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly visited Worcester Art Museum last Sunday.
Original artworks by Herat University students and faculty and photos of Herat by David Hume Kennerly are on display in the consulate foyer.
This article seeks to address this rather neglected issue by examining the complex, often antagonistic relationship between Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) and David Hume's The History of England (1754-62).
Moreover, the essentials of this study--the philosophical background to Hume's economics--are very clearly and succinctly covered in Richard Sturn's longish article on David Hume in the Biographical Dictionary of British Economists (Thoemmes Press, 2004, vol.