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David Hume (1711–1776)

A major figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, and a major influence on virtually every domain of modern thought, David Hume is most closely associated with the philosophical school of empiricism. An economist and a historian as well as a philosopher, Hume is perhaps most famous for his ideas concerning the limits of inductive reasoning in the establishment of causal laws. Promulgating an epistemology grounded in his theory of the ‘association of ideas’, Hume argued that causality can never be proven as such, but is always the result of a series of associated events or ideas that habit leads us to think form a causal sequence. The implications of Hume’s theory were vast, complicating the question of free will and undermining the attempt to establish religious truth in the experience of ‘miracles’ that run contrary to habitual expectations. Immanuel Kant credited Hume’s radical empiricism, which went beyond the precedents established by John Locke and George Berkeley, for awaking him from his ‘dogmatic slumber’, thus paving the way for a critical philosophy that would transcend the rationalist/empiricist distinction in philosophy. Four of Hume’s essays concerning the political problem of authority are reproduced in the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, with an introduction by Bernard Pautrat. Hume’s project is presented as similar to Machiavelli’s in its presentation of the impossibility of grounding political authority in a set of rational or causal laws extraneous to the phenomenon and experience of authority itself.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Bernard Pautrat, ‘Du sujet politique et de ses intérêts: Note sur la théorie humienne de l’autorité’, CpA 6.5 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
David Hume, ‘Quatre essais politiques sur l’autorité’, CpA 6.6 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • A Treatise of Human Nature (1740), eds. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748), ed. Tom L. Beauchamp. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), ed. Tom L. Beauchamp. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • The History of England (1754–1762), ed. William B. Todd. Indianapolis: Library Classics, 1983.
  • The History of England (1754–1762), ed. William B. Todd. Indianapolis: Library Classics, 1983.
  • Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779), ed. Norman Kemp Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935.
  • The Letters of David Hume, 2 vols, ed. J.Y.T. Greig. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932.