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Old 22-12-2007, 11:11 AM   #31
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David Hume (April 26, 1711 – August 25, 1776)[1] was an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian, considered among the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment.

He first gained recognition and respect as a historian, but interest in Hume's work in academia has in recent years centred on his philosophical writing. His History of England[2] was the standard work on English history for sixty or seventy years until Macaulay's.[3]

Hume was the first great philosopher of the modern era to carve out a thoroughly naturalistic philosophy. This philosophy partly consisted in the rejection of the historically prevalent conception of human minds as being miniature versions of the Divine mind; a notion Edward Craig has entitled the ‘Image of God’ doctrine.[4] This doctrine was associated with a trust in the powers of human reason and insight into reality, which powers possessed God’s certification. Hume’s scepticism came in his rejection of this ‘insight ideal’,[5] and the (usually rationalistic) confidence derived from it that the world is as we represent it. Instead, the best we can do is to apply the best explanatory and empirical principles available to the investigation of human mental phenomena, issuing in a quasi-Newtonian project, Hume's ‘Science of Man’.

Hume was heavily influenced by empiricists John Locke and George Berkeley, along with various Francophone writers such as Pierre Bayle, and various figures on the Anglophone intellectual landscape such as Isaac Newton, Samuel Clarke, Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and Joseph Butler.[6]

The intensity of developing this philosophical vision precipitated a psychological crisis in the isolated scholar. Believing that “a more active scene of life” might improve his condition, Hume made “a very feeble trial” in the world of commerce, as a clerk for a Bristol sugar importer. The crisis passed and he remained intent on articulating his “new scene of thought.” He moved to France, where he could live frugally, and finally settled in La Flèche, a sleepy village in Anjou best known for its Jesuit college. Here, where Descartes and Mersenne studied a century before, Hume read French and other continental authors, especially Malebranche, Dubos, and Bayle; he occasionally baited the Jesuits with iconoclastic arguments; and, between 1734 and 1737, he drafted A Treatise of Human Nature.

The careers open to a poor Scottish gentleman in those days were very few. As Hume's options lay between a travelling tutorship and a stool in a merchant's office, he chose the latter. In 1734, after a few months in commerce in Bristol, he went to La Flèche in Anjou, France. He had frequent discourses with the Jesuits of the famous college in which Descartes was educated. During his four years there, he laid out his life plan, resolving "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." [9] While there, he completed A Treatise of Human Nature at the age of twenty-six. Although many scholars today consider the Treatise to be Hume's most important work and one of the most important books in the history of philosophy, the public in Great Britain did not agree at first. Hume himself described the (lack of) public reaction to the publication of the Treatise in 1739-40 by writing 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 ardour my studies in the country". There he wrote the Abstract. [10] Without revealing his authorship, he aimed to make his larger work more intelligible by shortening it. Even this advertisement failed to enliven interest in the Treatise. [11]
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