Hume (1711–1776), Scottish philosopher and historian and, with Adam Smith and Thomas Reid among others, one of the most important figures
in the Scottish Enlightenment. Hume is sometimes regarded
as the third and most radical of the so-called British Empiricists, after John Locke and George Berkeley (though the latter was Irish); this
bracketing of Hume, Locke, and Berkeley, though traditional, is misguided
in a variety of ways, in particular because it ignores the major influence
on Hume of various Francophone writers such as Pierre Bayle and various other figures on the Anglophone
intellectual landscape such as Isaac Newton, Samuel Clarke, Francis Hutcheson, and Joseph Butler. He is most famous for promoting a thoroughgoing
Scepticism—less well-known, however, but just as important,
was his promotion of Naturalism. Trends in Hume historiography have
oscillated between emphasizing the sceptical side of Hume (Reid, Greene,
the logical positivists) and the naturalist side (Kemp-Smith, Stroud,
and to an inane degree Galen Strawson).
was born in Edinburgh and attended the university there. At first he considered
a career in law, but came to have, in his words, “an insurmountable aversion to everything
but the pursuits of philosophy and general learning.”
did some self-study in France, where he also completed A Treatise of Human Nature at
the age of twenty-six. When published in England (1739–40) it
received next to no attention. Hume famously wrote that it “fell dead-born from the press.”
a few years of service to various political and military figures, Hume
returned to his studies. After deciding that the problem with the Treatise
was style not content, he reworked some of the material for more popular
consumption in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. It was not
extremely successful either, but more so than the Treatise.
was turned down for chairs of philosophy in Edinburgh and Glasgow, probably due to charges of atheism.
between philosophical pursuits, Hume did achieve literary fame as an
essayist and historian. Attention to his works grew after Immanuel Kant credited Hume with awakening him from
(1711 - 1776)
was born at Edinburgh on April 26, 1711 the younger son in a good but
not wealthy family. His father, "who passed for a man of parts,"
died when Hume was still a child, and he was brought up by his mother
at the family estate of Ninewells, near Berwick. About 1723 he entered
the University of Edinburgh, and, according to his Autobiography, "passed
through the ordinary course of education with success." His letters
show that when he returned to Ninewells about three years later he had
acquired a fair knowledge of Latin, slight acquaintance with Greek,
and a literary taste inclining to "books of reasoning and philosophy,
and to poetry and the polite authors." His studious disposition
led his family to believe that law was the proper profession for him,
but he "found an insurmountable aversion to everything but the
pursuits of philosophy and general learning; and while they fancied
I was poring upon Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors
which I was secretly devouring."
too "ardent application" to his studies threatened his health,
and in 1734, determined to try a complete change of scene and occupation,
Hume entered a business house in Bristol. In a few months he found "the
scene totally unsuitable," and he set out for France, resolved
"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 improvement of my talents in literature."
He visited Paris, resided for a time at Rheims, and then settled at
La Fleche, where Descartes had gone to school. During his three years
in France he wrote the 'Treatise of Human Nature', and in 1737 returned
to London to attend to its publication. It appeared in three volumes
during 1739-1740. Contrary to his expectations, his first effort "fell
deadborn from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to
excite a murmur among the zealots."
the failure of his book Hume retired to Ninewells and devoted himself
to study, mainly in politics and economics. In 1741 he published the
first volume of his 'Essays, Moral and Political', which enjoyed such
success that a second edition was brought out the following year. At
that time he also issued a second volume of essays. He continued to
look about for a position that would secure him independence, and in
1744 tried hard to obtain the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh.
Failing in this attempt, he accepted the post of tutor to the Marquis
of Annandale, who had been declared a lunatic by the court. Upon his
dismissal a year later, Hume accepted the office of secretary to General
St. Clair, a distant relative, who was engaged in an "expedition
which was at first meant against Canada, but ended in an incursion on
the coast of France." After the failure of this venture he accompanied
the general on a "military embassy to the courts of Vienna and
Surin" on which he "wore the uniform of an Officer and was
introduced at these courts as aide-de-camp to the general." He
remarks that these two years (1746-48), "almost the only interruption
which my studies have received during the course of my life," enabled
him to return to Scotland "master of near a thousand pounds."
his absence from England in 1748 his 'Philosophical Essays' was published.
Afterwards entitled 'An
Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding', it was a recasting of the
first part of the Treatise by which he hoped to gain a larger audience.
But the first reception of the work was little more favourable than
that accorded to the 'Treatise'.
1751 he recast the third book of the 'Treatise' and published it as
'An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals'. That same year he
was again unsuccessful in his attempt to obtain a professor's chair
at Edinburgh, this time as the successor to his friend, Adam Smith,
in the chair of logic. The following year, despite accusations of heresy,
he received the post of librarian at the Advocates' Library, which though
small in salary provided excellent facilities for literary work.
his years as librarian Hume attained his greatest success as a man of
letters. He continued his essays and in 1757 brought out the 'Four Dissertations',
one of which was devoted to the 'Natural History of Religion'. 'The
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion' were also completed, but on the
advice of friends publication was postponed until after his death. Most
of his efforts, however, were devoted to the writing of history, to
which he may have turned his attention because of the success of his
political and economic essays. Adam Smith had recommended that he begin
with Henry VII, but he chose to start with the period of James I, "an
epoch when, I thought, the misrepresentations of faction began chiefly
to take place." Although Hume was disappointed by the reception
of the first volume, which appeared in 1753, his 'History of England'
was well received, and within a few years it brought the author a larger
revenue than had ever before been obtained in his country from literature.
The work was completed by 1761, although Hume continued to revise it
throughout most of the remainder of his life, excising from it all the
"villainous seditious Whig strokes" and "plaguy prejudices
of Whiggism" that he could detect.
"not only independent but opulent . . . and determined never more
to set foot out of" his native country, Hume in 1763 accepted an
invitation to go to Paris as acting secretary of the embassy. For three
years he enjoyed Parisian society. Meeting with men and women of all
ranks and stations, he noted "the more I resiled from their excessive
civilities, the more I was loaded with them." He returned home,
convinced "there is a real satisfaction in living at Paris."
Rousseau accompanied him, persuaded by Hume to seek shelter in England.
The association was of short duration; it ended in a violent and sensational
quarrel for which Rousseau seems to have been largely to blame. Hume,
after serving as undersecretary at the Foreign Office for a year (1767-68),
retired to Edinburgh, where he built himself a new house, and settled
down "with the prospect of enjoying long my ease, and of seeing
the increase of my reputation."
the spring of 1775 Hume was stricken with a troublesome though not painful
illness. Preparing himself for "a speedy dissolution," he
wrote a short autobiography, in which he drew his own character. "I
am," he wrote, "or rather was (for that is the style, I must
now use in speaking of myself; which emboldens me the more to speak
my sentiments) I was, I say, a man of mild dispositions, of command
of temper, and of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment,
but little susceptible of enmity; and of great moderation in all my
passions. Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured
my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments."
visit to Bath in 1776 seemed at first to relieve his sickness, but on
the return journey more alarming symptoms developed, his strength rapidly
sank, and, little more than a month later, he died
in Edinburgh on August 25, 1776
and Place of Birth: 26th April 1711, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Background: Younger son of Joseph Hume, Lord of Ninewells, a small estate
at Chirnside near Berwick-upon-Tweed. His father died when Hume was
two years old.
Edinburgh University. Studied Law.
His passion for literature caused him to abandon his studies of law
at Edinburgh University. To keep himself and in order to try and remove
his depression he decided to move into commerce at Bristol. After a
few months working for a merchant he realised he had no talent for it
and resigned. He then moved to La Fleche in Anjou, France where Renee
Descartes had been educated at the Jesuit College.
Returned home from France in order to arrange for the publication of
his "A Treatise of Human Nature".
Publication of the first two volumes of "A Treatise of Human Nature"
which aroused little attention from the public.
Undeterred he published the third volume "On Morals".
Published "Essays Moral and Political" which was more successful
and had to be brought out in a second edition. These were to be an inspiration
for the economic theories of his friend Adam Smith. Failing to get
a university professorship he remained at his brother's country estate
at Ninewells in Berwickshire.
Again failed to get the post of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University
due to his atheism.
Spent a year acting as a tutor to a mad nobleman, the Marquis of Annandale.
Accompanied General St. Clair on his expedition to France and acted
as his Secretary.
Again accompanied St. Clair. This time on a secret mission to Vienna
and Turin. This was the year that one of his most important works "Philosophical
Essays Concerning Human Understanding" was published, which was
said to inspire the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
A second edition of the "Philosophical Essays" was published.
He was turned down for the post of Professor of Logic at Glasgow University.
Published "Political DIscourses" which he claimed to be the
only work that was successful on publication. Appointed a keeper of
the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, a post which gave him a small income
and enabled him to carry out more historical research.
Began publishing volumes in his large scale work "The History of
England" which gained him international recognition.
Published "Four Dissertations" which were mainly about the
natural history of religion, the passions, suicide and immortality all
though the last two names were hurriedly withdrawn before publication.
The "Philosophical Essays" was republished as "An Enquiry
Concerning Human Understanding"
Acted as Secretary to the English Embassy in Paris where he was received
with great favour by the court and literary society.
(January) He returned to London accompanied by his new friend Jean Jacques
Rousseau, although the two were to fall out famously later in the year.
In the winter he returned to Scotland.
Was recalled to London as Under Secretary of State for the Northern
Finally settled in Edinburgh for good and was the centre of a literary
society, which, although not as dazzling as in Paris, was known for
"Treatise of Human Nature".
"Essays Moral and Political".
"Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding". "The
Adventures of Roderick Random".
"Enquiry Concerning Principles of Morals".
"History of England".
"Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding".
"Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion".
and Place of Death: 25th August 1776, Edinburgh, Scotland
at Death: 65.
of Grave: Old Calton Burial Ground, Waterloo Palace, Edinburgh