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Renae Carpenter

Professor Izrailevsky
Philosophy 1010- Fall Semester
November 25, 2014
David Hume

David Hume was a Scottish philosopher whose skepticism and insistence on empirical
data didnt make him very popular in a time when Christianity prevailed. Hume belongs to the
tradition of British empiricism which means he believes knowledge is based on senseperception. Hume says in the Introduction of his Treatise that our knowledge is limited to
sense-experience, and so offers an empiricism that he argues is more consistent than those of his
British predecessors (Jones 302). His agnostic views where frowned upon, but he was well
respected at the time for his work as a historian, having published History of England. Hume had
a wide scope of interests and made important contributions to theoretical and moral philosophy,
political theory, economics, as well as the study of religion (both historical and doctrinal)
(Quinton 4). His publications include but are not limited to: A Treatise of Human Nature: Being
an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, Essays,
Moral and Political, A True Account of the Behaviour and Conduct of Archibald Steward, late
Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding Three

Essays, Moral and Political, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Political
Discourses, Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, The History of Great Britain, Containing
the Commonwealth and the Reigns of Charles II and James II, Four Dissertations, The History
of England under the House of Tudor, The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius
Caesar to the Accession of Henry VII, The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius
Caesar to the Revolution in 1688, A Concise and Genuine Account of the Dispute between Mr.
Hume and Mr. Rousseau, The Life of David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, The
Natural History of Religion, and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Jones 292). He wrote
about miracles, freedom of will, immortality, and even suicide. It wasnt until after his death that
his intelligence and work as a philosopher became respected (Quinton 5).

Hume was born on April 26, 1711, in Edinburgh, and spent his childhood mostly at
Ninewells, the family estate near Berwick (Quinton 3). He came from a family of good social
standing that was not rich. He was also the second son, and so, he had to have to be prepared to
earn a living. Humes love for learning started early. As a child of twelve, Hume attended
the University of Edinburgh. While being guided by the influence of his family, he considered a
career in law, but found it dull, and wrote that he had, "an insurmountable aversion to everything
but the pursuits of philosophy and general learning; and while [my family] fancied I was poring
over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring"

(Jones 305). Since Hume did not enjoy law school, he returned to Ninewells and began an
intense obsession with intellectual self-development. He read ancient and modern literature,
developed his familiarity of science and languages, and immersed himself in philosophy
(Quinton 3). Philosophies Hume focused on in his own writing included topics such as,
causation, induction, the self, morality, and religion (Quinton 4).
Concerning causation, Hume concludes that we perceive two events that seem to occur
linked together, but there is no way for us to know the totality of their connection. Because of
this, he argues against the notion of cause and effect (Jones 309). He claims that we often assume
that one thing causes another even though it is conceivable that one thing does not cause the
other. Hume asserts that causation is a pattern of association, that when we witness one event
following another, our assumption is that we are observing cause and effect (Jones 309).
According to Hume, causation is assumed but enigmatic and therefore, it is not absolutely certain
there is a first cause (God) (Jones 309).
Hume finds induction (drawing conclusions based on experiences) as something
ambiguous because we may receive new information that is different and contradicts our
previous conclusions (Quinton 15). Induction means we can predict the future based on what
has happened in the past, which we cannot (Jones 335). Hume argues that in the presence of
ignorance of the nature of the association of events, we cannot excuse inductive assumptions. He
comes up with two rationalities to make sense of inductive assumptions, and then argues those

rationalities. The first rationalizing is that it is only logical that the future resembles the past.
Hume pointed out that we can just as easily imagine a world of disorder, so logic cannot
guarantee our inductions (Hume 510). The second rationalizing is that we can assume that
something will continue to happen because it has always happened before (Hume 510). To
Hume, this kind of reasoning lacks a foundation in reason. Hume allows that we can still use
induction, like causation, to function on a daily basis as long as we recognize the limitations of
our knowledge, say Jones (315).

Concerning morality, Humes stance is that our desires motivate us (Quinton 34. He
advocates that the reasoning of the human mind is not the foundation of morality, and that
immorality is immoral because it is displeasing to us, not because it infringes on reason. Jones
points out that, Moral principles appeal to us because they promote our interests and those of
our fellow human beings, with whom we naturally sympathize. In other words, humans are
inclined to approve and support whatever helps society, since we all live in a community and
stand to benefit (316). By discounting reason as a source of morality, Hume angered important
religious figures and who believed that God gave humans reason to use as a tool to discover and
understand moral principles (Jones 318).

Further enraging religious figures with his theories about God, Hume, unlike Thomas
Aquinas, did not think that an orderly universe proves the existence of a grand designer. Hume

argues that if we accept the universe has a design, we cannot know anything about the designer
(Quinton 31). Jones says on Humes behalf, God could be morally ambiguous, unintelligent, or
even mortal (319). Hume says that order would have to appear only as a direct result of design
for this to make sense and points out that we can observe order in many mindless processes,
such as generation and vegetation (Hume 507). The design argument does not prove the
existence of God in the way we conceive him: all-knowing, all-powerful, and entirely beneficent.
The existence of evil, Hume holds, proves that if God exists, God cannot fit these criteria. The
presence of evil suggests God is either all-powerful but not completely good or he is wellmeaning but unable to destroy evil, and so not all-powerful, relays Jones.

Relating to the self, Hume says we cannot be selves, but impressions. He insists that
people think of themselves as constant individuals that exist over time, but no matter how
carefully we examine our own experiences, we are only feelings, senses, and impressions. Hume
theorizes that we can never be directly mindful of ourselves, but only of what we are facing at
any moment (Hume 315). As Jones says, Although the relations between our ideas, feelings,
and so on, may be traced through time by memory, there is no real evidence of any core that
connects them. Hume suggests that the self is just a bundle of perceptions, like links in a chain.
To look for a unifying self beyond those perceptions is like looking for a chain apart from the
links that constitute it (341). Having rejected the concept of identity, Hume attempts to explain

why we think people have identities. First, Hume asserts that we have a predisposition to call
something the same even when it is completely different (Jones 343). He claims that this
inclination is so strong that even philosophers have attempted to explain identity as souls.
Second, Hume has constant experiences of impressions leads us to deduce causation (Jones 343).
Hume adds that it is constant interpretation of cause and effect of objects on our senses that lead
us to surmise identity. The mind then infers that this underlying series of impressions is itself a
persisting individual, causing a union created in the imagination (Quinton 10).

Resources:

David, and Eugene F. Miller. Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary: With an Apparatus of
Variant Readings from the 1889 Edition by T.H. Green and T.H. Grose. Indianapolis:
Liberty Fund, 1987. Print.
Jones, W. T. "Chapter 10." Hobbes to Hume: A History of Western Philosophy. New York:
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969. 297-351. Print.
Quinton, Anthony. Hume. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.