1902 Encyclopedia > David Hume

David Hume
Scottish philosopher and historian
(1711-76)




HUME, DAVID (1711-1776), the most subtle metaphysician and one of the greatest historians and political economists of Great Britain, was born at Edinburgh, on the 26th April (O.S.) 1711. His father, Joseph Hume or Home, a scion of the noble house of House of Douglas, was owner of a small estate in Berwickshire, on the banks of the Whitadder, called, from the spring rising in front of the dwelling-house, Ninewells. David was the youngest of a family of three, two sons and a daughter, who after the early death of the father were brought up with great care and devotion by their mother, the daughter of Sir David Falconer, president of the college of justice. She. survived till 1749, long enough to see securely established the foundations of the literary fame of the younger son, for whose powers she seems at one time to have entertained no great respect. "Our Davie," she is reported to have said, perhaps with reference to what seemed his folly in rejecting more lucrative professions than that of literature, "Our Davie’s a fine good-natured crater, but uncommon wake-minded."

Of Hume’s early education little is known beyond what he has himself stated in his Life. He appears to have entered the Greek classes of the university of Edinburgh in 1723, and, he tells us, "passed through the ordinary course of education with success." It is uncertain how long he remained at the university, though a passage in the remarkable letter first printed by Mr Burton fixes this with comparative definiteness.1 "As our college education in Scotland, extending little further than the languages, ends commonly when we are about fourteen or fifteen, I



FOOTNOTE (page 346)

1Burton’s Life, i. 30-39.



was after that left to my own choice in my reading." We may conclude, then, that about the year 1726 Hume returned to Ninewells with a fair knowledge of Latin, slight acquaintance with Greek, and literary tastes decidedly inclining to "books of reasoning and philosophy, and to poetry and the polite authors." He has nowhere given any indications of an explicit character with regard to his reading, or to the works which contributed most in forming his own opinions; and in his writings, save where the subject is of an historical kind, literary references are con-spicuous by their rarity. Yet it seems possible from what we know of the sources open to him, of his own preferences, of the problems with which he first busied himself, and of the general current of his speculations regarding them, to infer with some exactness the course of his studies. It is to be noted that at a very early period of his life the dominant passion had declared itself. The love of literature for its own sake was combined with the keen overmastering desire for a literary reputation. At an unusually early age he had determined for himself his future course, and no induce-ment was strong enough to make him swerve from it. His temperament, on the whole placid and even phlegmatic, readily inclined him to seek as his Mode of life the golden mean, equally removed from such external influences as could distract or disturb contemplative repose. He practised what he taught and learned of the Stoic rules, and was concerned only to obtain such external fortune as would place him above the necessity of wasting his powers on temporary and transient objects. His prudence was as remarkable as his moderation; and his life, on the whole, may be regarded as one of the most perfect and successful instances of constant devotion to literary aims. While he was thus fortunate in choosing early and maturely the object towards which all his industry was to be directed, he was no less fortunate in the selection of the special form of literary work to which he was to devote himself. It is clear that his inclinations at a very early age led him towards the analysis of human nature, from which all his later writings take their origin. Speculation upon the nature and certainty of knowledge, whether in its abstract form, that of mere psychology, or in its more concrete applica-tions, as in theology, seems to have been the earliest occu-pation of his thought; and in this speculation we cannot doubt he was directed largely by the writings of Cicero and Seneca, though the main factor was unquestionably the great English works which had begun to exert their influence at the time. While we trace the matter of Hume’s later reflexions to Locke, Berkeley, and Butler, we must not overlook the great part in his mental develop-ment which is due to the sceptical or academical writings of the earlier thinkers. The philosophical treatises of Cicero were familiar to Hume, whose writings have a colouring undeniably due to this source. The form in which he cast some of the most important of his speculations is an imitation, more or less conscious, of these ancient models.







We see Hume, then, in the years during which the influences that mould a man’s character and career are most actively at work, resolutely devoting himself to a life of literature, possessed by the most intense ambition for litierary fame, and busying himself with reflexion upou those problems of "philosophy and critics" in which, as be found, "nothing was yet established." His means were slender, and it was necessary for him, even in view of his primary object, to endeavour after independence. The first choice of a profession, that of law, made for him by his relatives, who thought it suited to his "studious habits, sobriety, and industry," proved unsuccessful. Although his intellect was acute and practical, yet at this period he was so entirely devoted to the more subtle and speculative problems that law could present nothing beyond a barren waste of technical jargon. While his friends thought "he was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors he was secretly devouring." The intensity of his studies, the agitation due to the novelty of the ideas which began to crowd upon him as he tried to carry out systematically the first principles of human knowledge which he learned from Locke and Berkeley, combined to throw him for a time into a state of physical exhaustion and lassitude. His health was gradually restored by more careful regimen; but, as we learn from the curious diagnosis he made of his own state, the vigour requisite for protracted and connected speculation seemed to have vanished. "I have collected," he writes, the "rude materials for many volumes; but in reducing these to words, when one must bring the idea he comprehended in gross nearer to him, so as to contemplate its minutest parts, and keep it steadily in his eye, so as to copy these parts in order, this I found impracticable for me, nor were my spirits equal to so severe an employment." In these circumstances he determined to try the effect of complete change of scene and occupation. "I resolved to seek out a more active life, and, though I could not quit my pretensions to learning but with my last breath, to lay them aside for some time, in order the more effectually to resume them." The effectual remedy which commended itself to him was the trial of a mercantile, life, and early in 1734 he set out for Bristol, armed with recommendations to some eminent merchants. A residence of a few months was sufficient to convince him that in this attempt at least he had not hit the mark. He found "the scene wholly unsuitable" to him, and about the middle of the year 1734 set out for France, resolved to spend some years in quiet study and retirement. He visited Paris resided for a time at Rheims, and then settled at La Fléche, famous in the history of philosophy as the school of Descartes. His health seems to have been perfectly restored, and during the three years of his stay in France his speculations were worked into systematic form in the Treatise of Human Nature. In the autumn of 1737 be was in London negotiating with publishers and printers regarding the appearance of his great work, and carefully pruning and polishing it in preparation for the judgments of the learned. In January 1739 there appeared the first and second voldmes of the Treatise of Human Nature, being an Attempt to Introduce the Fxperimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, containing book i., Of the Understanding, and book ii., Of the Passions. The third volume, containing book iii., Of Morals, was published in the following year. Few phrases are better known than the laconic sentence in which Hume, looking back on his own life, tells the tale of his first venture. " Never literary attempt was more unfortunate ; it fell dead-born from the press, without reach-ing such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots." "But," he adds, "being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I very soon recovered the blow, and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country." This brief notice, however, is not sufficient to explain the full significance of the event for Hume’s own life. The work undoubtedly failed to do what its author expected from it; even the notice, otherwise not unsatisfactory, which it obtained in the History of the Works of the Learned, then the principal critical journal, did not in the least appreciate the true bearing of the Treatise on the current philosophical and theological discussions. Hume, who had been living in abstractions, to whom the disputes of the time had presented themselves in their real nature as fundamental differences of philosophical analysis, naturally expected that the world would see with as great clearness as he did the connexion between the concrete problems agitat-ing contemporary thought and the abstract principles on which their solution depended. Accordingly he looked for the intensest opposition, and expected that, if his principles

were received, the greatestof revolutions, a change in general conceptions of things, would ensue. Apart from all considerations of personal reputation, which undoubtedly had no small influence on him, he was, therefore, on the eve of the publication of his work, with justice perturbed "at the nearness and greatness of the event." It is true that in

the Treatise there is little or no direct reference to the theological questions which were then prolific in the production of literature, and probably this omission contributed

towards the first failure of the work; but Hume, as before said, is invariably chary of his references, and one cannot doubt that he was himself fully alive to the fact that in his philosophic analysis the matters in debate in the theo-logical world bad been reduced to their purest essence, had been brought back to first principles. Overlooking, then, the obvious fact that nothing is less common than systematic thinking, that the greater portion of opinion rests on the accidents of training, and surroundings rather than on clearly

perceived and rationally tested grounds, he anticipated an immediate and vehement on slaught on his work. His dis-appointment was great in proportion to the height of his expectations; and though he never entirely relinquished his metaphysical speculations, though all that is of value in his later writings depends on the acute analysis of human nature to which he was from the first attracted, one cannot but regret that his high powers were henceforth withdrawn for the most part from the consideration of the foundations of belief, and expended on its practical applications. In later years he was accustomed to explain his want of success as due to the immature style of his early thoughts and exposition, to the rashness of a young innovator in an old and well-established province of literature. "So vast an under taking, planned before I was one-and-twenty, and composed before twenty-five, must necessarily be very defective." The disclaimer of the Treatise in the preface to the Inquiry concerning Human Understandinq is well known. But all this has little foundation beyond the personal irritation of an author at his own failure to attract such attention as he deems his due. None of the principles of the Treatise are given up in the later writings, and no addition was made to them. Nor can the superior polish of the more mature productions overbalance the freshness and concen-trated vigour of' the more youthful work. Hume is at his best in the Treatise; and it is curious to think what might have been the position of British philosophy at the close of the 18th century had the success of his first attempt encouraged him to continue with equal zeal and undivided attention his early metaphysical speculations.

After the publication of the Treatise Hume retired to his brother’s house at Ninewells and carried on his studies, mainly in the direction of politics and political economy, adding to this, however, a wide if not exact reading in classical literature. In 1741 he published the first volume of his Essays, which had a considerable and immediate success. A second edition was called for in the following year, in which also a second volume was published. It is interesting to learn from one of Hume’s letters that Butler, to whom he had sent a copy of his Treatise, but with whom he had failed to make personal acquaintance, warmly com-mended the Essays to all his friends. The philosophical relation between Butler and Hume is one of the curious points in history. So far as analysis of knowledge is concerned both are in thorough harmony, and Hume’s sceptical conclusions regarding belief in matters of fact are the foundations on which Butler’s defence of religion rests. Butler, however, appears to retain, alongside of his destruc-tive theory of knowledge, confidence in the rational proofs for the existence of God, and certainly maintains what may be vaguely described as an a priori view of conscience. It is probable that, though Butier never worked out the system of his belief, his theological principles will be found to rest ultimately on ethical grounds. Hume had the greatest respect for the author of the Analogy, ranks him with Locke and Berkeley as the originators of the experimental method in moral science, and in his specially theological essays, such as that on Particidar Providence and a Future State, has Butler’s views specifically in mind. See BUTLER.

The success of the Essays, though hardly great enough to satisfy the author’s somewhat exorbitant cravings, was a great encouragement to Hume. He began to hope that his earlier and heavier work, if recast and lightened, might share the fortunes of its successor; and at intervals throughout the next four years he occupied himself in reducing its fundamental principles into a more succinct form, and in giving to them all the literary grace at his command. Meantime he continued to look about for some post which might secure him the modest independence he desired. In 1744 we find him, in anticipation of a vacancy in the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh university, moving his friends to do him good offices with the electors; and though, as he tell us, "the accusation of heresy, deism, scepticism, or theism, &c., &c., was started "against him, it had no effect, "being bore down by the contrary authority of all the good people in town." To his great mortification, however, he thought he could discover that Hutcheson and Leechman, with whom he had been on terms of friendly correspondence, were giving the weight of their opinion against the propriety of electing him to such a post. The after history of these negotiations is obscure. Hume in all probability perceived that fortune was against him, and accepted in 1745 a very anomalous post, that of tutor or guardian or keeper to the marquis of Annandale, a harmless literar lunatic. Although the salary paid during the year Hume spent in this capacity "made a consider-able accession" to his fortune, the position was unmistak-ably false and painful. The letters relating to this episode of his life, first printed by Dr Thomas Murray, 1841 (see Burton’s Life, i. ch. v.), are not pleasant reading; and the close of the connexion between Hume and his pupil Ieft the philosopher under the necessity of instituting an action for recovery of arrears due to him. The details of the affair are not sufficiently clear to enable a modern judge to assiom either admiration or blame to Hume’s tenacity in the matter of his rights.

In 1746 Hume accepted the office of secretary to General St Clair, and was a spectator of the ill-fated expedition to France in the autumn of that year. His admirable account of the transaction has been printed by Mr Burton. After a brief sojourn at Ninewells, doubtless occupied in prepar-ing for publication his Philosophical Essays (afterwards entitled An Inquiry concerning Human Understanding), Hume was again associated with General St Clair, and in 1748 accompanied him as secretary in the embassy to Vienna and Turin. The notes of this journey are written in a light and amusing style, showing Hume’s usual keenness of sight in some directions and his almost equal blindness in others. During his absence from England, early in the year 1748, the Philosophical Essays were pub-lished ; but, to his great disappointment, the first reception of the work was little more favourable than that accorded to the unfortunate Treatise. "On my return from Italy," he writes, "I had the mortifleation to find all England in a ferment on account of Dr Middleton’s Free Inquiry, while my performance was entirely overlooked and neglected." To the later editions of the work Hume prepared an "Ad-vertisement" referring to the Treatise, and desiring that the Essays "may alone be regarded as containing his philo-sophical sentiments and principles." Not a few modern critics have accepted this disclaimer as of real value, but in fact it has no significance; and Hume has himself in a striking letter to Gilbert Elliott indicated the true relation of the two works. "I believe the Philosophical Essays contain everything of consequence relating to the under-standing which you would meet with in the Treatise and I give you my advice against reading the latter. By shortening and simplifying the questions, I really render them much more complete. Addo dum minuo. The philosophical principles are the same in both. "The Fssays are undoubtedly written with more maturity and skill than the Treatise; they contain in more detail application of the principles to concrete problems, such as miracles, providence, immortality; but the entire omission of the discussion forming part ii. of the first book of the Treatise, and the great compression of part iv., are real defects which must always render the Treatise the more important work in the history of philosophy.

In 1749 Hume returned to England, enriched with "near a thousand pounds." Two years he spent at Ninewells, and then in 1751 removed to Edinburgh, where for the most part he resided during the next twelve years of his life. These years are the richest so far as literary production is concerned. In 1751 he published his Political Discourses, which had a great and well-deserved success. In the same year appeared the recast of the third book of the Treatise, called Inquiry eoncerning the Principles of Morals, of which he says that "of all his writings, philosophical, literary, or historical, it is incomparably the best." At this time also we hear of the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, a work which Hume was prevailed on not to publish, but which he touched and retouched with the greatest care, and evidently regarded with the greatest favour. The work itself, left by Hume with instructions that it should be published, did not appear till 1779.

In 1751 Hume was again unsuccessful in the attempt to gain a professor’s chair. A candidate unknown to fame then or afterwards was appointed to the chair of logic at Glasgow. In the following year he received the first public preferment that had ever fallen to his lot, the librarianship of the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh, small in emoluments, but rich in opportunity for literary work. His delight was great. In his playful style he writes to Dr Clephane, "I have been ready to burst with vanity and self-conceit this week past, and, being obliged from decorum to keep a strict watch over myself and check all emphasis of that kind, I really begin to find my health injured by it." The usual objections had been raised to his election without avail; but, "what is more extraordinary, the cry of religion could not hinder the ladies from being violently my partisans, and I owe my success in a great measure to their solicitations. One has broke off all commerce with her lover because he voted against me; and W. Lockhart, in a speech to the faculty, said that there was no walking the streets, nor even enjoying one’s own fireside, on account of their importunate zeal. The town says that even his bed was not safe for him, though his wife was cousin-german to my antagonist."

The only work published at this time which requires somewhat special notice is the set of essays called Political Discourses. In these Hume shows greater aptitude for economical inquiries, and makes greater advances in political economy, than any previous writer. Although only a few of the many subjects of discussion are touched upon, the general principles of the science are firmly expressed and illustrated with clearness that leaves nothing to be desired. The fundamental theorem, "everything in the world is purchased by labour, and our passions are the only causes of labour," on which Smith afterwards constructed his more elaborate system, is used as the key to resolve the difficulties regarding the advantages of foreign trade, the causes of the efflux and influx of bullion, the general range of prices in a country, the influence of credit on prices and on trade, the connexion of interest, profits, and the general conditions of industry, and the most economical modes of levying taxes. In many respects the analysis of the complex phenomena of commerce is more sound and thorough than that given in the Wealth of Nations, for Hume never forgets that the ultimate causes of our economic movements are the "customs and manners" of the people, and always finds his solution by referring to the elementary factors of industry. It is curious that on the publication of the Wealth of Nations Hume indicated to Smith that he differed from him regarding the influence of rent on prices, the point from which the later advances of English political economy have taken their start. It is also remarkable that Hume had formed a much sounder judgment than Smith on the merits of the French Econo-mists. In short, the main errors of the Wealth of Nations are to be found in the deviations from the principles of the Political Discouses.





In 1753 Hunie was fairly settled in Edinburgh, enjoying the dignity and delights of householding, and preparing for his new attempt in literature, the History of England.1 He had decided to begin the History, not with Henry VII., as Adam Smith recommended, but with James I., considering, that the political differences and parties of his time took their origin from that period, and that then, as he thought, "the misrepresentations of faction began chiefly to take place." On the whole his attitude in respect to dis-puted political principles seems not to have been at first consciously unfair. "I am sensible," he writes to Clephane, "that the history of the two first Stuarts will be most agreeable to the Tories, that of the two last to the Whigs; but we must endeavour to be above any regard either to "Whigs or Tories." As for the qualities necessary to secure success as a writer on history, he felt that he possessed them in a high degree; and, though neither his ideal of and, historian nor his equipment for the task of historical. re-search would now appear adequate, in both he was much in advance of his contemporaries and predecessors. Naturally then, he was "sanguine in his expectations of the success of his work." "But," he writes in the well-known passage of his Life, miserable was my disappointment. I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation; . . . what was still more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion. Mr Millar told me that in



FOOTNOTES (page 349)

1"About seven months ago," he writes to Dr Clephane, "I got a house of my own, and completed a regular family, consisting of a head, viz., myself, and two inferior members, a maid and a cat. My sister has since joined me, and keeps rne company. With frugality I can reach, I find, cleanliness, warmth, light, plenty, and contentinent. What would you have more? Independence? I have it in a supreme degree. Honour? That is not altogether wanting. Grace? That will come in time. A wife? That is none of the indispensable requisites of life. Books? That is one of them; and I have more than I can use. In short, I cannot find any blessing of consequence which I am not posssessed of in a greater or less degree; and without any great effort of philosophy, I may be easy and satisfied. As there is no happiness without occupation, I have begun a work which will employ me several years, and which yields’ me much satisfaction. ‘Tis a history of Great Britain, from the Union of the Crowns to the present time. I have already finished the reign of King James I. My friends flatter me (by which I mean that they don’t flatter ine) that I have succeeded. You know that there is no post of honour in the English Parnassus more vacant than that of history. Style, judgment, impartiality, care—everything is wanting in our historians; and even Raphi, during this latter period, is extremely deficient. I make my work very concise, after the manner of the ancients. It divides into three very moderate volumes: one to end with. the death of Charles the First; the second at the Revolution; the third at the Accession, for I dare come no nearer the present times. The work will neither please the duke of Bedford nor James Fraser; but I hope it will please you and posterity.

GREEK."



a twelvemonth he sold only forty-five copies of it." This account must be accepted with great qualification. It expresses Hume’s feelings rather than the real facts. In Edinburgh, as we learn from one of his letters, the book succeeded well, no fewer than 450 copies being disposed of in five weeks. Nor is there anything in Hume’s correspondence to show that the failure of the book was so com-plete as he declared it to have been. Within a very few years the sale of the History was sufficient to gain for the author a larger revenue than had ever before been known in his country to flow from literature, and to place him in comparative affluence. At the same time the bitterness of Hume’s feelings and their effect are of importance in his life. It is from the publication of the History that we date the extraordinary virulence of his hatred towards everything English, towards society in London, Whig principles, Whig ministers, and the public generally.1 He was convinced that to be a Scotchman and a Tory was to be an object of contempt and hatred to all Englishmen; and that on the whole there was a conspiracy to suppress and destroy everything that was Scotch.2 As a consequence of these strong feelings, the remainder of the History became little better than a party pamphlet, written with a definite bias and a definite aim. The second volume, published in 1756, carrying on the nar-rative to the Revolution, was better received than the first; but Hume then resolved to work backwards, and to show from a survey of the Tudor period. that his Tory notions were grounded upon the history of the constitution. In 1759 this portion of the work appeared, and in 1761 the work was completed by the history of the pre-Tudor periods. The numerous editions of the various portions,—for, despite Hume’s wrath and grumblings, the book was a great literary success,—gave him an opportunity of careful revision, which he employed to remove from it all the "villainous seditious Whig strokes," and "plaguy prejudices of Whiggism" that he could detect lurking in it. In other words, he bent all his efforts towards making his History more of a party work than it had originally been, and in his effort he was entirely successful. It has been the business of subsequent historians to correct his misre-presentations so far as they referred to the period of which he had fair knowledge, and to supersede his accounts of those periods which his insufficient knowledge disabled him from treating in a manner worthy of him. The early portion of his History may be regarded as now of little or no value. The sources at Hume’s command were few, and he did not even use them all. None the less, the History has a distinct place in the literature of England. It was the first attempt at a really comprehensive and thoughtful treatment of historic facts, the first to introduce the social and literary aspects of a nation’s life as of importance only second to its political fortunes, and. the first historical writing in an animated yet refined and polished style. It has received from later writers its due meed of praise and blame.3

While the History was in process of publication, Hume did not entirely neglect his other lines of activity. In 1757 appeared Four Dissertations: The Natural History of Religion, Of the Passions, Of Tragedy, Of the Standard of Taste, Of these the dissertation on the passions is a very subtle piece of psychology, containing the essence of the second book of the Treatise. It is remarkable that Hume does not appear to have been acquainted with Spinoza’s analysis of the affections. The last two essays are contri-butions of no great importance to aesthetics, a department of philosophy in which Hume was not strong. The Natural History of Religion is a powerful contribution to the deistic controversy; but, as in the case of Hume’s earlierwork, its significance was at the time overlooked. It is an attempt to carry the war directly into a province hitherto allowed to remain at peace, the theory of the general development of religious ideas. Deists, though raising doubts regarding the historic narratives of the Christian faith, had never dis-puted the general fact that belief in one God was natural and primitive. Hume endeavours to show that polytheism was the earliest as well as the most natural form of religious belief, and that theism or deism is the product of reflexion upon experience, thus reducing the validity of the historical argument to that of the theoretical proofs.

In 1763 he accompanied Lord Hertford to Paris, doing the duties of secretary to the embassy, with the prospect of the appointment to that post. He was everywhere received

"with the most extraordinary honours"; in fact, he was "lionized." The society of Paris was peculiarly ready to receive a great philosopher and historian, especially if he were known to be an avowed antagonist of religion. Hume basked in the sunshine of his popularity; but at the same time he made some valuable friendships, especially with D'Alembert and Turgot, the latter of whom admired sincerely and profited much by Hume’s economical essays. In 1766 he left Paris and returned to Edinburgh; but in the following year (1767) he accepted the post of under-secretary to General Conway, and spent two years in London. He settled finally in Edinburgh in 1769, having now through his pension and otherwise the handsome fortune of £1000 a year. The solitary incident of note in this period of his life is the ridiculous quarrel with Rousseau, an episode still amusing, and throwing much light upon the strange character of the great sentimentalist. Hume certainly did his utmost to secure for Rousseau a comfort-able retreat in England, but his usually sound judgment seems at first to have been quite at fault with regard to his protégé. That is surely an amusing likeness which Hume discovered between Rousseau and Socrates; and it is inte-resting to note the conflict between his preconceived opinion



FOOTNOTES (page 350)

(1) "If a man have the misfortune, in the former place (i.e., London), to attach himself to letters, even if he succeeds, I know not with whom he is to live nor how he is to pass his time in a suitable society. The little company there that is worth conversing with are cold and unsoci-able, or are warmed only by faction and cabal; so that a man who plays no part in public affairs becomes altogether insignificant; and, if he is not rich, he becomes even contemptible. Hence that nation are fast relapsing into the deepest stupidity and ignorance."—Burton, ii. 268. "There are fine doings in America. O! how I long to see America and the East Indies revolted, totally and finally—the revenue reduced to half—public credit fully discredited by bankruptcy,—the third of London in ruins, and the rascally mob subdued."—Ib., ii. 417. "Our government has become a chimera, and is too perfect, in point of liberty, for so rude a beast as an Englishman, who is a man, a bad animal too, corrupted by above a century of licentiousness."—Ib., ii. 434.

(2) "The rage and prejudice of parties frighten me; and above all, this rage against the Scots, which is so dishonourable and indeed so infamous to the English nation. We hear that it increases every day without the least appearance of provocation on our part. It has fre-quently made me resolve never in my life to set foot on English ground.—Barton, ii. 265; cf. ii. 148, 238. Perhaps our of Johnson’s sentiments regarding the Scotch in general, and of his expressions regarding Hume, and Smith in particular, may lessen our surprise at this vehemence.

(3) We append the judgment of Macaulay on Hume’s characteristic fault as an historian:—" I Hume is an accomplished advocate. Without positively asserting much more than he can prove, he gives pro-minence to all the circumstances which support his case; he glides lightly over those which are unfavourable to it; his own witnesses are applauded and encouraged; the statements which seem to throw dis-credit on them are controverted; the contradictions into which they fall are explained away; a clear and connected abstract of their evidence is given. Everything that is offered on the other side is scrutinized with the utmost severity; every suspicious circumstance is a ground for argument and invective; what cannot be denied is extenuated, or passed by without notice; concessions even are sometimes made; but this insidious candour only increases the effect of the vast mass of sophistry."—Miscell. Writings, "History." With this may be compared the more favourable verdict by the late Prof. Brewer, in the preface to his edition of the Student’s Hume.



and that which detached circumstances gave him occasion to form. He finds "Rousseau a very modest, mild, well-bred, gentle-spirited, and warm-hearted man as ever I knew in my life," and thinks he "could live with him all his life in mutual friendship and esteem." At the same time he cannot avoid remarking that Rousseau "is a great humorist" (i.e., full of caprices); that though "he intends seriously to draw his own picture in its true colours….nobody knows himself less;" that he would be unhappy in solitude, "as he has, indeed, been always in all situations." The quarrel which all the acquaintances of the two philosophers had predicted soon came, and no language had expressions strong enough for Rousseau’s hatred and distrust of his protector. Hume, it must be admitted, came well

out of the business, and had the sagacity to conclude that, after all, his admired friend was little better than a madman.

In 1769 Hume settled in Edinburgh, and in one of his most delightful letters he gives an animated description of the domestic economy of his later years.1 The house alluded to as that to which he was about to remove was built under his own directions at the corner of what is now called St David Street; and we may picture it to ourselves as being, during the closing period of Hume’s life, the centre of the most lively and cultivated society of Edinburgh. The gay and cheerful temper of the philosopher, his unfailing equanimity, and the solid goodness of his heart had made him many friends, even among those who dissented most from his religious views. The resolute strength with which he pushed speculation to its limits was combined with a perfect gentleness of disposition and an amiability that endeared him to all who had the pleasure of knowing him. He was singularly free from jealousy, and no feature of his character is more attractive than the unfailing cordiality with which he welcomed the literary successes of those who might have been thought his rivals. To Robertson and Smith, his personal friends, he is open and unrestrained in his praise and commendation; and his good services were ever exerted in their cause. To opponents of whose merits he was convinced, to Campbell and Reid, he was cordial and generous. His respect for his own profession led him always to encourage those who had engaged their fortunes in the perilous hazard of literary success, and to extend to them his good offices. For Blackwell and for Smollett, in their misfortunes, he exerted him-self to the utmost. Nor was he without his recompense. During the closing decade of his life he was the acknowledged patriarch of literature; the veneration and respect of his friends, for his character no less than for his abilities, were unbounded. The "gaiety of his temper," says Adam Smith, "so agreeable in society, and which is so often accompanied with frivolous and superficial qualities, was in him certainly attended with the most severe application, the most extensive learning, the greatest depth of thought, and a capacity in every respect the most comprehensive. Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly



FOOTNOTE (page 351)

1 "I live still, and must for a twelvemonth, in my old house in James’ Court, which is very cheerful, and even elegant, but too small to display my great talent for cookery, the science to which I intend to the remaining years of my life! I have just now lying on the table before me a receipt for making soupe á la reine, copied with my own hand; for beef and cabbage (a charming dish), and old mutton, and old claret, nobody excels me. I make also sheep-head broth, in a manner that Mr Keith speaks of it for eight days after; and the Duc de Nivernois would bind himself apprentice to my lass to learn it. I have already sent a challenge to David Moncrief; you will see that in a twelvemonth he will take to the writing of history, the field I have deserted; for, as to the giving of dinners, he can now have no further pretensions. I should have made a very had use of my abode in Paris, if I could not get the better of a mere provincial like him. All my friends encourage me in this ambition, as thinking it will re-dound very much to my honour."



to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit."

In the spring of 1775 Hume was struck with a tedious and harassing though not painful illness. A visit to Bath seemed at first to have produced good effects, but on the return journey northwards more alarming symptoms de-veloped themselves, his strength rapidly sank, and, little more than a month after he had reached Edinburgh, he died (25th August 1776).

No notice of Hume would be complete without the sketch of his character drawn by his own hand:—conclude historically with my own character, I am, or rather was (for that is the style I must now use in speaking of myself, which emboldens me the more to speak my sentinients),—I was, I say, a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation ill all my passions. Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured my temper, notwithstanding my fre-quent disappointments. My company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the studious and literary; and as I took a particular pleasure in the company of modest women, I had no reason to be displeased with the reception I met with from them. In a word, though most men anywise eminent have found reason to complain of calumny, I never was touched, or even attacked, by her baleful tooth; and, though I wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious factions, they seem to be disarmed on my behalf of their wonted fury. My friends never bad occasion to vindicate any one circumstance of my character and conduct; not but that the zealots, we may well suppose, would have been glad to invent and propagate any story to my disadvantage, but they could never find any which they thought would wear the face of proba-bility. I cannot say there is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one and this is a matter of fact which is easily cleansed and ascertained." The more his life has become known, the more confidence we place ill this admirable estimate.

The philosophical writings of Hume, which mark a distinct epoch in the development of modern thought, can here be considered in two only of the many aspects in which they present themselves as of the highest interest to the historian of philosophy. In the Treatise of Human Nature, which is in every respect the most complete exposition of Hume’s philosophical conception, we have the first thorough-going attempt to apply the fundamental principles of Locke’s empirical psychology to the construction of a theory of knowledge, and, as a natural consequence, the first systematic criti-cism of the chief metaphysical notions from this point of view. Hume, in that work holds the same relation to Locke and Berkeley as the late J. S. Mill held with his System of Logic to Hartley and James Mill. In certain of the later writings, pre-eminently in the Dialogues on Natural Religion, Hume brings the results of his speculative criticism to bear upon the problems of current theological discussion, and gives in their regard as previously with respect to general philosophy the final word of the empirical theory in its earlier form. The interesting parallel between Hume and J. S. Mill in this second feature will not be overlooked.





In the first instance, then, Hume’s philosophicial work is to be regarded as the attempt to supply for empiricism in psychology a consistent, that is, a logically developed theory of knowledge. In Locke, indeed, such theory is not wanting, but, of all the many inconsistencies in the Essay on the Human Understanding, none is more apparent or more significant than the complete want of harmony between the view of knowledge developed in the fourth book and the psychological principles laid down in the earlier part of the work. Though Locke, doubtless, drew no distinction between the problems of psychology and of theory of knowledge, yet the discussion of the various forms of cognition given in the fourth book of the Essay seems to be based on grounds quite distinct from and in many respects inconsistent with the fundamental psychological principle of his work. The perception of relations, which, according to him, is the essence of cognition, the demonstrative character which he thinks attaches to our inference of God’s existence, the intuitive knowledge of self, are doctrines incapable of being brought into harmony with the view of mind and its development which is the keynote of his general theory. To some extent Berkeley removed this radical in-consistency, but in his philosophical work it may be said with safety there are two distinct aspects, and while it holds of Locke on the one hand, it stretches forward to Kantianism on the other. Nor in Berkeley are these divergent features ever united into one harmoni-ous whole. It was left for Hume to approach the theory of know-ledge with full consciousness from the psychological point of view, and to work out the final consequences of that view so far as cog-nition is concerned. The terms which he employs in describing the aim and scope of his work are not those which we should now employ, but the declaration, in the introduction to the Treatise, that the science of human nature must be treated according to the experimental method, is in fact equivalent to the statement of the principle implied in Locke’s Essay, that the problems of psychology and of theory of knowledge are identical. And this view is the char acteristic of what we may call the English school of philosophy.

In order to make perfectly clear the full significance of the principle which Hume applied to the solution of the chief philosophical questions, it is necessary to render somewhat more precise and complete the statement of the psychological view which lies at the

foundation of the empirical theory, and to distinguish from it the problem of the theory of knowledge upon which it was brought to bear. Without entering into details, which it is the less necessary to do because the subject has been recently discussed with great

fulness in works readily accessible, it may be said that for Locke as for Hume the problem of psychology was the exact description of the contents of the individual mind, and the determination of the conditions of the origin and development of conscious experience in

the individual mind. And the answer to the problem which was furnished by Locke is in effect that with which Hume started. The conscious experience of the individual is the result of interaction between the individual mind and the universe of things. It is evident that this solution presupposes a peculiar conception of the general relation between the mind and things which ill itself re-quires justification, and which, so far at least as the empirical theory was developed by Locke and his successors, could not be obtained

from psychological analysis. Either we have a right to the assumption contained in the conception of the individual mind as standing in relation to things, in which case the grounds of the assumption must be sought elsewhere than in the results of this reciprocal re-lation, or we have no right to the assumption, in which case reference to the reciprocal relation can hardly be accepted as yielding any solution of the psychological problem. But in any case,—and, as we shall see, Hume endeavours so to state his Psychological premises as to conceal the assumption made openly by Locke,—it is apparent that this psychological solution does not contain the answer to the wider and radically distinct problem of the theory of knowledge. For here we have to consider how the individual intelligence comes to know any fact whatsoever, and what is meant by the cognition of a fact. With Locke, Hume professes to regard this problem as virtually covered or answered by the fundamental psychological theorem; but the superior clearness of his reply enables

us to mark with perfect precision the nature of the difficulty inherent in the attempt to regard the two as identical. For purposes of psychological analysis the conscious experience of the individual mind is taken as given fact, to be known, i.e., observed, discrimin-ated, classified, and explained in the same way in which any one special portion of experience is treated. Now if this mode of treatment be accepted as the only possible method, and its results assumed to be conclusive as regards the problem of knowledge, the fundamental peculiarity of cognition is overlooked. In all cognition, strictly so-called, there is involved a certain synthesis or relation of parts of a characteristic nature, and if we attempt to discuss this synthesis as though it were in itself but one of the facts forming the matter of knowledge, we are driven to regard this relation as being of the quite external kind discovered by observa-tion among matters of knowledge. The difficulty of reconciling the two views is that which gives rise to much of the obscurity in Locke’s treatment of the theory of knowledge; in Hume the effort to identify them, and to explain the synthesis which is essential to cognition as merely the accidental result of external relations among the elements of conscious experience, appears with the utmost clear-ness, and gives the keynote of all his philosophical work. The final perplexity, concealed by various forms of expression, comes forward at the close of the Treatise as absolutely unsolved and leads Hume, as will be pointed out, to a truly remarkable confession of the weakness of his own system.

While, then, the general idea of a theory of knowledge as based upon psychological analysis is the groundwork of the Treatise, it is a particular consequence of this idea that furnishes to Hume the characteristic criterion applied by him to all philosophical questions. If the relations involved in the fact of cognition are only those dis-coverable by observation of any particular portion of known experi-ence, then such relations are quite external and contiligent. The only necessary relation which can be discovered in a given fact of experience is that of non-contradiction; the thing must be what it is, and cannot be conceived as having qualities contradictory of its nature. The universal test, therefore, of any supposed philosophi-cal principle, seeing that such principles are but expressions of relations among facts, is the possibility or impossibility of imagining its contradictory. All our knowledge is but the sum of our conscious experience, and is consequently material for imigination. "Let us fix our attention out of ourselves as much as possible; let us chase our imagination to the heavens or to the utmost limits of the universe; we never really advance a step beyond ourselves, nor can conceive any kind of existenee, but those perceptions which have appeared in that narrow compass. This is the universe of the imagination, nor have we any idea but what is there produced" (Works, ed. Of 1854, i. 93, cf. i. 107).

The course of Hume’s work follows immediately from his fundamental principle, and the several divisions of the treatise, so fat as the theoretical portions are concerned, are but its logical con-sequences. The first part of the first book contains a brief state-ment of the contents of mind, a description of all that observation can discover in conscious experience. The second part deals with those judgments which rest upon the formal elements of experience, space and time. The third part discusses the principle of real connexion among the elements of experience, the relation of cause and effect. The fourth part is virtually a consideration of the ultimate significance of this conscious experience, of the place it is supposed to occupy ill the universe of existence, in other words, of the re-lations between the conscious experience of an individual mind as disclosed to observation and the supposed realities of self and ex-ternal things.

In the first part Hume gives his own statement of the psycho-logical foundations of his theory. Viewing the contents of mind as matter of experience, he can discover among them only one distine-tion, a distinction expressed by the terms impressions and ideas. Ideas are secondary in nature, copies of data supplied we know not whence. All that appears in conscious experience as primary, as arising from some unknown cause, and therefore relatively as origi-nal, Hume designates by the term immession, and claims to imply by such term no theory whatsoever as to the origin of this portion of experience. There is simply the fact of conscious experience, arising we know not how. Moreover, if we remain faithful to the fundamental conception of the contents of mind as being merely matters of experience, it is evident in the first place that as impressions are strictly individual, ideas also must be strictly parti-cular, and in the second place that the faculties of combining, discri-minating, abstracting, and judging, which Locke had admitted, are merely expressions for particular modes of having mental experience, i.e., are modifications of conceiving (cf. i. 128 n., 137, 192). Thus at a single stroke Hume removes all the philosophical discussions that had centred round the problem of abstract ideas and the nature of judgment. It is merely by accidental concomitance, which on the subjective side is custom, that one fact, a word, sign, symbol, or type comes to stand for a series of resembling facts, while the comparison of perceptions, with resulting consciousness of their re-semblance or difference, is in itself a single, isolated perception (see i. 3 7, 38, 100).

Such, in substance, is Hume’s restatement of Locke’s empirical view. Conscious experience consists of isolated states, each of which is as a fact and is related to others in a quite external fashion. It remains to be seen how knowledge can be explained from such a basis; but, before proceeding to sketch Hume’s answer to this ques-tion, it is necessary to draw attention, first, to the peculiar device invariably resorted to by him when any exception to his general principle that ideas are secondary copies of impressions presents itself, and, secondly, to the nature of the substitute offered by him for that perception of relations or synthesis which even in Locke’s con-fused statements had appeared as the essence of cognition. When-ever Hume finds it impossible to recognize in an idea the mere copy of a particular impression, he introduces the phrase "manner of conceiving." Thus general or abstract ideas are merely copies of a particular impression conceived in a particular manner. The ideas of space and time, as will presently be pointed out, are copies of impressions conceived in a particular manner. The idea of neces-sary connexion is merely the reproduction of an impression which the mind feels itself compelled to conceive in a particular manner. Such a fashion of disguising difficulties points, not only to an inconsistency in Hume’s theory as stated by himself, but to the initial error upon which it proceeds; for these perplexities are but the consequences of the doctrine that cognition is to be explained from what can be discovered by observation among the facts of experience, and observation call discover none but external relations. These external relations are, in fact, what Hume describes as the natural bonds of connexion among ideas, and, regarded subjectively as principles of association among facts of mental experience, they form the substitute he offers for the synthesis implied in knowledge. These principles of association determine the imagination to combine ideas in various modes, and by this mechanical combination Hume, for a time, endeavoured to explain what are otherwise called judgments of relation. It was impossible, however, for him to carry out this view consistently. The only combination which, even in appearance, could be explained satisfactorily by its means was the formation of a complex idea out of simpler parts, but it is absurd to describe the idea of a relation among facts as a complex idea: and, as such relations have no basis in impressions, Hume is finally driven to a confession of the abso-lute impossibility of explaining them. Such confession, however, is only reached after a vigorous effort bad been made to render some account of knowlede by the experimental method.

The psychological conception, then, on the basis of which Hume proceeds to discuss the theory of knowledge, is that of conscious experionee as containing merely the succession of isolated impres-sions and their fainter copies, ideas, and as bound together by merely natural or external links of connexion, the principles of association among ideas. The foundations of cognition must be discovered by observation or analysis of experience so conceived. Hume wavers somewhat in his division of the various kinds of cog-nition, laying stress now upon one now upon another of the points in which mainly they differ from one another. Nor is it of the first importance, save with the view of criticizing his own consistency, that we should adopt any of the divisions implied in his exposition. For practical purposes we may regard the most important discussions in the Treatise as falling under two heads. In the first place there are certain principles of cognition which appear to rest upon and to express relations of the universal elements in conscious experience, viz., space and time. The propositions of mathematics seem to be independent of this or that special fact of experience, and to remain unchanged even when the concrete matter of experience varies. They are formal. In the second place, cognition, in any real sense of that term, implies connexion for the individual mind between the present fact of experience and other facts, whether past or future. lt appears to involve, therefore, some real relation among the portions of experience, on the basis of which relation judgments and inferences as to matters of fact can be shown to rest. The theoretical question is consequently that of the nature of the supposed relation, and of the certainty of judgments and inferences resting on it.

Hume’s well-known distinction between relations of ideas and matters of fact corresponds fairly to this separation of the formal and real problems in the theory of cognition, although that dis-tinction is in itself inadequate and not fully representative of Hume’s own conclusions.

With regard, then, to the first problem, the formal element in knowledge, Hume has to consider several questions, distinct in nature and hardly discriminated by him with sufficient precision. For a complete treatment of this portion of the theory of knowledge, there require to be taken into consideration at least the following points: (a) the exact nature and significance of the space and time relations in our experience, (b) the mode in which the primary data, facts or principles, of mathematical cognition are obtained, (c) the nature, extent, and certainty of such data, in themselves and with reference to the concrete material of experience, (d) the principle of inference from the data, however obtained. Not all of these points are discussed by Hume with the same fulness, and with regard to some of them it is difficult to state his conclusions. It will be of service, however, to attempt a summary of his treatment under these several heads,—the more so as almost all expositions of his philosophy are entirely defective in the account given of this essen-tial portion. The brief statement in the Inquiry, § iv., is of no value, and indeed is almost unintelligible unless taken in reference to the full discussion contained in part ii. of the Treatise.

The nature of space and time as elements in conscious experience is considered by Hume in relation to a special problem, that of their supposed infinite divisibility. Evidently upon his view of con-scious experience, of the world of imagination, such infinite divisibility must be a fiction. The ultimate elements of experience must be real units, capable of being represented or imagined in isolation. Whence then do these units arise or, if we put the problem as it was necessary Hume should put it to himself, in what orders or classes of impressions do we find the elements of space and time? Beyond all question Hume, in endeavouring to answer this problem, is brought face to face with one of the difficulties inher-ent in his conception of conscious experience. For he has to give some explanation of the nature of space and time which shall identify these with impressions, and at the same time is compelled to recognize the fact that they are not identical with any single impression or set of impressions. Putting aside, then, the various obscurities of terminology, such as the distinction between the objects known, viz., "points" or several mental states, and the impressions themselves, which disguise the full significance of his conclusion, we find Hume reduced to the following as his theory of space and time. Certain impressions, the sensations of sight and touch, have in themselves the element of space, for these impres-sions (Hume skilfully transfers his statement to the points) have a certain order or mode of arrangement. This mode of arrangement or manner of disposition is common to coloured points and tangible points, and, considered separately, is the impression from which our idea of space is taken. All impressions and all ideas are received, or form parts of a mental experience only when received, in a certain order, the. order of succession. This manner of pre-senting themselves is the impression from which the idea of time takes its rise.

It is almost superfluous to remark, first, that Hume here deliber-ately gives up his fundamental principle that ideas are but the fainter copies of impressions, for it can never be maintained that order of disposition is an impression, and, secondly, that he fails to offer any explanation of the mode in which coexistence and succession are possible elements of cognition in a conscious experience made up af isolated presentations and representations. For the consis-tency of his theory, however, it was indispensable that he should insist upon the real, i.e, presentative character of the ultimate units of space and time.

How then are the primary data of mathematical cognition to be derived from an experience containing space and time relations in the manner just stated? It is important to notice that Hume, in regard to this problem, distinctly separates geometry from algebra and arithmetic, i.e., he views extensive quantity as being cognized differently from number. With regard to geometry, he holds em-phatically that it is an empirical doctrine, a science founded on observation of concrete facts. The rough appearances of physical facts, their outlines, surfaces, and so on, are the data of observation, and only by a method of approximation do we gradually come near to such propositions as are laid down in pure geometry. He definitely repudiates a view often ascribed to him, and certainly advanced by many later empiricists, that the data of geometry are hypothetical. The ideas of perfect lines, figures, and surfaces have not, according to him, any existence. (See Works, i. 66, 69, 73, 97, and iv. 180.) It is impossible to give any consistent account of his doctrine re-garding number. He holds, apparently, that the foundation of all the science of number is the fact that each element of conscious experience is presented as a unit, and adds that we are capable of considering any fact or collection of facts as a unit. This manner of conceiving is absolutely general and distinct, and accord-ingly affords the possibility of an all-comprehensive and perfect science, the science of discrete quantity (See Works, i. 97.)

In respect to the third point, the nature, extent, and certainty of the elementary propositions of mathematical science, Hume’s utter-ances are far from clear. The principle with which he starts and from which follows his well known distinction between relations of ideas and matters of fact, a distinction which Kant appears to have thought identical with his distinction between analytical and syn-thetical judgments, is comparatively simple. The ideas of the quantitative aspects of phenomena are exact representations of these aspects or quantitative impression.; consequently, whatever is found true by consideration of the ideas may be asserted regard-ing the real impressions. No question arises regarding the existence of the fact represented by the idea, and in so far, at least, mathe-matical judgments may be described as hypothetical. For they simply assert what will be found true in any conscious experience containing coexisting impressions of sense (specifically, of sight and touch), and in its nature successive. That the propositions are hypothetical in this fashion does not imply any distinction between the abstract truth of the ideal judgments and the imperfect corre-spondence of concrete material with these abstract relations. Such distinction is quite foreign to Hume, and can only be ascribed to him from an entire misconception of his view regarding the ideas of space and time. (For an example of such misconception, which is almost universal, see Riehl, Der philosophische Kriticismus i. 96, 97.)

From this point onwards Hume’s treatment becomes exceedingly confused. The identical relation between the ideas of space and time and the impressions corresponding to them apparently leads him to regard judgements of continuous and discrete quantity as standing on the same footing, while the ideal character of the data gives a certain colour to his inexact statements regarding the ex-tent and truth of the judgments founded on them. The emphatic utterances in the Inquiry (iv. 30, 186), and even at the begin-ning of the relative section in the Treatise (i. 95), may be cited in illustration. But in both works these utterances are qualified in such a manner as to enable us to perceive the real bearings of his doctrine, and to pronounce at once that it differs widely from that commonly ascribed to him. "It is from the idea of a triangle that we discover the relation of equality which its three angles bear to two right ones; and this relation is invariable, so long as our idea remains the same" (i. 95). If taken in isolation this passage might appear sufficient justification for Kant’s view that, according to Hume, geometrical Judgments are analytical and therefore perfect. But it is to be recollected that, according to Hume, an idea is actually a representation or individual picture, not a notion or even a schema, and that he never claims to be able to extract the predicate of a geometrical judgment by analysis of the subject. The proper-ties of this individual subject, the idea of the triangle, are, according to him, discovered by observation, and as observation, whether actual or ideal, never presents us with more, than the rough or general appearances of geometrical quantities, the relations so dis-covered have only approximate exactness. "Ask a mathematician what be means when he pronounces two quantities to be equal, and he must say that the idea of equality is one of those which cannot be defined, and that it is sufficient to place two equal qualities be-fore any one in order to suggest it. Now this is an appeal to the general appearances of objects to the imagination or senses" (iv. 180). "Though it (i.e., geometry) much excels, both in universality and exactness, the loose judgments of the senses and imagination, yet [it] never attains a perfect precision and exactness" (i. 97). Any exactitude attaching to the conclusions of geometrical reasoning arises from the comparative simplicity of the data for the primary judgments.

So far, then, as geometry is concerned, Hume's opii lion is perfectly definite. It is an experimental or observational science, founded on primary or immediate judgments (in his phraseology, perceptions), of relation between facts of intuition; its conclusions are hypothetical only in so far as they do not imply the existence at the moment of corresponding real experience; and its propositions have no exact truth. With respect to arithmetic and algebra, the science of numbers, he expresses all equally definite opinion, but unfortunately it is quite impossible to state in any satisfactory fashion the grounds for it or even its full bearing. He nowhere explains the origin of the notions of unity and number, but merely asserts that through their means we can have absolutely exact arithmetical propositions (Works, i. 97, 98). Upon the nature of the reasoning by which in mathematical science we pass from data to conclusions, Hume gives no explicit statement. If we were to say that on his view the essential step must be the establishment of identities or equivalences, we should probably be doing justice to his doctrine of

numerical reasoning, but should have some difficulty in showing the application of the method to geometrical reasoning. For in the latter case we possess, according to Hume, no standard of equiva-lence other than that supplied by immediate observation, and consequently transition from one premise to another by way of reason-ing must be, in geometrical matters, a purely verbal process.

Taken as a whole, the theory is perhaps the only consistent development from the psychological principle with which Hume had started, and its incompleteness, even incoherence points to the gravest defects of that principle. Hume has not offered even a plausible explanation of the mode by which it becomes possible for a consciousness made tip of isolated momentary impressions and ideas to be aware of coexistence and number, or succession. The relations of ideas are accepted as facts of immediate observation, as being themselves perceptions or individual elements of conscious experience, and to all appearance they are regarded by Hume as being in a sense analytical, because the formal criterion of identity is applicable to them. It is applicable, however, not because the predicate is contained in the subject, but because, such judgments of relation being thought as immediate facts of conscious experience, the supposition of their non-existence is a contradiction in terms. The ambiguity in his criterion, however, seems entirely to have escaped Hume’s attention.

A somewhat detailed consideration of Hume’s doctrine with regard to mathematical science has been given for the reason that this por-tion of his theory has been very generally overlooked or misinter-preted. It does not seem necessary to endeavour to follow his minute examination of the principle of real cognition with the same fulness. It will probably be sufficient to indicate the problem as conceived by Hume, and the relation of the method he adopts for solving it to the fundamental doctrine of his theory of knowledge.

Real cognition, as Hume points out, implies transition from the present impression or feeling to something connected with it. As this thing can only be an impression or perception, and is not itself present, it is represented by its copy or idea. Now the supreme, all-comprehensive link of connexion between present feeling or im-pression and either past or future experience is that of causation. The idea in question is, therefore, the idea of something connected with the present impression as its cause or effect. But this is ex-plicitly the idea of the said thing as having had or as about to have existence,—in other words, belief in the existence of some in atter of fact. What, for a conscious experience so constituted as Hume will admit, is the precise significance of such belief in real existence?

Clearly the real existence of a fact is not demonstrable. For whatever is may be conceived not to be. "No negation of a fact can involve a contradiction." Existence of any fact, not present as a perception, can only be proved by arguments from cause or effect. But as each perception is in consciousness only as a contin-gent fact, which might not be or might be other than it is, we must admit that the mind call conceive no necessary relations or con-nexions among the several portions of its experience.

If, therefore, a present perception leads us to assert the existence of some other, this can only be interpreted as meaning that in some natural, i.e., psychological, manner the idea of this other perception is excited, and that the idea is viewed by the mind ill some. peculiar fashion. The natural link of connexion Hume finds ill the simi-larities presented by experience. One fact or perception is discovered by experience to be uniformly or generally accompanied by another, and its occurrence therefore naturally excites the idea of that other. But when an idea is so roused up by a present im-pression, and when this idea, being a consequence of memory, has in itself a certain vivacity or liveliness, we regard it with a peculiar indefinable feeling, and in this feeling consists the immense difference between mere imagination and belief. The mind is led easily and rapidly from the present impression to the ideas of impressions found by experience to be the usual accompaniments of the present fact. The ease and rapidity of the mental transition is the sole ground for the supposed necessity of the causal connexion. between portions of experience. We mistake the subjective transition resting upon rustom or past experience for an objective connexion independent of special feelings. All reasoning about matters of fact is therefore a species of feeling, and belongs to the sensitive rather than to the cogitative side of our nature.

While it is evident that some such conclusion must follow from the attempt to regard the cognitive consciousness as made up of dis-connected feelings, it is equally clear, not only that the result is self-contradictory, but that it involves certain assumptions not in any way deducible from the fundamental view with which Hume starts. For in the problem of real cognition he is brought face to face with the characteristic feature of knowledge, distinction of self from matters known, and reference of transitory states to perma-nent objects or relations. Deferring his criticism of the significance of self and object, Hume yet makes use of both to aid his explana-tion of the belief attaching to reality. The reference of all idea to past experience has no meaning, unless we assume an identity in the object referred to. For a past impression is purely transitory, and, as Hume occasionally points out, can have no connexion of fact with the present consciousness. His exposition has thus a certain plausibility, which would not belong to it had the final view of the permanent object been already given.

The final problem of Hume’s theory of knowledge, the discussion of the real significance of the two factors of cognition, self and external things, is handled in the Treatise with great fulliess aud dialectical subtity.

As in the ease of the previous problem, it is unnecessary to follow the steps of his analysis, which are, for the most part, attempts to substitute qualities of feeling for the relations of thought which appear to be involved. The results follow with the utmost ease from his original postulate. If there is nothing in conscious experience save what observation can disclose, while each act of observation is itself an isolated feeling (an impression or idea), it is manifest that a permanent identical thing can never be an object of experience. Whatever permanence or identity is ascribed to an impression or idea is the result of association, is one of those "pro-pensities to feign" which are due to natural connexions among ideas. We regard as successive presentations of one thing the resembling feelings which are experienced in succession. Identity, then, whether of self or object, there is none, and the supposition of objects, distinct from impressions, is but a further consequence of our "propensity to feign." Hume’s explanation of the belief in external things by reference to association is well deserving of care-ful study and of comparison with the more recent analysis of the same problem by J. S. Mill.

At the close of his presentation of the empirical theory of cog-nition, Hume gives one of those comprehensive reviews of its sig-nificance and its difficulties which mark the rare acuteness of his intellect. He has done what was possible to manufacture cognition out of the isolated, disconnected states of mental experience. He has endeavoured to contemplate conscious experience ab extra, as itself an object of experience, and to admit nothing which was not capable of being presented in the fashion of all immediate fact of experience. And as the result of the whole he has to confess that his laboriously constructed theory of cognition is but a rope of saild, that no ingenuity can conjure coherence into elements assumed from the outset as incoherent, that the attempt to regard cognition of a fact as being merely one isolated state leads to hope-less confusion. The passage in which, with the utmost frankness, he expresses his opinion on the sum total of his speculative analysis is so remarkable, both in reference to his own work and in reference to later developments of philosophy, that it is well to quote it in full. In the Appendix to the Treatise he gives a brief résumé of what he clearly recognized to be the crux, in his theory, the ex-planation of belief, a cognition which involves the relation among themselves of the parts of experience, and then goes on to say:—

"If perceptions are distinct existences, they form a whole only by being connected together. But no connexions among distinct existences are ever discoverable by human understanding. We only feel a connexion or determination of the thought to pass from one object to another. It follows, therefore, that the thought alone feels personal identity, when, reflecting on the train of past percep-tions that compose a mind, the ideas of them are felt to be connected together and naturally introduce each other.

"However extraordinary this conclusion may seem, it need not surprise us. Modern philosophers seem inclined to think that per-sonal identity arises from consciousness, and consciousness is nothing but a reflected thought or perception. The present philosophy, there-fore, has a promising aspect. But all my hopes vanish when I come to explain the principles that unite our successive erceptions in our thought or consciousness. I cannot discover any theory which gives me satisfaction on this head…..

"In short, there are two principles which I cannot render, con-sistent, nor is it in my power to renounce either of them; viz., that all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences, and that the mind never perceives any real connexion among distinct existences. Did our perceptions either inhere in something simple or indi-vidual, or did the inind perceive some real connexion among them, there would be no difficulty in the case" (ii. p. 551).

The closing sentences of this passage may be regarded as pointing to the very essence of the Kantian attempt at solution of the problem of knowledge. Hume sees distinctly that if conscious experience be taken as containing only isolated states, no progress in explanation of cognition is possible and that the only hope of further development is to be looked for in a radical change in our mode of conceiv-ing experience. The work of the critical philosophy is the intro-duction of this new mode of regarding experience, a mode which, in the technical language of philosophers, has received the title of transcendental as opposed to the psychological method followed by Locke and Hume. It is because Kant alone perceived the full significance of the change required in order to meet the difficulties of the empirical theory that we regard his system as the only sequel to that of Hume. The writers of the Scottish school, Reid in particu-lar, did undoubtedly indicate some of the weaknesses in Hume’s fundamental conception, and their attempts to show that the isolated feeling cannot be taken as the ultimate and primary unit of cognitive experience are efforts in the right direction. But the question of knowledge was never generalized by them, and their reply to Hume, therefore, remains partial and inadequate, while its effect is weakened by the uncritical assumption of principles which is a characteristic feature of their writings.

The results of Hume’s theoretical analysis are applied by him to the problems of practical philosophy and religion. For the first of these the reader is referred to the article ETHICS, where Hume’s views are placed in relation to those of his predecessors in the same field of inquiry. His position, as regards the second, is very note-worthy. As before said, his metapbysic contains in abstracto the principles which were at that time being employed, uncritically, alike by the deists and by their antagonists. There can be no doubt that Hume has continually in mind the theological questions then current, and that he was fully aware of the mode in which his analysis of knowledge might be applied to them. A few of the less important of his criticisms, such as the argument on miracles, be-came then and have since remained public property and matter of general discussion. But the full significance of his work on the theological side was not at the time perceived, and justice has barely been done to the admirable manner in which he has reduced the theological disputes of the century to their ultimate elements. The importance of the Dialogues on Natural Religion, as a contribution to the criticism of theological ideas and methods, can hardly be over- estimated. A brief survey of its contents will be sufficient to show its general nature and its relations to such works as Clarke’s Demonstration and Butler’s Analogy. The Dialogues introduce three interlocutors, Demea, Cleanthes, and Philo, who represent three distinct orders of theological opinion. The first is the type of a certain a priori view, then regarded as the safest bulwark against infidelity, of which the main tenets were that the being of God was capable of a priori proof, and that, owing to the finitude of our faculties, the attributes and modes of operation of deity were abso-lutely incomprehensible. The second is the typical deist of Locke’s school, improved as regards his philosophy, and holding that the only possible proof of God’s existence was a posteriori, from design, and that such proof was, on the whole, sufficient. The third is the type of completed empiricism or scepticism, holding that no argument, either from reason or experience, can transcend experience, and consequently that no proof of God’s existence is at all possible. The views of the first and second are played off against one another, and criticized by the third with great literary skill and effect. Cleanthes, who maintains that the doctrine of the incomprehensi-bility of God is hardly distinguishable from atheism, is compelled by the arguments of Philo to reduce to a minimum the conclusion capable of being inferred from experience as regards the existence of God. For Philo lays stress upon the weakness of the analogical argument, points out that the demand for an ultimate cause is no more satisfied by thought than by nature itself, shows that the argument from design cannot warrant the inference of a perfect or infinite or even of a single deity, and finally, carrying out his principles to the full extent, maintains that, as we have no experience of the origin of the world, no argument from experience can carry us to its origin, and that the apparent marks of design in the structure of animals are only results from the conditions of their actual existence. So far as argument from nature is concerned, a total suspension of judgment is our only reasonable resource. Nor does the a priori argument in any of its forms fare better, for reason can never demonstrate a matter of fact, and, unless we know that the world had a beginning in time, we cannot insist that it must have had a cause. Demea, who is willing to give up his abstract proof, brings forward the ordinary theological topic, man’s consciousness of his own imper-fection, misery, and dependent condition. Nature is throughout corrupt and polluted, but "the present evil phenomena are rectified in other regions and in some future period of existence." Such a view satisfies neither of his interlocutors. Cleanthes, pointing out that from a nature thoroughly evil we can never prove the existence of an infinitely powerful and benevolent Creator, hazards the conjec-ture that the deity, though all-benevolent, is not all-powerful. Philo, however, pushing his principles to their full consequences, show s that miless ive asstinied (or knew) beforehand that the system of nature was the work of a benevolent but limited deity, we cer-tainly could not, from the facts of nature, infer the benevolence of its creator. Cleanthes's view is, therefore, an hypothesis, and in no sense an inference.

The Dialogues ought here to conclude. There is, however, ap-pended one of those perplexing statements of personal opinion (for Hume declares Cleanthes to be his mouthpiece) not uncommon among writers of this period. Cleanthes and Philo come to an agreement, in admitting a certain illogical force in the a posteriori argu-ment, or, at least, in expressing a conviction as to God’s existence, which may not perhaps be altogether devoid of foundation. The precise value of such a declaration must be matter of conjecture. Probably the true statement of Hume’s attitude regarding the problem is the somewhat melancholy utterance with which the Dia-logues close.

It is apparent, even from the brief summary just given, that the importance of Hume in the history of philosophy consists in. the vigour and logical exactness with which he develops a particular metaphysical view. Inconsistencies, no doubt, are to be detected in his system, but they arise from the limitations of the view itself, and not, as in the case of Locke and Berkeley, from imperfect grasp of the principle, and endeavour to unite with it others radically incompatible. In Hume’s theory of knowledge we have the final expression of what may be called psychological individualism or atomism, while his ethics and doctrine of religion are but the logi-cal consequences of this theory. So far as metaphysic is concerned, Hume has given the final word of the empirical school, and all ad-ditions, whether from the specifically psychological side or from the general history of human culture, are subordinate in character, and affect in no way the nature of his results. It is no exaggeration to say that the more recent English school of philosophy, represented by J. S. Mill, has made in theory no advance beyond Hume. In the logic of Mill, e.g., we find much of a special character that has no counterpart in Hume, much that is introduced ab extra, from general considerations of scientific procedure, but, so far as the groundwork is concerned, the System of Logic is a mere reproduction of Hume’s doctrine of knowledge. Such a statement does not de-tract from the merits of the Logic or even from its originality, for it is remarkable how slight seems to have been the acquaintance of Mill with the works of his greatest predecessor, but it does imply that, so far as solution of the philosophical problem is concerned, no advance has been made beyond the position of Hume. The same remark, indeed, may be applied to the few efforts of the later em-pirical writers in the region of metaphysics or theology. It is impossible for any reader of Mill’s remarkable posthumous essay on theism to avoid the reflexion that in substance the treatment is identical with that of the Dialogues on Natural Religion, while on the whole the superiority in critical force must be assigned to the earlier work. All this merely shows how fully the conclusion one would naturally draw from Hume’s writings has been borne out by the history of later thought. From his position, and on his lines, no further advance was possible. For a new treatment of philosophi-cal problems a thorough revision of those premises, the adoption of new ground, was requisite. So far as one can see, the only systems of thought which have endeavoured or are endeavouring in a com-prehensive fashion to take up anew the work of philosophy are, on the one hand, the Kantian, with its extensive developments, and, on the other, that of scientific naturalism, which latter, though weak in its metaphysic, is yet penetrated with a truly philosophical spirit.

The chief work for Humess life is that of Mr J. H. Burton, Life and Correspondence of David Hume, 2 vol.. 1846. Of his collected writings, the standard edition has been till recently that of 1826 (reprinted 1854), in 4 vols. The best edition, containing, in addition to philosophical introductions, much bibliographical matter, is that of 1874, in 4 vols., by T.H. Green and T.H. Grose. Of works upon Hume, the numerous sketches and essays being omitted, the following are the most important:—Jodl. Leben und Philosophie David Hume’s, 1872; E. Pfleiderer, Em-pirismus und Skepsis in David Hume’s Philosophie, 1874 (containing good matter but too much spun out); T. H. Green. "Introduction to the Treatise," in vol. i. of Hume’s Works, 1874 (by far the most elaborate and minute analysis of Hume in his philosophical relation to Locke and Berkeley); Spicker, Kant, Hume, und Berkeley, 1875; Compayré, La Philosophie de David Hume, 1873, A. Meinong, Hume-Studien, i.. 1877 (a very careful study of Hume’s nominalism); V. Gizycki, Die Ethik David Hume’s in uhrer geschichtlichen Stellung, 1878 (the most thorough exposition of Hume’s utilitarianism); T. H. Huxley, Hume, 1879 (a clear reproduction of the more popular results of Hume’s philosophy, without criticism or historical treatment). Mr Leslie Stephen’s English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, vol. i., 1876, contains the best account of Hume’s theological position. Most works on the Kantian philosophy contain sections specially on Hume. The treatments in the general in stories of philosophy cannot be pronounced satis-factory. (R. AD.)



Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-16 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries