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David Hume

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, David Hume (1711– 1776) was educated at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied law and commerce but left with- out a degree. Living off a modest inheritance (and perhaps fleeing a paternity claim), Hume moved to La Fleche in France, where Descartes had studied as a young man. It was at La Fleche that Hume, before the age of 28, wrote his most famous work, Treatise of Human Nature, Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, the first volume of which was published in 1739 and the second volume in 1740. About his Treatise, Hume said, “It fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots” (Flew, 1962). In 1742 Hume published his Philosophical Essays, which was well received. Hume was always convinced that his Treatise was ignored because of its manner of presentation rather than its content, and in 1748 he published an abbreviated version of the Treatise titled An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Much of what follows is based on the posthumous 1777 edition of the Enquiry.

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Unlike many of the other philosophers of his time, Hume was never a university professor. He worked briefly in commerce before becoming a private tutor, a librarian, and a professional diplo- matic secretary. He was nominated for an academic position twice, but the opposition of the Scottish clergy denied him the posts. Hume was skeptical of most religious beliefs, and friction with the church was a constant theme in his life. About religion Hume said, “The whole is a riddle, an enigma, an inexplicable mystery. Doubt, uncertainty, suspense of judgment appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny, concerning the subject” (Yandell, so than the Newtonian deductive method. The major thrust of Hume’s approach was to make care- ful observations and then carefully generalize from those observations. Hume occasionally did formu- late a hypothesis and test it against experience, but his emphasis was clearly on induction rather than deduction.

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