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David Hume , 1711–76, Scottish philosopher and historian. Educated at Edinburgh, he lived (1734–37) in France, where he finished his first philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40). His other philosophical works include An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748; a simplified version of the first book of the Treatise), An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), Political Discourses (1752), The Natural History of Religion (1755), and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). Hume also wrote an exhaustive History of England (1754–62), whose purity of style overcame the frequent faultiness of fact and made the work the standard history of England for many years. In 1763, Hume returned to Paris as secretary to the British embassy. It was at that time that he became a friend of Jean Jacques Rousseau, to whom he later gave refuge in England. In philosophy Hume pressed the analysis of John Locke and George Berkeley to the logical extreme of skepticism for which he is famous. He could see no more reason for hypothesizing a substantial soul or mind than for accepting a substantial material world. A complete nominalist in his handling of ideas of material objects, he carried the method into the discussion of mind and found nothing there but a bundle of perceptions. Causal relation derives solely from the customary conjunction of two impressions; the apparent sequence of events in the external world is in fact the sequence of perceptions in the mind. From this statement Hume argued that our expectation that the future will be like the past (e.g., that the sun will rise tomorrow morning) has no basis in reason; it is purely a matter of belief. However, he also asserted that such theoretical skepticism is irrelevant to the practical concerns of daily life. Hume's attack on rationalism is also evident in his two works on religion; in these he rejects any rational or natural theology.

See his autobiography (1777); studies by N. K. Smith (1941), J. B. Stewart (1963, repr. 1973), J. Passmore (1968), and J. Noxon (1973).

David Hume Essays Online Hume distinguishes two main properties of the cause and effect law

So long as science does no more than describe and compare perceptions no problem arises. Mathematics, according to Hume, is secure knowledge because it restricts itself to relating ideas one to another (Treatise, bk. I, pt. 3, sec. I). This is true, at least, of algebra and arithmetic; in the Treatise and the Abstract, although not in the Enquiry, Hume expresses some doubts about geometry. Nor is there any problem with what Hume calls “mental geography” so long as it confines itself to the “delineation of the distinct parts and powers of the mind” (Enquiry, sec. I).


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On Hume's view, what is a moral evaluation? Four main interpretationshave significant textual support. First, as we have seen, thenonpropositional view says that for Hume a moral evaluation does notexpress any proposition or state any fact; either it gives vent to afeeling, or it is itself a feeling (Flew, Blackburn, Snare,Bricke). (A more refined form of this interpretation allows that moralevaluations have some propositional content, but claims that for Humetheir essential feature, as evaluations, is non-propositional.) Thesubjective description view, by contrast, says that for Hume moralevaluations describe the feelings of the spectator, or the feelings aspectator would have were she to contemplate the trait or action fromthe common point of view. Often grouped with the latter view is thethird, dispositional interpretation, which understands moralevaluations as factual judgments to the effect that the evaluatedtrait or action is so constituted as to cause feelings of approval ordisapproval in a (suitably characterized) spectator (Mackie, in one ofhis proposals). On the dispositional view, in saying some trait isgood we attribute to the trait the dispositional property of beingsuch as to elicit approval. A fourth interpretation distinguishes twopsychological states that might be called a moral evaluation: anoccurrent feeling of approval or disapproval (which is not truth-apt),and a moral belief or judgment that is propositional. Versions ofthis fourth interpretation differ in what they take to be the contentof that latter mental state. One version says that the moraljudgments, as distinct from the moral feelings, are factual judgmentsabout the moral sentiments (Capaldi). A distinct version, the moralsensing view, treats the moral beliefs as ideas copied from theimpressions of approval or disapproval that represent a trait ofcharacter or an action as having whatever quality it is that oneexperiences in feeling the moral sentiment (Cohon). This last viewemphasizes Hume's claim that moral good and evil are like heat, cold,and colors as understood in “modern philosophy,” which areexperienced directly by sensation, but about which we formbeliefs.