Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
“Philosophical decisions,” says David Hume toward the end of his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “are nothing but the reflections of common life, methodised and corrected.” This simple, homely epigram conceals a great deal. For one thing, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is actually a sort of popularized revision of ideas that were systematically developed in book 1 of his precocious A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740), which, although it was completed before the author was twenty-five, has been characterized as one of the most profound, thoroughly reasoned, and purely scientific works in the history of philosophy. Second, Hume’s method for correcting the reflections of common life actually involves a thorough attack on the obscurities of metaphysical idealists.
Born in an age of reason, Hume at first shared the optimism of those who were certain that pure reason could unlock the secrets of nature, and as he read Francis Bacon, John Newton, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke, he longed for fame equal to theirs. However, as he reported in a letter to Sir Gilbert Elliot, although he “began with an anxious search after arguments, to confirm the common opinion; doubts stole in, dissipated, returned; were again dissipated, returned again; and it was a perpetual struggle of restless imagination against inclination, perhaps against reason.” That last, “perhaps against reason,” is the crucial phrase,...
(The entire section is 1759 words.)
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