An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

by David Hume
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David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals is a philosophical classic that grows older without aging and that remains lively with a wisdom that speaks to the present. It is not the most profound of Hume’s works or the most original, being to some extent a revision of...

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David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals is a philosophical classic that grows older without aging and that remains lively with a wisdom that speaks to the present. It is not the most profound of Hume’s works or the most original, being to some extent a revision of book 3 of Hume’s masterpiece, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740). However, its author considered it the best of his works, and many critics have agreed with that judgment.

Dealing decisively with major ethical issues, the work presents in clear, carefully organized form an analysis of morals. It continues the attack begun by philosopher Joseph Butler against the self-love theory (psychological egoism) of Thomas Hobbes and, in so doing, achieves a measure of objectivism frequently either overlooked or denied by Hume’s critics. On the other hand, after preliminary recognition of the significant but auxiliary role of reason in moral judgments, Hume sides with the eighteenth century school of sentiment against the ethical rationalists, on grounds shared today by those who regard ethical judgments as emotive utterances. However, while Hume is frequently cited as a predecessor of the latter philosophers, he avoids the utter relativism and moral nihilism frequently, but erroneously for the most part, attributed to them. Hence, although it would be worthwhile to read An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals for its historical importance alone, it also has a unique relevance to some fundamental problems of ethical philosophy, particularly to those concerning the nature of moral judgment.

Although An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals can be clearly understood without previous reading of Hume’s other works, it is an application to ethics of the theory of knowledge and methodology presented in A Treatise of Human Nature and Philosophical Essays Conerning Human Understanding (1748; best known as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1758), and its interest is enhanced by familiarity with those books. Like them, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals contains a measure of skepticism that, while fundamental, has been greatly exaggerated and widely misunderstood. Indeed, one of the chief merits of Hume’s philosophy lies in the “mitigated” skepticism that recognizes the limits of human reason without succumbing to what he calls Pyrrhonism, or excessive skepticism, which in practice would make belief and action impossible. However, those who accuse Hume of the latter skepticism must ignore one of his chief aims: to apply the Newtonian method of “philosophizing” to a study of human nature.

The Origins of Morals

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The object of the study is to trace the derivation of morals back to their ultimate source. Hume’s proposed method was to analyze the virtues and vices of human beings in order “to reach the foundation of ethics, and find those universal principles, from which all censure or approbation is ultimately derived.” Because this was a factual matter, it could be investigated successfully only by the experimental method, which had proved itself so well in “natural philosophy,” or physical science.

This “scientific” approach will appeal to many modern readers, but herein lies an ambiguity that, in spite of the clarity of Hume’s style, has misled some critics. One must realize that Hume was at this point writing of ethics as a descriptive study about morals—about acts, characters, and moral judgments. In this sense, ethics is a behavioral science and its statements are either true or false. That may suggest what today would be called an objectivist position, but Hume was not describing the way in which moral attitudes are affected; moral judgments, strictly speaking, are matters of sentiment, although before they can properly occur reason must furnish all the available relevant information. To avoid misinterpretation, it is hardly possible to overemphasize this distinction between inductive conclusions about moral acts and judgments, on one hand, and moral approvals and disapprovals themselves, on the other.

Social Virtues: Benevolence and Justice

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Hume’s analysis begins with an examination of the social virtues, benevolence and justice, since their explanation will have relevance to other virtues as well. Such benevolent sentiments and characters as are described by words such as “sociable” or “good-natured” are approved universally. However, it is not the mere fact of approval but the principle underlying it that is the object of investigation. We approve benevolence in part because of the psychological principle of what Hume calls sympathy, an involuntary tendency in an observer to experience the same emotions he or she observes in a fellow human being, but the more immediate reason for such approval is that we perceive the utility (usefulness, conduciveness to happiness) of this virtue. When we praise a benevolent person, Hume says, we always make reference to the happiness and satisfaction that person affords to society. Because benevolence is regarded as one of the highest virtues, in turn it reflects the fundamental importance of utility. Even in our nonmoral judgment of value, usefulness is a paramount consideration.

In cases of uncertainty about moral questions, Hume adds, there is no more certain way of deciding them than by discovering whether the acts or attitudes involved are really conducive to the interests of society. Hume describes several reversals in the estimation of practices, such as generosity to beggars, when it was seen that their tendencies were harmful rather than helpful, as had been supposed at first.

Whereas benevolence is approved partly but not exclusively for its beneficial consequences, justice has merit for no other reason. (One must realize that Hume conceives justice as concerning only property relations, thus omitting “fair play” and equality, ordinarily considered essential to the concept; actually he accounts for impartiality by his account of truly moral judgment, as is shown below.) To prove this apparently controversial claim, Hume cites a number of cases in which the connection of justice and utility is demonstrated by their joint occurrence or nonoccurrence, increase or diminution. Too many and too lengthy to admit adequate recapitulation here, Hume’s arguments may be suggested briefly by a few illustrations: In situations of superfluity or of dearth of material goods, the observation of property distinctions becomes useless and is suspended; a virtuous person captured by outlaws flouting justice would be under no restraint from justice if the opportunity to seize and use their weapons arose, since regard for ownership would be harmful; societies suspend international justice in times of war because of its obvious disadvantages.

Examination of particular laws confirms this explanation of justice; they have no other end than the good of humankind, to which even the theorists of natural law are forced to appeal ultimately. Particular laws would in many cases be utterly arbitrary and even ridiculous, were it not that the general interest is better served by having specified rules rather than chaos. In individual cases the fulfillment of justice may even be detrimental, as when an evil person legally inherits a fortune and abuses it, but consistent observance of the law is ultimately more useful than is deviation.

Were individuals completely self-sufficient, again justice would not arise, but actually people mate and then rear children; subsistence of the family requires observance within it of certain rules. When families unite into small societies and societies engage in commerce, the domain of utilitarian rules of property enlarges accordingly. Thus the evolution of social groups shows a direct proportion between utility and the merit of justice.

In finding the essence of justice and its moral obligation in utility alone, thus making it of derivative rather than intrinsic value, is Hume degrading this virtue? Not so, he insists:For what stronger foundation can be desired or conceived for any duty, than to observe, the human society, or even human nature, could not subsist without the establishment of it; and will still arrive at greater degrees of happiness and perfection, the more inviolable the regard is, which is paid to that duty?

Utility as the Basis for Society

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At the end of his section on justice he repeats his conclusion that utility accounts for much of the merit of such virtues as humanity, friendship, and public spirit, and for all that of justice, fidelity, integrity, veracity, and some others. A principle so widely operative in these cases can reasonably be expected to exert comparable force in similar instances, according to the Newtonian method of philosophizing. Hume then finds utility to be the basic justification for political society or government, and he notes that “the public conveniency, which regulates morals, is inviolably established in the nature of man, and of the world, in which he lives.”

However, is utility itself a fundamental principle? We may still ask why utility is approved, to what end it leads. The alternatives are two: It serves either the general interest or private interests and welfare. Hume recognizes the plausibility of the self-love or self-interest theory, holding that all approvals are ultimately grounded in the needs and passions of the self, but he claims to prove decisively the impossibility of thus accounting for moral judgments.

The skeptical view that moral distinctions are inculcated through indoctrination by politicians in order to make people docile is very superficial, Hume says. While moral sentiments may be partially controlled by education, unless they were rooted in human nature the terminology of ethics would awaken no response.

However, granted this response, must it still be traced to self-interest, perhaps an enlightened self-interest that perceives a necessary connection between society’s welfare and one’s own? Hume thinks not. We often praise acts of virtue in situations distant in time and space, when there is no possibility of benefit to ourselves. We approve some virtues in our enemies, such as courage, even though we know that they may work to our harm. When acts praised conduce to both general and private welfare, our approbation is increased, but we still distinguish the feelings appropriate to each. Now if the first two considerations are rejected by arguing that we approve what is not really to our own interest by imagining our personal benefit had we been in the situation judged, Hume replies that it is absurd that a real sentiment could originate from an interest known to be imaginary and sometimes even opposed to our practical interest.

Even the lower animals appear to have affection for both other animals and us; surely this is not artifice, but rather disinterested benevolence. Why then deny this virtue to humankind? Sexual love produces generous feelings beyond the merely appetitive, and common instances of utterly unselfish benevolence occur in parent-child relationships. It is impossible, Hume holds, to deny the authenticity of such affections as gratitude or desire for friends’ good fortune when separation prevents personal participation.

However, if the evidence is so clear, why have self-love theorists been so persistent? Hume blames a love of theoretical simplicity. The self-love theory, as Butler forcibly argues, mistakenly attempts to reduce all motivation to this one principle and so is psychologically false. Human beings have physical appetites, each having its own object; that of hunger is food, that of thirst is drink. Gratification of these needs yields pleasure, which may then become the object of a secondary, interested desire: self-love. Unless the primary appetites had occurred, there could have been no pleasures or happiness to constitute the object of self-love. However, the disinterested primary passions also include benevolence or desire for others’ good, satisfaction of which then similarly yields pleasure to the self. Hence self-love actually presupposes specific and independent needs and affections, which complexity is again shown by occasional indulgence of some particular passion, such as the passion for revenge, even to the detriment of self-interest.

Because self-love cannot account for our moral approval of utility, then the appeal of the latter must be direct. In any theoretical explanation, some point must be taken as ultimate, else an infinite regression occurs; hence we need not ask why we experience benevolence—it is enough that we do. Actually, however, Hume further explains it by reference to sympathy, the almost inevitable emotional reaction to the feelings of others. Yet Hume is careful not to claim that “fellow-feeling” is necessarily predominant over self-love; both sentiments vary in degree. However, in normal people there is a close correlation between strong concern for one’s fellows and sensitivity to moral distinctions. Benevolence may not be strong enough to motivate some people to act for the good of another, but even they will feel approval of such acts and prefer them to the injurious.

Universality in Moral Judgments

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Having not only admitted interpersonal differences in sympathy but acknowledging also intrapersonal variations of feelings for others, how can Hume account for any uniformity and objectivity in our moral judgments? Here he offers one of his most significant contributions to ethics. Even while our sentiments vary, we may judge merit with practical universality, analogously to judgmental correction of variations in sensory perception. Though we do not all, or always, perceive the same physical object as having the same color, shape, or size, as when we approach an object from a distance, we do not attribute the variations to the object; instead we imagine it to have certain stable, standard qualities. Such adjustment or correction is indispensable to mutual understanding and conversation among people.

Likewise, human interests and feelings vary. Thus, moral discourse would be impossible unless people took a general rather than a private point of view:The intercourse of sentiments . . . in society and conversation, makes us form some general unalterable standard, by which we may approve or disapprove of characters and manners.

Although our emotions will not conform entirely to such a standard, they are regulated sufficiently for all practical purposes, and hence ethical language becomes meaningful:General language . . . being formed for general use, must be moulded on some more general views, and must affix the epithets of praise or blame, in conformity to sentiments, which arise from the general interests of the community.

In order for this standard to be effective, there must of course be a sentiment or emotion to implement it, and here again Hume produces a telling argument against the self-interest theory. Self-love is inadequate to the prerequisites of the concept of morals, not from lack of force but because it is inappropriate. Such a concept as this implies (1) that there be in existence a universal sentiment producing common agreement in approving or disapproving a given object, and (2) that this sentiment comprehend as its objects actions or persons in all times and places. None but the sentiment of humanity will meet these criteria. Hume’s account of a “general unalterable standard” based principally on social utility and hence on benevolence is strongly objectivistic and balances subjectivistic strains in his ethics; it also provides the impartiality apparently neglected by his definition of justice.

Other Virtues

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Having thus accounted for our approval of qualities conducive to the good of others, Hume continues his analysis of virtues and finds three other classifications. “Qualities useful to ourselves” (“ourselves” here meaning persons exhibiting the qualities) may be approved also for general utility, but primarily for benefit to the agent; examples are discretion, frugality, and temperance. Now a second major division and two other categories of virtues are added: the “agreeable” (pleasant or enjoyable) to their possessors or to others. “Qualities immediately agreeable to ourselves,” approved primarily for the satisfying feelings aroused, are such as greatness of mind and noble pride, though some, like courage and benevolence, may also be generally useful. Good manners, mutual deference, modesty, wit, and even cleanliness illustrate “qualities immediately agreeable to others.”

Only when the analysis is almost completed does Hume offer the first formal definition of “virtue” as a “quality of the mind agreeable to or approved by every one who considers or contemplates it.” A second definition, better summarizing the work’s results, is that “Personal Merit consists altogether in the possession of mental qualities, useful or agreeable to the person himself or to others.” A definition of value in general follows: “Whatever is valuable in any kind, so naturally classes itself under the division of useful or agreeable, the utile or the dulce. . . .”

Readers familiar with the history of ethics will thus see hedonistic and utilitarian themes which received subsequent expression in Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The only goal of Virtue, Hume says, is cheerfulness and happiness; the only demand she makes of us are those of careful calculation of the best means to these ends and constancy in preferring the greater to the lesser happiness. Such an obligation is interested, but the pleasures it seeks, such as peace of mind or awareness of integrity, do not conflict with the social good, and their supreme worth is almost self-evident.

Reason vs. Sentiment

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Having discovered what he calls the true origin of morals through the experimental method, Hume is now ready to return to the issue of Reason versus Sentiment that he mentions at the beginning of An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals but defers for settlement until the end. Throughout the book, statements occur that indicate his final position, but unfortunately there are also a number that appear to make moral judgment a matter of reason. This ambiguity is dispelled by Hume’s final treatment showing that moral judgment proper is noncognitive and affective in nature. It is true that reason is indispensable to approval or disapproval, for it must provide the facts that pertain to their objects. Very detailed and precise reasoning is frequently required to determine what actually is useful in a given case; nothing other than reason can perform this function. In view of the importance of the question, of whether moral judgment is rational or sentimental (affective), to both the eighteenth century and ours, Hume’s full recognition of the auxiliary role of reason must be kept in mind. However, he cannot agree with those rationalists who hold that moral judgments can be made with the same mental faculties, methods, and precision as can judgments of truth and falsity, and who frequently make comparisons between our knowledge of moral “truths” and those of mathematics and geometry.

Besides the evidence of the origin of moral sentiment from benevolence, there are perhaps even more cogent arguments based on comparison of the two types of judgment. The judgments of reason provide information, but not motivation, whereas blame or approbation is “a tendency, however faint, to the objects of the one, and a proportionable aversion to those of the other.” That is, moral “judgment” is essentially affective and conative, while rational judgments are neither. Although reason can discover utility, unless utility’s end appealed to some sentiment the knowledge would be utterly ineffective.

Rational knowledge is either factual or relational (logical or mathematical) in nature; its conclusions are either inductive or deductive. However, the sentiment of blame or approbation is neither such a conclusion nor an observation of fact; one can examine at length all the facts of a criminal event, but one will never find the vice itself, the viciousness, as another objective fact in addition to those of time, place, and action. Neither is the vice constituted by some kind of relation such as that of contrariety, for example, between a good deed and an ungrateful response, since an evil deed rewarded with good will would involve contrariety but the response then would be virtuous. The “crime” is rather constituted such by the sentiment of blame in the spectator’s mind.

In the process of rational inference, we take certain known facts or relations and from these deduce or infer a conclusion not previously known; but in moral decisions, says Hume,After every circumstance, every relation is known, the understanding has no further room to operate, nor any object on which it could employ itself. The approbation or blame which then ensues, cannot be the work of the judgment, but of the heart; and is not a speculative proposition or affirmation, but an active feeling or sentiment.

This is one of the clearest and most definitive statements of Hume’s position on moral judgment.

Finally, reason could never account for ultimate ends, as can be shown very shortly by asking a series of questions about the justification of an act. For example, if one says he exercises for his health and is asked why he desires health, he may cite as successive reasons its necessity to his work, the necessity of work to securing money, and the use of money as a means to pleasure. However, it would be absurd to ask why one wished pleasure or the avoidance of pain. Similarly we have seen that virtue appeals to sentiments that neither have nor require any further explanation. Whereas the function of reason is to discover its objects, that of moral (and aesthetic) sentiment (or taste) is to confer value.

Hence, in a radical sense, moral distinctions are subjective, but the subject from which they derive is the whole human race, and individual subjectivity is corrected by the general unalterable standard. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals thus affords both a naturalistic, empirical description of the origin of moral values and a persuasive account of an ethical norm by which consistent judgments may be made, without appealing to a doubtful metaphysics. It is in this eminently sane recognition of the functions and limits of both reason and emotion that modern readers can learn much from David Hume.

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

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The Work

David Hume, perhaps Great Britain’s greatest philosopher, considered An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals to be his finest work, a judgment shared by many of his contemporaries and later readers who admire the clarity and objectivity of his examination of a complex and complicated subject.

The Enquiry is in large part a revision and extension of book 3 of Hume’s masterpiece A Treatise of Human Nature, in which he surveyed the full range of human psychology, but it is a much more concentrated review of the topic. In the Enquiry, Hume has two basic purposes. The first is to establish a method of writing about human ethical behavior; the second, to describe that behavior and explain its workings. In neither case, however, does Hume explicitly prescribe specific moral or ethical activities or values as “good,” “bad,” or even “indifferent.” Instead, he objectively describes what actions and beliefs human beings have characteristically labeled “good” and “evil” and explains why those judgments have been rendered. In this sense, the Enquiry is a study of how human ethics operate rather than an argument for or against any particular ethical theory or system.

Benevolence and Justice

Seeking to build in the realm of philosophy upon the scientific achievements of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Hume attempted to discover the ultimate principles of human morality and ethics. In the Enquiry, Hume first examined what he considered the two most fundamental human and social virtues, benevolence and justice, which he viewed as the basis of both individual and communal happiness and progress.

In Hume’s view, actions are accounted ethical or good by human beings for one or both of two reasons: either because they appeal to human sympathy or because they serve the purpose of social utility. In other words, actions appear to be good or worthwhile either in themselves or because they make human intercourse not only possible but also enjoyable and profitable.

Benevolence is valued because it appeals instinctively to human sympathy, in large part because almost every individual can appreciate how personally beneficial benevolence can be. In addition, Hume notes, human beings connect benevolence with social good. When a benevolent person is praised, there is always mention, and therefore recognition, of the good or satisfaction that he or she brings to the general community, because the inherent appeal to human sympathy is reinforced by the call of social utility.

Justice, however, is viewed by Hume as having a purely utilitarian function, primarily because he has defined the word in rather narrow terms and is concerned with property relationships rather than human or social affairs. These Hume discusses under the heading of impartiality as an aspect of fully moral judgment. In the usual run of human experience, Hume states, justice is a matter of what best serves the individual or society in terms of the overall situation. For example, nations habitually suspend traditional rules of international law during warfare because to adhere to them would impose obvious and, in Hume’s and humanity’s view, unwarranted disadvantages. In the largest sense, then, human law and justice are nothing more than agreed-upon conventions that advance the common good of all human beings.

Hume provides a variety of examples to demonstrate that justice is valued for its utility to human society and that it is defined by that utility. For example, respect for property is universally acknowledged as an element of justice, but if an honest man is captured by outlaws, he acts in accordance with justice if he seizes his captors’ weapons and uses them against them. Practical utility, rather than abstract idealism, is the determining factor of human considerations of justice.

Utility Is the Basis of Virtues

Hume’s intellectual background made him the successor of philosophers John Locke (1632-1704) and Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753). Locke had rejected the concept of innate ideas in his famous concept of the mind as a tabula rasa, or blank slate, upon which outside impressions were engraved, while Berkeley argued that abstract ideas did not exist and that only sense perception confirmed, and perhaps even established, the reality of objects outside the mind. Building upon these precepts, Hume established a rigorous skepticism that sought to replace abstruse metaphysical reasoning with practical logic.

Hume argued that the real basis of all human virtues was utility, or how well these particular beliefs and actions served to advance and preserve human society. He rejected the view proposed by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) that all human beings acted primarily out of selfish interests; instead, he stated that there was a natural sympathy among human beings that recognized and appreciated virtues such as humanity, friendship, truthfulness, and courage. Hume further proposed that these virtues were judged according to a universal standard of utility, which in the moral sphere corresponded to the physical laws discovered and enunciated by Newton.

Moral Judgment Comes from Sentiment, Not Reason

Finally, Hume made a distinction between judgments based on reason and those based on sentiment. The first kind of decision plays but a relatively small part in moral life. Rationality is primarily used in determining objective truths, such as those of mathematics, which are independent of human beings. Situations calling for a moral or ethical response, however, incite a response that is emotional rather than strictly rational. Reason may be necessary to determine the complexities of a certain situation, but once the essence has been established, sentiment determines how one will act. As Hume puts it, the moral response “cannot be the work of the judgment, but of the heart.”

In Hume’s view, then, human morals are subjective in that they depend upon the internal, emotional response of the individual. Since there is a universal bond among human beings that creates a single standard for moral actions, however, this subjectivity is tempered by a common unity that can be discovered by empirical study.

Bibliography

Ayer, A. J. Hume. New York: Hill and Wang, 1980. This brief introduction to Hume’s life is both well written and useful. The chapter on aims and methods is especially good.

Chappell, V. C., ed. Hume: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966. This collection of twenty-one essays by such acknowledged authorities as Ernest Mossner and Anthony Flew is valuable to students of Hume.

Flew, Antony. David Hume: Philosopher of Moral Science. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986.

Hanson, Delbert J. Fideism and Hume’s Philosophy: Knowledge, Religion, and Metaphysics. New York: Peter Lang, 1993. Fideism holds that belief in some religious theory must be sustained by faith alone. Michel de Montaigne and Blaise Pascal were Fideists. Hanson takes issue with the concept that Hume was a skeptic and attempts, in this book, to support that argument.

Hausman, David B., and Alan Hausman. Descartes’s Legacy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. This book is about the thought of René Descartes, George Berkeley, and Hume. Two chapters concentrate on Hume. The entire study is written from the point of view of Descartes’s philosophy; Berkeley and Hume are contrasted with Descartes.

Herdt, Jennifer A. Religion and Faction in Hume’s Moral Philosophy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Herdt takes a new look at Hume’s writings about religion and suggests a new interpretation.

Hume, David. Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. 3d ed. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Jenkins, John J. Understanding Hume. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1992. Offers a short biography, then spends the bulk of the book discussing Hume’s philosophy, primarily by explicating Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.

Mackie, John Leslie. Hume’s Moral Theory. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

MacNabb, D. G. C. “David Hume.” In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards. Vol. 4. New York: Macmillan, 1967.

Morice, G. P., ed. David Hume: Bicentenary Papers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977.

Norton, David Fate, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hume. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Two biographical sketches follow eleven essays by scholars discussing the philosophy of Hume.

Passmore, John. Hume’s Intentions. 3d ed. London: Duckworth, 1980. A valuable discussion of what Hume said and intended. Passmore corrects earlier imprecise and biased views of Hume.

Penelhum, Terence. David Hume: An Introduction to His Philosophical System. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1992. A short biography of Hume, a discussion of his philosophical system, and a number of annotated excerpts from his writing.

Pompa, Leon. Human Nature and Historical Knowledge: Hume, Hegel, and Vico. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. The beginning of the book is devoted to a discussion of Hume’s theory of history and his thoughts about the past.

Popkin, Richard H. Introduction to Hume’s “Diaslogues Concerning Natural Religion.” Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1980. Excellent introduction to a fine edition of one of Hume’s most interesting works.

Price, John Vladimir. David Hume. New York: Twayne, 1968. As the author says, “This book is a general introduction to … Hume … designed primarily for the reader who knows little about Hume.”

Price, John Vladimir. The Ironic Hume. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965. Price investigates an aspect of Hume’s practice that is ignored by others. He also suggests some important changes in interpretation that result from Hume’s use of irony.

Quinton, Anthony. Hume. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Bibliography.

Wilson, Fred. Hume’s Defence of Causal Inference. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. A lengthy attempt to justify Hume’s arguments and rules about causal inference. For the specialist.

James Sullivan Dwight Jensen

Bibliography

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 598

Ayer, A. J. Hume. New York: Hill and Wang, 1980. This brief introduction to Hume’s life is both well written and useful. The chapter on aims and methods is especially good.

Chappell, V. C., ed. Hume: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966. This collection of twenty-one essays by such acknowledged authorities as Ernest Mossner and Anthony Flew is valuable to students of Hume.

Flew, Antony. David Hume: Philosopher of Moral Science. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986.

Hanson, Delbert J. Fideism and Hume’s Philosophy: Knowledge, Religion, and Metaphysics. New York: Peter Lang, 1993. Fideism holds that belief in some religious theory must be sustained by faith alone. Michel de Montaigne and Blaise Pascal were Fideists. Hanson takes issue with the concept that Hume was a skeptic and attempts, in this book, to support that argument.

Hausman, David B., and Alan Hausman. Descartes’s Legacy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. This book is about the thought of René Descartes, George Berkeley, and Hume. Two chapters concentrate on Hume. The entire study is written from the point of view of Descartes’s philosophy; Berkeley and Hume are contrasted with Descartes.

Herdt, Jennifer A. Religion and Faction in Hume’s Moral Philosophy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Herdt takes a new look at Hume’s writings about religion and suggests a new interpretation.

Hume, David. Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. 3d ed. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Jenkins, John J. Understanding Hume. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1992. Offers a short biography, then spends the bulk of the book discussing Hume’s philosophy, primarily by explicating Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.

Mackie, John Leslie. Hume’s Moral Theory. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

MacNabb, D. G. C. “David Hume.” In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards. Vol. 4. New York: Macmillan, 1967.

Morice, G. P., ed. David Hume: Bicentenary Papers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977.

Norton, David Fate, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hume. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Two biographical sketches follow eleven essays by scholars discussing the philosophy of Hume.

Passmore, John. Hume’s Intentions. 3d ed. London: Duckworth, 1980. A valuable discussion of what Hume said and intended. Passmore corrects earlier imprecise and biased views of Hume.

Penelhum, Terence. David Hume: An Introduction to His Philosophical System. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1992. A short biography of Hume, a discussion of his philosophical system, and a number of annotated excerpts from his writing.

Pompa, Leon. Human Nature and Historical Knowledge: Hume, Hegel, and Vico. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. The beginning of the book is devoted to a discussion of Hume’s theory of history and his thoughts about the past.

Popkin, Richard H. Introduction to Hume’s “Diaslogues Concerning Natural Religion.” Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1980. Excellent introduction to a fine edition of one of Hume’s most interesting works.

Price, John Vladimir. David Hume. New York: Twayne, 1968. As the author says, “This book is a general introduction to Hume designed primarily for the reader who knows little about Hume.”

Price, John Vladimir. The Ironic Hume. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965. Price investigates an aspect of Hume’s practice that is ignored by others. He also suggests some important changes in interpretation that result from Hume’s use of irony.

Quinton, Anthony. Hume. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Bibliography.

Wilson, Fred. Hume’s Defence of Causal Inference. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. A lengthy attempt to justify Hume’s arguments and rules about causal inference. For the specialist.

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