Implications for Ethical Conduct

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The implications of Hume’s thought are threefold. First, Hume broke the individual’s tie with God and transferred it to society. Punishment and rewards were immediate, not confined to the hereafter. Second, Hume invited human society to create its own system of ethics. Third, rather than being static, based on values created by other societies in other times, ethics and morality are organic and ever-changing. Since ethics are subjective, it is society that determines their applicability.


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Ayer, A. J. Hume: A Very Short Introduction. 1980. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. This brief introduction to Hume’s life is both well written and useful. The chapter on aims and methods is especially good.

Box, M. A. A Suasive Art of David Hume. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Looks at Hume’s works as literature in the context of intellectual history.

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.

Flage, Daniel E. David Hume’s Theory of Mind. New York: Routledge, 1990. Hume’s theory of understanding and philosophy of mind—his two most important contributions to philosophy and psychology—are thoroughly discussed.

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.

Jenkins, John J. Understanding Hume. Edited by Peter Lewis and Geoffrey Madell. Lanham, Md.: Barnes & Noble Books, 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.

Mossner, Ernest Campbell. The Life of David Hume. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. A readable and clear exposition of Hume’s philosophy placed in historical context.

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.

Price, John Valdimir. David Hume. Updated ed. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A general introduction designed for readers who know little about Hume.

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

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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Critical Essays