Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature


It’s important to point out here that after reading both Hume and Smith (who were buddies in real life), I visited both of their graves in Edinburgh (once with a Tennets in hand). RIP to some real ones. Hume has a reputation for being one of the most important philosophers in history. This book was difficult and extremely boring.

Hume went to The University of Edinburgh unusually young, at 10 or 12 years old. By age 16 or so he had decided that he had nothing to learn from the professors there, and at age 18 he told all his friends that he’d made a scientific discovery and was going to spend the next 10 years in the sole pursuit of building it out. He immediately had a mental breakdown, his doctor telling him he had a “Disease of the Learned”, which he cured with a pint of wine, port and cheese habit that he maintained for the rest of his life. There is a statue of him on the main walk in Edinburgh in the style of a hallowed pensive roman thinker, that I would always laugh at every time I walked by, because I know for certain the dude did not look anything like that.

Sir Francis Bacon, one hundred years earlier, championed a method of inductive reason which states that after a series of observations, one can infer and make claims about the nature of that thing. The quintessential example of this is, if every morning the sun rises from the east, you can assume that tomorrow it will rise in the east as well. Hume argues that our beliefs about cause and effect are just that, and that as humans, we hold a faith in induction that is not based on reason but on our sentimentalist passions. What he is trying to do here is separate two things: first that human knowledge is solely based on direct experience and observation, whereas human nature is based on emotion.

Hume metaphorically and figuratively tee’s the ball up for Kant to (in a nutshell) lock down science, wrap up early modern philosophy, remove theology from philosophical discussion, and bring us into modern philosophy. Kant has a really famous quote in The Critique of Pure Reason about Hume:

“I freely admit that it was the remembrance of David Hume which, many years ago, first interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a completely different direction”.