David Hume

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Hume, David

(hyo͞om), 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).

Hume, David


Born May 7, 1711, in Edinburgh, Scotland; died there Aug. 25, 1776. British philosopher, historian, economist, and publicist. A precursor of positivism, Hume formulated the basic principles of the new European agnosticism.

Hume’s father was a member of the Scottish gentry; the family was of moderate means, and Hume read for the law at Edinburgh University. In 1739 he published his major work, A Treatise of Human Nature. From 1753 to 1762, Hume worked on his eight-volume History of England, in which he set forth the claims of the “new” Tories to leadership of the English bourgeoisie’s two-party bloc. From 1763 to 1766, Hume was in the diplomatic service in Paris. For a number of years he was active in the Select Society of Edinburgh. He became known in his native land for his Essays, Moral and Political (1741), which dealt with social, political, moral, aesthetic, and economic issues.

Hume’s theory of knowledge was based on his elaboration of G. Berkeley’s subjective idealism in the spirit of agnosticism and phenomenalism. The impressions of external experience, or sensations, were regarded by Hume as primary perceptions, and the impressions of internal experience, such as affects, desires, and passions, as secondary perceptions. He considered the problem of the relationship between mind and matter to be insoluble in theory, and he substituted for it the problem of the dependence of simple ideas (that is, sensory images) on external impressions. Rejecting the notion that the objective laws of existence are reflected in the conscious mind, Hume regarded complex ideas as developing from the psychological association of a number of simple ideas.

Hume’s doctrine of causality, which is the central point of his epistemology, is linked to his conviction about the causal nature of association. Having posed the problem of the objective existence of causal relationships, Hume proposed an agnostic solution; he maintained that the problem was not subject to proof, inasmuch as that which is considered the effect is not contained in and does not resemble that which is considered the cause. According to Hume, the psychological mechanism that causes people to believe in the objective existence of causality is based on the perception of event B following event A in time, as well as on the regularity with which which B follows A. These facts are accepted as proof that the cause necessarily gives rise to the effect—an error that grows into a fixed association of expected events, into a habit, and finally into “belief that A will inevitably be followed by B.

In the natural sciences, Hume maintained, belief in causality is based on nontheoretical faith; in the sciences of the mind, on the other hand, causality is indisputable, since it acts as the mechanism of association. It was Hume’s contention that causality must be transformed into a branch of psychology—a goal that he sought to achieve.

Rejecting freedom of the will from his position of psychic determinism, Hume utilized this conclusion to criticize the concept of spiritual substance. The individual, according to Hume, is “an assemblage or bundle ... of different impressions that follow one another” (Soch., vol. 1, Moscow, 1965, p. 367). Hume’s criticism of spiritual substance grew into criticism of religious belief, to which he opposed the habits of ordinary consciousness and a diffuse “natural religion.”

Hume’s ethics were founded on the conception of man’s unchanging nature. Man, in Hume’s judgment, is a weak creature, subject to the error and whim of his associations; through education he acquires habits rather than knowledge. Following A. Shaftesbury and F. Hutcheson, Hume considered moral judgments to be derived from feelings of satisfaction. From this hedonistic principle he made the transition to utilitarianism; but in his search for motives that would force people to meet the demands of the “public good,” Hume turned to the altruistic feeling of common human “sympathy,” which he contrasted to individualism.

Hume’s aesthetics can be defined as the psychology of artistic perception; for him, the beautiful was that which was most suitable for the attainment of practical goals.

In sociology, Hume opposed both the feudal-aristocratic and the bourgeois contractual conceptions of the origin of the state. Society, according to Hume, developed as a result of the branching out of families, while political power grew out of the institution of military chieftains and the people’s “habit” of submission to the latter. The legitimacy of power, according to Hume, depends on the length of time of rule and on observance of the principle of private property. In political economy, Hume rejected mercantilism and came close to the theory of labor of A. Smith. Together with Montesquieu, Hume subscribed to the “quantity theory” of metal money.

Hume’s ideas influenced the development of most of the positivist doctrines of the 19th and 20th centuries, including empiriocriticism, neopositivism, and linguistic philosophy.


The Philosophical Works, vols. 1–2. London, 1890.
Ibid., vols. 1–2. London, 1898.
Political Discourses. Edinburgh, 1752.
The Life of D. Hume, Esq., Written by Himself. London, 1777.
The Letters of D. Hume, vols. 1–2. Oxford, 1932.
New Letters of D. Hume. Oxford, 1954.
In Russian translation:
Sochineniia, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1965.
Hutcheson, F., D. Hume, and A. Smith. Estetika. Moscow, 1973.


Engels, F. “Polozhenie Anglii. Vosemnadtsatyi vek.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 1.
Engels, F. “Razvitie sotsializma ot utopii k nauke.” Ibid., vol. 19.
Engels, F. L. Feierbakh i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii. Ibid., vol. 21.
Marx, K. “Teorii pribavochnoi stoimosti.” Ibid., vol. 26, parts 1–2 (see index).
Lenin, V. I. Materializm i empiriokrititsizm. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18.
Vinogradov, N. D. Filosofiia D. Iuma, vols. 1–2. Moscow [1905–11].
Rogovin, S. M. Deizm i D. Ium. Moscow, 1908.
Mikhalenko, Iu. P. Filosofiia D. Iumateoreticheskaia osnova angliiskogopozitivizma 20 veka. Moscow, 1962.
Narskii, I. S. Filosofiia D. Iuma. Moscow, 1967.
Narskii, I. S. David lum. Moscow, 1973.
Burton, J. H. The Life and Correspondence of David Hume, vols. 1–2. Edinburgh, 1866.
Kemp Smith, N. The Philosophy of David Hume. London, 1949.
Macnabb, D. G. C. David Hume, His Theory of Knowledge and Morality. London, 1951.
Leroy, A.-L. David Hume. Paris, 1953.
Basson, A. H. David Hume. Harmondsworth, 1958.
Zabech, F. Hume: Precursor of Modern Empiricism. The Hague, 1960.
David Hume: A Symposium. Edited by D. F. Pears. London, 1963.
Mossner, E. C. The Life of David Hume. Oxford, 1970.
Hume and the Enlightenment: Essays Presented to E. C. Mossner. Edited by W. B. Todd. Edinburgh, 1974.
Forbes, D. Hume’s Philosophical Politics. Cambridge, 1975.
Jessop, T. E. A Bibliography of David Hume and of Scottish Philosophy From Francis Hutcheson to Lord Balfour. London, 1938.
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Even the great and famous skeptic David Hume acknowledged that philosophic uncertainty should not keep an intelligent person from eating his oatmeal in the morning.
Famous staff and students in its history include Charles Darwin, author of Origin of Species, Lord Joseph Lister, who discovered antiseptics, and philosopher David Hume.