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� Edited by Eric Steinberg.A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume's response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abst � Edited by Eric Steinberg.A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume's response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, which anticipates discussions developed in the Enquiry.In his concise Introduction, Eric Steinberg explores the conditions that led Hume to write the Enquiry and the work's important relationship to Book I of Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature.


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� Edited by Eric Steinberg.A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume's response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abst � Edited by Eric Steinberg.A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume's response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, which anticipates discussions developed in the Enquiry.In his concise Introduction, Eric Steinberg explores the conditions that led Hume to write the Enquiry and the work's important relationship to Book I of Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature.

30 review for An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 2nd Edition (Annotated)) (Hackett Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    I had seen so many references to Hume's Enquiry that I almost thought I had read it; but, when I actually got around to opening the book, I found as usual that things were not quite as I had imagined. I was not surprised by his relentless scepticism, or by his insistence on basing all reasoning on empirical evidence. These qualities, after all, have become proverbial. I was, however, surprised to find that I hadn't correctly grasped the essence of his argument concerning the nature of knowledge. I had seen so many references to Hume's Enquiry that I almost thought I had read it; but, when I actually got around to opening the book, I found as usual that things were not quite as I had imagined. I was not surprised by his relentless scepticism, or by his insistence on basing all reasoning on empirical evidence. These qualities, after all, have become proverbial. I was, however, surprised to find that I hadn't correctly grasped the essence of his argument concerning the nature of knowledge. In case you are as poorly informed as I was, let me summarise it here. Hume's position is wonderfully simple. He asks what grounds we have for supposing that multiple repetitions of an experiment justify us in inferring a necessary law. If we note, on many occasions, that hot objects burn our hands when we touch them, what logical reason do we have for assuming that we should not touch the next candle flame we happen to see? The answer is that we have no logical grounds at all for making such an inference. Of course, as a matter of observed fact, we do assume, after a small number of trials, that touching hot objects will hurt us. Hume says this is nothing to do with logic; we are simply designed in such a way that we cannot help being influenced by our experience to adopt such rules. As he points out, many other living creatures do the same. It is impossible to believe that a dog or a horse is performing any kind of logical deduction when they learn to avoid touching naked flames. They simply acquire the habit of behaving in this way. The most economical explanation of what we see is that human beings are doing the same thing. A mountain of discussion has accumulated since Hume published his book, and it would be presumptuous of me to give my opinions when so many extremely clever people have already done so. I am, however, struck by something I have noticed in the course of my professional career. I have worked in Artificial Intelligence and related subjects since the early 80s, and during that period the field has suffered a profound change. In 1980, most AI research was related to logic. People assumed that the notion of intelligence was in some essential way based on the notion of deduction. Making machines intelligent was a question of making them capable of performing the right kinds of logical inferences. This tempting approach was, unfortunately, a resounding failure. Somewhere towards the end of the last century, a different way of looking at things started to become fashionable, and quickly gained ground. Instead of thinking about logic, people began more and more to think about probability. They collected data and extracted various kinds of statistical regularities. The new AI systems made no attempt to think logically; their decisions were based on associations acquired from their experience. At first, the AI community was scornful, but it was soon found that "data-driven" systems worked quite well. They made stupid mistakes sometimes; but so did the logic-based systems, and the mechanical logicians tended to make more stupid mistakes. They could reason, but they had no common sense. Today, data-driven systems have taken over the field, and the approach has been shown to work well for many problems which had once been considered impossible challenges. Particularly striking successes have been notched up in machine translation, speech recognition, computer vision, and allied fields. If David Hume came back today, I have no idea whether he'd be offered a chair at a philosophy department. But I'm fairly sure that Google would be interested in hiring him.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ariel

    So I had to read this for my class "A Prehistory of Affect: Reading the Passions." It was a pretty panicked situation: I got randomly chosen to do a 30 minute presentation on this text... in the first week of my Masters. I had one week to read the Enquiry and prepare my presentation. It was incredibly stressful. I've never read philosophy, I'm very unfamiliar with the 18th century, and I had been out of school for year and a half. Talk about being kicked back into gear. I don't know how to "rate" So I had to read this for my class "A Prehistory of Affect: Reading the Passions." It was a pretty panicked situation: I got randomly chosen to do a 30 minute presentation on this text... in the first week of my Masters. I had one week to read the Enquiry and prepare my presentation. It was incredibly stressful. I've never read philosophy, I'm very unfamiliar with the 18th century, and I had been out of school for year and a half. Talk about being kicked back into gear. I don't know how to "rate" this text. It's pretty readable which was nice and a lot of the ideas are interesting and make you think.. but then a lot of the ideas are cyclical and redundant or just kind of silly. Im giving it three stars because that's what it conjures up in my mind, but I'm not super sure what I'm judging that off of, honestly. It's a text that is more about the discussion it creates rather than a "i liked it/i didn't like it" binary. PS: The presentation went super well! I got an A! YAY!

  3. 4 out of 5

    J

    Hume is one of the best, most quotable and reasonable philosophers of all time. Besides Schopenhauer and maybe Plato, no one had a greater mind. He was not quite the lucid prosodist Arthur was, and not quite the poet Plato was, but when it comes to directing humanity away from superstition and toward rational thinking, maybe none have done as much. A friend of Rousseau's and a great historian to boot, David Hume's writings are a pleasure to read. Hume is one of the best, most quotable and reasonable philosophers of all time. Besides Schopenhauer and maybe Plato, no one had a greater mind. He was not quite the lucid prosodist Arthur was, and not quite the poet Plato was, but when it comes to directing humanity away from superstition and toward rational thinking, maybe none have done as much. A friend of Rousseau's and a great historian to boot, David Hume's writings are a pleasure to read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Erick

    I didn't particularly enjoy this book. Hume is both pretentious and self-indulgent. While he makes a good case for experience being a necessary prerequisite for knowing effect from cause, he also contradicts himself variously and accords to experience more authority than he accredits it in certain other parts of this book. That a certain effect has happened numerous times before is no guarantee that it will happen again -true enough! Hume says that it is simply "custom" to credit any particular I didn't particularly enjoy this book. Hume is both pretentious and self-indulgent. While he makes a good case for experience being a necessary prerequisite for knowing effect from cause, he also contradicts himself variously and accords to experience more authority than he accredits it in certain other parts of this book. That a certain effect has happened numerous times before is no guarantee that it will happen again -true enough! Hume says that it is simply "custom" to credit any particular effect with empirical authority. But wait until he gets to the chapter on miracles; here he gives experience over arching authority to know exactly what nature and it's laws will give rise to. Hume argues that cause and effect are known only through experience and one experience will apply to other cause and effect occurrences when they are apparently similar. He admits that much of this cause/effect process occurs because of unintelligible "secret powers" that are inscrutable to reason. Whilst admitting that experience is more or less mere custom and admitting the inscrutability of secret processes, Hume undoes his argument and gauges the miraculous using the means he just put in doubtful standing! What an egregious error of logic; what a way to dig your own philosophical grave; to cast doubt on a particular method of reasoning and then endue it with absolute authority. Hume says no one has ever seen anyone rise from the dead anywhere, so presumes Hume who says that no occurrence is illogical that doesn't involve a contradiction. Hume presumes to use his customary experience to measure all events everywhere, regardless of whether he was present or not. He uses the example of an Indian disbelieving that water could become hard because of cold in his argument against miracles, when in fact it works against Hume. The example was to illustrate ignorance of physical laws that can seem miraculous when one has not experienced them. Same argument works against Hume. Hume thinks that a ship being suspended in air is a miracle; an example that is altogether ironic, given that in the 21st century we see jet airliners suspended in the air regularly. This would be a miracle to Hume, but all it really shows is Hume's 18th century ignorance of the principles of propulsion, aerodynamics and lift. Hume, as he admitted, has no means of knowing all natural laws and when and where they can be superseded because of other "secret powers" or laws coming into play. His chapter on miracles is a bit of a comical irony. Hume makes much of probability. A one thousand sided dye with nine hundred and ninety nine uniform sides with only one differentiated side figures in his argument regarding probability. It's an interesting analogy and example. Miracles by their very nature are not regular occurrences, just as the probability of one particular side appearing in a one thousand sided dye in a roll is not a regular occurrence. A miracle only has to happen once in experience to be an experimental fact. If it occurs even once, all arguments to the contrary are simply willful ignorance and, in Hume's case, pretentious sophistry. The only thing that saves this book from a 2 star review is his chapter "Of The Idea Of Necessary Connexion" which I must admit was quite intriguing. If I ever re-read Hume, it will probably be only this chapter and little else. Hume, subsequently, became the darling of atheists and his arguments are often recycled by them ad nauseam still. This, once again, shows the ignorance of atheists and their tendency to cherry pick sources. Hume wasn't an atheist, if anything he was a deist; although, he seems to make some claims to Christian belief, which can only be seen as ridiculous given his above positions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ade Bailey

    Returning to an old friend! The first text I was given to study as a philosophy undergraduate, and what pleasure to revisit. I'm not sure that Hume changed my thinking as a young man so much as brought the delight of recognition. The sweeping away of superstition, fantasy systems, spiritual mumbo jumbo and so on has never for me disabled a propensity towards reflection or deep attachment to a cleaner, less encumbered mystery. Kant, too, found his religious faith strengthened by such clarity. I was Returning to an old friend! The first text I was given to study as a philosophy undergraduate, and what pleasure to revisit. I'm not sure that Hume changed my thinking as a young man so much as brought the delight of recognition. The sweeping away of superstition, fantasy systems, spiritual mumbo jumbo and so on has never for me disabled a propensity towards reflection or deep attachment to a cleaner, less encumbered mystery. Kant, too, found his religious faith strengthened by such clarity. I was taught philosophy very much in the empiricist and positivist traditions, and whatever crude antagonisms to these have arisen among defenders of this or that faith, have found no difficulty whatsoever in reconciling particular modes of 'philosophical' thinking with poetic, aesthetic and, yes, spiritual modes. Indeed, reading Hume is its own reward for the pleasure of the text! There is nothing but clarity and wisdom in Hume. One has to be one's own conclusion and wisdom in considering the place of closed systems (such as language, or in this case the various Hume-given patterns) and any approach to ethics, epistemology, aesthetics, 'reality', spirit etc. (the 'noumenal') but you'd be indeed in a deep dogmatic slumber if you didn't appreciate the concision of Hume as probably the greatest help of all in beginning philosophy today.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine

    "If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: (*) For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." (p.120) (*) Burning had long been a common fate of atheistic books. Perhaps Hume is suggesting here that the wrong books have been destroyed... (from th "If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: (*) For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." (p.120) (*) Burning had long been a common fate of atheistic books. Perhaps Hume is suggesting here that the wrong books have been destroyed... (from the notes by Peter Millican)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maica

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Addition since my first review: The Problem of Induction is always something to keep in mind, for we humans are used to finding a solid ground to maintain a sense of certainty on the events of the outside world. What reasons are we to justify that what we repeatedly experienced in the past will still continue to happen until the present or future? Where do we get that certainty? Is it reliable or is only a human need to make sense of a world that in many ways is beyond our control? And why shoul Addition since my first review: The Problem of Induction is always something to keep in mind, for we humans are used to finding a solid ground to maintain a sense of certainty on the events of the outside world. What reasons are we to justify that what we repeatedly experienced in the past will still continue to happen until the present or future? Where do we get that certainty? Is it reliable or is only a human need to make sense of a world that in many ways is beyond our control? And why should we make a general law out of a single or isolated event? ___ This was my first whole reading of an actual work by David Hume and it is such an experience to have read something straight from the actual philosopher instead of bits and pieces of biography or explanation of his ideas. This book was a revised form of his first work, A Treatise of Human Nature, which was not received with eagerness by the public upon its first publication. First, my impression of Hume’s style was that he was frank to the point of being humorous at times with how he pokes at the way people think, behave and react within themselves and their environment. His choice of words and the presentation of ideas were presented in a clear and logical style. Just like any thinker, he considered himself unrestrained in going against what he thought were unreasonable beliefs, superstitions, and reinforced dogmatism, and as such, allowed himself to go deep in continuous process of questioning in matters of human thought and reaction, events, and the material world. It is only experience, which teaches us the nature and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to infer the existence of one object from that of another. Such is the foundation of moral reasoning, which forms the greater part of human knowledge, and is the source of all human action and behaviour. He employed a rigorous style of empirical thinking and the way he deduced what he advocated to be the way to having correct understanding of things is through reasoning by analogy. All throughout the book, the theme of cause and effect resulting to experience, recurred in all of his ideas, and it is through this means of analogy, by applying ones understanding of experience to something newly encountered, that he applied what he thought was the correctness of knowledge in human thought and the natural world. In this book, (though I may consider giving it a second reading), I found two striking arguments that Hume made: concerning the existence of God, and that of the material world. In the first pages, he acknowledged the existence of a Creator by whom everything in the universe is dependent upon. But in the middle of the book, he went on to apply his method of analogy and causation to God. According to him, every effect must have a cause that brought it to existence. For example, the footprint on the sand near the sea must have been caused by a person who walked on the sand. What made us to arrive at such a conclusion was we had been taught by prior experience that such a cause (a person walking) led to an effect (footprint on the sand), and therefore, we gain an understanding of the effect simply of our previous experience of actually perceiving the cause. This was his way of rigorously applying his empirical thinking which is limited to what is ‘observed and experienced’ and then to discard everything that does not conform to this method. But then, he went on to say that the existence of God cannot be justified because even though we see the creation (which is the effect), we had no direct actual experience of its Cause (God), so how can we prove the logic of His existence? This is where the limitation of logic and rigid empiricism is shown, though Hume will not accept it. Reason will always have its limitation, as much as Faith as how Hume subjected it with criticism will have its limitation as well. Now that in this book, Hume established how human understanding can be subjected to many factors that will deem it susceptible to many kinds of errors, so too, does his method of reasoning by experience and analogy can be subjected to similar flaws. Despite the comparison of what we know of objects and experiences applied to newly encountered objects and experiences, that does not negate the fact that each are distinct from the other with their own unique qualities. In the case of the Creator - he applies analogy, but he disregards that the Creator is distinct and His Attributes are different from His creation, and therefore for him to make an analogy in the context of the creation is unreasonable. Thus, Hume becomes a victim of logic by the fact that he failed to see the difference between what and whom he is trying to compare, because he reduced the notion of ‘qualities’ to abstract ideas existing only in the human mind. Much criticism can be attributed to religious interpretations as practiced by so-called religious people, but the depth of faith and wisdom coming from a belief on a Creator will always make a logical sense to humanity. What Hume dealt with is narrowly confined to issues of language, but the expression of language cannot be rid of its subjectivity and sophistry on the part of human beings with the way they express and understand it, in contrast to what reality and the actual world really is. Human understanding can indeed be flawed, but this flaw allows room for humanity to adapt to an ever-changing world. It has to grapple with continuous change, which may lead to a downward spiral of conflict and chaos or growth, since the way humans think (as influenced both by their innate nature and outside forces) lead them to act on many different ways towards their fellow beings and with the world around them. On the other hand, if empirical thinking, as what Hume employed in this book is applied in an absolutist sense and make it manifest not only in human thought but in belief, and then subject everything to the limited role of language and reasoning by analogy, including the understanding of the Creator Himself, humanity will be devoid of values and depth of wisdom. Language, thought, and experience are thus, among many, are only parts of a complex reality that humans possess, and irrespective of the perception and resulting expression of these human faculties, there is an external world that exist independent of human beings. Hume, in this book failed to make a distinction between the perceiver and the perceived. And this alludes to the second point. The second subject was Hume’s argument on the perception of the material world. In this book, he did not go at great lengths in discussing it, although his ideas are particularly insightful in the philosophical sense: It is universally allowed by modern enquirers, that all the sensible qualities of objects, such as hard, soft, hot, cold, white, black, etc are merely secondary, and exist not in the objects themselves, but are perceptions of the mind, without any external archetype or model, which they represent. If this be allowed, with regard to secondary qualities, it must also follow with regard to the supposed primary qualities of extension and solidity; nor can the latter be any more entitled to that denomination than the former. The idea of extension is entirely acquired from the senses of sight and feeling; and if all the qualities, perceived by the senses, be in the mind, not in the object, the same conclusion must reach the idea of extension which is wholly dependent on the sensible ideas or the ideas of secondary qualities. Nothing can save us from this conclusion, but the asserting, that the ideas of those primary qualities are attained by Abstraction, an opinion, which, if we examine it accurately, we shall find to be unintelligible, and even absurd. An extension, that is neither tangible nor visible, cannot possibly be conceived: and a tangible or visible extension, which is neither hard nor soft, black nor white, is equally beyond the reach of human conception. Bereave matter of all its intelligible qualities, both primary and secondary, you in a manner annihilate it, and leave only a certain unknown, inexplicable something, as the cause of our perceptions; a notion so imperfect, that no sceptic will think it worthwhile to contend against it. Hume was pointing that the material world cannot possibly exist without human perception consisting of a collection of qualities which were acquired through experience. These qualities are described to objects perceived in the material world, but at the same time, they are abstract in nature and only exist in the mind. Hume contends that the perceived world is only a collection of qualities that humans attribute to what they perceive, and the independence of the external world as existing apart from the perceiver seems to be only an illusion. This reminds me of another passage from a book entitled Consciousness by a Neuroscientist, J. Allan Hobson, If a tree falls in the middle of a forest, does it make a sound? - George Berkeley The immediate answer will be ‘yes’, but, ‘what sound does it make if there is nobody to hear it?’ So in this case, we have a world which is centered and continuously subjected to human perception - that in Hume’s book, is not acknowledged to be existing as independent of human, nevertheless flawed perception and understanding. David Hume, in this book, allowed me to re-evaluate and re-confirm on a much investigative level, the ways and the limitations of human understanding. He was a frank and brutally to-the-point writer, certainly unconventional, not afraid to present alternative modes of thinking and looking at things, and he has to be commended on his empirical method which is useful in the Science disciplines. Unfortunately, regardless of how it is presented as an objective/systematic manner, Empiricism has its own limitations like human understanding, and cannot apply in an absolutist sense on matters existing beyond the capability and scope of reason and observable experience.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Markus

    An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding David Hume (1711-1776) Hume’s philosophy on understanding is based on reasoning from experimental experience, but also from knowledge gained from tradition and customary behaviour. He visibly draws on knowledge of a wide range of classical and contemporary thinkers, whose views are often interwoven and more easily assimilated in combination. Hume declined any resemblance to religious school metaphysics and favoured a limited sceptic approach to science depen An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding David Hume (1711-1776) Hume’s philosophy on understanding is based on reasoning from experimental experience, but also from knowledge gained from tradition and customary behaviour. He visibly draws on knowledge of a wide range of classical and contemporary thinkers, whose views are often interwoven and more easily assimilated in combination. Hume declined any resemblance to religious school metaphysics and favoured a limited sceptic approach to science depending on circumstances. His writings are composed in an elegantly simple style, full of common sense and would likely be accepted in modern lives understanding of natural philosophy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ali Reda

    Hume discusses the distinction between impressions and ideas. By "impressions", he means sensations, while by "ideas", he means memories and imaginings. According to Hume, the difference between the two is that ideas are less vivacious than impressions. For example, the idea of the taste of an orange is far inferior to the impression (or sensation) of actually eating one. Writing within the tradition of empiricism, he argues that impressions are the source of all ideas. Hume's empiricism consist Hume discusses the distinction between impressions and ideas. By "impressions", he means sensations, while by "ideas", he means memories and imaginings. According to Hume, the difference between the two is that ideas are less vivacious than impressions. For example, the idea of the taste of an orange is far inferior to the impression (or sensation) of actually eating one. Writing within the tradition of empiricism, he argues that impressions are the source of all ideas. Hume's empiricism consisted in the idea that it is our knowledge, and not our ability to conceive, that is restricted to what can be experienced. He also explains that the difference between belief and fiction is that the former produces a certain feeling of confidence which the latter doesn't. When we reason a priori, and consider merely any object or cause, as it appears to the mind, independent of all observation, it never could suggest to us the notion of any distinct object, such as its effect; much less, show us the inseparable and inviolable connexion between them. A man must be very sagacious who could discover by reasoning that crystal is the effect of heat, and ice of cold, without being previously acquainted with the operation of these qualities. If we reason a priori, anything may appear able to produce anything. The falling of a pebble may, for aught we know, extinguish the sun; or the wish of a man control the planets in their orbits. It is only experience, which teaches us the nature and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to infer the existence of one object from that of another. However, Hume admits that there is one objection to his account: the problem of "The Missing Shade of Blue". In this thought-experiment, he asks us to imagine a man who has experienced every shade of blue except for one. He predicts that this man will be able to divide the color of this particular shade of blue, despite the fact that he has never experienced it. This seems to pose a serious problem for the empirical account, though Hume brushes it aside as an exceptional case by stating that one may experience a novel idea that itself is derived from combinations of previous impressions. Hume accepts that ideas may be either the product of mere sensation, or of the imagination working in conjunction with sensation. According to Hume, the creative faculty makes use of (at least) four mental operations which produce imaginings out of sense-impressions. These operations are compounding (or the addition of one idea onto another, such as a horn on a horse to create a unicorn); transposing (or the substitution of one part of a thing with the part from another, such as with the body of a man upon a horse to make a centaur); augmenting (as with the case of a giant, whose size has been augmented); and diminishing (as with Lilliputians, whose size has been diminished) Hume discusses how the objects of inquiry are either "relations of ideas" or "matters of fact", which is roughly the distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. The former, he tells the reader, are proved by demonstration, while the latter are given through experience. But here arises a question, why do we suppose that multiple repetitions of an experiment justify us in a necessary law? He shows how a satisfying argument for the validity of experience can be based neither on demonstration (since "it implies no contradiction that the course of nature may change") nor experience (since that would be a circular argument). So there is no certainty of experience to ensure knowledge through cause and effect. When it is asked, What is the nature of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact? the proper answer seems to be, that they are founded on the relation of cause and effect. When again it is asked, What is the foundation of all our reasonings and conclusions concerning that relation? it may be replied in one word, experience. But if we still carry on our sifting humor, and ask, What is the foundation of all conclusions from experience? this implies a new question, which may be of more difficult solution and explication. All reasonings may be divided into two kinds, namely, demonstrative reasoning or that concerning relations of ideas, and moral reasoning, or that concerning matter of fact and existence. That there are no demonstrative arguments in the case seems evident; since it implies no contradiction that the course of nature may change, and that an object, seemingly like those which we have experienced, may be attended with different or contrary effects. May I not clearly and distinctly conceive that a body, falling from the clouds, and which, in all other respects, resembles snow, has yet the taste of salt or feeling of fire? Is there any more intelligible proposition than to affirm, that all the trees will Sourish in December and January, and decay in May and June? Now whatever is intelligible, and can be distinctly conceived, implies no contradiction, and can never be proved false by any demonstrative argument or abstract reasoning a priori. If we be, therefore, engaged by arguments to put trust in past experience, and make it the standard of our future judgement, these arguments must be probable only, or such as regard matter of fact and real existence, according to the division above mentioned. But that there is no argument of this kind, must appear, if our explication of that species of reasoning be admitted as solid and satisfactory. We have said that all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect, that our knowledge of that relation is derived entirely from experience, and that all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the supposition that the future will be conformable to the past. To endeavour, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding existence, must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that for granted, which is the very point in question. For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. For Hume, we assume that experience tells us something about the world because of habit or custom due to our imagination, the observation of constant conjunction of certain impressions across many instances. This is also, presumably, the "principle" that organizes the connections between ideas. And this principle can be changed any time because there is no logical reason or empirical justification for it to be necessary. The first time a man saw the communication of motion by impulse, as by the shock of two billiard balls, he could not pronounce that the one event was connected: but only that it was conjoined with the other. After he has observed several instances of this nature, he then pronounces them to be connected. What alteration has happened to give rise to this new idea of connexion? Nothing but that he now feels these events to be connected in his imagination, and can readily foretell the existence of one from the appearance of the other. When we say, therefore, that one object is connected with another, we mean only that they have acquired a connexion in our thought, and give rise to this inference, by which they become proofs of each other's existence: A conclusion which is somewhat extraordinary, but which seems founded on sufficient evidence. Nor will its evidence be weakened by any general diffidence of the understanding, or sceptical suspicion concerning every conclusion which is new and extraordinary. No conclusions can be more agreeable to scepticism than such as make discoveries concerning the weakness and narrow limits of human reason and capacity. It seems evident that, if all the scenes of nature were continually shifted in such a manner that no two events bore any resemblance to each other, but every object was entirely new, without any similitude to whatever had been seen before, we should never, in that case, have attained the least idea of necessity, or of a connexion among these objects. We might say, upon such a supposition, that one object or event has followed another; not that one was produced by the other. The relation of cause and effect must be utterly unknown to mankind. Inference and reasoning concerning the operations of nature would, from that moment, be at an end; and the memory and senses remain the only canals, by which the knowledge of any real existence could possibly have access to the mind. Our idea, therefore, of necessity and causation arises entirely from the uniformity observable in the operations of nature, where similar objects are constantly conjoined together, and the mind is determined by custom to infer the one from the appearance of the other. These two circumstances form the whole of that necessity, which we ascribe to matter. Beyond the constant conjunction of similar objects, and the consequent inference from one to the other, we have no notion of any necessity or connexion. Without the influence of custom, we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the memory and senses. We should never know how to adjust means to ends, or to employ our natural powers in the production of any effect. There would be an end at once of all action, as well as of the chief part of speculation. When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. On Miracles, is the last chapter in the Enquiry, Hume argues that as the evidence for a miracle is always limited, as miracles are single events, occurring at particular times and places, the evidence for the miracle will always be outweighed by the evidence against — the evidence for the law of which the miracle is supposed to be a transgression. There are, however, two ways in which this argument might be neutralised. First, if the number of witnesses of the miracle be greater than the number of witnesses of the operation of the law, and secondly, if a witness be 100% reliable (for then no amount of contrary testimony will be enough to outweigh that person's account). And both cases can't happen.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ashvajit

    I enjoyed the straightforward, no-nonsense style of this famous philosopher. Good though he is, however, his vision of life is that of pure empiricism - that all real knowledge is gained only through sense contact. In other words he appears to completely disregard a vital aspect of the human consciousness, i.e. the possibility of gaining knowledge through contemplating the mind itself, for instance through the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Furthermore he discounts the possibility of re I enjoyed the straightforward, no-nonsense style of this famous philosopher. Good though he is, however, his vision of life is that of pure empiricism - that all real knowledge is gained only through sense contact. In other words he appears to completely disregard a vital aspect of the human consciousness, i.e. the possibility of gaining knowledge through contemplating the mind itself, for instance through the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Furthermore he discounts the possibility of recognizing causality, asserting that we only know that 'b' follows 'a'; we cannot know, he asserts, that 'b' is caused by 'a', or that in the presence of 'a', 'b' always arises, and in 'a's absence it does not. He thus demolishes the whole basis of modern science, together with the most basic formulation of the understanding of what it is to be a wise human being able to affirm the knowledge that flows from a healthy mind untramelled by scepticism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rowland Pasaribu

    Bertrand Russell famously summarized Hume's contribution to philosophy, saying that he "developed to its logical conclusion the empiricist philosophy of Locke and Berkeley, and by making it self-consistent made it incredible." Hume is remarkable in that he does not shy away from conclusions that might seem unlikely or unreasonable. Ultimately, he concludes that we have no good reason to believe almost everything we believe about the world, but that this is not such a bad thing. Nature helps us t Bertrand Russell famously summarized Hume's contribution to philosophy, saying that he "developed to its logical conclusion the empiricist philosophy of Locke and Berkeley, and by making it self-consistent made it incredible." Hume is remarkable in that he does not shy away from conclusions that might seem unlikely or unreasonable. Ultimately, he concludes that we have no good reason to believe almost everything we believe about the world, but that this is not such a bad thing. Nature helps us to get by where reason lets us down. Hume is unquestionably an empiricist philosopher, and he strives to bring the rigor of scientific methodology to bear on philosophical reasoning. His distinction between relations of ideas and matters of fact is absolutely crucial in this respect. Anything we can say about the world is a matter of fact, and thus can be justified only through experience and can be denied without contradiction. Relations of ideas can teach us about mathematical truths, but cannot, as some rationalist philosophers would have, teach us about the existence of our selves, an external world, or God. If we are left with only matters of fact to get us by in the world, however, we find ourselves greatly limited. How can past experience teach me anything about the future? Even to infer without circularity that future experience will resemble past experience requires some principle that cannot be grounded in past experience. Without that principle, our ability to reason according to cause and effect, and thus the greater part of our ability to reason with matters of fact, is sharply curtailed. We should be careful to note the tone Hume's skepticism takes here, however. Rather than conclude that we cannot know anything about future events or the external world, he concludes that we are not rationally justifiedin believing the things we do. Hume does not deny that we make certain inferences based on causal reasoning, and indeed insists that we would be unable to live if we didn't do so. His point is simply that we are mistaken if we think that these inferences are in any way justified by reason. That is, there are no grounds for certainty or proof of these inferences. Hume is a naturalist because he suggests that nature, and not reason, leads us to believe the things we do. Habit has taught us that we are safe in making certain inferences and believing certain things, and so we don't normally worry about them too much. We cannot prove that there is a world external to our senses, but it seems to be a relatively safe assumption by which to live. Rather than try to justify our beliefs or identify the truth, Hume seeks simply to explain why we believe what we believe. The Enquiry is decidedly a book about epistemology and not about metaphysics. That is, Hume is concerned about what and how we know, and not at all about what is actually the case. For instance, he does not deal with the question of whether there actually are necessary connections between events, he simply asserts that we cannot perceive them. Or perhaps more accurately, Hume argues that, because we cannot perceive necessary connections between events, the question of whether or not they actually exist is irrelevant and meaningless. Hume is an ardent opponent of rationalist metaphysics, which seeks to answer questions such as whether or not God exists, what the nature or matter and soul is, or whether the soul is immortal. The mind, according to Hume, is not a truth-tracking device, and we misuse it if we think it can bring us to metaphysical conclusions. A Humean science of the mind can describe how the mind works and why it reaches the conclusions it does, but it cannot take us beyond the confines of our own, natural, reason. Hume's stated method is scientific, of careful observation and inference from particular instances to general principles. The drive of scientific inquiry is to dig deeper and deeper so as to uncover a very few, very simple principles that govern all the complexities that we observe. Newton's genius gives us three very simple laws that can explain and predict all physical phenomena. Hume wishes to perform a similar feat for human understanding (the word "understanding" is used by Hume to describe most broadly the several faculties of human reason). The hope is that Hume will derive a similarly small and simple number of principles that can explain and predict the processes of human thought. His method will be to proceed from simple observation of how the mind works and how we use it in everyday life, and to infer from his observations increasingly general principles that govern our understanding until he reaches a bedrock of simplicity and clarity. In this respect, Hume follows very much in the empiricist vein of philosophy and owes a large debt to “John Locke”. Locke moved against rationalist philosophy, best exemplified by “Descartes”, which relies heavily upon rational intuition. The empiricist tradition asserts that experience, and not reason, should serve as the basis of philosophical reasoning. The motivation for Hume's project is made apparent in his complaint that the "accurate and abstract" metaphysics that he is pursuing is frequently looked down upon and disdained. The difficulty and counter-intuitive nature of these inquiries often lead to errors that may seem absurd and prejudicial to future generations. Even today, there is a great deal of debate as to whether there has been any real "progress" in philosophy: we may have refined our discussions and dismissed some bad ideas, but in essence we are still mulling over the same problems that concerned Plato and Aristotle. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that we are no nearer a satisfactory and final answer than the ancient Greeks. Hume hopes that scientific observation can uncover the principles that underlie our reasoning so that we can be more immediately aware of faulty logic and more easily guided along the correct path. Ever since the scientific revolution of Newton, Galileo, and others, science has been held up as a paradigm of fruitful reasoning. In science, there is a carefully defined methodology that precisely details how we can test a theory and determine whether it is right or wrong. Though it is often difficult to determine the right answer, the scientific method usually prevents us from arriving at answers that are far from the mark. Philosophy lacks any such determinate method, and philosophers are continually taking up conflicting views. For instance, Hume's emphasis on observation goes directly against Descartes' rationalism, which disparages observation in favor of pure reason. Hume hopes that his empiricism will open the way for a carefully defined method that will not allow for such disparity amongst philosophers. Hume also suggests that his work must be epistemically (epistemic: of, relating to, or involving knowledge; cognitive) prior to the new science that he so lauds. The scientific method is a product of careful reasoning, and is thus subject to the laws of human understanding. While science seems to be in far better shape than philosophy, it too can benefit from his work. In this way, Hume differs from his predecessor, Locke. Locke sees himself as laboring on behalf of the new science, clearing away some of the linguistic rubble that might lead to confusion. While Locke humbly sees himself as simply clearing a path for science, Hume believes that his own work must lay the groundwork upon which science can rest. If he can uncover the precise laws that govern our reasoning and inferences, this should help us draw the right conclusions in our scientific investigations. Hume brings to bear three important distinctions. The first, and most important, is the distinction between ideas and impressions. This distinction is original to Hume and solves a number of difficulties encountered by Locke. A proper discussion of Hume's footnote would take us too far afield, but we should remark that Hume's criticism of Locke is exact and powerful. The distinction between impressions and ideas might seem quite obvious and of no great importance, but Hume is quite clever to identify the full importance of this distinction. An empirical philosophy asserts that all knowledge comes from experience. For Hume, this would suggest that all knowledge comes from impressions, and so ideas are set up as secondary to impressions. The second distinction, between complex and simple impressions or ideas, helps draw out further the power of the first distinction. A simple impression might be seeing the color red, while a complex impression might be seeing the totality of what I see right now. A simple idea might be the memory of being angry while a complex idea might be the idea of a unicorn (composed of the idea of a horse and the idea of a horn). Complex ideas and impressions are compounded out of the simple ones. With these first two distinctions, Hume is creating a hierarchy of mental phenomena. Since the complex is compounded out of the simple and ideas are derived from impressions, everything in our mind is based ultimately upon simple impressions. A complex idea is compounded out of several simple ideas, which are in turn derived from several corresponding simple impressions. Hume thus suggests that a term can only be meaningful if it can be connected with an idea that we can associate with some simple impressions. Hume, we should note, is silently implying that every term must be connected with some idea. In the eighteenth century the philosophy of language had not yet flourished, and it was not clear how difficult it might be to determine precisely how words, ideas, and reality link up. Hume's suggestion that all terms can be analyzed into simple impressions anticipates Russell, who argues that we can analyze all terms into simple demonstratives like "this" or "that." Hume's suggestion comprehends a picture of language according to which the words we use are a complex and opaque expression of a simpler underlying language which proper analysis can bring out. The third distinction is the three laws of association. If the previous two distinctions give us a geography of the mind, describing its different faculties, this distinction gives us a dynamics of the mind, explaining its movement. According to Hume, any given thought is somehow related to adjacent thoughts just as any given movement in the physical world is somehow related to adjacent moving bodies. His three laws of association, then, might be seen as equivalent to Newton's three laws of motion. With them, Hume hopes to have described fully the dynamics of the mind. There are a number of objections we might want to raise to Hume's distinctions and the way they are introduced, but we will touch on only a few briefly. First, we might ask how strictly we can distinguish between impressions. Hume argues that ideas can be vague, but that impressions are exact and that the boundaries between them are clearly defined. Is the boundary between the impression of a 57" stick and a 58" stick that clearly defined? There is some level of vagueness in our impressions that Hume does not acknowledge. We could also point out that while we are experienced in distinguishing colors, we are not so good with some other sensations. For instance, we often have trouble distinguishing between tastes. Second, we might object to Hume's implicit philosophy of language. It seems closely linked to the idea that simple impressions are clearly defined and infallible. It is far from clear, however, why it should be desirable or possible to reduce all our language to simple impressions. What, we might ask, is the simple impression from which is derived the word "sake," for example? Third, we might ask Hume to be clearer in his distinctions. For instance, are dream images impressions or ideas? Most likely they are ideas, since they consist of a mixture of imagination and memory. However, dreams are (arguably) phenomenally indistinguishable from waking experience: we cannot prove that we are dreaming from within a dream. Thus, all our impressions from within a dream are as real to us as we dream them as waking impressions are to us when we experience them.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Laura Noggle

    “In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence." Best summary I've seen: *As intriguing today as when it was first published, Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a fascinating exploration into the nature of human knowledge. Using billiard balls, candles and other colorful examples, Hume conveys the core of hi “In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence." Best summary I've seen: *As intriguing today as when it was first published, Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a fascinating exploration into the nature of human knowledge. Using billiard balls, candles and other colorful examples, Hume conveys the core of his empiricism—that true knowledge can only be gained through sensory experience. No other philosopher has been at the forefront of the mind than David Hume; physics, psychology, neuroscience—connections to Hume are everywhere. Here is the book that Immanuel Kant confessed to have awoken him from his "dogmatic slumber."* In a way, it reminded me of A BriefER History of Time as Hawking also used billiard balls as explanatory props. Especially loved the ending: "If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Hume eviscerates the belief that we can understand anything about the world on a rational and certain basis. At his most optimistic, Hume argues that all knowledge beyond direct observation is probable rather than certain. This was an important chastenment of Enlightenment rationalism, and is generally accepted today. But Hume's argument seems to go much farther, and the more optimistic later sections are the result of his either not recognizing the strength of his earlier arguments or deliberatl Hume eviscerates the belief that we can understand anything about the world on a rational and certain basis. At his most optimistic, Hume argues that all knowledge beyond direct observation is probable rather than certain. This was an important chastenment of Enlightenment rationalism, and is generally accepted today. But Hume's argument seems to go much farther, and the more optimistic later sections are the result of his either not recognizing the strength of his earlier arguments or deliberatly obscuring it. In the critical section, "Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding," Hume demonstrates there is no rational reason to expect future events to follow the same pattern as those in the past. To have confidence in induction, and thus science and most philosophy, is therefore a matter of faith rather than reason. There is no rational way to understand the world. In subsequent sections, Hume presents an argument for why we believe in causation and induction. It is because, he says, observing one event invariably follow another creates in our minds the expectation that it will always be so. But, as he demonstrated earlier, there is no rational basis for this belief. Oddly, in the final sections Hume proceeds as if this belief is justified, and offers critiques of miraculous and natural religion.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    A few years ago I had, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. I was completely unsatisfied with the explanations for existence/purpose that I had been given by parents/teachers/friends. It terrified me that no one had ever written about this concerns (obviously people had, I was just never introduced to them). I felt like an idiot for allowing my mind to dwell on concepts such as the basis of human understanding. It's nice, it's calming to know that extremely intelligent people, and ma A few years ago I had, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. I was completely unsatisfied with the explanations for existence/purpose that I had been given by parents/teachers/friends. It terrified me that no one had ever written about this concerns (obviously people had, I was just never introduced to them). I felt like an idiot for allowing my mind to dwell on concepts such as the basis of human understanding. It's nice, it's calming to know that extremely intelligent people, and many of them, have been concerned with the basis of human knowledge - and a few of them were as skeptical as I was. Hume is a beautiful person. He allows us to move past complete skepticism without the need to blindly ignore the fact that complete skepticism is a genuine concern. And he did this hundreds of years ago, under the pressures of being called an 'atheist' and other bad things that could ruin his reputation and his life. I was afraid to explore these concepts in the 21st century for fear of being called weird and depressing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    "After all, I may, perhaps, agree to your general conclusion in favour of liberty, though upon different premises from those, on which you endeavour to found it. I think, that the state ought to tolerate every principle of philosophy; nor is there an instance, that any government has suffered in its political interests by such indulgence. There is no enthusiasm among philosophers; their doctrines are not very alluring to the people; and no restraint can be put upon their reasonings, but what mus "After all, I may, perhaps, agree to your general conclusion in favour of liberty, though upon different premises from those, on which you endeavour to found it. I think, that the state ought to tolerate every principle of philosophy; nor is there an instance, that any government has suffered in its political interests by such indulgence. There is no enthusiasm among philosophers; their doctrines are not very alluring to the people; and no restraint can be put upon their reasonings, but what must be of dangerous consequence to the sciences, and even to the state, by paving the way for persecution and oppression in points, where the generality of mankind are more deeply interested and concerned." Though perhaps not the central takeaway to this work, the above quote struck me, especially in light of the twentieth century. Though short in pages, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding packs a punch with philosophy. I struggled a bit to understand it, but I could also easily see how he wrote for "popular" audiences. Not my favorite by any means, but thought-provoking.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Xander

    An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) was David Hume's second attempt to offer readers his view on epistemology. A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) was no succes and Hume even suffered from a depression following this failure. Nevertheless, he was convinced of the importance of the message, so he decided to publish its contents in two new, thinner and more accessible books. In order to understand Hume's message, we have to understand the historical context of the book. In the 17th centu An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) was David Hume's second attempt to offer readers his view on epistemology. A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) was no succes and Hume even suffered from a depression following this failure. Nevertheless, he was convinced of the importance of the message, so he decided to publish its contents in two new, thinner and more accessible books. In order to understand Hume's message, we have to understand the historical context of the book. In the 17th century mechanical science took over the scepter from christian scholastic philosophy. For centuries, scholars had tried to grasp reality by building axiomatic-deductive systems of knowledge, according to the philosophy of Aristotle. In other words, philosophers could understand the world from their armchairs. Galileo demolished this worldview, and for this he was thanked by the Church of Rome with an appropriate sentence of life long house arrest. What Galileo did, was to observe the behaviour of Nature in carefully controlled experiments. From then on it was clear that Aristotle's philosophy was falsified on all accounts: the discovery of the vacuum; the observations of comets and supernovae and of planetary satellites - both happening in supposedly unalterable heavenly spheres; Aristotle's assumption that heavier objects fall faster; etc. In 1687 Newton published his Principia and with this synthesized all the discoveries in physics and astronomy of the past 100 years in one universal system, comprising 'just' 4 laws (three laws of motion and universal law of gravity). With Newton, the Western worldview changed drastically: the only role for God was a master watchmaker, who created this universe and set it running. But more importantly, for philosophy at least, was the change of our conception of truth. Newton induced a grand system from particular observations; and induction was never before used as a scientific method. Thinkers like John Locke (in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding) and Berkeley (in his Principles of Human Knowledge) would ponder the question of what knowledge is. How do we know what's true knowledge? According to Locke, there is an objective reality out there, but our intellect is too limited to grasp it - the best we can hope for are scientifically informed opinions. Someone like Berkeley even went so far to say that there's no such thing as objective reality: all our sensations and reflections are mental constructs, ultimately build by God. A second key element in understanding Hume, is the discovery in the 18th century of the works of Sextus Empiricus - an ancient Greek sceptic philosopher, who found a contradiction in the method of induction. When we induce, we derive universal statements from particular observations. But there's no way to garantuee that the next observation will NOT contradict our current (universal) conclusion. So either we have to make all the observations - past, present and future - which is impossible, or we have to admit that induction is not true knowledge. It is in this historical situation (the 17th century developments in physics and the re-discovery of the works of Sextus Empiricus) that we have to situate David Hume. Now, what does Hume say about the question of what true knowledge is? Hume begins by explaining what causation is. According to Hume, causation is nothing but custom. When one billiard ball bounces against another, we only notice the movement of the first ball, the temporary bond between both balls and consequently the movement of the second ball. In other words: we see events following each other, nothing more or less. Now, human beings observe from the time they're born onwards certain events following each other. Ever since I can remember, I have seen objects fall to the ground when let loose. This forms in my understanding the custom of "object let loose, followed by fall". This is - according to Hume - causation. Next, Hume has to explain what learning is. For him, learning is observing experiences and generalizing from these experiences to expectations about the future. In other words: learning is induction. We induce general conclusions (and predictions and expectations) from all the experiences we have observed. But this brings us to the 'induction problem' of Sextus Empiricus: by definition induction is unreliable as a foundation for true knowledge, since we can never with certainty form infinite conclusions from the finite data available to us. But there is an important distinction here (known as Hume's fork), which is based on Hume's explanation of our ideas. According to Hume, we perceive (simple) ideas via our senses and then connect these ideas into associations (i.e. complex ideas) via reflection. The relationship between ideas can be known by reason alone, a priori. The ideas themselves cannot be known by reasoning a priori, only after they have been generated via our sensual perceptions - a posteriori. In other words: mathematical and logical ideas - ideas about relationships between concepts - can be known a priori, while scientific ideas can be known only by observation. Since a priori reasoning cannot inform us on certain knowledge about the reality - this requires sensual perceptions - we cannot attain true knowledge about the world. Like Locke, Hume asserts that science can approach this ideal, but we as human beings are limited by our intellectual capabilities. In other words: reasong powers are gradual and there's only a difference of degree between us and animals. This point is extremely important, since - unlike today where this is a generally accepted statement - in Hume's time human beings were seen as the epitome of Nature's Great Chain of Being. So by closing this book and being convinced by Hume - as we all should be - we have become sceptics: induction is our only means of acquiring factual knowledge about the world, but this method is philosophyically flawed. Now what? Well, causation and determination have become problematic ever since the discovery of quantum mechanics - in which uncertainty and indeterminacy are principles (!) - but this doesn't bring us any further, since an indeterministic, uncertain world is - by definition - not knowable. The search goes on... But, with Hume, we should at least by happy that we have given ourselves criteria by which to judge the truth claims of others. So even though we have given up the aim of attaining certain knowledge about the world, we have acquired a resistance to the truth claims of others. As Hume so humorously writes, every book of someone claiming to illustrate how the world works: "Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." (It is easy to see that such a sceptical mindset is toxic to religious convictions - it leads to religious critique by definition - and it is therefore not hard to grasp why Hume's life was one of strife with religious people, why he was called an atheist, and why he had to publish some works posthumously).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    What I like about Hume is the skepticism and empiricism. What I don't like about Hume is the doubting of causality. Too bad this is pretty much thought of as the Hume thing. Hume was a very, very necessary step in the evolution of philosophy. He overcame the irrational rationalism of Descartes and Berkeley, and paved the way for German idealism, which of course led to Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, etc. And really, I find Hume's brand of Enlightenment thought so much more palatable than Kant's or What I like about Hume is the skepticism and empiricism. What I don't like about Hume is the doubting of causality. Too bad this is pretty much thought of as the Hume thing. Hume was a very, very necessary step in the evolution of philosophy. He overcame the irrational rationalism of Descartes and Berkeley, and paved the way for German idealism, which of course led to Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, etc. And really, I find Hume's brand of Enlightenment thought so much more palatable than Kant's or Hegel's. And, other than the causality thing, it's really a very well-reasoned epistemology by my book-- most human knowledge among most humans is ultimately derived from habit and impulse rather than rational decision-making and inquiry. i can only imagine how refreshing this must have been when it was first published.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Falk

    It is rare that I read an entire book twice in a row, but I made an exception for Hume's Enquiry. Yes, he’s that good. – I wasn’t quite as happy with the Kindle version of this book though, since there are no direct links in the text to Hume's own notes - which doesn’t exactly allow for a smooth reading experience. The Oxford World’s Classics edition includes the Abstract of the Treatise of Human Nature, the essay Of the Immortality of the Soul, excerpts from letters and from the Dialogues conce It is rare that I read an entire book twice in a row, but I made an exception for Hume's Enquiry. Yes, he’s that good. – I wasn’t quite as happy with the Kindle version of this book though, since there are no direct links in the text to Hume's own notes - which doesn’t exactly allow for a smooth reading experience. The Oxford World’s Classics edition includes the Abstract of the Treatise of Human Nature, the essay Of the Immortality of the Soul, excerpts from letters and from the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, as well as Hume's short autobiography, My Own Life.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael Kress

    It was recommended that I read this because David Hume influenced Kant and it would help me understand the concepts in Critique of Pure Reason. He's certainly an influential figure; in fact, without him, there would probably be no Arthur Schopenhauer, my favorite philosopher ever. He also influenced Albert Einstein, and I can see how this book was revolutionary in the science world. Sometimes it seemed more like a science book than a philosophy book. But I felt as if I was already familiar with It was recommended that I read this because David Hume influenced Kant and it would help me understand the concepts in Critique of Pure Reason. He's certainly an influential figure; in fact, without him, there would probably be no Arthur Schopenhauer, my favorite philosopher ever. He also influenced Albert Einstein, and I can see how this book was revolutionary in the science world. Sometimes it seemed more like a science book than a philosophy book. But I felt as if I was already familiar with these ideas and that he was just "preaching to the choir." Most of it is just common sense, and he seems to repeat the same things over and over. He writes about how there is no proof of miracles defying the laws of nature, or of a Deity interfering in human affairs. These must have been controversial topics at the time and it's surprising that he didn't get in trouble with the church. He writes about causation and determinism, which are interesting topics, but I had already heard these ideas through people he influenced. I appreciate Hume's legacy and the importance of this book, but I didn't get much out it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    It's a bit pointless to try to comment on this book, especially considering how much scholarship there is on Hume and how widely studied he still is by the intellectually curious and in Philosophy departments. He is an amazingly advanced thinker for the time, and is still important today, partly because although he doesn't seem to like Spinoza or any of the Rationalists, most of the basis for contemporary psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience is found in these two great philosophers' wr It's a bit pointless to try to comment on this book, especially considering how much scholarship there is on Hume and how widely studied he still is by the intellectually curious and in Philosophy departments. He is an amazingly advanced thinker for the time, and is still important today, partly because although he doesn't seem to like Spinoza or any of the Rationalists, most of the basis for contemporary psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience is found in these two great philosophers' writing. The problem of induction is forcefully and eloquently articulated here, and Hume's mostly convincing on everything he writes about. There are some odd things in this book you rarely hear about, and Hume's discussion of religion is nuanced in a way that doesn't seem to register with most, at least not in my intellectual circles.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eric 'siggy'

    Hume's Enquiry is a landmark document in epistemology, the study of what distinguishes justified beliefs from unjustified ones. It's about sixty pages, and is a rewriting of the first part of his more monolithic Treatise of Human Nature (1737), which he started writing at about my age (23!) and published three years later. In short, the book aligns very well with the thinking of modern secular humanism -- and parts of it cover very similar ideas to what you'd find in contemporary skeptic and athe Hume's Enquiry is a landmark document in epistemology, the study of what distinguishes justified beliefs from unjustified ones. It's about sixty pages, and is a rewriting of the first part of his more monolithic Treatise of Human Nature (1737), which he started writing at about my age (23!) and published three years later. In short, the book aligns very well with the thinking of modern secular humanism -- and parts of it cover very similar ideas to what you'd find in contemporary skeptic and atheist literatures (Michael Shermer comes to mind). With few exceptions, one does not approach a canonical work of philosophy without his reasons -- some particular interest or motivation. Philosophy is dense, and not for the faint of heart. Hume is aware of this, and seems almost as frustrated as I am at philosophers' general incompetence at actual communication. "Be a philosopher;" he writes, "but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man," and that only a subset of people can "reap pleasure from what, to the generality of mankind, may seem burdensome and laborious." A whole chapter is dedicated to the importance of backing up abstract ideas with concrete examples. Compared to the likes of, say, Locke or Kant, then, Hume is a delight -- but it still takes some effort, especially if you're not used to reading books of "substance." I was introduced to Hume at 16 through a paperback introduction to philosophy I picked up while hosteling in London ( Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy). Ready and eager to embark on a freethinking search for truth myself, I find natural allies in the efforts of Descartes and Hume to lay bias aside and put their back into the mill of reason, thereby sifting the truth out of the cacophony of dissident voices in the world. Firmly convinced that "we see through a glass darkly," and that the rest of the world's voices deserved my respectful ear, I wanted to peer outside the conservative Christian bubble that had formed my every thought and act, and thereby discover the truth (hopefully Christianity), and more importantly develop confidence in it. I was shocked and abhorred to discover that the philosophers asked me to seriously consider, before addressing any of the Great Questions that are popularly debated, whether my senses are reliable. I was not prepared for this kind of "Cartesian doubt." Are my senses reliable? Of course they are! I seem to remember wondering, when I was about six years old, whether other people saw orange the same way I do -- or perhaps they felt slightly different qualia. In any event, I certainly decided it did not matter. But in asking the question "how do we know," however, one must start with the basics! Hume has no intention of overturning common sense -- he makes that clear from the beginning. But, having established soundly that correlation does not ever imply causation, he cannot provide a rebuttal of Pyrrhonism (total skepticism as founded by the Greek Pyrrho) -- save to point out that such extreme doubt never did anybody any good. Many of his points abut Pyrrhonism could apply unchanged to postmodernism, and thus maintain a good deal of currency. Hume's chief concern is to establish the virtue of an "academic" approach to knowledge, which is not as hyperbolic as Pyrrhonism, but is tempered and humble in its aspirations. It is the happy medium, one could say, between the "dogmatical reasoner" who is one-sided and passionate in his opinions and has a poor appreciation for existing counterarguments or respect for opponents; and the extreme skeptic who reserves judgment on any and all issues, declaring man's reason wholly suspect and completely untrustworthy. "In general," he writes, "there is a degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner." Along the way he steps on many religious toes. He says that the debate over free will is just a matter of semantics -- and nobody really believes in a will that isn't bound by the laws of cause and effects. He suggests that it's more reasonable to take the universe's imperfection at face value, and conclude that God too is imperfect -- as opposed to constructing elaborate defenses of His honor that are wholly speculative. He devotes a chapter to miracles, and decides that there is no case in which the testimony of others can be held so trustworthy as to overcome our faith in the complete hegemony of natural law. Ultimately he says that there is no rational case for Christianity whatsoever, and that belief in God as commonly understood can be based upon faith and nothing else. I was somewhat dissatisfied with Hume's infidelity. Prophecy he dismisses in just half a paragraph, contending that his discussion of miracles had covered it. Prophecy was a huge part of my upbringing, being one of the first resorts of those who wanted to show the Bible to be trustworthy. Furthermore he makes little reference to personal experience with the divine, considering primarily when one should and should not believe the testimony of others. On the topic of questioning human testimony, however, he did an excellent job. The diversity of the world's religions, the readiness with which the masses believe and retell miraculous stories, and our innate desire to embrace wonders despite our rationality are the foundation of my own apostasy. His delivery of the case was beautiful. My only qualm was that he seemed to lay emphasis on deceit and self-aggrandizement as the origin point of many such myths -- while I consider it likely that good, honest men are the source of most of our delusions. The first few chapters will be tedious to most readers, since they are quite elementally philosophical. If you find your motivation to wade through the text is waining, skipping straight to the chapter on miracles probably wouldn't be a sin. I found the beginning very intriguing as a computer scientist, mostly because the tedious foundations of epistemology, by attempting to precisely define the "secret springs and principles" that define human reasoning, preempt the efforts of Artificial Intelligence to automate reasoning. Writers like Hume, and later Wittgenstein, were groping about in a land that is now pristinely codified in the language of statistical learning (a.k.a. machine learning). And in all, I highly recommend Hume, to believers and nonbelievers alike. Even if you do not find his arguments against belief compelling, the principle of "academic" and skeptical philosophy should be useful for anyone who pretends to honesty and clarity in their opinions. The world has a dearth of carefulness in reasoning, which in my opinion is closely associated with the widespread paucity of love and sympathy. Hume's observations can only help that lack. Topics covered: Foundations of Intelligent Thought Importance of Evidence Correlation does not imply causation Fallibility of Human Reason Skepticism Probability The Soul Free Will Theodicy Miracles Natural Theology Intelligent Design Myths Ethics without God God as a Projection of Man Impossibility of True Cartesian Doubt Cranks

  22. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    Decent read for those interested in the history of philosophy and much easier to read than the treatise in my opinion. I only really read this to support my study of Kant but its alright. Hume's writing can lack a certain systematicity but its worth reading just to get it under your belt. Decent read for those interested in the history of philosophy and much easier to read than the treatise in my opinion. I only really read this to support my study of Kant but its alright. Hume's writing can lack a certain systematicity but its worth reading just to get it under your belt.

  23. 4 out of 5

    James Henderson

    This is David Hume's summary of his central doctrines and themes of his empiricist philosophy. It was a revision of an earlier effort, A Treatise of Human Nature, published anonymously in London in 1739–40. Hume was disappointed with the reception of the Treatise, which "fell stillborn from the press," as he put it, and so he tried again to disseminate a more developed version of his ideas to the public by writing a shorter and more polemical work. The end product of his labours was the Enquiry w This is David Hume's summary of his central doctrines and themes of his empiricist philosophy. It was a revision of an earlier effort, A Treatise of Human Nature, published anonymously in London in 1739–40. Hume was disappointed with the reception of the Treatise, which "fell stillborn from the press," as he put it, and so he tried again to disseminate a more developed version of his ideas to the public by writing a shorter and more polemical work. The end product of his labours was the Enquiry which dispensed with much of the material from the Treatise, in favor of clarifying and emphasizing its most important aspects. For example, Hume's views on personal identity, do not appear. However, more vital propositions, such as Hume's argument for the role of habit in a theory of knowledge, are retained. This book has been highly influential both in the years that immediately followed up until today. Immanuel Kant pointed to it as the book which woke him from his self-described "dogmatic slumber" The Enquiry is widely regarded as a classic in modern philosophical literature in part because David Hume is one of the greatest prose stylists of the English language.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sookie

    Two things that stands out in this installment is: causality and limitations of imaginations and human observation. Though Hume starts out saying how unlimited and infinite imagination is, he adds a caveat in his typical subtle fashion stating how the limitation to this imagination comes from both creative and knowledge of a person. Without both in right measures, it's possible the imagination is limited and perhaps incomplete. Kinda how science fiction goes hand in hand with social and technolo Two things that stands out in this installment is: causality and limitations of imaginations and human observation. Though Hume starts out saying how unlimited and infinite imagination is, he adds a caveat in his typical subtle fashion stating how the limitation to this imagination comes from both creative and knowledge of a person. Without both in right measures, it's possible the imagination is limited and perhaps incomplete. Kinda how science fiction goes hand in hand with social and technological advances. Hume talks about causality in a very fascinating way linking fiction and belief to this small space in our consciousness that mutates over time. A fascinating read indeed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    sologdin

    every time i read hume, i feel a little nauseated. my nausea is accordingly constantly conjoined to my reading of hume. am i reasonable or not in assuming a necessary connection therewith? is it irrational to assume that nausea will always follow the reading in the future just because it always has done so in the past? even if in the past the future has always been like the past, and so i can assume that in the future the past will have always been like the future, indeed, constantly conjoined w every time i read hume, i feel a little nauseated. my nausea is accordingly constantly conjoined to my reading of hume. am i reasonable or not in assuming a necessary connection therewith? is it irrational to assume that nausea will always follow the reading in the future just because it always has done so in the past? even if in the past the future has always been like the past, and so i can assume that in the future the past will have always been like the future, indeed, constantly conjoined with same?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dave Peticolas

    Hume's classic philosphical investigation into the nature and limits of human knowledge and its acquisition. Hume's classic philosphical investigation into the nature and limits of human knowledge and its acquisition.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    David Hume (1711-1776) was the most famous Scottish philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the greatest thinkers of all time. He wrote An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in 1774. This was actually a simplified, more easy to understand version of his famous work, A Treatise of Human Nature . An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding was more accessible to people of the day and is also for us modern folks. Hume addresses a number of subjects in this book. Particularly interesti David Hume (1711-1776) was the most famous Scottish philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the greatest thinkers of all time. He wrote An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in 1774. This was actually a simplified, more easy to understand version of his famous work, A Treatise of Human Nature . An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding was more accessible to people of the day and is also for us modern folks. Hume addresses a number of subjects in this book. Particularly interesting to me were his examination of the reason of animals, and criticism of religion and validity of miracles. He touches on a wide variety of philosophical subjects including free will, how thoughts associate and flow, probability, and he ends with a really interesting three part examination of skeptical arguments. Like Thomas Paine, he was ahead of his time and through his writings encouraged people to reject dogma and adopt science and reason. I visited his mausoleum in Edinburgh in 2018 and my wife and I always stop by and say hello to his statue on the Royal Mile, just down the hill from Edinburgh Castle. He's one of my freethinker heroes.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    Hume's masterpiece of empiricism, "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding," is a philosophical breath of fresh air and a justly revered and studied work. Full of crystal-clear thinking on a variety of subjects, though most focused on the necessity of understanding the limits of our reason and the necessity to understand the experiential learning/customs we share with the rest of the fauna of the natural world, the final three sections specifically, "Of miracles," "Of a particular providence a Hume's masterpiece of empiricism, "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding," is a philosophical breath of fresh air and a justly revered and studied work. Full of crystal-clear thinking on a variety of subjects, though most focused on the necessity of understanding the limits of our reason and the necessity to understand the experiential learning/customs we share with the rest of the fauna of the natural world, the final three sections specifically, "Of miracles," "Of a particular providence and of a future state," and, "Of the academical or skeptical philosophy," are for me the most potent and interesting. Full of profound thoughts that still baffle and challenge the mind to this day, some notable quotations include the deceptively simple: "The wise man proportions his belief to the evidence," and the more polemical: "When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

  29. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Bierig

    Good writer. Super bitter and angry. He is not correct at all.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    Somwhere in this book Hume reminds us to "Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man" - it is a kind of thing you would say to a philospher rather than hear from same. Hume does maintain on this principle and while he is not afraid of going into abstract reasonings and doubts for mere pleasure of doing so; he is always willing, rather he insists we keep coming back to our daily life to check validity of our conclusions. He goes on to prove that all our knowledge is derived Somwhere in this book Hume reminds us to "Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man" - it is a kind of thing you would say to a philospher rather than hear from same. Hume does maintain on this principle and while he is not afraid of going into abstract reasonings and doubts for mere pleasure of doing so; he is always willing, rather he insists we keep coming back to our daily life to check validity of our conclusions. He goes on to prove that all our knowledge is derived from experience and that no associations among experienced elements (for example, cause and effect) can thus be surely derived on different elements. Then he says it is done by all animals on impulse and life will not be possible otherwise. He is not blind to fact that we, in daily life, propotion our faith in these associations to probability. He presents a wonderful arguement against miracles continuing on same line of reasoning. He argues that all miracles seemed to have happened in long past and always in most barbarian circumstances. It is more probable (and thus easier to believe) that a testinomy telling us of occurance of a highly improbable, almost impossible event (which all miracles are by very defination) should be false (innocently or otherwise) He is greatly economical with words and conjust a lot in those hundred odd pages. The language is beautiful and thoughts contained them of great value. Despite the wisdom, he is humble, like Socrats, and desires to be told where he is in error. In fact, a couple of times he mentions the possibility that there may be some points he hadn't considered in some particular subject. Neither does he prerend to have established a perfect system of thought.

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