David Hume

David Hume Picture

David Hume was a remarkable historian, philosopher, economist and writer, renowned for his skepticism and philosophical empiricism. He is ranked among the pioneering contributors to Western Philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment.

David Hume, was born on May 7, 1711, to parents Joseph Home and Katherine Falconer in Edinburgh. He hailed from a prosperous family, his father was a solicitor. At the mere age of 12, Hume began attending the University of Edinburgh, where he initially pursued an education in law but later, his interest were piqued by philosophy. Hume did not believe his professors could teach him anything, and thus, he did not regard them with the respect required by their station. From an early age, David took his education in his own hands and began to guide himself through philosophical discoveries. He became a recluse, and devoted ten years of life to reading and writing. However, this solitude and intense concentration had its toll on him and, he suffered a nervous breakdown, following which, he continued his learning with a more active lifestyle.

Hume took up a job in a merchant’s office in Bristol, but after a few months, in 1734, he decided to move to La Fleche in Anjou, France. In La Fleche, he devoted the next four years of his life composing one of his remarkable discourses, “A Treatise of Human Nature”, he managed to finish it at the age of 26. In the Treatise, Hume, based on his ideologies, constructed the entire innate structure of human beings, which he referred to as the “science of man”, and provided an in depth analysis of human nature. Based on his evaluations, Hume concluded that human behavior is governed by desire rather than reasoning and logic. His work was appreciated by many, however, it also garnered some bitter criticism. His religious disobedience embroiled him in regular arguments with the Jesuits of the College of La Fleche. In 1744, he published ‘Essays Moral and Political’.

Hume applied for the position of Chair of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, however, due to his infamous religious intolerance and his reputation as an atheist, he was passed over for William Cleghorn. In 1745, Hume served for some time, as a private tutor to the Marquis of Annandale, who was popularly known as the “lunatic”. A year later, he began working on his innovative compilation, entitled “The History of England”. It took him 15 years to compile this work, the book provided events dating from the invasion of Julius Caesar till the 1688 revolution and it was published in six volumes between 1754 and 1762. The book was a remarkable literary success, and it quickly became the largest selling book of the 18th century. It garnered him immense fame as a writer and historian.

In 1746, Hume was appointed as Secretary to Lieutenant-General St Clair, he served this post for the next three years. During this time, he wrote ‘Philosophical Essays Associated with Human Understanding’, which was later published as ‘An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding’. This publication was widely applauded and began garnering him fame as a gifted philosopher. However, Hume became embroiled in several controversies directed against his religious beliefs, and he was in fact, officially charged with heresy. Hume was defended by his friend, who was a young lawyer yet, he managed to build a strong case in Hume’s defense arguing that being an atheist, Hume fell outside the sphere of the Church’s jurisdiction.

Despite several attempts, Hume was unable to attain the post of Chair of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. In 1752, he returned to his native Edinburg and, began composing his autobiography, entitled “My Own Life”. In 1763, he was appointed as a secretary to Lord Hertford in Paris, he served him for the next two years. In 1767, he accepted the position of Under Secretary of State for the Northern Department, however, he served this station for only a year. In 1768, he decided to move back to his birth place, Edinburgh, where he remained till his death. He passed away on August 25, 1776, after a prolonged suffrage with liver cancer.

Hume’s literary contributions have played a significant role in the evolution of empiricism and Philosophy. Some of his highly acclaimed and widely discussed works include, ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’, ‘Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary’, ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’, ‘An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals’, ‘The Natural History of Religion’ and ‘Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion’ among others.

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