David Hume


An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Hume starts off by saying that there are two different manners of moral philosophy, the first, which is easy and obvious, views man as ready for action and deals with virtuous life and aims at cultivating the manners of men. The second is abstruse and considers man in the light of reason and tries to find the principles that govern human understanding, sentiments, and actions, and Hume accuses them of talking about truth and falsity, vice and virtue, beauty and deformity without being able to determine the source of their distinctions.

It is certain that the easy and obvious philosophy will always, with the generality of mankind, have the preference above the accurate and abstruse; and by many will be recommended, not only as more agreeable, but more useful than the other. It enters more into common life, moulds the heart and affections; and, by touching those principles, which actuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them nearer to that model of perfection which it describes. On the contrary, the abstruse philosophy, being founded on a turn of mind, which cannot enter into business and action, vanishes when the philosopher leaves the shade, and comes into open day; nor can its principles easily retain any influence over our conduct and behavior. The feelings of our heart, the agitation of our passions, the vehemence of out affections dissipate all its conclusions, and reduce the profound philosophers to a mere plebian.

This also must be confessed, that the most durable, as well as justest fame, has been acquired by the easy philosophy, and that abstract reasoners seem to have aquired only a momentary reputation

The mere philosopher is a character, which is commonly but little acceptable in the world, as being supposed to contribute nothing either to the advantage or pleasure of csociety; while he lives remote from communication with mankind, and is wrapped up in principles and notions equally remote from their comprehension.

Of Liberty and Necessity

The fact that this has been discussed for 2000 years and still remains undecided we may presume that the disputants affix different ideas to the terms employed in the controversy. If men attempt the discussion of questions, which lie entirely beyond the reach of human capacity, such as those concerning the origin of worlds, or the economy of the intellectual system ofr region of spirits, the may long beat the air in their fruitless contests, and never arrive at any determinate conclusion. But if the question regard any subject of common life and experience, nothing but ambiguous expressions would make the dispute last so long. It is universally allowed that matter is actuated by necessary force, and that every natural effect is so precisely determined by the energy of its cause, that no other effect could have possibly resulted from it. In order to form a precise idea of necessity, we must consider whence that idea arises. It seems evident that if no two events bore any resemblance to each other in all the scenes of nature, we would never have attained the idea of necessity. We can say one event has followed another, but not that one was produced by the other. Our idea of necessity and causation, therefore, arises entirely from the uniformity, observable in 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. Beyond this there is no notion of necessity. It is universally acknowledged that there is a great uniformity in the actions of men, in all nations in all ages, and that human nature remains the same. The same motives always produce the same actions. Ambition, avarice, self-love, vanity, friendship, generosity, public spirit; these passions, mixed in various degrees, have from the beginning of the world, and still are the source of all the actions and enterprises. These records of wars, intrigues, factions, and revolutions are so many collections of experiments, by which the moral philosopher fixes the principles of his science. The benefit of that experience, acquired by long life and a variety of business and company, in order to instruct us in the principles of human nature, and regulate our future conduct, as well as speculation. We must not expect, however, that this uniformity of human actions should be carried to such a length, as that all men, in the same circumstances, will always act precisely in the same manner, without making any allowance for the diversity of characters, prejudices, and opinions. Such a uniformity in every particular, is found in no part of nature. On the contrary, from observing the variety of conduct in different men, we are enabled to form a greater variety of maxims, which still suppose a degree of uniformity and regularity. I grant it possible to find some actinos, which seem to have no regular connection with any known motives, and are exceptions to all the measures of conduct, which have ever been established for the government of men. But we may consider the sentiments, commonly entertained with regard to those irregular events, and from the observation of several parallel instances, philosophers form a maxim, that the connection between all causes and effects is equally necessary, and that seeming uncertainty in some instances proceeds from the secret opposition of contrary causes. Like physicians do not give up their principles when medicines donít work with their expected powers. Likewise, the most irregular and unexpected resolutions of men many frequently be accounted for by those, who know every particular circumstance of their character and situation

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