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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by…
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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)

by David Hume

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
I wish Hume had taken Philosophy 101, with an emphasis on Logic, from Aristotle. That thought crossed my mind many times when reading the Enquiry. Hume should have known that Aristotle have defined long before him many ideas he had difficulty expressing. He could have saved himself some trouble reinventing the wheel. The reader could have saved some time clearing away the rubble of logical inconsistencies. They rather obscure Hume’s unique insights in and contributions to the philosophy of science.

Hume aims to undermine the epistemological certainty and conceit of philosophers and theologians. In doing so, however, he unwittingly, if not inevitably, shows his own conceit. As a caution against hubris, his skepticism is very humbling and refreshing, but that is the extent of its usefulness. Whenever Hume steps outside his own skepticism, and attempts to make assertions, he falls flat on his face.

In my readings and discussions about Hume, I find a very interesting pattern: Everybody interprets Hume from his own perspective. An observer can gauge a reader’s position on the spectrum of beliefs solely based on his interpretation of Hume. For it is rather a reflection of the reader than of Hume.

(Read full review at https://nemoslibrary.com/2017/07/30/an-enquiry-concerning-human-understanding-ii/) ( )
  booksontrial | Aug 21, 2017 |
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.
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  Erick_M | Jun 4, 2016 |
The first philosophy book I can give 5 stars. I wish I had this as a young teen - it would have calmed and cleared my mind considerably. For a work over 250 years old, I was pleasently surprised by the style: for the most part he was direct, a little poetic, and with a wee bit of humour to help things along. His conquest of my heart got off to good start when he suggested that a lot of philosophy and writing done up to that point had been a wasted effort, as people simply hadn't defined their words properly. How can we have a Great Conversation without making sure we are talking about the same stuff?

He manages get an awful lot done in less than 100 pages: he clearly explains his ideas about experience, reasoning, causality, morality and religion, and unleashes the sceptic bombshell on the lot. I don't feel like he forced his ideas, but actually lays them out for full inspection, and for this he feels timeless. He admits the troubling truth that full scepticism can only lead to inaction, but that it seems to be our only reliable guide if we aim for pure truth. He ends by admirably shaking off the paradox-like bind, and happily revives common sense, restraining his scepticism to a more moderate range of enquiry thereafter - an invaluable point for a troubled, excited teen.

This sums it up for me nicely:

"Abstruse thought and profound researches I prohibit, and will severely punish, by the pensive melancholy which they introduce, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you, and by the cold reception which your pretended discoveries shall meet with, when communicated. Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man." ( )
1 vote jculkin | Feb 1, 2016 |
One of the greatest thinkers of all time explains majestically and simply how we think and why we think the way we think. Understanding the basic concepts and workings of perception, reason, cause and effect has indeed deep ramifications when we become conscious of it.

( )
1 vote JorgeCarvajal | Feb 13, 2015 |
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. ( )
3 vote jwhenderson | Apr 21, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hume, Davidprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Camps, VictòriaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flew, AnthonyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaja, VojtěchTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hendel, Charles WilliamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ikere, ZaigaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Millican, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moural, JosefTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sala-Valldaura, Josep MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Selby-Bigge, Lewis AmherstEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, AdamContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steinberg, EricEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Moral philosophy, or the science of human nature, may be treated after two different manners; each of which has its peculiar merit, and may contribute to the entertainment, instruction, and reformation of mankind. The one considers man chiefly as born for action; and as influenced in his measures by taste and sentiment; pursuing one object, and avoiding another, according to the value which these objects seem to possess, and according to the light in which they present themselves. As virtue, of all objects, is allowed to be the most valuable, this species of philosophers paint her in the most amiable colours; borrowing all helps from poetry and eloquence, and treating their subject in an easy and obvious manner, and such as is best fitted to please the imagination, and engage the affections. They select the most striking observations and instances from common life; place opposite characters in a proper contrast; and alluring us into the paths of virtue by the views of glory and happiness, direct our steps in these paths by the soundest precepts and most illustrious examples. They make us feel the difference between vice and virtue; they excite and regulate our sentiments; and so they can but bend our hearts to the love of probity and true honour, they think, that they have fully attained the end of all their labours.
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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.
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The work generally known as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding was first published as Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding (editorial notes at davidhume.org).
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Haiku summary
Let's put to the torch
all books on metaphysics.
Just keeping it real.

(Carnophile)
Let's put to the torch
all books on metaphysics.
Just keeping it real.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0872202291, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:25 -0400)

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"Over a series of elegantly written, engaging essays, the Enquiry examines the experiential and psychological sources of meaning and knowledge, the foundations of reasoning about matters that lie beyond the scope of our sensory experience and memory, the nature of belief, and the limitations of our knowledge. The positions Hume takes on these topics have been described as paradigmatically empiricist, sceptical, and naturalist and have been widelyinfluential and even more widely decried. The introduction to this eiditon discusses the Enquiry's origin, evolution, and critical reception, while appendices provide examples of contemporary responses to Hume"--Cover p. [4]… (more)

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