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Essays by David Hume


by David Hume

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There are at least two ways to read this short collection of political essays by the Scottish philosopher David Hume: as an historical document, reflecting the views of a leading thinker of the Scottish Enlightenment of the mid- to late-1700s; or as essays that speak across two and a half centuries with an improbable clarity and freshness, as though one were reading a letter about politics from a friend, or a particularly thoughtful essay in Mother Jones.

The topics Hume focuses on reflect his time: not just concerns about liberty and the best kinds of 'constitution', meaning the structure of power in government; but also the central importance of taste in the cultivation of personal and civic virtue. But there's an impressive currency to an author who can begin an essay with the comment, "I am apt, however, to entertain a suspicion, that the world is still too young to fix many general truths in politics, which will remain true to the last posterity. We have not as yet had experience of three thousand years; so that not only the art of reasoning is still imperfect in this science, as in all others, but we even want sufficient materials upon which we can reason." That kind of vision over a long time-scale, and sense of how little we know, feels very modern. It's also true that Hume's formulation implicitly also applies to his contemporaries, such as Henry Home, Lord Kames (an eminent jurist); or slightly later intellectuals, such as Adam Ferguson (an early sociologist) and John Millar (a law professor who wrote about political sociology). So it isn't necessarily humble in its historical context.

Perhaps the most consistent element in all these essays is Hume's very empirical approach to his themes. He argues about underlying principles; but he makes his case by offering examples from classical literature and from contemporary politics. Few or none of his assertions are buttressed by a priori arguments - that things are a certain way because they must logically be. Empiricism is Hume's signature approach to such non-political questions as how we know what we know, in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, published in the same decade, so it's hardly surprising to find it in these essays. But it also helps make them feel fresh, and underpins Hume's sense that political theorizing could become more compelling as history unfolded, providing a larger dataset for analysis. ( )
  bezoar44 | Oct 26, 2014 |
Several of Hume's political essays are good.
(TJ to Thomas Mann Randolph, 30 May 1790)

  ThomasJefferson | Sep 29, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0198241933, Textbook Binding)

This is a pre-1923 historical reproduction that was curated for quality. Quality assurance was conducted on each of these books in an attempt to remove books with imperfections introduced by the digitization process. Though we have made best efforts - the books may have occasional errors that do not impede the reading experience. We believe this work is culturally important and have elected to bring the book back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. This text refers to the Bibliobazaar edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:45 -0400)

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