Hume: An Intellectual Biography by James A. Harris

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By James A. Harris

This can be the 1st ebook to supply a entire assessment of the total profession of 1 of Britain's maximum males of letters. It units in biographical and old context all of Hume's works, from A Treatise of Human Nature to The background of britain, bringing to gentle the main impacts at the process Hume's highbrow improvement, and paying cautious awareness to the variations among the wide range of literary genres with which Hume experimented. the main occasions in Hume's existence are absolutely defined, however the major concentration is on Hume's intentions as a philosophical analyst of human nature, politics, trade, English historical past, and faith. cautious consciousness is paid to Hume's highbrow kin along with his contemporaries. The target is to bare Hume as a guy intensely keen on the conclusion of a fantastic of open-minded, goal, rigorous, dispassionate discussion approximately all of the vital questions confronted by means of his age.

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To call yourself a man of letters was to distance yourself both from the academic specialisms of the university and from the narrow and pedantic obsessions of the gentleman e´rudit. 65 We are not meant to infer from this that throughout his life Hume relentlessly concentrated upon a small number of topics. On the contrary, the implication of having described himself as a man of letters is that Hume ranged freely, if not across all of ‘learning’, then across many of its domains. Philosophy was one of his interests, but only one.

And in his writings on commerce, there were none of the usual pleas of books on trade for this or that piece of legislative reform, in the interests of this or that part of the mercantile or manufacturing community. 84 He did so because each one was an instance of the application of the philosophical mode of reasoning. Seen in this way, no one of these works was any more ‘philosophical’ than the rest. 85 Hume’s history writing was meant to be, and was understood by many of his readers to be, philosophical in the same way as the Essays and Treatises.

I use Hume’s correspondence with Hutcheson in 1740 as the basis for a conjecture about the composition of Book III, arguing that parts 2 and 3 were likely written before part 1, and that the distinction between artificial and natural virtues is at the heart of Hume’s philosophy of morals. At the end of Chapter 2 I consider the question of what Hume might have attempted in the unwritten books of the Treatise on criticism and politics. I suggest that ‘Of Criticism’ might have born something like the same relation to Hutcheson’s work on the sense of beauty as ‘Of Morals’ bore to his work on the moral sense; and that in ‘Of Politics’ Hume might have attempted the conjectural history of civil society that would later be explored by Scottish contemporaries such as Smith, Ferguson, and Millar.

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