This is David Hume’s 300th birthday. He was born May 7, 1711. According Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber, we’re supposed to post Hume quotations. So here is a couple that I thought I remembered, at least partially, but actually had wrong. I’ve now looked them up.
Weakness, fear, melancholy, together with ignorance, are, therefore, the true sources of Superstition. [“Of Superstition And Enthusiasm,” in Essays Moral, Political, Literary]
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.
. . .
The other species of philosophers consider man in the light of a reasonable rather than an active being, and endeavour to form his understanding more than cultivate his manners. They regard human nature as a subject of speculation; and with a narrow scrutiny examine it, in order to find those principles, which regulate our understanding, excite our sentiments, and make us approve or blame any particular object, action, or behaviour. They think it a reproach to all literature, that philosophy should not yet have fixed, beyond controversy, the foundation of morals, reasoning, and criticism; and should for ever talk of truth and falsehood, vice and virtue, beauty and deformity, without being able to determine the source of these distinctions. While they attempt this arduous task, they are deterred by no difficulties; but proceeding from particular instances to general principles, they still push on their enquiries to principles more general, and rest not satisfied till they arrive at those original principles, by which, in every science, all human curiosity must be bounded. Though their speculations seem abstract, and even unintelligible to common readers, they aim at the approbation of the learned and the wise; and think themselves sufficiently compensated for the labour of their whole lives, if they can discover some hidden truths, which may contribute to the instruction of posterity. [Inquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section I]
The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise, and good Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind, and augmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom. We may prosecute this enquiry to what length we please; where we shall always find, that every idea which we examine is copied from a similar impression. Those who would assert that this position is not universally true nor without exception, have only one, and that an easy method of refuting it; by producing that idea, which, in their opinion, is not derived from this source. It will then be incumbent on us, if we would maintain our doctrine, to produce the impression, or lively perception, which corresponds to it. [Inquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section II]
One of the few things that I remember from a philosophy course that I took between college and seminary was the instructor telling us that Hume was the “eternal sophomore.” I think this may well be correct but what a sophomore he was.
Via Cosmic Variance