David Hume: The Last of The Great Empiricists

Known as the most important philosopher to ever write in English, David Hume comes in as the topic for today. He was the last of the great British empiricists whose many works still remain to be deeply influential today. More noted during his time as a historian, Hume wrote a six-volume history about England. Join me as we examine his life, ideas and one of my most favorite philosophical theories.

Early Life

David Hume was born in 1711 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Originally, David Home, he changed his name in 1934 because non-Scotts couldn’t pronounce his name correctly. He wasn’t even 12 years old on the day he joined the University of Edinburgh, and studied many fields such as: history, science, literature, philosophy and math. David studied until he felt that he needed a change of scenery and moved to France for a few years. At the age of 26 Hume wrote one of what people today call his most important work, The Treatise of Human Nature. In this book he talks about everything from morality to space and time.

Bundle Theory

This is the theory I was referring to. Bundle theory is an idea of Hume’s that states that an object is just a bunch of properties.  An object is not conceivable without its properties. In other words, think of an orange. If you take away the oranges color, its taste, its smell or its consistency, is it still an orange? If you take away one property, how about all of them? The point is there is no particular substance, objects are just collections of ideas that we give names to.

Hume’s Ethics

Although known more for other fields in philosophy, Hume did develop an Ethical theory. In the Treatise of Human Nature Hume laid out his idea that the foundation of ethics is in that of human emotions. As a Sentimentalist, Hume had claimed that our emotions dictate our reason. He goes into explain that some virtues are natural while others like justice are artificial. Unfortunately, there’s much debate on what he means by these terms. Although, this theory is not known as much as other ethical theories such as: Utilitarianism, Ethical Egoism, and Kantian Ethics, it is still reasonable to agree that human emotion dictates our choices and ethical actions.

Later life

David Hume had a very active life. In 1763-1765 he served as a secretary to Lord Hertford in Paris, France. In his later years he also met and then later had a falling out with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hume lived in France for quite sometime but eventually moved back to Edinburgh in 1768. On his deathbed James Boswell visited Hume who told Boswell that he considered it a “most unreasonable fancy” that there is a life after death. He died from what many believe was bowel or liver cancer and was buried in Edinburgh on the Eastern slop of Calton Hill.

Conclusion

Hume was a very well accomplished philosopher by the time he passed away. He contributed to almost every field of philosophy, and left a mark on the world as the most important person in the field to write in English. This, of course, is only a short introduction to the wonderful life of David Hume. He inspired such philosophers/thinkers as Karl Popper, Immanuel Kant, and Albert Einstein. To get the best out of Hume I would suggest taking a look at The Treatise of Human Nature, like I said earlier, it covers a lot of material; it’s one of the best overviews of Hume’s Philosophy. Well, that’s all for today! Thanks for reading, and keep on thinking!

Posted in Philosophy.