LIBERTY IN HUME'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND In his own lifetime, Hume was feted by his admirers as a great historian, and even his enemies conceded that he was a controversial historian with whom one had to reckon. On the other hand, Hume failed to achieve positive recognition for his philosophical views. It was Hume's History of England that played an influential role in public policy debate during the eighteenth century in both Great Britain and in the United States. Hume's Hist01Y (...) of England passed through seven editions and was beginning to be perceived as a classic before Hume's death. Voltaire, as an historian, considered it "perhaps the best ever written in any lan guage. " Gibbon greatly admired Hume's work and said, of a letter written by Hume in 1776 praising the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that a compliment from Hume "overpaid the labor of ten years. " After Hume's death on August 20, 1776, the History became a factor in the revolutionary events that began to unfold. Louis XVI was a close student of Hume's History, and his valet records that, upon having learned that the Convention had voted the death penalty, the King asked for the volume in Hume's History covering the trial and execution of Charles I to read in the days that remained. But if Louis XVI found the consolations of philosophical history in the Stuart volumes, Thomas Jefferson saw in them a cause for alarm. (shrink)
Hume is famous for having introduced a radical theory of the nature of causation. To say that A causes B is just to say that A is constantly conjoined with B and that experience of the conjunction determines the mind to expect the one on the appearance of the other. It was this theory that awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumbers and established Hume as a founding figure of the various forms of positivism that emerged from the nineteenth century. A. (...) J. Ayer, for instance, records how the Vienna Circle in its manifesto of 1929 officially included Hume as a precursor of the movement: “Those who stand closest to the Vienna Circle in their general outlook are Hume and Mach. It is remarkable how much of the doctrine that is now thought to be especially characteristic of logical positivism was already stated, or at least foreshadowed by Hume.” But this interpretation is mistaken. Hume’s conception of causation is not positivistic but skeptical. Hume did present the above constant conjunction account of causation, but what is generally ignored is that he was dissatisfied and skeptical about it. In what follows I wish to explore the rationale of Hume’s skepticism about causation. I shall show that Hume understood the constant conjunction account to operate against the conceptual background of a theistic vision of the world. Hume does not think that any constant conjunction causal explanation is adequate because we do not and cannot understand the mind of God. (shrink)
In his Hayek and Modern Liberalism, Chandran Kukathas claims that Hayek's political philosophy is fundamentally incoherent because it is heavily influenced from two incompatible directions: that of Hume and that of Kant. But in fact, the idiom in which Hayek's philosophy is cast is overwhelmingly Humean. Whatever difficulties Hayek's thought may contain, the incoherence Kukathas identifies is not one of them.
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Hume Studies Volume XXI, Number 2, November 1995, pp. 151-164 On Hume's Conservatism DONALD W. LIVINGSTON In Opinion and Reform in Hume's Political Philosophy,1 John Stewart seeks to establish two theses. The first is that Hume's philosophical skepticism does not entail political conservatism as many commentators have argued, and the second is that central to all of Hume's writings, but especially to the History and the Essays, is a (...) program of major reforms. These include an ethic of individualism and cosmopolitanism, protection of private property, representative government under the rule of law, free trade, anti-imperialism, and moderate secularization. Stewart is right, I think, that these reforms are central to Hume's philosophic project, and he explores them with historical depth and subtlety. What is not so convincing, however, at least in the form presented, is the thesis that Hume is a liberal and not a conservative. And it is this thesis that I wish to explore. The first thing to appreciate is the sense in which Hume is neither a liberal nor a conservative. These are early nineteenth century terms framed to characterize a political and intellectual response to the French Revolution and to the Industrial Revolution. Liberalism and conservatism were not and could not have been a part of Hume's own self-understanding. That understanding is revealed clearly enough in Hume's remark that he was a whig in respect to "things" and a tory in respect to "persons" (HL II237). That is, he admired the moral character of Charles I and leading royalists more than the characters of Cromwell and the Puritan fanatics. But he was happy about the unintended consequences of the Puritan rebellion which led to the constitution of liberty Donald W. Livingston is at the Philosophy Department, Emory University, 214 Bowden Hall, Atlanta GA 30322 USA. 152 Donald W. Livingston of 1689 (the whig order of "things," namely liberty and the rule of law). But though Hume could not have thought of himself as a liberal or a conservative, it is possible to find intimated in his philosophy a pattern of thought significantly similar to a later structure of thought which may properly be called liberal or conservative as the case may be. Such retrospective judgments are legitimate as long as there is sufficient evidence to support the appropriate historical claim about what Hume did and thought he had done and an adequate philosophical theory of what liberalism and conservatism are. But if Hume is to be recruited as part of a liberal or conservative political tradition, we must be clear about what is meant by the terms 'liberal' or 'conservative '. And this is no easy matter; for these terms have not only changed their meanings over time, they are highly contested terms, being in their very nature partisan expressions the explication of which cannot entirely escape a political commitment. What I find unsatisfactory about Stewart's thesis that Hume should not be thought of as part of the conservative political tradition is not so much what he says about the critical and reforming character of Hume's thought (in that he is essentially correct) as that he does not offer a philosophical theory of conservatism or liberalism. The result is that much of the liberalism he finds in Hume would be embraced by self-professed conservatives, and some of what he characterizes as conservatism would be denied. One must gather Stewart's meaning for these terms from various contexts. In some places a conservative is thought of as a philosophical skeptic who has nothing to cling to but the raft of custom and is, consequently, incapable of making judgments of truth. Or, a conservative may be one who can indeed make judgments but is uncritical and perhaps even bigoted in doing so. Or finally, a conservative may be one whose character is informed by an ungenerous disposition to defend the status quo regardless of the oppression of others.2 Stewart argues that Hume is not a conservative in these senses but is a critical political theorist whose philosophical skepticism not only did not prohibit, but positively legitimated the formulation of truths about political things. In his... (shrink)
The idea of Hume as a philosopher of culture has only recently gained general acceptance; yet as far back as 1941 the Journal of the History of Ideas was publishing essays on Hume which reflected this aspect of his work. The essays selected for this volume range back as far as 1941, but they may be viewed as more timely than ever, given the recent interest in Hume as a philosopher of society, politics and history.