David Hume (1711-1776) is one of the greatest of philosophers. Today he probably ranks highest of all British philosophers in terms of influence and philosophical standing. His philosophical work ranges across morals, the mind, metaphysics, epistemology, religion, and aesthetics; he had broad interests not only in philosophy as it is now conceived but in history, politics, economics, religion, and the arts. He was a master of English prose.
The Clarendon Hume Edition will include all of his works except his History of England and minor historical writings. It is the only thorough critical edition, and will provide a far more extensive scholarly treatment than any previous editions. This edition (which has been in preparation since the 1970s) offers authoritative annotation, bibliographical information, and indexes, and draws upon the major advances in textual scholarship that have been made since the publication of earlier editions—advances both in the understanding of editorial principle and practice and in knowledge of the history of Hume's own texts.
In this volume, Tom Beauchamp presents two essays from Four Dissertations (1757), the last philosophical work written by Hume, which was subsequently revised by the philosopher in the remaining years of his life. Whilst the bulk of A Dissertationon the Passions was extracted from passages in A Treatise of Human Nature, The Natural History of Religion was an original work when published in 1757, as well as the only major work devoted exclusively to the subject of religion that Hume published in his lifetime. Together with Hume's earlier work on religious topics, this essay drew considerable philosophical commentary from his contemporaries.
The last edition of the two works in this volume seen through the press by Hume himself appeared in 1772. It provides the copy-text for this critical edition. The Editor's primarily historical Introduction discusses the genesis, revision, and reception of these two dissertations, which went into ten editions at the author's hand. It will appeal to scholars across many disciplines.
General Editors of the Clarendon Hume: Professors T. L. Beauchamp (Georgetown University, USA), D. F. Norton (McGill University, Canada), M. A. Stewart (University of Lancaster, England).
The Edition comprises (or will comprise):
Vols. 1 and 2: A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by D. F. Norton
Vol. 3: An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, edited by T. L. Beauchamp
Vol. 4: An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, edited by T. L. Beauchamp
Vol. 5: The Natural History of Religion and A Dissertation on the Passions, edited by T. L. Beauchamp
Vols. 6 and 7: Essays, edited by T. L. Beauchamp and M. Box
Vol. 8: Dialogues concerning Natural Religion and other posthumous publications, edited by M. A. Stewart
Four Dissertations is a collection of four essays by the Scottish enlightenment philosopher David Hume, first published in 1757. The four essays are:
- The Natural History of Religion
- Of the Passions
- Of Tragedy
- Of the Standard of Taste
The Natural History of Religion
In this essay, Hume offers a pioneering naturalist account of the causes, effects, and historical development of religious belief. Hume argues that a crude polytheism was the earliest religion of mankind and locates the origins of religion in emotion, particularly hope, fear, and the desire to control the future. He further argues that monotheism arises from competition between religions, as believers seek to distinguish their deities as superior to all rivals, magnifying those deities until they possess all perfections. Though an enlightened monotheism is more rationally defensible than a superstitious polytheism, in practice polytheism has many advantages. In particular, Hume argues, monotheistic religions tend to be more intolerant and hypocritical, result in greater intellectual absurdities, and foster socially undesirable "monkish virtues," such as mortification, abasement, and passive suffering.
Hume concludes the "Natural History" on a note of characteristic skepticism:
The whole is a riddle, an aenigma, an inexplicable mystery. Doubt, uncertainty, suspence of judgment appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny, concerning this subject. But such is the frailty of human reason, and such the irresistible contagion of opinion, that even this deliberate doubt could scarcely be upheld; did we not enlarge our view, and opposing one species of superstition to another, set them a quarrelling; while we ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our escape, into the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy.
Of the Passions
Hume begins the passions by giving a trite example of what Good and Evil are. Good, being pleasure. Evil, being pain. He then begins to analyze emotion as a reasoning faculty of the human mind. He argues that not only can emotions mix, they can also destroy one another. He also argues that our imagination and sentiments combine to create an impression of something/someone. For example, you see your grade on a test and it is good, you then attribute that good grade to having a good teacher, and even maybe an interest in the class as well. Hume tries to exclude religion from our reasoning faculty of right and wrong in that we make our decisions based on the over-riding passion during that moment. Your wife may divorce you, but I bet winning the lottery would make you forget about it. He concludes by saying that this mixture of emotion and sentiments give rise to hope and fear, which gives rise to religion in ancient society.
Of Tragedy, is where Hume considered why we enjoy tragic drama. He was concerned with why spectators find pleasure in the sorrow and anxiety depicted in a tragedy. He decided that this was because the spectator is aware that he is witnessing a dramatic performance. There is pleasure in realizing that the terrible events that are being shown are actually fiction.
Of the Standard of Taste
Of the Standard of Taste was a seminal essay on aesthetics that is innovative because it requires Hume to address the apparent relativity of taste, a conclusion that appears to follow from his own assumption that the "good" or "beauty" of a good work of art is identical with the positive human responses it generates. The essay's focus on the subject (the viewer, the reader) rather than the object (the painting, the book) is typical of the British "sentimentalists" or moral sense theorists of the eighteenth century. Unlike the French philosophers of the eighteenth century, who sought an objective definition of beauty, the British school tended to look for the connections between taste and aesthetic judgments.
Hume begins with the observation that there is much variety in people's taste (or the aesthetic judgments people make). However, Hume argues that there is a common mechanism in human nature that gives rise to, and often even provides justification for, such judgments. He takes this aesthetic sense to be quite similar to the moral sense for which he argues in his Book 3 of A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–1740) and in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). Furthermore, he argues that this still leaves room for the ability to refine one's aesthetic palate. (Fieser, 2006, §2)
Hume took as his premise that the great diversity and disagreement regarding matters of taste had two basic sources - sentiment, which was to some degree naturally varying, and critical facility, which could be cultivated. Each person is a combination of these of two sources, and Hume endeavours to delineate the admirable qualities of a critic, that they might augment their natural sense of beauty into a reliable faculty of judgment. There are a variety of qualities of the good critic that he describes, each of which contributes to an ultimately reliable and just ability to judge.
References and further reading
- Gracyk, Theodore (2004). "Hume on Taste and the Arts," academic web page.
- Gracyk, Ted (2006). "Hume's Aesthetics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
- Fieser, James (2006). "David Hume - Essays, Moral, Political and Literary", The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, J. Fieser & B. Dowden (eds.).
- ^Hume, David (1757). Four Dissertations (1 ed.). London: A. Millar in the Strand. Retrieved 15 June 2015. via Google Books
- ^David Hume, The Natural History of Religion. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1956, p. 52.
- ^Hume, Natural History, p. 76.
- ^Schmidt, CM., David Hume: Reason in History, Penn State Press, 2010, pp. 325-326.