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NotesHumeDialogues

NotesHumeDialogues - PHIL 100 Sections 0203,0204-0207 TA...

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1 PHIL 100 Sections 0203,0204,-0207 TA: Kallfelz, W. David Hume (1711-1776) The Genius of Scotland: A Brief Summary Scotland, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, witnessed some remarkable minds that determined the subsequent course of Western history. (James Watt: technology, Adam Smith: Economics, David Hume: philosophy/economics/history.) David Hume, like England’s predecessor John Locke, wrote philosophy “on the side.” Locke earned his living as a physician. Hume was trained in law, worked as a librarian, and served political posts before his successful publications of A History of England gave him financial reward and independence . Aside from his four major publications in philosophy ( Treatise of Human Nature, [1739 (vol 1), 1740 (vol 2)], Essays: Moral and Political [1741-2] Enquiry into Human Understanding [1750], Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (DNR) [1777, posth.] This only scratches the surface: he also published a highly successful and influential History of England [1754, 1756, 1759, 1762.] Hume figured himself an epistemological “Copernicus,” directing our understanding away from what’s “out there in the world” to the source : human understanding 1 . He described his Treatise as a study on “what objects our understanding were…fitted to deal with.” He advanced a highly nuanced and subtly skeptical position which can be summarized in the following central claim: H1: We cannot found (i.e. establish) knowledge of the world upon sensory experience, we can only examine the psychology of our beliefs about the world… though it’s an “irresistible and fortunate part of our nature to have such beliefs.” What is this “irresistible and fortunate part of our nature?” Philo (basically the mouthpiece of Hume’s ideas) articulates it in the outset: “Experience, therefore, proves that there is an original principle of order in mind, not in matter. From similar effects we infer similar causes. (Part II, p.61) This pithy statement essentially “nuked” most of what was considered essential in Western philosophy. 2 Here’s why: First, a couple of definitions: 1 This can be thought of “Copernican” because the basis of knowledge depends on the dynamic faculty of understanding , and not on what’s fixed (presumed to be static ) out there in the world. (Analogous to the Earth’s moving versus the previous belief of its ‘fixed state.’) 2 It represented what historians describe as the epistemological turn… a philosophical position which puts epistemology as its central enterprise, displacing metaphysics. In other words, questions concerning the ‘ultimate nature of reality’ were subsumed under questions concerning how we come to know reality. Immanuel Kant, in reply to Hume, can be seen as the leading figure of this epistemological turn. But as Kant noted, Hume “shook me out of my dogmatic slumber,” leading him to write his monumental Critiques. In other words, no Hume, then no Kant.
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2 D1: A statement is known apriori if its truth or falsity does not depend on experience, except in terms of defining the statement’s terms.
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