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David Hume

Although David Hume (1711-1776) gained his first true respect as a historian, his most lasting fame is as a noted philosopher, known among other things for the value he placed on man's sense of reason and thought.

Hume was born in Scotland near Edinburgh. He was raised a Calvinist, and in fact his uncle was the pastor of his childhood church. At the surprising age of eleven he began attending the University of Edinburgh. The rules that he kept for living were those listed in the Calvinistic The Whole Duty of Man. Eventually this religious tome was set aside for the secular Offices by Cicero.

Hume's time at the university seems to have been a time of intense intellectual curiosity. He experienced an awakening to a realm of ideas far beyond his religious roots. He delved deeply into history, philosophy, and literature. Hume left the university at fifteen, but never did he abandon his search for learning.

If there be a soul, it is as mortal the body.When he was twenty-eight, Hume published the three-volume Treatise of Human Nature. It was published anonymously while Hume was living in France. Although an excellently written book, it was largely ignored. Until, that is, Hume decided it was his literary style that was lacking. Book I of Treatise was re-worked and published as Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in 1748. This was followed in 1751 by Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals which represented Book III of Treatise.

In the meantime, however, Hume published a work that cemented his lifelong condemnation by the clergy. Essays, Moral and Political, published in 1741 and 1742 (in two volumes) was very successful. Unfortunately, both Treatise and Essays were deemed anti-religious and the clergy blocked both of Hume's attempts to assume a university chair's position.

His fame as a historian was finally established when he published the six-volume History of England. Even in this, however, he was not free from negative responses on the grounds of his perceived hostility towards religion. Daniel McQueen published Letters on Mr. Hume's History, condemning some of the books with such hostility that Hume later deleted two "questionable" passages from later editions of the series.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to philosophy was the founding of the moral theory of utility. This system is based on human sentiment rather than good as defined by god(s). Hume believed that neither reason nor self-interest alone were enough to sustain a moral system. It was instead his views that sympathy or benevolence was the basis of human morality.

Besides his writing, Hume held many positions in his life. Although denied the chance to chair at a university, he was offered a post of librarian. This gave him the opportunity to do much of the research that formed the basis of his History. He also served as a military secretary, and the under secretary of state.

David Hume was much respected in his lifetime, and much reviled as well, by those who could not countenance any approach that ran contrary to their own worldview. Near the end of his life he retired to Edinburgh, Scotland. He spent his last days amongst the sights and people of his youth. He died on August 25, 1776 at age sixty-five.

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