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David Hume

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Painting of David Hume by Allan Ramsey. The image is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

David Hume (7 May 1711[1] - 25 August 1776) was a philosopher and historian from Scotland.[1] When he was still alive, people thought of him as a historian. He wrote a series of large books called The History of England. But today, people think of Hume as an important philosopher.

In his books on philosophy, Hume said that many of our beliefs do not come from reason. Instead, they come from our instincts or feelings. For example, reason does not tell us that one thing causes another. Instead, we see one thing and then we see another, and we feel a link between the two. Similarly, reason does not tell us that someone is a good person. Instead, we see that the person is kind and friendly, and we feel a special moral feeling. Because Hume thought that these beliefs do not come from reason, people call him a "skeptical" or "anti-rationalist" philosopher.

Hume was also skeptical about religion.[1] He was not a religious person and religious people did not like his opinions. He did not believe in miracles. He said that suicide was sometimes OK. But Hume never said if he believed in God. In 1776, when he was dying, he was very nice to his friends and very calm about death. Many people were amazed about this, because they thought Hume was going to hell. Today, Hume's books are very important to philosophers who are interested in religion.

Today's philosophers sometimes use the term 'Hume's fork' to refer to Hume calling everything we can think about either a relation of ideas (like math) or a matter of fact (like science or history).

Another philosopher, Immanuel Kant, read some of Hume's books and changed his mind about some important things. Kant said Hume had made him wake up from a sleeping dogmatism, the traditional metaphysics.

Statue of David Hume, in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Here are Hume's most important books:

  • A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects.[1] (1739-40)
In this large book, Hume talks about the human mind and tries to figure out how it works. He talks about knowledge, cause and effect, emotions, right and wrong, and many other things.
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
In this small book, Hume talks about many of the same things from the Treatise, like knowledge and cause and effect. He tried to make this book easy to read.
  • An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751)
This is another small book, and again, Hume tried to make it easy to read. The book is about right and wrong.
  • Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion[1] (after Hume died)
In this book, Hume has three characters who argue with each other about God.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Gay, Peter; Time-Life Books (1966). "In Search Of An Ideal Society". Age of Enlightenment. Time. pp. 53.