David Hume: An Introduction and Collection of Resources

This page contains an organized collection of links to beginner friendly videos, podcasts and articles on David Hume. To get started, simply choose a topic from the list below.

Who was David Hume?

“Hume was born in Edinburgh in 1711. He was a precocious philosopher, and his major work, A Treatise of Human Nature, was written in his twenties. In his own words it ‘fell dead-born from the press’; unsurprisingly, perhaps, in view of its mannered, meandering, and repetitious style. He rewrote much of its content in two more popular volumes: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). He tried, and failed, to obtain a professorship in Edinburgh, and in his lifetime he was better known as a historian than as a philosopher, for between 1754 and 1761 he wrote a six volume history of England with a strong Tory bias. In the 1760s he was secretary to the British Embassy in Paris. He was a genial man, who did his best to befriend the difficult philosopher Rousseau, and was described by the economist Adam Smith as having come as near to perfection as any human being possibly could. In his last years he wrote a philosophical attack on natural theology, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which was published, three years after his death, in 1776. To the disappointment of James Boswell (who recorded his final illness in detail) he died serenely, having rejected the consolations of religion.” – Excerpt from A Brief Illustrated History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny.

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Hume’s Epistemology

“Hume’s philosophy is characterised by his empiricism, which is the belief that all knowledge is ultimately traceable back to the senses. Hume’s empiricism led him to be sceptical about a lot of things that his contemporaries took for granted, particularly when it came to religious belief. His scepticism about religious belief created lots of personal obstacles for him – for example, it was what prevented him from taking up a Chair in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, despite being by far the most deserving candidate – but he pressed on regardless. Because of his ardent empiricism, Hume is often described, along with George Berkeley (1685–1753) and John Locke (1632–1704), as one of the British empiricists.” – Excerpt from What is this Thing Called Knowledge? by Duncan Pritchard.

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Hume’s Ethics

“But when it comes to ethics we are in the domain of preference and choice. And here, reason is silent. The heart, or what Hume called passion or sentiment, rules everything. Of course, our passions and sentiments need to operate in the world that we learn about: ignorance is a recipe for acting disastrously, both to ourselves and to others. But what the heart suggests we do, after reason and experience have found where we are, is another thing. Even basic, unambitious concerns, such as the solidarity with others or the respect for rules that were defended in sections 12 and 13, depend on sympathy. And that sympathy is not mandated by reason alone.” – Excerpt from Hume: A Very Short Introduction by A. J. Ayer.

Additional Resources:

Article: Hume‘s Moral Philosophy – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Hume’s Philosophy of Religion

“Although he regularly criticized the arguments used by religious believers, Hume never openly declared that he was an atheist. He may not have been. His published views could be read as claiming that there is a divine intelligence behind everything in the universe, it’s just that we can never say much about the qualities of that divine intelligence. Our powers of reason, when used logically, don’t tell us much at all about what qualities this ‘God’ must have. On the basis of this, some philosophers think he was an agnostic. But he probably was an atheist by the end of his life, even if he stopped short of that before then. When his friends came to visit him in Edinburgh in the summer of 1776 as he was dying he made clear that he wasn’t about to have a deathbed conversion. Far from it. James Boswell, a Christian, asked him whether he was worried about what would happen after he died. Hume told him he had absolutely no hope that he would survive death. He gave the answer that Epicurus might have given (see Chapter 4): he was, he said, no more worried about the time after his death than he was about the time he had not existed before his birth.” – Excerpt from A Little History of Philosophy Nigel Warburton.

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Hume on Causation

“Hume’s account of causation is part of his theory of human nature or “science of man.” The theory is a partly epistemological, partly psychological investigation of how human beings acquire beliefs and knowledge, make moral, political, and aesthetic judgments, and act in and react to the natural and social world. Hume’s approach to these questions is genetic. He sets out to identify the origins of thoughts, feelings, judgments, and patterns of behavior and response. His theory of causation, therefore, is not primarily a metaphysical account of what causality consists in, although it has implications for that. Rather, it is an investigation of two main questions. First, how do human beings come to have the idea of causation? Second, how do human beings come to be able to infer effects from causes and causes from effects? Hume’s answer to the first question is that the idea of causal connections between objects and events depends genetically on the capacity to infer causes from effects and vice versa. His answer to the second question is that the capacity to make causal inferences does not originate in reason or a priori knowledge but in the way in which experience of repeated regular sequences of events affects the imagination. Thus in Hume’s theory the answer to the first question depends on the answer to the second, and not, as one might expect, the other way round.” – Excerpt from The Cambridge Companion to Hume edited by David Fate Norman & Jacqueline Taylor.

Additional Resources:

Article: Kant and Hume on Causality – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Further Reading

If you’re new to the philosophy of Hume, the following books are a good place to start:

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Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


If you are interested in the ideas of Hume, the following pages may also be of interest: