|Born||May 7, 1711
|Died||Aug. 25, 1776 (at age 65)
David Hume was one of the more influential philosophers in history. He was not, however, an popular thinker during his lifetime and it was not until many years after his death that the profound nature of his work truly gained notoriety. To this very day, Hume’s work continues to influence academics and psychologists.
Life of David Hume
David Hume was born on May 7, 1711, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was an exceptionally bright young man who entered college at the very young age of 12. The school he attended was the University of Edinburgh. When he graduated from the university, he worked as a merchant and this served as his primary occupation for a time.
Hume wrote a great deal on subjects related to philosophy and psychology and being a writer/philosopher is what he is historically known for. However, his primary income came from other occupations. In addition to working as a merchant, Hume also served as the Chair of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy at his alma mater, the University of Edinburgh. In 1745, he even acted as a tutor to the Marquis of Annandale, a man who had gained a bit of infamy for his displays of insanity.
Throughout the course of his life, Hume would hold various other positions, including being secretary to Lord Hertford while living in Paris. He eventually returned to Edinburgh later in life and briefly served as Under Secretary of State for the Northern Department.
Hume as a Historian
From 1754 to 1762, Hume became a well-regarded historian in England. His fame and notoriety grew from publishing the multi-volume work, The History of England. This six-part work sold well and was critically acclaimed. The series covered the history of England from the Roman Empire to the 1688 Revolution, covering many interesting facets of British history.
While it was good for David Hume to gain success from his work on this series, his greatest contributions were in the realm of philosophy.
Hume’s Philosophical Works
David Hume wrote of number of influential and visionary treatises during his life. This is why he is considered one of the greatest minds of the Scottish Enlightenment. His first and most revolutionary work was A Treatise of Human Nature (1740), a work that sought to examine moral subjects from the perspective of logical reasoning. The work took a full ten years to complete and it was comprised of three books in total.
Critics did not like the work and Hume was quite disappointed, but he was not dejected. He reworked some of the material into another masterpiece, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). In this work, Hume examined habits as they related to knowledge and other topics that were a bit easier for audiences to follow. This was a much more concise work than Human Nature, as Hume felt that the somewhat long-winded style of the first work made it less accessible to the public.
Hume went on to publish other works such as Essays Moral and Political (1744) and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). He also wrote on the subject of religion in such works as The Natural History of Religion (1757). His philosophical musings on religion, however, got him in trouble as he was charged with heresy. Ironically, since he was an atheist, he claimed the church had no jurisdiction over him. Eventually, the matter worked itself out and Hume was not severely punished.
Death and Legacy of Hume
The legacy of David Hume is a very accomplished one. While he is commonly thought of as a skeptic and one who might even border on being cynical, his works show that he had a certain insight into human behavior and the nature of morals. His works also greatly influenced political thought and proved to be rather stimulating in religious circles. Hume was a proponent of empiricism, which in a sense, means he valued truth above all else. This may have led to him being unfairly labeled as a skeptic.
David Hume passed away on August 25, 1776. His works are still read and studied to this very day.