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David Hume and 

His Influence on Philosophy 
and Theology 

By James X)rr, M.A., D.D. 


By A. D. INNES, M.A, 


By F. J. SNELL, M,A. 

By Principal T. M. LINDSAY, D.D. 





By Prof. J. HERKLESS, D.D. 


By Rev. G. M 'HARDY, D.D. 


By Rev. A. C. WELCH, M.A,, B.D. 






By Prof. D. G. RITCHIE, M.A,, LL.D. 








David Hume and 

His Influence on Philosophy 
and Theology 


James Orr, M.A., D.D. 

Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology 
United Free Church College, Glasgow 

New York. Charles Scribner's Sons 


THE present sketch of the life, philosophy, and influ- 
ence of Hume is based on well-nigh a lifetime's 
familiarity with the works of that author ; but is, the 
writer feels, still very imperfect. It is only necessary 
in this Preface to specify sources of information, with 
the editions of Hume's Works referred to in the text, 
or that may profitably be consulted, and briefly to 
indicate one or two principles that have been followed 
in the composition of the book. 

For the Life of Hume the main authority must 
always be Dr. J. Hill Burton's elaborate work, the 
Li/6 and Correspondence of David Hume, supple- 
mented by Dr. G. Birkbeck Hill's Letters of David 
Hiime to William Strahan, with the full and valu- 
able notes in that volume. With both will naturally 
be compared the brief sketch, entitled My Own Life, 
which Hume himself wrote shortly before his death, with 
a view to its being prefixed to future editions of his 
workis. The ease of style, na'ivet, and candour of self- 
revelation of the life-motives of its author, invest this 
autobiographical piece with more than usual interest. 
For the outer and anecdotal side of Hume's Edinburgh 
life, with sketches of his contemporaries, and of the 


society in which he and they moved, the reader may 
be referred to " Jupiter " Carlyle's Autobiography, and 
to the recent works of the Rev. H, G. Graham on 
Social Life in Scotland, and Scottish Men of Letters, 
in the eighteenth century. The spirit in these will 
be found entirely sympathetic. 

The references in the text to Hume's works are to 
that edition which the writer has been longest 
acquainted with, and has mainly used the old four- 
volume edition of Hume's Philosophical Works, pub- 
lished by Messrs. A. & C. Black in 1854. It was his 
intention to adjust the references to the excellent later 
edition of Hume's Works by T. H. Green and T. H. 
Grose; but in the end he found that certain advan- 
tages attached to the method originally adopted, and 
accordingly adhered to it. The peculiar value of 
Green and Grose's edition, it need hardly be said, lies 
in Prof. Green's exhaustive examination of Hume's 
Treatise in his Introduction to that work, and in the 
" History of the Editions," prefixed to the Essays by 
Mr. Grose. More recently, fresh proof has been given 
of the interest in Hume by the publication by the 
Clarendon Press of careful reprints of Hume's Treatise 
and his two Enquiries, edited with admirable Introduc- 
tions, comparative tables, and full analytical indices, 
by Mr. L. A. Selby-Bigge, M.A. Mention should also 
be made of Leslie Stephen's English Thought in the 
Eighteenth Century. With these aids, and the more 
popular works of Huxley, Knight, and Calderwood, 
the student should be at no loss to get at the true 
" inwardness " of Hume's philosophy. This little work 
can only be offered as a further humble contribution, 
from its own point of view, to the same end. 


The edition of the History to which references are 
made is (unless otherwise specified) the final edition, 
embracing the author's " last corrections and improve- 
ments." The edition is in eight volumes, and the 
special issue used is that of 1796. 

It is indicated in the text that the point of view 
from which Hume's philosophy is mainly regarded is 
that of an experiment to explain knowledge, and 
generally the intellectual and moral outfit of man, 
without the assumption of a rational nature in man. 
The criticism in the volume, on the other hand, is 
directed to show (1) that the processes of Hume which 
ignore the rational self the operation of reason in 
the building up of a theory of knowledge, are invalid ; 
and (2) that the rational self the assumption of a 
rational thinking principle in man alone solves the 
problems he raises. Hume is treated in this endeavour 
to solve the problem of knowledge without rational 
presuppositions as a type. It is astonishing to those 
familiar with his thought to find how much of it is 
present in, and continues in varying forms to be re- 
produced by, popular empirical philosophy. Origin of 
knowledge in vivid and faint states of consciousness ; 
the potency of association ; the " I " as a flowing 
stream of consciousness; no substantive self; no 
objectively - existing world; no freedom; good as 
pleasure and evil as pain; utility the standard of 
morals; dismissal of rational Theism, and "natural 
histories " of religion ; with much else that will readily 
occur to the observer of present-day tendencies. 

In dealing with this widespread and prolonged 
influence of Hume, some method had to be adopted. 
It was impossible to deal with all ramifications of that 


influence, and the simplest principle seemed to be to 
keep in view mainly certain representative authors 
and schools. Kant has been chosen as representing 
the critical-rational standpoint the more that he 
acknowledges his direct awakening by Hume; Reid 
and Hamilton (in part Brown) represent the Scottish 
school ; J. S. Mill and Mr. Bain are selected as promi- 
nent Associationalists ; Mr. Spencer stands for himself ; 
Wundt and Prof. W. James are taken as types of the 
physiological psychology of the newer period. Mr. 
J. S. Mill is called upon also to do duty for utilitarian- 
ism in morals. Mr. Green may be held to represent 
idealism. It is impossible that in so brief a sketch 
even scant justice should be done to all these phases of 
thought, but there is at least the consistent endeavour 
to do none of them -injustice. Such as the book is, it 
must now further speak for itself. 

The thanks of the writer are due to the Rev. J. M. 
Wilson, B.D., London, for his kind assistance in correc- 
tion of the proofs. 





TREATISE ....... 14 


THE HISTORY ...... 34 


HIS DEATH . . . . . .57 


SCEPTICISM ...... 85 


EGO 143 


HUME AS HISTORIAN . . . . .217 

INDEX 243 




DAVID HUME justly takes rank as the most distin- 
guished member of that brilliant circle of literary men 
whose names gave such a lustre to the second half of 
the eighteenth century in Scotland. His speculations 
were the most profound, and, with the possible excep- 
tion of Adam Smith in a particular department, his 
influence was the widest and most deeply felt, of any. 
Hume's contemporaries could hardly be expected to 
do him justice. His daring subtleties and avowed 
scepticism excited so many prejudices, and exposed 
him to so much dislike, that only a few were able and 
prepared to recognise his substantial merits. But even 
his warmest friends could scarcely have predicted the 
influence he was destined to exercise, or the important 
results that were to spring from his thoughts. It 
required time to clear away the mists that had gathered 
round his name, and to place him in his true light in 
the eyes of posterity. At a century and a half's dis- 
tance, we are in a better position to take an impartial 


survey of his work and its effects. The result must be, 
that, however we may judge of Hume in particular 
respects, we cannot deny to him a right to the title of 
a great and independent thinker. It will be recognised 
that he arose at the proper time to accomplish a 
necessary task. He excited thought; he awoke men 
from their " dogmatic slumbers " ; he gave an impulse to 
fresh speculation on the most important questions ; by 
exploding old systems, he prepared the way for new. 
The study of such a man and his work can only be for 
our advantage. It is the purpose of this volume, after 
sketching his career, to describe the character, and 
endeavour to appraise the value, of the services he has 
directly or indirectly performed in the different direc- 
tions of his influence. 

It is not necessary at this preliminary stage to 
say much of Hume himself, though the man and his 
philosophy are in good measure of a piece, and must 
always be studied together. Hume's character, happily, 
is not one which it is difficult to sum up. Of easy, 
passionless disposition, good-tempered and kindly of 
heart, with little interest in outward nature, but much 
in the springs of human thought and action, with 
barely a spark of ideality in his composition, and, as 
one is compelled to judge, almost wholly without experi- 
ence of the religious sentiment, he had yet, within the 
limits which such a nature imposes, a keen, subtle, and 
observant mind in the various branches of speculative 
inquiry, and a firm and settled purpose to work out for 
himself a reputation as an original discoverer in 
philosophy and morals. It is not unfair to speak, as 
is here done, of religion as an element almost entirely 
lacking in Hume's nature. We can at least find no 


unambiguous trace of it in anything he ever said, or 
did, or wrote. He seems to have early convinced him- 
self that the bases of the ordinary religious beliefs, 
even those of the current Deism, were vanity, and that 
the philosopher would spend his time better in sceptic- 
ally explaining, or explaining away, these beliefs, than 
in allowing them any influence over his own conduct. 
He has himself told us 1 that his ruling passion was 
"love of literary fame"; but, combined with this, he 
had a stubborn independence of nature, a praiseworthy 
desire to excel in what was best, and a courage and 
perseverance, that bore him easily through rebuffs and 
difficulties. He never lost his faith that, whatever the 
immediate judgment might be upon his work, his 
reputation was safe with posterity; and in this par- 
ticular, at least, his confidence has been justified. His 
place in the world of thought and letters is assured 
beyond all possibility of altering it 

The influences which moulded the mind of Hume 
were partly Scotch, partly English, and in considerable 
measure French. With respect to Scotland, it must be 
acknowledged that Hume did far more to arouse the 
reflective spirit, and encourage the literary taste, of his 
countrymen, than they ever did to develop his. Till 
Francis Hutcheson an Irishman began, by his lec- 
tures in Glasgow, to attract attention to Scotland as a 
seat of the higher learning, 2 our country had but a 
poor reputation in that regard. Her literature was 

1 My Own Life ; cf. below, p. 18. 

2 Dugald Stewart dates the rise of Scotland's metaphysical philosophy, 
and indeed of her literary taste in general, from the period of Hutche- 
son's lectures about 1729. But this lack of culture in Scotland may 
easily be exaggerated, and often has been. See below on the Scottish 
gentry, p. 15. 


scanty ; her scholarship, except in theology, associated 
mainly with one illustrious name that of Buchanan. 
The reaction which, after the middle of the century, 
raised Edinburgh to a pinnacle of distinction in letters, 
was yet in its infancy when Hume began to write. 
Nevertheless, his admiration for Hutcheson, and the 
close intimacy which he afterwards maintained with 
most of the literary characters of the metropolis, must 
have exercised not a little influence on his later style. 
To England his debt was greater, though his rooted 
dislike to the English people prevented him from ever 
fully acknowledging it. His own strong ambition 
from the first was to gain distinction as an elegant 
writer of the English language, and this naturally led 
him to the study of the best models. A large share of 
his attention, in republishing his works, was always 
given to weeding out any lingering " Scotticisms " from 
their pages. His own estimate of the state of literature 
in England was far from high. " The first polite prose 
we have," he tells us in one of his Essays, " was writ by 
a man who is still alive " (Dean Swift). 1 Philosophy, 
except in the department of ethics, was, in his judg- 
ment, at an even lower ebb. 2 Men's minds had sunk 
to sleep under the influence of Locke. Vigorous, 
original thinking in regard to fundamental questions 
there was practically none. The Essay form of litera- 
ture, which had risen into prominence, represented an 
attempt to unite thoughtful and instructive reading 
with the charm of a free and popular style ; in this 
way it diffused important moral lessons and helped to 
elevate the public taste. Such compositions, especially 

1 " Of Civil Liberty (Works, iii. p. 98). 

2 See Introduction to the Treatise. 


after the failure of his first great work to attract 
attention, Hume seems to have looked on as models of 
an " easy and humane " philosophy, and to have kept 
them before him in the preparation of his books. But 
his deepest impressions were probably those which he 
derived from France. It was there that he composed 
his Treatise of Human Nature, and during his whole 
life his relations with France and with French authors 
were very intimate. The easy, pleasure-loving temper 
of that light-hearted people appears always to have 
possessed a singular fascination for his mind. He 
eulogises them repeatedly as models of what "sensible, 
polite, and knowing " people ought to be. 1 He caught 
the tone of their principal writers ; he adopted many 
of their views of life; he made it the aim of his 
philosophy to justify their views by reasoning away 
every notion which could give life a higher meaning ; 
he lowered his moral standard to a level almost exactly 
suited to their practice. The contrast of French life and 
manners to the narrow, intolerant spirit he found pre- 
vailing in certain circles in his own country (though all 
earnestness was apt to be harshly judged by him), may 
have helped to create a deeper sympathy in his mind 
with the former. 

One feature of Hume's character requiring to be kept 
in view in all estimates of his work and aims is that 
already mentioned his prevailing ambition to excel in 
literature. It was, he does not conceal, his " ruling pas- 
sion" to take a permanent and brilliant place in the world 
of " polite letters." It is no disparagement of Hume to 
say that this predominant literary ambition was not 

1 See My Oivn Life, and the panegyric in the Essay above quoted 
("Works, iii. pp. 97-8) ; and cf. below, pp, 64, 


favourable to the highest development of his powers as 
a thinker. There is a limit beyond which a man cannot 
go in philosophy without being content to sacrifice 
many of the graces of composition which are essential 
to purely literary success. Abstruse thinking will 
never bring in large returns of immediate popularity. 
To think or write like an Aristotle, a Kant, or a Hegel, 
is certainly not the road to literary fame such as Hume 
was in search of. And Hume was latterly, at least, 
perfectly aware of this. He contrasts the " easy and 
obvious philosophy" of popular writers, with "the 
abstruse philosophy" of deeper thinkers which had 
also been his own earlier and nobler ideal 1 and 
remarks, " It is certain that the easy and obvious 
philosophy will always, with the generality of man- 
kind, have the preference over the accurate and 
abstruse. . . . This also must be confessed, that the 
most durable, as well as the justest fame, has been 
acquired by the easy philosophy. . . . The fame of 
Cicero flourishes at present, but that of Aristotle is 
utterly decayed/' 2 In these circumstances, as a man 
bent on "the most durable as well as justest fame,' 
Hume has scarcely an alternative. He must either re- 
sign altogether the pursuit of the abstruser philosophy, 
or at least so modify and popularise it, that it will not 
debar him from taking his place among the "easy" 
writers. This, in fact, is what he proposes to attempt. 
" The difficulty," he says, " may perhaps be surmounted 
by care and art. . . . Happy ii" we can unite the bound- 
aries of the different species of philosophy, by recon- 
ciling profound inquiry with clearness, and truth with 

1 Introduction to Treatise (Works, i, p. 6) ; see below, p. 32. 
3 In Enquiry (Works, iv. pp. 2, 3). 


novelty." l It is easy to see that a thinker with such 
aims is committed to a style of writing in which more 
durable qualities are apt to be sacrificed to a desire to 
please. 2 It is a significant commentary on Hume's 
judgment, that it is the unfortunate Treatise, which he 
was fain to disavow because of its abstruseness, on 
which his fame as a philosopher now securely rests; 
while the more polished version of his principles in the 
Enquiry is relegated to a quite secondary place. 

The purely literary merit of Hume's writings is, 
nevertheless, very great. He bestowed the utmost 
pains on the acquirement of an easy, fascinating style, 
and, once it was acquired, he lost no opportunity of 
polishing and perfecting it. His success in this latter 
endeavour may be almost regarded as complete. His 
style combines the greater number of those excellences 
of diction and smooth arrangement, for the study of 
which the eighteenth century was distinguished beyond 
most periods of our literature. It wants the "pomp 
and strut " of the style of Gibbon ; it is less artificial 
than Robertson's; it unites the ease and grace of 
Addison with a peculiar clearness derived from his 
French favourites. It was a style admirably suited to 
the acute and flexible mind of the man who used it. 

1 Works, iv, p. 14. In a letter late in life he expresses the wish that 
he had always confined himself to "the more easy parts of erudition" 
(Burton's Life, i. p. 98). 

3 Professor Huxley also remarks: "Indeed, it appears to be by no 
means improbable that this peculiarity of Hume's constitution was 
the cause of his gradually forsaking philosophical studies, after the 
publication of the third part (on Morals) of the Treatise, in 1740, and 
turning to those political and historical topics which were likely to 
yield, and did in fact yield, a much better return of that sort of success 
his soul loved. . . . Verily he had his reward, but not the crown he 
might have won" (Hwm, pp. 11, 12). 


It served him to equal purpose in the literary essay, 
in the subtle analysis of mental phenomena, in the 
close train of metaphysical reasoning, and in the con- 
nected exposition of historical events and sequences. 
If it has any special fault, it may be said to lie in a 
certain lack of concentration and vigour, and in the 
absence of anything resembling passion. This is, per- 
haps, scarcely a defect in treating of subjects of a 
purely speculative nature, where the lumen siccum 
is a condition of success ; but it is different in the 
study of history and of religion, where sympathy and 
the power of appreciating spiritual forces are indis- 
pensable qualifications. Still, as a master of correct 
and pleasing composition, Hume will always hold an 
honourable place among the great writers of our 
language. Dugald Stewart traces much of the elegance 
observable in the style of some of Hume's opponents 
to the careful and minute study which their desire 
to refute his views caused them to bestow upon 
his works, 1 and there can be no question that his 
influence in this respect has been both great and 

Of the contemporaries of Hume, the two who stand 
next to him in the measure of their importance are 
undoubtedly Adam Smith and Thomas Eeid. The one 
is the acknowledged founder of political economy as a 
distinct branch of knowledge ; the other is the recog- 
nised head of the Scottish School in philosophy. But 
even as regards these distinguished men, a pre-eminence 
must be assigned to Hume; for apart from his in- 
fluence probably neither of the two would have 
written as he did. To Hume, as we shall find, more 

1 Dissertation^ p. 208. 


than to any living man, Adam Smith was indebted 
for the leading ideas of his principal work ; and from 
Hume, as best understanding the completeness and 
value of the exposition, the Wealth of Nations re- 
ceived its first emphatic welcome. Many suggestions 
of Smith's peculiar moral theories are scattered up and 
down the works of Hume. With regard to Reid, it is 
only necessary to refer to his own express acknow- 
ledgment that it was Hume's sceptical conclusions 
which first of all startled him into independent inquiry. 
"I acknowledge," he says, "that I never thought of 
calling in question the principles commonly received 
with regard to the human understanding until the 
Treatise of Human Nature was published in the year 
1739. The ingenious author of that treatise upon the 
principles of Locke who was no sceptic hath built a 
system of scepticism which leaves no ground to believe 
any one thing rather than its contrary. His reasoning 
appeared to me to be just ; there was, therefore, a necess- 
ity to call in question the principles on which it was 
founded, or to admit the conclusion." x In Germany, 
the philosopher Kant, in a well-known passage, makes 
a similar acknowledgment, 2 so that the two principal 
philosophical movements of the last century that of 
Scotland, which passed likewise into France, and that 
of Germany, which took its origin in Kant were due 
directly to the influence of Hume. If it be argued 
that these movements represent rather a recoil from 
Hume's scepticism than any proper development of his 
ideas, it may be replied that only a thinker of the first 

1 Dedication to his Inquiry Mo the Hitman Mind (Hamilton's Reid , 
p. 95) ; see also his letter to Hume "below, p. 63. 

2 Prolegomena, p. 13. 


rank could have called forth such a reaction. 1 But 
it would bo a mistake to look merely to this, and 
to disregard the intrinsic merit of many of Hume's 
speculations. The literature of simple antagonism, so 
plentifully produced in Hume's own day, was little 
worth, and is now almost forgotten. But more 
thoughtful writers found in his works, not only 
doubts, but germs of higher thoughts, and even germs 
in the doubts themselves. It is doubtful if Kant 
was acquainted with the Treatise;* if he had been, 
he must have found Hume's speculations on Space, 
Time, Externality, Mathematical Certainty, nearly as 
fruitful in hints as his discussions on Causation. In 
our own country it would be difficult to estimate how 
much of our later philosophy, apart from the line of 
Eeid, is due directly or indirectly to Hume's influence. 
One important school, at least, the Associationist, 
must be traced to him in direct lineage ; but echoes of 
Hume vibrations of his thinking are perceptible in 
all the empirical philosophies since his day, and never 
more distinctly than in our own time. 

That which gave Hume his special value for subse- 
quent speculation was above all the thoroughness with 
which he did his work. Hume is commonly and justly 
described as a sceptic. But the word in his case needs 
explanation. It will be seen when we come to deal 
with that topic, 3 that Hume was not a sceptic in the 

1 Mr. Leslie Stephen lias said: "The writer who provokes a re- 
action does as much in generating thought as the writer who pro- 
pagates his own ideas" (English TJiought in the Eighteenth Century, 
li. p. 5). 

2 Of. Dr. H. Stirling's Text-Boole to Kant, p. 16 ; contra, Green's Intro- 
duction to Hume (Works, i. p, 3). 

3 Chapter 7. 


sense that lie had not a very deep and serious 
interest in the philosophical questions he discussed, 
or was not really persuaded that his results, on their 
negative side at least, and in many positive respects 
as well, were not established beyond all reasonable 
cavil But the peculiarity of Hume's thinking was 
that, in destroying the beliefs of other people, he 
could not avoid undermining the authority of reason 
itself. Reason and natural belief are left by him 
in irreconcilable opposition; but, more than that, 
reason gives such an account of its own origin as 
effectually to destroy its claim to be trusted in any 
conclusions at which it arrives. But it was precisely 
through this rigour of his sceptical procedure that 
Hume was able to do the service he did to philosophy. 
Starting from principles which, at the time he wrote, 
were received without question on nearly all hands, 
he carried these out to their results in such a way 
as to show that either the principles must be re- 
nounced, or the conclusions to which they lead must 
be accepted. Discarding all rational elements in 
knowledge, he had to show, in a positive respect, 
how the ideas which men have even those which 
are believed to have a higher origin can be ex- 
plained by the simple operation of association and 
custom ; and it may be affirmed with confidence that, 
if Hume has failed in this task, no other is likely to 

The importance of Hume's philosophy may, there- 
fore, be said to lie in the fact that it is really an 
experimentum crucis as to the possibility of construct- 
ing a theory of knowledge which admits no rational or 
ideal elements, but works solely with empirical factors, 


like association. Criticism of Hume, on the other hand, 
resolves itself at every point into the one contention 
that this endeavour is futile. Hume is a clever writer, 
but the cleverest writer cannot do impossibilities, and 
Hume could not write a sentence or paragraph without 
implicitly overthrowing the system he was advocating. 
Affecting to ignore the rational nature of man, and 
seeking to get along without it, he yet is compelled 
continually to presuppose its existence, and avail him- 
self of its help, in his reasonings and language. Proof 
of this in regard to Hume is really proof of it in regard 
to empirical philosophy generally ; for theorising which 
proceeds on empirical lines can do little more than re- 
produce Hume's arguments, and imitate his methods, 
while perhaps shutting its eyes to the full bearings 
and issues of the principles involved, as Hume made 
them apparent. When even so good a psychologist as 
Professor William James is found commencing with a 
"sensation" which, even as we look at it, becomes 
transformed into an " object," and ere long is part of a 
" world " of such objects, which by and by are them- 
selves posited as the "causes" of the sensations we 
began with, when such a writer can satisfy himself 
with " cognitive sensations " and the treatment of self as 
"a stream of mental states," and conclude that "the 
states of consciousness are all that psychology needs to 
do her work with/' and that " metaphysics or theology 
may prove the soul to exist, but for psychology the 
hypothesis of such a substantial principle of unity is 
superfluous," x it may be felt how far Hume is from 
being obsolete, and how imperative is the need of 
recurrence to his drastic, but at least consistent, logic. 
1 Text-Book of Psychology > pp. 202-3, and yassim. 


In view of Professor James's speculations, not to speak 
of Mr. Spencer's " vivid and faint states " of conscious- 
ness, and Mr. Bain's alchemy of association, Hume may 
be welcomed as a valuable ally in arguing for a more 
rational theory. 



THE future philosopher was born on 26th April 1711 
(Old Style), " within the Tron Parish " * of Edinburgh, 
where his parents must at the time have been residing. 
His father, Joseph Hume (or Home), was a border 
laird of moderate means, but of good family, claiming 
descent from Lord Home, of Dunglas, who crossed into 
France with the Douglas in the French wars of the 
fifteenth century, and lost his life, probably at Verneuil 
(1423-4). His mother, who, her son says, was "a 
woman of singular merit," 2 and for whom he always 
entertained the warmest affection, was a daughter of 
Sir David Falconer, President of the Court of Session. 
The paternal estate was Ninewells, on the northern 
bank of the Whitadder, in the parish of Chirnside, in 
Berwickshire. The old, plain mansion, of which a 
picture is preserved in Chambers's Book of Days, 3 was 
situated on an elevation overlooking the river as it 
flowed to join the Tweed; and from the declivity in 
front issued a number of springs, which gave the place 
its name. Living was plain, and tastes were simple ; 

1 Chambers's Book of Days, i. p. 555. 2 Hume's My Otm Life, 

s Ut supra. 



but the Scottish gentry of that time embraced many 
men of exceptional intelligence and culture/ and the 
library which David found at Ninewells showed that 
his father must have belonged to that cultured class. 
Joseph Hume died while David was yet an infant, and 
he, with an elder brother and sister, were left to the 
care of their mother, who, though still "young and 
handsome," devoted herself entirely to their upbringing. 
As the younger son of the family, his patrimony was 
necessarily, as he tells us, " very slender." 

No details are preserved to us of David's sayings or 
doings in childhood or youth. The one stray remin- 
iscence that floats down is a reputed saying of his 
mother's : " Our Davie's a fine, good-natured crater, but 
uncommon wake-minded." Speculation has naturally 
been rife as to the meaning of this enigmatical utter- 
ance. The riddle is not, perhaps, after all, very difficult 
to read. The " good-nature " of Hume was proverbial, 
though his biographer does well to remind us that he 
"was far from being that docile mass of imperturb- 
ability, which so large a portion of the world have 
taken him for," 2 and, with regard to the less com- 
plimentary part, it may be assumed from what is 
known of Hume in after life, that he had abstracted 
ways, 8 and would not readily impress himself on the 

1 Of. Burton's Life, pp. 150 ff. 2 Ibid. i. p. 110. 

3 In his quarrel with Rousseau (see below, p. 75) he thus defends him- 
self: "What! because sometimes, when absent in thought, I have a 
fixed look or stare, you suspect me to be a traitor. , , . Are not most 
studious men (and many of them more than I) subject to such reveries or 
fits of silence " ( Works, i. p. cii). Burton says of him in middle life : 
"It is pretty clear that he had acquired the outward manner of an 
absent, good-natured man, unconscious of much that was going on 
around him " (i. p. 852). 


observer in boyhood as of quick and observant parts. 
His forte was at no time the outward and practical ; his 
reflections, besides, from an early period, were not such 
as he would be disposed to communicate to others, or 
as others would easily apprehend. A youthful meta- 
physician, who, before eighteen, had his doubts of 
the reality of an external world, and was pondering 
whether, as Barrie humorously puts it in his Edin- 
burgh Eleven, he himself existed "strictly so called/' 
might appear "weak" enough to the average, active- 
minded people about him. So Hume would keep his 
thoughts to himself, and content himself with turning 
on company that good-natured but somewhat vacant 
expression, which in manhood was noted as a feature of 
his appearance. 1 As to exterior, we happen to know 
from his own pen that till the age of twenty he had not 
the plump, ruddy, healthful look of his maturity, but 
was a "tall, lean, raw-boned lad." 2 

A silence almost as complete as that which rests on 
his early days attaches to Hume's school life, and to 
the period of his university attendance. It is known 
that he matriculated as an entrant in the class of Greek 
in Edinburgh University in 1723, at the age of twelve ; 
but no other trace of his curriculum remains. We have 
it from himself that he " passed through the ordinary 
course of education with success " ; 3 and as he elsewhere 
indicates that " our college education in Scotland, extend- 
ing little further than the languages, ends commonly 
when we are about fourteen or fifteen years of age," * 
it may be presumed that this was the term of his 
attendance. Thereafter he returned home, and it is 

1 Burton, i. p. 270 ; see below, p. 42. 3 Ibid. i. p. 34. 

3 My Own Life. * Burton, i. p. 31. 


during the six or seven years that followed of his 
residence at Ninewells, diversified by occasional visits 
to the city, 1 that we begin to see something directly of 
the workings of his mind, and of the character of his 

It is still, however, only the growth of a mind we 
have to study, for then, as throughout life, the merely 
external interested Hume little. All his biographers 
have observed how, living in a region of much natural 
beauty, and rich in romantic associations, he seems to 
have looked on its scenes without emotion, and hardly 
allows a trace of its existence, much less of any impulse 
or impression received from it, to stray into his pages. 
Nature, indeed, in a way, he did appreciate. In one of 
his early letters he speaks of the pleasure he found in 
" an eclogue or georgick of Virgil." 2 But it is nature 
at second-hand nature as seen through the eyes, and 
reflected in the descriptions, of the poets that interested 
him, not as stamping fresh impressions on his own soul ; 
nature as a Virgil or a Pope portrayed it, not as a Words- 
worth would have felt it. Even then he values Virgil 
less for the images he presents to his imagination, than 
for the reflections he excites in his mind. There is the 
same lack of interest in music, painting, and architecture. 
For none of the plastic arts does he show the slightest 
original appreciation ; and even in awarding the palm 
of merit in the higher kinds of poetry, his judgments 
are often ludicrously astray. 3 One quality he does dis- 

1 Burton, i. p. 31. 2 Ibid. i. p. 14. 

3 Thus, while Shakespeare incurs the reproach of "barbarism," Home's 
Douglas is thought to redeem the stage from that reproach, and is " the 
only tragedy," as Wilkie's Epigoniad is "the second epic" (next to 
Milton's), in the language. Burton, i. p. 392 ; ii, pp. 17, 28, See 
below, p. 59. 


play is the instinct, derived from long and close study of 
the orators, for polished and flowing composition in prose. 

The more remarkable, on account of this indifference 
to the outward, is the intensity and individuality of 
the reflective life which Hume had already begun to 
develop. The law had been fixed on as the profession 
most suitable for one of his industry and sobriety of 
mind ; but his own tastes did not in the least incline 
him to legal pursuits. " While they fancied," he says, 
"I was poring upon Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and 
Virgil were the authors I was secretly devouring." 1 
This distaste did not arise from any inherent incapacity 
for legal studies, but because his ambitions had already 
(from about his eighteenth year 2 ) taken other and very 
definite directions. "I was early seized," he tells us, 
in a passage formerly alluded to, " with a passion for 
literature, which has been the ruling passion of my life, 
and the great source of my enjoyments"; 3 but with 
this attachment to literature was combined a habit of 
philosophical reflection, which opened to him visions 
of conquest and distinction in the region of abstract 
thought. Three proofs remain to us of the singular 
development his mind was going through at this period, 
each fitted to awaken astonishment at the precocity, 
independence, and maturity of judgment of a youth 
yet in his teens. The fact that none of the three was 
intended for the public eye gives them the more value 
as mirrors of the state of his thoughts. 

The first of these evidences is a letter written to a 
friend, Michael Ramsay, of whom little is known save 
that he was Hume's life-long correspondent 4 It is dated 

1 My Own Life. 2 Letter to Physician, referred to below. 

3 My Own, Life. 4 Burton, i. p. 12. 


7th July 1727, when Hume was yet scarcely more than 
sixteen. It is, however, already composed with delibera- 
tion and sententiousness, and pictures the writer as 
"entirely confined" to himself and to the library at 
Ninewells for his " diversion." He varies his reading, 
"sometimes a philosopher, sometimes a poet," and 
apparently finds his favourites in the Latin authors, 
as Cicero, Virgil, and Longinus. 1 From the two former 
he derives the ideal of a life independent of fortune 
which pretty much remained with him to the end. 
"The philosopher's wise man and the poet's husband- 
man," he says, "agree in peace of mind, in a liberty 
and independency on fortune, and a contempt of riches, 
power, and glory. Everything is placid and quiet in 
both; nothing perturbed or disordered." He is well 
content with his present mode of existence "I live 
like a king, pretty much by myself, neither full of 
action nor perturbation, molles somnos" and only 
fears his happiness may not continue. The panacea 
against the blows of fortune is to be sought in philo- 
sophy and here we touch the quick of his thought. 
" This greatness and elevation of soul," he says, " is to 
be found only in study and contemplation this alone 
can teach us to look down on human accidents. You 
must allow me to talk this, like a philosopher ; 'tis a 
subject I think much on, and could talk all day long 
of." There is another still more characteristic passage 
on the nature of his studies which deserves special 
attention : 

3 Various indications show that Hume gave assiduous study to the 
Greek and Latin classics. For his Essay on "The Populousness of 
Ancient Kations " he claims to haye read "almost all the classics, both 
Greek and Latin " (Burton, i. p. 326). 


"Would you have me send in my loose incorrect 
thoughts? Were such worth the transcribing? All 
the progress I have made is but drawing the outlines 
on loose bits of paper : here a hint of a passion ; there 
a phenomenon in the mind accounted for ; in another 
the alteration of these accounts ; sometimes a remark 
upon an author I have been reading ; and none of them 
worth to anybody, and I believe scarcely to myself." 

In these " hints " of a passion, and " accountings " for 
phenomena in the mind, of this singular sixteen-year- 
old philosopher, it is not too much to say that we have 
the first germs of the future Treatise. 

Next to be referred to is an "Historical Essay on 
Chivalry and Modern Honour," which, if it really 
belongs, as Mr. Burton thinks, to this youthful period, 
is a remarkable early anticipation of Hume's later 
essay style, and a striking evidence of the power he 
had already attained of looking at historical subjects 
from an independent point of view. It excellently 
illustrates his method of seeking an explanation of 
historical phenomena by tracing them to general 
principles in human nature; but is not less typical 
of his habit of finding his means of explanation in 
principles the least rational and commendable. As at 
a later stage we find him accounting for the growth 
of monotheism out of polytheism through the tendency 
to vulgar flattery ; l so, in this initial attempt, he finds 
the key to chivalry "that monster of romantic chivalry 
or knight-errantry," as he calls it in the propensity of 
the mind, " when smit with any idea of merit or per- 
fection beyond what its faculties can attain," to create 
an imaginary world, in which it pleases itself with the 

1 See below, p. 199. 


fancy of an excellence which does not exist. In the 
course of the Essay he contrasts Greek with Gothic 
architecture the former "plain, simple, and regular, 
but withal majestic and beautiful"; the latter "a 
heap of confusion and irregularity" an evidence of 
" what kind of monstrous birth this of chivalry must 
prove." l 

Of much greater importance, as a clue to Hume's 
youthful feelings and aims, is the third paper a 
sketch of his mental history contained in a letter to a 
London physician (believed to be Dr. George Cheyne), 
whom he desired to consult in a crisis of his health. 
It is doubtful if this mysterious epistle, found neatly 
written out among his papers, was ever really sent. 2 
In belongs in any case to the year 1734. Hume was 
now twenty-three years of age, but the letter goes 
back on his whole life, and gives a sort of confidential 
account of his mental development from the beginning. 
He first recounts the joy he had felt, after his abandon- 
ment of law, at the thought of pushing his fortune in 
the world as a scholar and philosopher. This lasted 
till about September 1729, when a sudden chill fell 
upon his spirits. " All my ardour," he says, cc seemed 
in a moment to be extinguished, and I could no longer 
raise my mind to that pitch, which formerly gave me 
such excessive pleasure." His recluse life, and intense 
application in study, had, it is evident, affected both 
mind and body; and though, by the use of remedies 

1 Burton, i, p. 22. Mr. Burton observes that "the reflections on 
Gothic architecture are the commonplaces of the day, uttered by one 
who was singularly destitute of sympathy with the hitman intellect, in 
its early efforts to resolve itself into symmetry and elegance " (p. 26). 

3 See regarding it, Burton, i. pp. 30-9. 


and exercise, his strength was gradually restored, so 
that, as he tells us, from being "tall and lean," he 
suddenly blossomed out into " the most sturdy, robust, 
healthful-like fellow you have seen," the inability for 
sustained and severe mental work remained. 1 This 
sense of frustrated effort he describes as "such a 
miserable disappointment I scarce ever remember to 
have heard of." " Here," he characteristically declares, 
" lay my greatest calamity. I had no hope of deliver- 
ing my opinions with such elegance and neatness as to 
draw on me the attention of the world, and I would 
rather live and die in obscurity than produce them 
maimed and imperfect." He asks the advice of the 
physician, and intimates his intention of entering the 
employment of a merchant in Bristol of which more 

What further relates to Hume's health may be left 
aside to look at the remarkable revelations the letter 
gives of his mental occupations and plans. These are 
of a nature to dispel any idea of frivolity that might 
be suggested by his scepticism, and to deepen the 
impression of sincerity and purpose in his thought and 
life. Here is how he describes what may be called his 
mental awakening : 

" I was after that [return from college] left to my 
own choice in my reading, and found it incline me 
almost equally to books of reasoning and philosophy, 
and to poetry and the polite authors. Every one who 
is acquainted either with the philosophers or critics, 

1 One can hardly help being reminded of the very similar crisis in the 
life of J. S. Mill, related in his Autobiography (p. 134) ; and of Carlyle's 
description in his JSartor (ii. ch. vii.) and the ^Reminiscences of what he 
calls his "conversion." 


knows that there is nothing yet established in either 
of these two sciences, and that they contain little more 
than endless disputes, even in the most fundamental 
articles. Upon examination of these, I found a certain 
boldness of temper growing in me, which was not 
inclined to submit to any authority in these subjects, 
but led me to seek out some new medium, by which 
truth might be established. After much study and 
reflection on this, at last, when I was about eighteen 
years of age, there seemed to be opened up to me a 
new scene of thought, which transported me beyond 
measure, and made me, with an ardour natural to young 
men, throw up every other pleasure or business to apply 
entirely to it." 

Then ensued the collapse above referred to, in con- 
nection with which we have other interesting glimpses 
of the kind of thoughts that occupied him. The 
principal passage, however, is the following, which 
may be said to furnish the programme of his whole 
life-work in philosophy: 

" Having now time and leisure to cool my inflamed 
imagination, I began to consider seriously how I 
should proceed in my philosophical inquiries. I found 
that the moral philosophy transmitted to us by 
antiquity laboured under the same inconvenience that 
has been found in their natural philosophy, of being 
entirely hypothetical, and depending more on invention 
than experience ; every one consulted his fancy in erect- 
ing schemes of virtue and happiness, without regarding 
human nature, upon which every moral conclusion 
must depend. This, therefore, I resolved to make my 
principal study, and the source from which I would 
derive every truth in criticism as well as in morality. 


I believe it is a certain fact, that most of the philo- 
sophers who have gone before us, have been over- 
thrown by the greatness of their genius, and that little 
more is required to make a man succeed in this study, 
than to throw off all prejudices either for his own 
opinions or for those of others. At least this is all I 
have to depend on for the truth of my reasonings, 
which I have multiplied to such a degree, that within 
these three years I have scribbled many a quire of 
paper, in which there is nothing contained but my 
own inventions. This with the reading most of the 
celebrated books in Latin, French, and English, and 
acquiring the Italian, you may think a sufficient 
business for one in perfect health, and so it would had 
it been done to any purpose; but my disease was a 
cruel incumbrance to me." 

These paragraphs enable us to appreciate the truth 
of Mr. Burton's judgment on Hume: "He was an 
economist of all his talents from early youth: no 
memoir of a literary man presents a more cautious 
and vigilant husbandry of the mental powers and 
acquirements"; 1 and to understand a later sentence 
of the same writer with reference to the Essays 
Moral and Political: "It is into 'The Stoic' that 
the writer has thrown most of his heart and sympathy; 
and it is in that sketch that, though probably without 
intention, some of the features of his own character are 
pourtrayed." 2 

One outcome of Hume's anxieties on the state of his 

health was the conviction that his " distemper" was 

partly due to his sedentary mode of life, and that it 

would be to his advantage to lay aside his studies for 

1 Burton, i. p. 17. 2 Hid. i. p. 143. 


a time, and try the effect of a more active career. The 
difficulty he felt in carrying out his schemes with his 
" very slender income " fortified this resolve. He had, 
as he informs the physician, obtained a recommenda- 
tion to " a very considerable trader " in Bristol ; and he 
now entered the employment of this gentleman, and 
continued for some time in his service. It was by no 
means unusual in that age for younger sons of good 
families to eke out their scanty means of livelihood 
in trade; but in Hume's case the experiment was 
eminently unsuccessful. The merchant, like Hume's 
mother, not improbably thought his new assistant 
" uncommon wake-minded " in the duties of his office ; 
and it is not surprising that Hume himself, his head 
more occupied with the genesis of ideas than with the 
prices and qualities of goods, after a short trial threw 
up his situation, and resolved that, come what might, 
he would confine himself to the line of occupation for 
which nature had more obviously fitted him. " I went 
over to France," he says briefly, " with a view of pro- 
secuting my studies in a country retreat ; and I then 
laid that plan of life which I have steadily and success- 
fully pursued. I resolved to make a very rigid frugality 
supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired 
my independence, and to regard every object as con- 
temptible except the improvement of my talents in 
literature." l 

The sojourn in France to which allusion is here 
made was a very eventful period in Hume's life. It 
was during his three years' residence in that country 
from 1734 to 1737 that the Treatise of Human 
Nature was composed. After a brief stay in Paris, he 

1 My Own Life. 


spent some months in the ancient town of Rheims, 
then took up his abode for two years at La Fleche, 
where was the Jesuits' College at which, a century 
and a quarter earlier, the philosopher Descartes had 
been educated. In these retreats Hume passed his 
days "very agreeably," but, as one gathers from a 
letter to his friend Ramsay, filled with acute remarks 
on the contrast of French and English manners, 1 also 
very observantly. A feature of some interest in this 
French sojourn is its bearing on the future Essay 
on Miracles. When Hume passed through Paris, the 
city was still stirred on the subject of the alleged 
miracles at the tomb of the Abb de Paris, which two 
years before (1732) had caused great commotion, and 
had been the subject of prolonged investigation and 
debate. These miracles, readers of the Essay will 
remember, furnished Hume with not the least service- 
able part of his material for his argument. 2 Then, as 
he himself relates in a letter to Principal Campbell, it 
was while at La Fleche, during a walk with a Jesuit 
in the cloisters of the College, that the idea of the 
argument itself was suggested to him. 

" As my head was full," he says, " of the topics of my 
Treatise of Human Nature, which I was at that time 
composing, this argument immediately occurred to me, 
and I thought it very much gravelled my companion ; 
but at last he observed to me that it was impossible for 
that argument to have any solidity, because it operated 
equally against the Gospel as against the Catholic 
miracles; which observation I thought proper to 
admit as a sufficient answer." 3 

1 Burton, i. p. 51. 2 See below, p. 215. 

3 Preface to Campbell's Dissertation on Miracles. 


The irony of the last sentence is a trait in Hume's 
style of which we shall afterwards have abundant 
examples. It would appear that either then, or soon 
after, he had reduced his argument to shape, and 
intended publishing it as part of the Treatise. But 
prudential reasons, as he avows, held him back. He 
writes on 2nd December 1737 to Henry Home (after- 
wards Lord Kames) : " I enclose some Reasonings Con- 
cerning Miracles which I once thought of publishing 
with the rest, but which I am afraid will give too much 
offence, even as the world is disposed at present" 1 

On his arrival in London, it was Hume's first busi- 
ness to arrange for the publication of his now com- 
pleted book. It was a daring step for a young man 
of twenty-six to enter the field of authorship with a 
work at once so novel and so difficult ; but Hume was 
conscious of the enormous pains he had bestowed on 
the elaboration of his thoughts; he knew that into 
this book he had put the best part of himself the 
whole force and originality of his mind ; and he rightly 
judged that by his success or failure in this attempt 
his reputation as a philosopher must stand or fall. No 
one will now question that into the Treatise Hume has 
concentrated everything of real value he had to offer 
in metaphysics and morals; that later works may 
popularise and polish, but add nothing to the essential 
content of this earlier effort. It has already been 
seen how incessantly for years his thoughts had been 
engrossed with his great project. Now that the time 
had come for the realisation of his expectations, the 
tension of his feeling was naturally very great. Dur- 
ing the months that negotiations were proceeding with 
1 Burton, i. p. 63. 


the booksellers, he was unweariedly engaged in im- 
proving the style and diction of his work. 1 He was 
anxious to have the opinion of others on its merits, 
and was furnished by Henry Home with an intro- 
duction to Bishop Butler, whose Analogy had been 
published the year before; but Butler, to his dis- 
appointment, was in the country. " My own [opinion]/' 
he declares, " I dare not trust to ; both because it con- 
cerns myself, and because it is so variable, that I know 
not how to fix it. Sometimes it elevates me above the 
clouds ; at other times, it depresses me with doubts and 
fears; so that, whatever be my success, I cannot be 
entirely disappointed." 2 One other confession he makes, 
also having reference to the introduction to Butler, 
which produces a less favourable impression. " I am," 
he says, "at present castrating my work, that is, 
cutting off its nobler parts ; that is, endeavouring it 
shall give as little offence as possible, before which, I 
could not pretend to put it into the Doctor's hands. 
This is a piece of cowardice, for which I blame myself, 
though I believe none of my friends will blame me. 
But I was resolved not to be an enthusiast in philo- 
sophy while I was blaming other enthusiasms." 3 
Whether the parts thus excised were restored before 
publication cannot be affirmed, but, apart from the 
reasonings on miracles, it may be presumed that they 

In these preliminaries about a year passed by, and 
it was not till the 26th of September 1*738 that a 
contract was finally framed between Hume and John 
Noone, bookseller, of Cheapside, by which the latter 
bound himself to pay the former 50, with twelve 

1 Burton, i. p. 63. 2 Ibid. i. p. 65. 3 Ilul i. p. 64. 


copies of the book, for the sole right of printing and 
publishing the first edition, not to exceed 1000 copies. 
The transaction was, as Mr. Burton says, "on the 
whole creditable to the discernment and liberality of 
Mr. Noone." l When one reflects that the author was yet 
young and unknown ; that the book was of a kind not 
adapted to attract the public attention, but more likely 
to be denounced as a farrago of metaphysical conceits ; 
and that, tested by the value of money in these days, 
50 was a considerable sum, the bargain may be called 
exceedingly generous. This, too, was probably the 
opinion of the bookseller himself, when, after the 
publication of the two volumes containing the first 
and second Books of the Treatise, in January 1739, he 
discovered that, so far from arousing the interest, or 
exciting the opposition Hume had anticipated, the work 
had practically no sale whatever. Hume's own succinct 
account of the matter is : " Never literary attempt was 
more unfortunate than my Treatise of Human Nature. 
It fell dead-lorn from the press; without reaching 
such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the 
zealots." 2 The book was published anonymously; a 
circumstance which may have helped to doom it to 
obscurity. The work, in reality, was before its time. 
The taste capable of appreciating it, and living interest 
in the questions it discussed, were, in Scotland at least, 
only beginning to be developed. Half a century later 
it might have had a different reception. There is no 
doubt that, meanwhile, Hume was keenly disappointed ; 
though the result did not shake his faith in the merits 

1 Hume, on the other hand, thought he had parted with his book too 
easily (Letter to Hutcheaon, Burton, i. p. 117). 

2 My Own Life. 


of the book, but only his confidence in the discernment 
of the public, and in the wisdom of his method of pre- 
senting doctrines so abstract and unusual. Within a 
fortnight of the date of publication he saw that the 
success of the book was doubtful : 

"I am afraid," he says, "'twill remain so very 
long. Those who are accustomed to reflect on such 
abstract subjects are commonly full of prejudices; 
and those who are unprejudiced are unacquainted 
with metaphysical reasonings. My principles are also 
so remote from all the vulgar sentiments on the 
subjects, that were they to take place, they would 
produce an almost total revolution in philosophy; 
and you know, revolutions of this kind are not easily 
brought about." l 

While from Ninewells, to which soon after he re- 
turned to await developments, he wrote on 1st June to 
Henry Home : 

" I am not much in the humour of such comparisons 
at present; having received news from London of the 
success of my Philosophy, which is but indifferent if 
I may judge by the sale of the book, and if I may 
believe my bookseller. I am now out of humour with 
myself; but doubt not, in a little time, to be only out 
of humour with the world, like other unsuccessful 
authors. After all, I am sensible of my folly in 
entertaining any discontent, much more despair, upon 
this account, since I could not expect any better from 
such abstract reasonings; nor, indeed, did I promise 
myself much better. My fondness for what I imagined 
my discoveries made me overlook all common rules of 
prudence ; and, having enjoyed the usual satisfaction of 
1 Burton, i. p. 105. 


projectors, 'tis but just I should meet with their dis- 
appointments." l 

The Treatise did not, indeed, pass altogether un- 
noticed. A long review of the work, written in a 
spirit of raillery at Hume's paradoses, but ending with 
a handsome acknowledgment of the "incontestable 
marks of a great capacity," and of " a soaring genius " 
in the author, appeared in the November issue of a 
periodical of the day, The History of the WorJes of the 
Learned. Still, from an observation made long after- 
wards (1748-9) by his bookseller, Mr. A. Millar, to 
Hume, that his former publications, " all but the un- 
fortunate Treatise" were beginning to be the subject 
of conversation, 2 we may gather that Hume did not 
exaggerate in speaking of his book as falling "dead- 
born from the press." 

The examination of the principles of the work 
ushered into the world in these discouraging circum- 
stances belongs to later chapters. It is only necessary 
to indicate here in a few sentences its general character 
and aim. In its completed form the Treatise consists 
of three Books the first treating "Of the Under- 
standing," the second, " Of the Passions," and the third, 
"Of Morals." The volumes published in 1739 com- 
prised the first and second of these Books, and it ^is in 
the Book dealing with the Understanding that the 
really vital part of Hume's system lies. The treatment, 
as the author acknowledges, is throughout highly 
abstract; and, what is an even greater disadvantage, 
is unmethodical and desultory in its exposition of its 
various topics. But these faults are mainly on the 
surface. In the thoughts which compose it the work is 
1 Burton, i. p. 108. 2 My Own Life. 


powerfully and compactly one ; while the style has a 
vigour and cohesion with the idea, to which a touch of 
ruggedness only lends additional strength. Its spirit 
and purpose are best illustrated by quoting from its 
own pages. Hume opens with a vindication of the 
right of metaphysical inquiry not easily reconcilable 
with his later sentiments on the advantages of an 
"easy and obvious" philosophy: 

" And, indeed," he says, " nothing but the most deter- 
mined scepticism, along with a great degree of in- 
dolence, can justify this aversion to metaphysics. For, 
if truth be at all within the reach of human capacity, it 
is certain that it must lie very deep and abstruse ; and 
to hope we shall arrive at it without pains, while the 
greatest geniuses have failed with the utmost pains, 
must certainly be esteemed sufficiently vain and pre- 
sumptuous. I pretend to no such advantage in the 
philosophy I am going to unfold, and would esteem it 
a strong presumption against it, were it so very easy 
and obvious." 1 

His method is announced in the following passage : 
"Here then is the only expedient, from which we 
can hope for success in our philosophical researches, 
to leave the lingering tedious method, which we have 
hitherto followed, and, instead of taking now and then a 
castle or village on the frontier, to march up directly to 
the capital or centre of these sciences, to human nature 
itself; which being once masters of, we may every- 
where else hope for an easy victory. ... In pretending 
therefore to explain the principles of human nature, we 
in effect propose a complete system of the sciences, built 
on a foundation almost entirely new, and the only one 
1 Introduction to Treatise (Works, i. p. 6). 


on which they can stand with any security. . . . And 
as the science of man is the only solid foundation for 
the other sciences, so the only solid foundation we can 
give to this science itself must be laid on experience 
and observation." I 

Human nature, then, we find, is the subject of 
Hume's investigation, and his method is defined to be 
the experimental. Already we can perceive the bold- 
ness of his enterprise, and the revolutionary character 
of the conceptions he proposes to expound. 
1 Introduction to Treatise ("Woiks, i. p. 8). 



HUME was too genuine a philosopher to allow himself 
to be unduly depressed by the apparent failure of his 
first attempt at authorship ; and, accordingly, he is 
found without delay setting himself to the preparation 
for publication of the third Book of his Treatise that 
on Morals. This part of the work, as following on the 
treatment of the Understanding and the Passions, deals 
with moral judgments, and the qualities of virtue and 
vice in character and actions. It comes, therefore, 
properly under the general head of an inquiry into 
human nature, and is conducted on the same principles 
of rigorous experimental analysis as the previous 
Books, but without startling the reader with the 
sceptical paradoxes of the speculative sections. In 
handling moral questions Hume was entering a field 
which, since the time of Hobbes, English philosophers 
had diligently cultivated, and on which, more recently, 
interest had been concentrated by the lectures of 
Francis Hutcheson. 1 Not unnaturally, therefore, he 
was anxious to obtain the opinions and suggestions 
of the distinguished Glasgow moralist on his perform- 

1 On Eutckeson's popularity, cf. Burton, i. p. 111. 


ance, and submitted his manuscript to Dr. Hutcheson 
for this purpose. An interesting correspondence ensued, 
chiefly remarkable as showing how tenaciously, while 
welcoming criticism from others, Hume held by his 
own ideas. This is characteristic of his epistolary 
intercourse all through. An incidental result of the 
correspondence was the opening of an acquaintance 
between Hume and a " Mr. Smith " no doubt Adam 
Smith then a student at Glasgow, and barely seven- 
teen. Hume, probably at Hutcheson's suggestion, sent 
Smith a copy of his Treatise, a fact which sufficiently 
indicates the report he had received of the youthful 
Adam's abilities. It comes out in another letter that 
Hume was desirous of changing his publisher, and 
obtained from Hutcheson an introduction to Mr. 
Longman. It was actually by this publisher that the 
book was brought out in 1740. 

Apart from a stray fact or two, as for instance his 
attempt to obtain a tutorship in a nobleman's family 
with a view to travel, 1 Hume's life at this stage is 
little more than a record of his literary labours. In 
1*741 appeared in Edinburgh the first volume of his 
Essays Moral and Political, speedily followed by the 
second volume in 1742. 2 The Essays, like the Treatise, 
were published anonymously, but had a distinctly 
better reception. "The work," Hume says, "was 
favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget 
my former disappointment." 3 To Henry Home he 
writes in 1742 : " The Essays are all sold in London, as 

1 Burton, i p. 115. 

2 The publisher of the first two editions was Kincaid, Edinburgh, and 
of the third, A. Millar, London. 

3 My Own Life. 


I am informed by two letters from English gentlemen 
of my acquaintance. There is a demand for them; 
and, as one of them tells me, Innys, the great book- 
seller in Paul's Churchyard, wonders there is not a new 
edition, for that he cannot find copies for his customers. 
I am also told that Dr. Butler has everywhere recom- 
mended them; so that I hope they will have some 
success/' 1 This popularity of the Essays is not sur- 
prising. They were cast in a mould at that time 
fashionable. Hume tells us they were originally 
designed as "weekly papers" on the model of the 
Spectator and the Craftsman ; but, beyond this, alike 
in the selection and variety of their subjects, and the 
finish of their style, they exhibited qualities which, to 
discerning minds, gave them at once a high rank in 
literature. As at first published, the volumes contained 
twenty-seven Essays. Of these as many as eight 
were gradually dropped, while several new ones were 
introduced, and other changes made. The third edition, 
for instance, published in 1748, omitted three of the 
original Essays, and received an addition of three. 2 

The next years in Hume's history are comparatively 
uneventful. Two occurrences slightly break the mono- 
tony. In 1743-4 some stir was caused by a sermon 
published by the Eev. Dr. Leechman, of Beith, on 
Prayer, followed by the appointment of its author to 
the Chair of Divinity in the University of Glasgow. 
The sermon, which resolved the efficacy of prayer into 
its reflex influence on the mind of the worshipper, was 
submitted to Hume for suggestions through his friend, 
William (afterwards Baron) Mure, of Caldwell, and the 

1 Burton, i. p. 143. 

2 On the history of the Editions, see Appendix. 


reply is interesting, as showing how far Hume's mind 
was severed from everything in religion, except, as he 
says, " the practice of morality, and the assent of the 
understanding to the proposition that God exists."*- 
Affection to Deity cannot, he thinks, owing to the 
invisibility and incomprehensibility of its object, be 
required of man as his duty, and, even " were devotion 
never so much admitted, prayer must still be excluded." 
He shows that Dr. Leechman's doctrine reduces prayer 
to "a kind of rhetorical figure," and by encouraging 
the idea that prayers have a direct influence, "leads 
directly, and even unavoidably, to blasphemy." 2 On 
the main point, therefore, though from opposite sides, 
Hume and Dr. Leechman's theological opponents were 
at one. The other event which gives a little colour to 
this period is the effort made by Hume to secure the 
appointment to the chair of "Ethics and Pneumatic 
Philosophy" in the University of Edinburgh. The 
occupant of the chair, Dr. (afterwards Sir John) 
Pringle, had been appointed physician to the Earl of 
Stair, Commander of the British Forces in the Low 
Countries, and, in accordance with a loose practice of 
these times, had been for two years absent from his 
duties in the University. The Town Council of Edin- 

1 Burton, i. p. 162. The description given by the admiring biographer 
(Rev. James Wodrow) of Dr. Leecliman of his method as Professor is 
very characteristic : "No dictatorial opinion, no infallible or decisive 
judgment on any great controverted point was ever delivered from that 
theological chair. After the point had undergone a full discussion, 
none of the students yet knew the opinion of this venerable professor, 
in any other way than by the superior weight of the arguments he had 
brought under their view j so delicately scrupulous was he to throw any 
bias at all upon ingenuous minds, in their inquiries after sacred truth " 
(Preface to Sermons}. 

2 2Md. i. pp, 163-4. 


burgh, to which he offered his resignation, thought it 
necessary that at least a term be put to his further 
absence, and in March 1745 he actually did resign. 
When the vacancy was in prospect, Hume was induced 
to put himself forward as a candidate (August 1744), 
and, backed by the Provost's influence, thought himself 
secure of the appointment. "I found presently," he 
writes, " that I should have the whole Council on my 
side, and that, indeed, I should have no antagonist." 1 
Opposition, however, soon showed itself, and from 
unexpected quarters. "The accusation of heresy, 
deism, scepticism, atheism, etc. etc. etc.," he says, 
" was started against me ; but never took, being bore 
down by the contrary opinion of all the good company 
in town." 2 Much more to his surprise, he found that 
" Mr. Hutcheson and even Mr. Leechman " were in the 
ranks of those who agreed that he " was a very unfit 
person for such an office." 3 The efforts also of the 
"good company" to persuade the public that Hume 
was no heretic, deist, or sceptic, must have failed ; 4 for, 
when the vacancy actually occurred, his name was not 
even mentioned. The post was given in June 1745 
to William Cleghorn, who had taught in Dr. Pringle's 

A disagreeable episode in Hume's career fills up the 
interval from April 1745 to April 1746. The Marquis 
of Annandale, last of that title, a man of excitable 
disposition, and, as it proved, in the first stages of 

1 Burton, i. p. 166. 2 Ibid. i. p. 167. 3 Ibid. 

4 Ibid. p. 178: "I am informed that such a popular clamour has 
been raised against me in Edinburgh, on account of scepticism, hetero- 
doxy, and other hard names, which confound the ignorant, that my 
friends find some difficulty in working out the point of my professorship, 
which once appeared so easy." 


insanity, had been attracted by Hume's Essays, and, 
early in 1745, invited Hume to become his companion 
at his residence at Weldhall, near St. Albans, in 
Hertfordshire. He sent Hume 100, and finally an 
arrangement was come to, by which Hume was to 
receive 300 a year so long as the connection lasted. 
The position, though not an enviable one, had its obvious 
advantages, and Hume might have endured it, but for 
the offensive tyranny of a Captain Vincent, a relation 
of the Dowager-Marchioness, to whom was entrusted 
the management of the Marquis's affairs. The self- 
seeking designs of this man Hume early detected and 
sought to counteract, with the result that Vincent, 
who at first had been friendly, became his bitter 
enemy, plotted to reduce his salary by one-half, and 
made his situation as servile and galling as a man 
of coarse nature, invested with authority, could. The 
perturbation of spirit occasioned by his affronts leads 
Hume to break out in his correspondence into quite 
unusual strains. He had resisted his suspicions of 
Vincent, he tells us, as he would " a temptation of the 
devil," and in his excitement he thus accosts Sir James 
Johnstone: "God forgive you, dear Sir, God forgive 
you, for neither coming to us, nor writing to us." 1 
The Marquis's temper became daily more uncontrol- 
lable, and when self-respect could stand the indignities 
heaped upon him no longer, Hume took his departure. 
A sequel to the quarrel was a claim put in by Hume 
for 75 of arrears of salary, the somewhat sordid dis- 
pute in regard to which dragged on till at least 1761. 
It is not known how it was settled. 

Hume's next experiences were of a much more 
1 Burton, i. p. 183. 


pleasant order. They relate to his connection with 
General St. Glair in the capacity of secretary, first, 
during a naval expedition conducted in 1746 against 
the coasts of France; and, second, during a military 
embassy in 1748 to the Court of Turin, the progress of 
which gave him an opportunity of seeing a large part 
of the Continent. These two years Hume speaks of 
as "almost the only interruptions which my studies 
have received during the course of my life" 1 lan- 
guage which it is difficult to reconcile with his later 
occupations in France and England. The expedition 
first named had a somewhat inglorious history. It 
was originally intended to be sent against the French 
possessions in Canada; then resolved itself into a 
descent on the coast of France itself. It set sail on 
14th September 1746, and landed its forces on the 
20th at the town of Fort L'Orient, on the coast of 
Brittany. The attempt to compel the town to surrender 
proved a failure. Sickness set in, and in less than a 
week it was found necessary to raise the siege, and 
retreat to the fleet. The expedition soon after returned 
home. In addition to his position as secretary, Hume 
was appointed by the General Judge-advocate to all 
the forces under his command He formed, besides, 
valuable acquaintances, and saw a little of actual 
warfare. The most interesting point in his corre- 
spondence in this period is the indication of certain 
"historical projects," 2 which we can trace rapidly 
settling into the purpose of writing a History. 

The year 1747 was spent at Ninewells, an interval 
of which his biographer takes advantage to introduce 
some specimens of Hume's versification, and to discuss 
1 My Own Life. 2 Burton, i. p. 221. 


the probability of his ever having been in love. 
Assuredly, if the Clarindas and Lauras of Hume's muse 
were real persons, his passion for them must have 
been of a very mild sort ; nor, while avowing himself 
fond of the society of " modest women," does he ever 
seem to have been peculiarly susceptible to female 
charms. In his Essays, as Mr. Burton says, "he 
frequently discusses the passion of love, dividing it 
into its elements about as systematically as if he had 
subjected it to a chemical analysis, and laying down 
rules regarding it as distinctly and specifically as if it 
were a system of logic." l 

It was in the year following, 1748, that General 
St. Glair showed his appreciation of Hume's previous 
services by inviting him to attend him as his secretary 
on his mission to Turin. This was an opportunity not 
to be lost, though it was not without regret that Hume 
laid aside the plans of study he had formed. We now 
hear from him distinctly, " I have long had an inten- 
tion, in my riper years, of composing some history " ; 2 
but he was wise enough to see that some wider experi- 
ences of cities and men, and of "the intrigues of the 
Cabinet," would be a valuable aid in the carrying out 
of his design. Nor did the experience of the next few 
months disappoint his expectations. His letters begin 
to show an unwonted interest in people and things, and 
his descriptions of the cities through which he passed 
of the Hague, Breda, Nimeguen, Cologne, Bonn, 
Coblentz, Frankfort, Ratisbon, on to Vienna, Trent, 
Mantua, and finally Turin are lively and entertain- 
ing. His enthusiasm for Virgil comes out at Mantua : 
" We are now on classic ground ; and I have kissed the 
1 Burton, i. p. 231. 2 Ibid. i. p. 236. 


earth that produced Virgil, and have admired those 
fertile plains that he has so finely celebrated." 1 But 
it is noted that he never once condescends to mention 
any of the fine specimens of Gothic architecture he met 
with in his progress not even the imposing fragment 
of the Cathedral of Cologne. Hume's appearance on 
this embassy, clad in military scarlet, seems to have 
afforded some entertainment to his friends, if one may 
judge from the grotesque description given of him by 
that versatile Irish politician, Lord Charlemont : 

"Nature, I believe," says this witness, "never formed 
any man more unlike his real character than David 
Hume. The powers of physiognomy were baffled by 
his countenance ; neither could the most skilful in that 
science pretend to discover the smallest trace of the 
faculties of his mind in the unmeaning features of his 
visage. His face was broad and fat, his mouth wide, 
and without any other expression than that of im- 
becility. His eyes vacant and spiritless, and the cor- 
pulence of his whole person, was far better fitted to 
communicate the idea of a turtle-eating alderman, than 
of a refined philosopher. His speech in English was 
rendered ridiculous by the broadest Scotch accent, and 
his French was, if possible, still more laughable; so 
that Wisdom most certainly never disguised herself 
before in so uncouth a garb. Though now near fifty 
years of age [he was thirty-seven], he was healthy and 
strong, but his health and strength, far from being 
advantageous to his figure, instead of manly comeliness, 
had only the appearance of rusticity. His wearing a 
uniform added greatly to his natural awkwardness, for 
he wore it like a grocer of the train bands/ 7 2 

1 Burton, L p. 265. 2 Ibid. i. p. 270. 


The mission to Turin was superseded by the treaty 
of Aix-la-Chapelle on 7th October, and at some uncer- 
tain date thereafter Hume returned to London. There, 
soon after his arrival, he received a great blow in the 
news of the death of his mother. The reality of his 
emotion, and the spirit in which he met the bereave- 
ment, are attested by the following narrative, by Dr. 
Carlyle, of Inveresk, which also sufficiently disposes of 
certain absurd stories set afloat by unscrupulous in- 
ventors : 

" David and he [the Hon. Mr. Boyle, brother of the 
Earl of Glasgow] were both in London at the period 
when David's mother died. Mr. Boyle, hearing of it, 
soon after went into his apartment, for they lodged in 
the same house, where he found him in the deepest 
affliction, and in a flood of tears. After the usual topics 
of condolence, Mr. Boyle said to him, c My friend, you 
owe this uncommon grief to having thrown off the 
principles of religion ; for if you had not, you would 
have been consoled with the firm belief that the good 
lady, who was not only the best of mothers, but the 
most pious of Christians, was completely happy in the 
realms of the just.' To which David replied, 'Though 
I throw out my speculations to entertain the learned 
and metaphysical world, yet in other things I do not 
think so differently from the rest of the world as you 
imagine.' " x 

Notwithstanding this utterance, there is no reason to 
suppose that Hume's general attitude of disbelief in 
the Christian religion was anything but entirely serious, 
or ever altered. Of this, as well as of the unchanged 
character of his philosophical foundations, a conclusive 

1 Burton, i. pp. 293-4. 


proof had just been given by the publication in 1748, 
while he was on his way to Turin, of the recast and 
popularised version of his speculations under the title 
of Philosophical Essays concerning Human Under- 
standing, subsequently modified to Enquiry concern- 
ing the Human Understanding. The book was 
published in London by Andrew Millar, At first it 
bore simply to be by 'the Author of the Essays Moral 
and Political! But in November of the same year 
a new edition was issued with the author's name. At 
first the Enquiry seemed fated to attract as little 
attention as the Treatise ; but Hume's growing reputa- 
tion, and the bolder pronouncements of the book on 
subjects affecting revealed religion, soon led to wider 
notice, and hostile criticism. Hume's own design was 
that this simplified and improved form of his system 
should take the place of his older work, which he now 
desired to withdraw from circulation. His feeling on 
this point is best expressed in the " Advertisement " pre- 
fixed to the book in the posthumous and authoritative 
edition of 1777. He there rebukes the adversaries for 
directing " all their batteries against that juvenile work, 
which the author never acknowledged, and have affected 
to triumph in any advantages which, they imagined, 
they had obtained over it " " a practice," he says, " very 
contrary to all rules of candour and fair dealing, and 
a strong instance of those polemical artifices which a 
bigoted zeal thinks itself authorised to employ." Now, 
however, he expressly desires " that the following Pieces 
may alone be regarded as containing his philosophical 
sentiments and principles." 

It has already been seen that Hume's wishes with 
regard to the neglect of his Treatise have not been 


fulfilled. It is not "bigoted zeal," but that world of 
philosophy and letters to which he appealed, which has 
refused to let the older work drop out of sight, or be 
displaced by the newer Enquiry. It is not simply 
that the Treatise is by far the abler and more vigorous 
and original work ; beyond this there is the fact that 
the second work really alters nothing in the philo- 
sophical basis of the first, while it leaves out much 
that is necessary for the understanding of the system 
as a whole. It was not, after all, the subject-matter, 
but the lack of popularity, of his earlier work which 
distressed Hume; he claims only that, in the newer 
handling, "some negligences in his former reasoning, 
and more in the expression, are, he hopes, corrected/' 
Had it been given to him to foresee the estimate that 
posterity would put upon his Treatise, in comparison 
with its later echo, the suppression of it is the last 
thing he would have desired. The utmost that can 
be claimed is, that where differences of view emerge, 
the later statement shall be taken as the final one. 
One advantage, at least, of the Enquiry is, that it 
helps to throw into relief the things that Hume him- 
self thought of most importance in his philosophy. 
While much that is in the Treatise is omitted, we have, 
sometimes in briefer, occasionally in more expanded 
form, a re-statement of his theories on the origin of 
ideas, on association, on causation, on the idea of 
necessary connection, on liberty and necessity, etc.; 
while important additions are made in the Essays on 
"Miracles" and on "a Particular Providence and a 
Future State." 1 Two extracts will suffice at this 

1 Mr. Burton mistakenly says : "It was in the Inquiry concerning 
the Humtm Understanding that Hume promulgated the theory of 


stage to show the general spirit of the work one 
from the commencement, the other from the close. 
The first suggests comparison with Kant : 
" The only method of freeing learning at once from 
these abstruse questions is to inquire seriously into the 
nature of human understanding, and show, from an 
exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by 
no means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects. 
We must submit to this fatigue, in order to live at 
ease ever after ; and must cultivate true metaphysics 
with some care, in order to destroy the false and 
adulterated." 1 

The second is the drastic conclusion, dear to Professor 
Huxley : 

"If we take in our hand any volume, of school 
divinity, or metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, 
Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning 
quantity or number? No, Does it contain any 
experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact 
and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; 
for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illu- 
sion." 2 

During 1749 and 1750 Hume lived peacefully at 
Ninewells, though brain and pen were still unceasingly 
busy. His correspondence in these years with Dr. 
Clephane, of London, Colonel Abercromby, and others, 
reveals a vein of sportiveness not ordinarily found in 
his compositions. 3 We find him more seriously engaged 

Association which called forth so much admiration of its simplicity, 
beauty, and truth" (i. p. 286). The doctrine of Association is even 
more folly developed in the earlier Treatise. 

1 Works, ir. p. 9. 2 Ibid. p. 187. 

8 Of. his squib on Fraser in connection with the Westminster Election, 
and his " Bellman's Petition" (Burton, i. pp. 307-18). 


in earnest preparation of his Political Discourses, 1 pub- 
lished two years later; and his letters to Sir Gilbert 
Elliot, a gentleman of great accomplishment, reveal 
also that by this time (1751) he had composed his 
Dialogues concerning Natural Religion* of which a 
good deal will afterwards be heard. In these Dia- 
logues, which were not published till after his death, 
the cause of Theism is upheld by Cleanthes, and Hume 
tells his correspondent that whatever he can think of 
to strengthen that side of the argument will be most 
acceptable to him. 3 Sir Gilbert gave him his views at 
length, 4 but few will regard the Dialogues as a prop to 
theistic belief. The chief outcome of this period of 
labour, however, was the publication in 1751 of his 
Enquiry concerning ike Principles of Morals } which 
answers to the third Book of the original Treatise, and 
completes, with the exception of the Dissertation on 
the Passions, 6 the recasting of that earlier work. The 
publisher was again Mr. Millar. In Hume's own judg- 
ment, this was, of all his works, "historical, philoso- 
phical, and literary, incomparably the best." 6 Posterity 
may not endorse this opinion, but most will allow 
that, from a purely literary point of view, the work is 
elaborated and polished to a high degree. Hume had 
now clearly grasped the principle of "utility" as a key 
to the phenomena of morals, and developed his thesis 

1 Burton, i, pp. 301-4. A correspondence with Montesquieu belongs 
also to this period. 

2 See below, pp. 200 ff. 3 Burton, pp. 308-36. 

4 His letter is given in Kote OCC. to Dugald Stewart's Dissertation. 

5 See below, pp. 58, 169. 

6 My Ovm Life. Hume gives the date of publication as 1752. This 
may be due to the difference in the English and Scotch ways of reckon- 
ing. 1752 was the year of the change of the Calendar. 


with a skill which made his book a landmark in the 
history of discussion on the subject. As before, the 
work attracted little attention at the time, though a 
reply from the pen of James (afterwards Professor) 
Balfour, of Pilrig, appeared in 1753, the ability and 
courtesy of which induced Hume to seek the acquaint- 
ance of the author. 

It was probably before the appearance of the last- 
named work that Hume effected the change of his 
residence to Edinburgh, which opens a new period 
in his career. The immediate occasion of this step 
was his brother's marriage; 1 but the removal was 
prompted also by a natural desire to be in a city 
already rising to distinction as an abode of letters, 
and affording exceptional facilities for the carrying out 
of his literary designs. Hume was now, moreover, in 
comparatively easy circumstances. He was, he tells us, 
the happy possessor of about 1000. 2 He writes to his 
friend Eamsay (June 1751) that he could reckon on an 
income of about 50 a year, and by joining with his 
sister, who brought another 30, was able, with 
frugality, to set up a house in the capital. 3 Accord- 
ingly, somewhat later in the year, he removed, as he 
informs us, "from the country to the town, the true 
scene for a man of letters," * His first settled residence 
(of which, however, he does not seem to have taken 
possession till about May 1752) 6 was in "Riddell's 
Land/' near the head of the West Bow, in the Lawn- 

1 Burton, ii. p. 50. 2 My Own Life. 

3 Burton, i. p. 342. 4 My Own Life. 

6 In a letter of date 5th January 1753, from this address, he speaks of 
himself as having set up house about "seven months ago" (Burton, i. 
p. 377). 


market. Next year he removed to "Jack's Land," 
another of Edinburgh's tall tenements, 1 in the Canon- 
gate. Here he remained till his purchase, in 1762, of a 
house of his own in James's Court. 

It was shortly after this removal to Edinburgh, in 
1752, that Hume published his Political Discourses, 
mostly on subjects of Political Economy, and as 
remarkable in their grasp of sound principles, as in 
their anticipations of some of the later doctrines of 
Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations. He speaks 
of this book as "the only work of mine that was 
successful on its first publication," and informs us that 
"it was well received abroad and at home." 2 An 
indication of this acceptance is that a translation of it 
was soon made into French. The book was published 
by Kincaid, of Edinburgh, and in its original form 
consisted of twelve Essays. 3 One of these on "The 
Populousness of Ancient Nations" affords striking 
evidence of the author's wide range of reading, and 
faculty of just observation, and evoked a good deal of 
controversy. The Essay on an " Ideal Commonwealth " 
which closes the volume, on the other hand, as con- 
spicuously illustrates Hume's limitations as a con- 
structive thinker. It is as curious a day-dream as 
ever emanated from the brain of a really sensible man. 

Meanwhile, the winter of 1751 had seen Hume in- 
volved in a fresh attempt to obtain the dignity of 
Professor. The Chair of Logic had become vacant by 

1 "The term 'Land,'" says Mr. Burton, "applied to one of those 
edifices some of them ten or twelve stories high in which the citizens 
of Edinburgh, pressed upwards as it were by the increase of the popula- 
tion within a narrow circuit of walls, made staircases supply the place 
of streets, and erected perpendicular thoroughfares" (i. p. 343). 

2 My Own Life. 3 On the Editions, see Appendix, 



the transference of Adam Smith to the Chair of Moral 
Philosophy, and Hume's friends, with his concurrence, 
interested themselves to secure the position for him, 
but, as before, in vain. The disappointment which this 
occasioned was partially soothed next year (1752) by 
his election to the office of librarian to the Faculty of 
Advocates in Edinburgh, at a salary of 40 a year. 
For this post also a contest was waged, which, if Hume 
is not exaggerating, was attended with a good deal of 
excitement. "'Twas vulgarly given out," he writes 
to Dr. Clephane, " that the contest was between Deists 
and Christians, and when the news of my success came 
to the Playhouse, the whisper ran round that the 
Christians were defeated. Are you not surprised that 
we could keep our popularity, notwithstanding this 
imputation, which our friends could not deny to be 
well founded ? " l The appointment was one of great 
value to Hume, as aiding his historical researches ; but 
he did not long retain it. Resentment at a slight 
passed upon him by the curators, led him, two years 
later, voluntarily to transfer the emoluments of the 
office to the blind poet Blacklock; 2 and in January 
1757 he resigned it altogether. 3 

The ten years succeeding the publication of the 
Political Discourses had really but one absorbing 
occupation the composition and publication of the 
successive volumes of the work which at length raised 
Hume to the height of a truly European fame, if it 
also exposed him to the blasts of adverse criticism at 
home. This was his History of England, extending, 
when complete, from the invasion of Julius Caesar to 
the Revolution of 1688. Hume had begun by giving 

1 Burton, i. p. 371. 2 Ibid. i. p. 371. 8 Ibid. i. p. 393. 


to the world his metaphysical and moral speculations. 
He had next developed in his Essays his theories on 
taste, on politics, on economics; and had practically 
completed his message on all these heads. He was 
now to enter a field for success in which new powers 
were needed, and in which Ms principles would be at 
once applied and tested. Hume had but a poor opinion 
of the performances of his predecessors in the domain 
of English history. "You know," he writes to Dr. 
Clephane, "that there is no post of honour in the 
English language more vacant than that of history. 
Style, judgment, impartiality, care everything is 
wanting to our historians; and even Kapin, during 
this latter period, is extremely deficient." 1 On the 
other hand, he entertained no doubt at all of his own 
ability to produce a history worthy of the subject and 
of literature; and, despite the glaring defects of the 
work, to which reference will afterwards be made, 
posterity has on the whole accorded him the niche in 
the temple of fame he coveted. A remarkable circum- 
stance was the extraordinary rapidity with which the 
successive instalments of the History were composed. 
Hume conceived it wiser, though he afterwards re- 
gretted his decision, 2 to begin with the period of the 
Stuarts, and before the end of 1754 he had published 
the first volume of his History of Great Britain, a 
quarto of 473 pages, containing the reigns of James I. 
and Charles I. Notwithstanding the discouragement 
which, we shall see, the reception of this first volume 
caused him, he had produced by 1756 his second 
volume, bringing down the narrative to the Revolution 
of 1688. His first volume was published by Hamilton, 
1 Burton, ii. p. 378. 3 Ibid. ii. p. 38. 


Balfour, & Neill, Edinburgh; his second, by Andrew 
Millar, London, who thereafter secured the copyright 
of both, and became the publisher of the subsequent 
volumes. 1 Having finished his history of the Stuarts, 
he reverted to the period of the Tudors, and in 1759 
published the two volumes of his history of the House 
of Tudor. This was followed at no greater interval 
than 1762 by two other quartos, comprising the history 
of England from Julius Caesar till the accession of 
Henry vn. Quartos, in fact, in this period of pheno- 
menal activity, literally flowed from Hume. There 
remained, according to the original plan, the period 
succeeding the Eevolution, and for a considerable time 
Hume had the preparation of this concluding part of 
his work before his thoughts. Bookseller and friends 
urged him to the task ; 2 but his visit to France and 
other engagements intervened, and all the pressure 
they could exert failed to bring him to set about the 
undertaking in right earnest. The project was finally 
abandoned ; and, apart from corrections and alterations 
of his volumes, Hume's literary productivity may be 
said to have ceased in 1762. 

The merits and defects of the History will be con- 
sidered in their proper place ; 3 but a few words may 
be said here on the reception accorded to the work 

1 It would appear that Hume was to receive from Hamilton 1200 
for the three volumes originally projected, and probably got 400 for 
the first. Thereafter his transactions are with Millar, who appears to 
have given him (Burton, ii. p. 37) 700 for the second volume ; also 
for copyright of the two volumes the sum of 800 guineas, or 840. 
His total remuneration for the Stuart volumes was therefore 1940. 
His Tudors were offered for 700, but this when only one volume was 
in view. Of. Hill's Letters to 8trahm, pp, 13-15. 

2 Burton, ii. pp. 135, 147, 244, 392, etc. s Chapter XL 


produced under these remarkable conditions. Hume's 
own account of the reception of the original volume is 
as follows : 

" I was, I own, sanguine in my expectations of the 
success of this work. I thought I was the only 
historian that had at once neglected present power, 
interest, and authority, and the cry of popular pre- 
judices; and as the subject was suited to every 
capacity, I expected proportional applause. But miser- 
able was my disappointment. I was assailed by one 
cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation : 
English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, Churchman 
and Sectary, Free-thinker and Religionist, Patriot and 
Courtier, united in their rage against the man who 
had presumed to shed a generous tear for the fate of 
Charles I. and the Earl of Strafford ; and after the first 
ebullitions of their fury were over, what was still 
more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion. 
Mr. Millar told me that in a twelvemonth he sold only 
forty-five copies of it." l 

Hume goes on to confess that this unexpected recep- 
tion of his book " discouraged " him ; so much so, that, 
had it not been that war was at the time breaking out 
between France and England, he would certainly have 
retired to some provincial town of the former kingdom, 
have changed his name, and never more have returned 
to his native country. 2 Here, however, as in other 
instances, his excessive desire for popularity leads him 
to exaggerate the ill-success of his volume. 3 Hostility, 

1 My Own Life. 2 Ibid. 

3 Burton observes: "The literary success that would satisfy Hume 
required to be t>f no small amount. Though neither, in any sense, a 
yain man, nor a caterer for ephemeral applause, he was greedy of praise, 


intense and widespread, the History, indeed, did en- 
counter; but the opposition rather gave it notoriety 
than doomed it to oblivion. Hume's own letters show 
that, in Scotland at least, it had a remarkably cordial 
reception. "The sale," he writes to Adam Smith in 
December 1754, " has been very great in Edinburgh ; 
but how it goes on in London, we have not been pre- 
cisely informed/' 1 And to the Earl of Balcarras on 
same date (17th December), "I am very proud that my 
History, even upon second thoughts, appears to have 
something tolerable in your lordship's eyes. It has 
been very much canvassed and read here in town, as I 
am told ; and it has full as many inveterate enemies as 
partial defenders. The misfortune of a book, says 
Boileau, is not the being ill-spoken of, but the not 
being spoken of at all. The sale has been very con- 
siderable here, about four hundred and fifty copies in 
five weeks. How it has succeeded in London I cannot 
precisely tell ; only I observe that some of the weekly 
papers have been busy with me." 2 In truth, as we 
shall see, Hume had no reason to be surprised at the 
amount or violence of the opposition his History 
called forth. It had, as every critic admits, many of 
the qualities of a first-class historical work. But its 
excellences were counterbalanced by equally serious 
defects. Hume prides himself on nothing so much as 
on his " impartiality " ; yet " impartiality," in the real 
sense of the word, is precisely the quality in which the 
work is conspicuously wanting. For the higher range 
of motives he has, as we shall see, little comprehension ; 

and what would have been to others pre-eminent success, appears to 
have, in his eyes, scarcely risen above failure " (i. p. 403 ; cf. ii. p. 262). 
1 Burton, i. p. 411. 2 Ibid. I p. 412. 


hence, while his "generous tear" drops for Strafford 
and Charles, he has no insight into the genius and 
meaning of a great religious movement like Puritanism, 
or into a character like that of Cromwell, who is to 
him throughout what he names him on his first 
appearance " this fanatical hypocrite." 1 Yet Hume 
was genuinely amazed that any one should impugn 
the justice, or challenge the perfect impartiality, of 
his judgments ! 

The second volume of the History that dealing 
with the Commonwealth, Charles n., and James n. 
"happened," Hume says, "to give less displeasure to 
the Whigs, and was better received. It not only rose 
itself, but helped to buoy up its unfortunate brother/' 2 
It was really written with more caution. Hume was 
resolved, as he assured his publisher, to "give no 
further umbrage to the godly." 3 The publication of 
the volumes of the Tudors, on the other hand, revived 
all the former animosities. " The clamour against this 
performance," he says, " was almost equal to that against 
the history of the two first Stuarts." 4 The reign of 
Elizabeth was particularly obnoxious. The fame of 
Hume, however, was by this time too securely estab- 
lished to be shaken by these outbursts of disapproba- 
tion. Still the critics had not misjudged. Every new 
issue of the volumes showed that the spirit pervading 
them was one wholly antipathetic to genuine love of 
liberty. It is noticed that nearly all the changes in 
later editions are on the side adverse to popular rights. 
Hume himself says : " In above a hundred alterations 
which further study, reading, and reflection, engaged 

1 History, ch. li. (vol. vi. p. 274). 2 My Own Life, 

3 Burton, i. p. 416. 4 Ibid. i. p. 416. 


me to make in the reigns of the first two Stuarts, I 
have made all of them invariably to the Tory side." l 
Nothing need be said of the volumes of the History 
prior to the period of the Tudors. These are the 
least original and valuable of the whole, and need to 
be corrected at every point from later research. 

1 My Own Life; cf. Burton, ii. pp. 73-8, 144-7, 434. 



A FEW events, partly personal and partly literary, 
which belong to the period when Hume was occupied 
with his History, have still to be mentioned. Hume's 
sceptical opinions were well known, and in 1755-6, 
attempts were made, at the instance of a polemical 
individual, the Rev. George Anderson, to bring him, in 
conjunction with Lord Kames, 1 under the censure of 
the General Assembly of the Church. The Assembly 
went so far as to pass a resolution expressive of the 
Church's " utmost abhorrence " of " impious and infidel 
principles," and of "the deepest concern on account 
of the prevalence of infidelity and immorality, the 
principles of which have been, to the disgrace of our 
age and nation, so openly avowed in several books 
published of late in this country, and which are but 
too well known among us." 2 When, however, in the 
following year, the attack was renewed in a Committee 
of Assembly against Hume personally, the proposal to 
send up an overture on the subject was rejected. 8 

1 Kames's Essays had really teen written in opposition to Hume. 

2 Burton, 1. p. 429. 

3 The indefatigable Anderson tried afterwards to have the publishers 



The next year (1757) saw the publication by Mr. 
Millar of a volume consisting of Four Dissertations, 
which, as it turned out afterwards, had a curious and 
complicated history. The Dissertations in question 
were on "The Natural History of Beligion," "The 
Passions " (taking the place of the corresponding Book 
in the Treatise), "Tragedy," and "The Standard of 
Taste." Originally, it would seem, the volume was 
meant to include a Dissertation on " Geometry," prob- 
ably with reference to the discussions on that subject 
in the older work. Then (excluding Geometry), it was 
intended to embrace, along with the first three of the 
above-named Essays, two others on " Suicide " and 
"The Immortality of the Soul." These Essays were 
actually printed as part of the volume, but were 
subsequently suppressed, and in their room was 
inserted, finally, the disquisition on " The Standard of 
Taste." The fact of the suppression was brought to 
light by the unauthorised publication, in 1783, of the 
two Essays, with adverse comments, by a person who 
had surreptitiously obtained copies of them. 1 The 
motive of the suppression is sufficiently obvious from 
their character: one a thoroughgoing defence of the 
lawfulness of suicide; the other a sceptical under- 
mining of the arguments for a future life. The Essay 
on Immortality is not rendered less distasteful by its 
ironical allusions at the beginning and the end to the 
obligations of mankind to divine revelation. 2 

The volume of Dissertations casts light on Hume's 
mind in other ways. As originally printed, it was 

of Lord Karaes's Essays arraigned before the Presbytery, but died before 
the case came on. 
1 Of. Burton, ii. p. 202. See Appendix. 2 See below, p. 207. 


introduced by an affectionate dedication to John 
Home, who was at the time in trouble with the 
Church over the production of his tragedy of Douglas 
on the stage in Edinburgh ; and Hume was persuaded 
to suppress this dedication, lest it should further com- 
promise his friend's prospects. Almost immediately 
he repented his decision, moved probably by the 
knowledge that Home intended resigning his charge 
at Athelstanef ord. But the edition was issued, and it 
was only later that the Dedication could be restored. 
Its inflated language is a characteristic illustration 
of Hume's curious blindness in matters of literary 
judgment, where personal friendship, and especially 
anything Scottish, was concerned. He thus addresses 
Home : " You possess the true Theatric Genius of 
Shakespeare and Otway, refined from the unhappy 
Barbarism of the one, and the Licentiousness of the 
other." 1 He writes to Adara Smith concerning the 
tragedy itself : " When it shall be printed (which will 
be soon), I am persuaded it will be esteemed the best, 
and by French critics the only tragedy in the lan- 
guage " ! 2 An instance of the like overweening 
estimate of the performances of his friends occurs 
about the same time in his extravagant appreciation 
of the Epigoniad of the poet Wilkie. To Hume's 
mind Wilkie was almost the equal of Homer. His 
production was "the second epic poem in our lan- 
guage." " It is certainly," he says, " a most singular 
production, full of sublimity and genius, adorned by a 
noble, harmonious, forcible, and even correct versifica- 
tion." 3 This generous temper had no doubt its praise- 

1 Cf. Hill's Letters to Strahwi, p. 16. 2 Burton, ii. p. 17. 

8 Ibid. ii. pp. 25-28. Burton says: "No Scotchman could write a 


worthy side, enabling Hume to take a disinterested 
delight in the literary successes even of those who 
stood to him more nearly in the position of rivals. He 
rejoiced unfeignedly in the chorus of approval which 
greeted the appearance of his friend Dr. Robertson's 
History of Scotland (1758), and in the welcome 
accorded to The Theory of Moral Sentiments of Adam 
Smith (1759). 1 He even seems for a time (though not 
quite unreservedly) to have yielded to belief in the 
genuineness of the poems of "Ossian," in defence of 
which Dr. Hugh Blair had written a learned Disserta- 
tion. [Reflection soon led him to a very different 
judgment on this last point. There is preserved from 
his pen an "Essay on the Authenticity of Ossian's 
Poems/' in which the claims of the poems to antiquity 
are mercilessly demolished. The Essay was not pub- 
lished in his lifetime ; but it is characteristic that he 
continues to write to Blair as if his mind was still in 
the balance on the question. 2 From the end of 1758 
till about November 1759, Hume resided in London, 
superintending the publication of his volumes on the 
Tudors, and rendering service to Dr. Robertson in 
seeing his History of Scotland through the press. He 
had even at one time (1757) the thought of taking up 
his permanent residence in London. 3 Edinburgh, how- 
book of respectable talent without calling forth his loud and warm 
eulogiums. Wilkie was to be the Homer, Blacklock the Pindar, and 
Home the Shakespeare, or something still greater, of his country " 
(P- 31). 

1 Burton, Ii. pp. 32, 43, 49, 55, etc, 

2 Hume's correspondence with Blair, and the Essay referred to, are 
given in the Appendix to vol. i. of Burton's Life* But see also vol. ii. 
pp. 175, 180, 196, 267, 288 ; and his letter to Gibbon, p. 485. 

3 Burton, ii. p. 39, 


ever, was still the place most congenial to him. In 
1762, as formerly mentioned, he changed his residence 
in that city to a house he had acquired in James's 
Court, a large square enclosure, into which one still 
enters by a "close" from the Lawnmarket. Tall 
buildings surrounded the Court. The house which 
Hume occupied was on the third storey on the northern 
side, and from its windows commanded a fine view of 
the lake in the hollow below, and of the open spaces 
beyond, now covered by the New Town of Edinburgh. 
The erection of which his domicile formed part has 
since been replaced by the " Offices " of what, formerly 
the Free Church, is now the United Free Church of 
Scotland. Here Hume, when in town, spent tranquil 
days, and, amidst the whirl and gaiety of Paris, 
sighed (he tells us) " twice or thrice a day " for the 
" arm-chair " and the " retreat " it afforded him. 1 It is 
a curious fact that the house was for a time rented 
from Hume by James Boswell, who there received Dr. 
Samuel Johnson, whose antipathy to its owner was so 
extreme ; and during Hume's absence in France it was 
occupied by Dr. Blair. 

Among the new friendships made by Hume in these 
years, mention should be made of two of some interest 
in a controversial respect. In 1761, Hume had sub- 
mitted to him the sermon of Dr. Campbell, of Aberdeen, 
afterwards enlarged into the Dissertation on Miracles, 
and, in offering his criticisms, took considerable excep- 
tion to some of its expressions particularly one in 
which he was denominated " an infidel writer." Camp- 
bell complaisantly toned down the offensive passages, 
and an interchange of complimentary letters followed, 
1 Burton, ii. p. 173. 


in one of which Hume gives the account, formerly 
alluded to, 1 of how the Essay on Miracles originated. 
One paragraph from a letter to Dr. Blair in this 
connection deserves to be quoted, as showing the terms 
on which Hume maintained his intimacy with his 
clerical friends. It is this: 

" Having said so much to your friend [Dr. 0.], who 
is certainly a very ingenious man, though a little too 
zealous for a philosopher, permit me also the freedom 
of saying a word to yourself. Whenever I have had 
the pleasure to be in your company, if the discourse 
turned upon any common subject of literature, or 
reasoning, I always parted from you both entertained 
and instructed. But when the conversation was 
diverted by you from this channel towards the sub- 
ject of your profession; though I doubt not but your 
intentions were very friendly towards me, I own I 
never received the same satisfaction. I was apt to 
be tired, and you to be angry. I would therefore 
wish for the future, whenever my good fortune throws 
me in your way, that these topics should be f oreborne 
between us. I have long since done with all inquiries 
on such subjects, and am become incapable of instruc- 
tion, though I own that no one is more capable of 
conveying it than yourself." 2 

Two years later (1763) Hume was brought into 
communication, again through Dr. Blair, with another 
and more formidable opponent Dr. Thomas Reid. Reid 
was at the time preparing his Inquiry into the Human 
Mind, in confutation of Hume's principles. " I wish," 
said Hume, when he heard of it, "that the parsons 
would confine themselves to their old occupation of 

1 See above, p. 26. 2 Burton, ii, p, 177. 


worrying one another, and leave philosophers to argue 
with temper, moderation, and good manners" 1 an 
observation of which neither the "temper" nor the 
"good manners" is conspicuous* The perusal of the 
manuscript changed his opinion, and he wrote to Reid 
in warm appreciation of the "deeply philosophical" 
spirit of his work. The reply he received must have 
more than gratified his vanity, and soothed him for 
any disappointment he had felt at the earlier neglect 
of his works. Reid wrote : 

" In attempting to throw some new light upon these 
abstruse subjects, I wish to preserve the due mean 
betwixt confidence and despair. But whether I have 
any success in this attempt or not, I shall always avow 
myself your disciple in metaphysics. I have learned 
more from your writings in this kind than from all 
others put together. Your system appears to me 
not only coherent in all its parts, but likewise justly 
deduced from principles commonly received among 
philosophers; principles which I never thought of 
calling in question until the conclusions you draw 
from them in the Treatise of Human Nature made 
me suspect them. If these principles are solid, your 
system must stand ; and whether they are or not, can 
better be judged after you have brought to light the 
whole system that grows out of them, than when the 
greater part of it was wrapped up in clouds and dark- 
ness. I agree with you, therefore, that if this system 
shall ever be demolished, you have a just claim to a 
great share of the praise, both because you have made 
it a distinct and determinate aim to be marked at, 
and have furnished proper artillery for the purpose." 2 
1 Burton, ii. p. 153. 2 Hid. ii. p. 155. 


We now approach what may be termed the crowning 
triumph of Hume's life the period of his French visit. 
Hume made no secret at any time that the French 
were the people he most admired. 1 He was now to 
have experience of the extraordinary degree in which 
they admired him. The new period is led up to by a 
correspondence opened in 1761 with a lady of accom- 
plishment and high social rank the Comtesse de 
Boufflers who, if we may believe herself, had been 
transported almost beyond the power of expression 
by the exquisite qualities of Hume's genius. The 
fact that this lady held the equivocal position of 
mistress to the Prince of Conti, seems neither to 
have occasioned any trouble in her own mind nor 
excited any disapprobation in that of Hume. 2 In 
the interchange of letters that followed, Hume and 
the Corntesse vied with each other in the exuberance 
of their compliments ; and if Hume escaped thinking 
himself a demi-god, or something very near it, the 
blame cannot be laid at the door of his fair corre- 
spondent. For instance: 

"I know no terms capable of expressing what I 
felt in reading this work (the History). I was moved, 
transported; and the emotion which it caused in me 
is, in some measure, painful by its continuance. . . . 
But how shall I be able to express the effect produced 
on me by your divine impartiality ? I would that I 
had, on this occasion, your own eloquence in which 

1 Burton, ii. pp. 165, 179, etc. 

2 Her regard for the Prince lie considered as " really honourable and 
virtuous " (Burton, ii. p. 248). He became her confidant, and did his 
best to console her for her disappointment in not being made Princess at 
her husband's death. 


to express my thought! In truth, I believed I had 
before my eyes the work of some celestial being, free 
from the passions of humanity, who, for the benefit 
of the human race, has deigned to write the events 
of these latter times." 1 

Madame de BoufHers had heard that Hume had 
some intention of coming to Paris, and exerted all 
her powers of persuasion to induce him to do so. 
She also wrote soliciting his interest on behalf of the 
exiled J. J. Eousseau, in the event of that persecuted 
man seeking an asylum in England. We shall see 
what came of that request afterwards. Meanwhile 
the way for the visit to Paris was opened up in an 
unexpected manner. In the middle of 1763, Hume 
received an invitation from the Marquis of Hertford, 
Ambassador to the Court of France, to accompany 
him in the capacity of acting secretary. 2 No offer 
could be more flattering to Hume, or more agreeable 
to his inclinations; and its material advantages the 
settlement upon him of a pension of 200 for life, 
with the near prospect of becoming full secretary to 
the Embassy at 1000 a year were very great. His 
first impulse was to decline ; but, bethinking himself, 
as he instructively says, "that I had in a manner 
abjured all literary occupations; that I resolved to 
give up my future life entirely to amusements; that 
there could not be a better pastime than such a 
journey, especially with a man of Lord Hertford's 
character," 3 he decided to accept, and in August 1763 

1 Barton, ii. pp. 95-6. 

2 The official secretary was one Sir Charles Bunbury, an incapable 
man, whom Hertford refused to have with him. 

8 Burton, ii. p. 158. 



set out for London, arriving in Paris with the Embassy 
on the 14th of October following. 

It would be unprofitable to dwell on the details 
of Hume's residence in France during the next two 
years, and only general features need be sketched. 
His welcome in that country exceeded all expecta- 
tions. Lord Elibank, writing from Paris on llth May 
1763, had said to him: "No author ever yet attained 
to that degree of reputation in his own lifetime that 
you are now in possession of at Paris " ; l and Hume 
found that this statement was no exaggeration. His 
connection with Hertford opened to him the circles 
of highest distinction at Court ; his literary celebrity 
was an even surer passport to the brilliant society 
of the salons. On all sides he was feted, flattered, 
honoured ; was smothered in compliments by the ladies ; 
was extolled among the literati as a genius of tran- 
scendent merit. A paragraph or two from his letters 
will suffice in illustration of his reception at Paris and 
at Fontainebleau : 

"I have been three days at Paris, and two at 
Fontainebleau," he says, "and have everywhere met 
with the most extraordinary honours, which the most 
exorbitant vanity could wish or desire. The compli- 
ments of dukes and marischals of France, and foreign 
ambassadors, go for nothing with me at present; I 
retain a relish for no kind of flattery but that which 
comes from the ladies." (To Adam Smith.) 2 

" I have now passed four days at Paris, and about 
a fortnight in the Court of Fontainebleau, amidst a 
people who, from the royal family downwards, seem 
to have it much at heart to persuade ine, by every 

1 Burton, h\ p. 167, 2 lUd. ii. p. 168. 


expression of esteem, that they consider me one of 
the greatest geniuses in the world. I am convinced 
that Louis xiv. never, in any three weeks of his 
life, suffered so much flattery; I say suffered, for it 
really confounds and embarrasses me, and makes me 
look sheepish." (To Professor Ferguson.) 1 

"Do you ask me about my course of life? I can 
only say, that I eat nothing but ambrosia, drink nothing 
but nectar, breathe nothing but incense, and tread on 
nothing but flowers! Every man I meet, and, still 
more, every lady, would think they were wanting in 
the most indispensable duty if they did not make a 
long and elaborate harangue in my praise." (To Dr. 
Robertson.) 2 

France gay, corrupt, and unbelieving was hasten- 
ing to its inevitable doom of twenty-five years later; 
but Hume seems to have had not the remotest inkling 
of the fact. What he did see was a charmingly culti- 
vated and polite people, wholly possessed by a rage 
for letters! In the halls of the great, and at the 
supper-tables of the ladies who presided nightly over 
their respective coteries of wits and philosophers, Hume 
soon made the acquaintance of most of the men of 
distinction of the day of D'Aleinbert, Turgot, Eel- 
vetius, Marmontel, Buffon, Diderot, and a host of others 
and was lionised by all to the top of his bent It 
is to the credit of the good sense of Hume that this 
excess of flattery did not altogether spoil him. It 
would be foolish to say that it was not agreeable to 
him ; it amused him and gratified his vanity ; he could 
not help contrasting it with the coldness of his recep- 
tion at home ; at the bottom of his mind, perhaps, he 
1 Burton, ii. p. 172. 2 Ibid. ii. p. 177. 


did not disdain the thought that he deserved it. But 
his letters give abundant evidence that he did not lose 
his head over it. He constantly protests that it made 
little difference to his happiness ; that the excess of it 
palled upon him ; that he longed to escape from it to 
the quiet of his old life. 

" I am sensible/ 7 he writes to Ferguson, in a passage 
formerly alluded to, " that I set out too late, and that 
I am misplaced; and I wish, twice or thrice a day, 
for my easy-chair and my retreat in James's Court! 
Never think, dear Ferguson, that as long as you are 
master of your own fireside and your own time, you 
can be unhappy, or that any other circumstance can 
make an addition to your enjoyment" 1 

But this, too, was a mood; and, on the whole, it 
must be pronounced that Hume thoroughly enjoyed 
his life at Paris got so used to it, indeed, that it 
became a question with him whether he could ever 
part with it! 

Many anecdotes, naturally, cluster round this period 
when Hume was, as Walpole maliciously called him, 
the " mode " in f ashionable and literary circles in the 
French capital. Hume himself tells that as society 
got more familiar with him it found in him a source 
of some amusement. " They now begin to banter me," 
he says, " and tell droll stories of me, which they have 
either observed themselves, or have heard from others." 2 
This was inevitable, for neither in personal appear- 
ance nor in address could Hume ever be aught but a 
contrast to the gay, frivolous company in which he 
mingled. "No lady's toilet," Lord Charlemont sar- 
castically tells us, "was complete without Hume's 
1 Burton, ii, p, 173. 2 Ibid. u. p. 178, 


attendance " ; " at the opera his broad unmeaning face 
was usually seen entre deux jolis minois" l It is an 
amusing picture which Madame d'Epinay has given 
of his appearance, in his role of Sultan, in an acted 
tableau at a fashionable evening entertainment. Seated 
on a sofa between two of the loveliest women of Paris, 
he is supposed to be demonstrating his affections to two 
slaves, who turn a deaf ear to his protestations. But 
during a quarter of an hour he can think of nothing 
better to do than, fixing his gaze upon the beauties, to 
beat upon his knees and stomach, and keep repeating, 
Eh lien! mes demoiselles. . . . Eh lien! vous voila 
done. . . . Eh lien! vous voila . . . wus voila id! 
One of the ladies at length bounces off in her im- 
patience, exclaiming, Get homme n'est Ion qu' a manger 
du veau ! ( ie This man is only fit to eat veal.") 2 

Of a different stamp is a story told to Sir Samuel 
Romilly by Diderot of a dinner at Baron d'Holbach's. 
There was a large company, and the conversation 
turned on natural religion. "As for atheists/' said 
Hume, " I don't believe that they exist ; I never saw 
one." "You have been a little unfortunate," replied 
his host ; " you are here at table for the first time with 
seventeen of them" 3 

Hume's position in the Embassy, as already seen, 
was that of acting secretary, while another (Sir Charles 
Bunbury) held the title to the office, and drew its 
emoluments in London. This was manifestly an un- 
fair arrangement, and Hume's patron and Hume him- 
self were alike anxious to have the office and its 
rewards transferred to the person who really did the 

1 Burton, ii. p. 223. 3 IbisL ii. p. 224. 

3 Ibid. ii. p. 229. 


work. 1 Hume was concerned also, lest, in the rapid 
changes of political parties in England, he should find 
the life-pension that had been promised him suddenly 
vanishing. In letters to Sir Gilbert Elliot, of Minto, 
and other acquaintances, he solicits, at Lord Hertford's 
instigation, their influence on his behalf, though he 
intimates that he is doubtful of success. The matter, 
however, happily arranged itself in the end through 
the transference of Sir Charles Bunbury to the post 
(for which he was equally unqualified) of Secretary for 
Ireland, when, by the aid of friends, among whom 
Madame de Boufflers is to be named, Hume was (June 
1765) made secretary to the Embassy, with a salary of 
1200 a year. But his ambition in this respect had 
scarcely been realised when a new change took place. 
Lord Hertford was recalled to fill the high office of 
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and Hume was left for the 
time as charge d'affaires in Paris. The duties of that 
responsible position he discharged with assiduity and 
ability till near the close of the year. Lord Hertford's 
original design had been to take Hume with him to 
Ireland. This he did not accomplish ; but he succeeded 
in obtaining for him the comfortable pension of 400 
a year for life. Thus, at the conclusion of his two and 
a half years' sojourn in Paris, our philosopher was, if 
not rich, at least in possession of a very substantial 

A piece of correspondence which belongs to this 
Parisian period cannot here be passed over, though the 
light it throws on Hume's principles of conduct is any- 
thing but a pleasant one. It is his reply to the letter 
of Colonel Edmonstone, asking, with regard to a young 

1 Burton, ii. p. 189. 


man who was " a sort of a disciple " of Hume's own, 
whether it would be legitimate for him to take orders 
as a clergyman of the Church of England. "You'll 
determine/' the writer says, " whether a man of probity 
can accept of a living, a bishoprick, that does not be- 
lieve all the Thirty-nine Articles, for you only can fix 
him : he has been hitherto irresolute/' Hume's answer 
gives us a glimpse into his own mind : 

" It is putting too great a respect on the vulgar, and 
on their superstitions, to pique oneself on sincerity 
with regard to them. Did ever any one make it a 
point of honour to speak the truth to children or 
madmen? If the thing were worthy being treated 
gravely, I should tell him, that the Pythian oracle, 
with the approbation of Xenophon, advised every one 
to worship the gods vo t u,u croXsws. I wish it were still 
in my power to be a hypocrite in this particular. The 
common duties of society usually require it ; and the 
ecclesiastical profession only adds a little more to an 
innocent dissimulation, or rather simulation, without 
which it is impossible to pass through the world Am 
I a liar, because I order my servant to say, I am not at 
home, when I do not desire to see company ? " l 

To this, then, Hume's philosophy brings us 
deliberate falsehood and hypocrisy in the holiest region 
of our lives ! 

The story of this part of Hume's career may be 
briefly completed. After many fluctuations of pur- 
pose as to the place of his abode, he returned to 
England with Rousseau (of whom more anon), in 
January 1766. He remained in London till mid- 
summer, then went north to Edinburgh ; but had not 
1 Burton, ii. p. 187. 


been many months there when he was honoured with 
a fresh invitation to become Under-Secretary of State 
for Scotland (there being at the time no principal 
Secretary). Early in 1767, accordingly, we find him 
again in London, installed in this secretarial office, 
whose duties he continued to discharge till 20th July 
1768. In the following year he came back to Edin- 
burgh, re-establishing himself in his domicile in 
James's Court. His own account is: "I returned to 
Edinburgh in 1769, very opulent (for I possessed a 
revenue of 1000 a year), and though somewhat 
stricken in years [he was fifty-eight years of age], 
with the prospect of enjoying long my ease, and of 
seeing the increase of my reputation." Strange how 
this note of his " reputation " is invariably the domi- 
nant one ! 

A little must now be said of an episode which per- 
haps stirred Hume more deeply than any other experi- 
ence in his life : his famous quarrel with the eccentric 
and only half responsible Swiss genius and sentimen- 
talist, Jean Jacques Eousseau. There is nothing in 
this episode but what redounds to Hume's credit and 
kindness of heart ; but it reveals, what other instances 
also discover, 1 how much passion, and vehemence of 
resentment, when his amour propre was touched, 

1 His biographer remarks on an earlier correspondence (with Lord 
Elibank), that 4 ' it shows that he was by no means exempt from the 
passion of anger, and that when under its influence he was liable to be 
harsh and unreasonable/' and refutes "the general notion formed of 
his character," viz,, "that he passed through life unmoved and 
immovable, a placid mass of breathing flesh, on which the ordinary 
impulses which rouse the human passions into life might expend them- 
solves in vain" (ii. p. 251). Hume, in fact, could be aroused to an 
astonishing strength of indignation, when either his person or opinions 
received what he regarded as injustice. Of. pp. 15, 39. 


lurked beneath our philosopher's ordinarily placid 
demeanour. Reference was made above to a letter of 
the Comtesse de Boufflers in 1762, recommending 
Rousseau to Hume's good offices, should he come to 
England. Letters from the exiled Earl Marischal of 
Scotland, then Governor of NeufcMtel, bore on the 
same subject. 1 The facts, briefly, were that Rousseau, 
who had been living peacefully at Montmorency under 
the protection of his friends the Duke and Duchess of 
Luxembourg, had been compelled in 1762, by the storm 
of persecution which broke out on the publication of 
his Urn/Me, to flee the kingdom of France, and take 
refuge in Switzerland. He found an asylum at Neuf- 
ch&tel, then under Prussian sovereignty; but his 
friends thought it wiser that he should seek refuge in 
England. Hume warmly interested himself in the 
project, assuring Madame de Boufflers that " there is no 
man in Europe of whom I have entertained a higher 
idea, and whom I would be prouder to serve." 2 Rous- 
seau's pride, however, prevented him from receiving 
the proffered favours; and he continued to reside at 
various retreats in Switzerland, persecuted by priests 
and populace, and made miserable by his own self- 
tormenting disposition, until October 1765, when he 
left for Strassburg, and, in December, at Hume's 
invitation, 3 found his way to Paris. In all these 
wanderings he was accompanied by his coarse-natured 
mistress, Th^rese le Vasseur. With genuine goodness 
of heart, Hume took him in hand, had him provided 
for by the Prince of Conti, and, as we have seen, 
brought him with himself to England in January 1766. 

1 Burton, ii. pp. 102-110. 2 Md. ii. p. 108. 

3 Ibid. ii. p. 309. 


He could not be unobservant of Rousseau's peculiar 
humours, but then and for months afterwards, he 
entertained the highest opinion of the strange being 
with whose fame Europe at the time was ringing. 
"My companion," he writes on 19th January, "is very 
amiable, always polite, gay often, commonly sociable. . . . 
I love him very much, and hope that I may have some 
share in his affections." x And on 2nd February, " He 
is a very modest, mild, well-bred, gentle-spirited, and 
warm-hearted man, as ever I knew in my life. He is 
also to appearance very sociable. I never saw a man 
who seems better calculated for good company, nor 
who seems to take more pleasure in it." 2 Hume kept 
him at his house in London, obtained for him from the 
King the promise of a pension of 100 a year, and, not 
to delay on other kindnesses, as Eousseau seemed bent 
on a life of solitude, finally arranged for his being 
established in the charmingly situated country mansion 
of Wooton, in Derbyshire, the property of a Mr. 
Davenport, who took a warm interest in the fortunes 
of the wanderer. To soothe Rousseau's susceptibilities, 
Mr. Davenport agreed to accept 30 a year for board I 
All this, however, was in vain, so far as the securing 
of Rousseau's happiness was concerned. It was the 
misfortune of this singularly - constituted individual, 
that, as one has said, he had an " utter incapacity for 
establishing healthy relations with one single human 
being " ; 3 and his morbid sensibility, egoistic jealousy, 
and passionate craving for a notoriety which he con- 
tinually affected to denounce, made him the victim 

1 Burton, ii. p. 303. 2 Ibid. ii. p. 309. 

3 Caird's Essays on Literature and Philosophy ("Rousseau"), i. 
p. 107. 


of perpetual suspicions and delusions. He coquetted 
with the proposed pension from the King, and appeared 
to refuse it ; then, in answer to a letter of Hume on 
the subject, amazed that philosopher by an epistle 
(23rd June) in which he flatly accused Hume of being 
engaged, all the while he was professing friendship, 
of deep designs against his honour, and broke off 
further correspondence with him. Hume replied in 
not unnatural heat, demanding an explanation of these 
extraordinary charges. This elicited, in three weeks' 
time, an " enormous " letter thirty-five pages of print 
in which Rousseau, in the form of a continuous 
narrative, piles up, with no better a foundation than 
his own diseased imaginations, the supposed proofs of 
Hume's wicked conspiracies against him since their 
relations began. It would be profitless to enter into 
the details of charges so ridiculous. The occasion 
of the whole was a silly satire on Rousseau which 
Sir Robert Walpole had set abroad in Paris in form of 
a letter from Frederick of Prussia, by which Rousseau's 
vanity was deeply wounded. He at first thought the 
insult was by Voltaire ; when he discovered Walpole's 
share in the jest, he immediately suspected Hume of 
being privy to it. This suspicion once planted in his 
mind, he found confirmations of it in every word, act, 
and look of Hume's even those in which Hume was 
most his friend. Hume was not less shocked at the 
discovery he supposed he had made of the baseness 
and ingratitude of one for whom he had done so much ; 
and, not content with repelling Rousseau's own attacks, 
wrote freely on the subject to his friends in Scotland and 
France. He declares to Blair that Rousseau is " surely 
the blackest and most atrocious villain, beyond com- 


parison, that now exists in the world, and I am heartily 
ashamed of anything I ever wrote in his favour." 1 
His letters to Baron d'Holbach, to D'Alembert, to 
Madame de Boufflers, and others in Paris, are couched 
in the same indignant and vindicatory strain. " Surely," 
he says to the Abb6 Le Blanc, "never was there so 
much wickedness and madness combined in one human 
creature." 2 In all this Hume did not exhibit his usual 
self-restraint. He was even moved, though Rousseau 
had published nothing, to give to the world an expose 
of the whole quarrel, and this, with accompanying 
documents, was published, first in French, then in 
English. It need only be added that in April 1767 
Rousseau voluntarily fled with Mademoiselle le Vas- 
seur from his retreat at Wooton, leaving about 30, 
with his baggage, in Mr. Davenport's possession. He 
betook himself to Paris, where he had an unfriendly 
reception ; 3 and he seems afterwards to have regretted 
his foolish behaviour. Hume also is known to have 
exerted himself in 1767 to protect him from the French 
Government. We gather from a letter of Mr. Daven- 
port's that Rousseau's pension was continued to him. 4 
This gentleman's kind forbearance to the unhappy exile 
is one of the relieving features of a sordid story. 

The short remaining period of Hume's life the quiet 
evening of his days was spent in Edinburgh with 
scarcely any stronger excitement than that afforded 
by literary occupations and the society of congenial 

1 Burton, ii. p. 344. 2 Hid. ii. p. 347. 3 Hid. ii. p. 377. 

4 lUd. ii. p. 368. The full account of this dispute may be read in 
Burton, with whose narrative should be compared Mr. Morley's in his 
Rousseau, vol. ii. ch. vi. Hume's published account of the contro- 
versy, with the letters, should also be consulted. It is printed in the 
Introduction to Hume's Works (1854), vol. i, 


friends. In 1771 the house in James's Court was 
exchanged for one more suitable to his enlarged means, 
built at the corner of what is now St. David Street, in 
the new part of the city. The name of the street 
originated, it is well known, from the wit of a young 
lady, who chalked the words on the walls of Hume's 
habitation. Hume took the jest in good part, remark- 
ing to the servant-girl who ran in, much excited, to tell 
him what had been done, " Never mind, lassie, many a 
better man has been made a saint of before ! " x The 
desire for further travel or change seems absolutely to 
have deserted him once he was ensconced in his old 
quarters. " I have been settled here two months," he 
writes in 1769, "and am here body and soul, without 
casting the least thought of regret to London, or even 
to Paris." 2 The English he had always cordially dis- 
liked, and his feelings towards them in these last years 
seemed to acquire a character of ever-deepening anti- 
pathy. What repelled him was the scorn and contempt 
of the English for the Scots and for things Scotch. He 
had written earlier (1765) to Millar (one of many 
similar ebullitions) : " The rage and prejudice of 
parties frighten me; above all, this rage against the 
Scots, which is so dishonourable, and indeed so in- 
famous to the English nation. We hear that it 
increases every day without the least appearance of 
provocation on our part." 3 Now we find him denounc- 
ing to Sir Gilbert Elliot " the daily and hourly progress 
of madness, and folly, and wickedness in England/' 4 
and declaring, " Our Government has become a chimera, 
and is too perfect, in point of liberty, for so rude a 

1 Burton, ii. p. 436. 2 Ibid. ii. p. 431. 

3 IMd. ii. p. 265. 4 IMd. ii. p. 431. 


beast as an Englishman ; who is a man, a bad animal 
too, corrupted by above a century of licentiousness." l 
The only literary work in which he indulged himself, 
besides correspondence, was the continued revision of 
his former works. And this, again, as regards the 
Histoiy, meant chiefly, as we saw, the purging out of 
remaining traces of Whiggism. Thus, to Elliot: "I 
am running over again the last edition of my History, 
in order to correct it still further. I either soften or 
expunge many villainous, seditious Whig strokes, which 
had crept into it. ... I am sensible that the first 
editions were too full of those foolish English pre- 
judices, which all nations and all ages disavow." 2 

The social life of Edinburgh in which Hume partici- 
pated was such as had many charms for a man of his 
genial disposition, and literary and philosophic tastes. 
His habits were simple, and his circumstances suf- 
ficiently affluent to raise him above all worldly cares. 
He had obtained the fame which was his chief object in 
life, and he was welcomed as visitor or friend in the 
best society. His intimate associates were men of 
liberal, cultivated mind; and the conversation at the 
supper-table, in the philosophical gathering, or at the 
more convivial club, was sure to be enlivened by 
abundance of anecdote, witty repartee, or criticism 
of what was newest in politics or letters. Free from 
the faintest taint of religious feeling himself, he had no 
sympathy with " fanaticism " and " enthusiasm " in 
others, and could rely on finding this element abso- 

1 Burton, ii. p. 434. 

2 Ibid. With all his desire and labour to clear his writings from 
Scotticisms, it is characteristic that he preserved to the last his broad 
Doric in conversation. 


lutely excluded from the eminently " rational " circles in 
which he moved. With a Blair and a Robertson it was 
a condition of his intercourse that the subject of religion 
should not be obtruded. 1 With more jovial spirits like 
Carlyle, of Inveresk, he could have little fear that it 
would ever be introduced, save by way of jest. In the 
calm, philosophic heights to which it was relegated 
by a Ferguson or an Adam Smith, it could not affect 
him much either one way or another. Yet it is the 
testimony of every one who knew him, that Hunae never 
wantonly or inconsiderately wounded the religious sus- 
ceptibilities of others by untimely airing of his own 
sceptical opinions. His amiable social qualities, on the 
other hand, are universally extolled. He was, his 
friends unite in telling us, simple, natural, and playful ; 
unaffected in manner, and kindly in disposition ; charit- 
able to those in need ; pleasing and instructive in his 
conversation alike to young and old. His mother's 
epithet " good-natured " clung to him to the last, what- 
ever might be said of the " wake-mindedness." His 
own description of his character in his Life is, it will 
perhaps be felt, as good as any : 

" I was, I say, a man of mild disposition, of command 
of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, 
capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, 
and of great moderation in all my passions. Even my 
love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured 
my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappoint- 
ments. My company was not unacceptable to the 
young and careless, as well as to the studious and 
literary; and as I took a particular pleasure in the 
company of modest women, I had no reason to be 
1 See above, p. 62. 


displeased with the reception I met with from 

Yet in the whole picture which Hume draws of 
himself, it is remarkable that he does not acknow- 
ledge, or hint at, a single fault. The sketch is self- 
complacency throughout. 

The letters of this closing period would seem to 
indicate that in his last years Hume's thought and 
conversation turned a good deal on politics, and that 
his wide connection with public men and public affairs 
furnished him with a store of anecdote and reminis- 
cence on which he was never unwilling to draw. It is 
worth observing that, with all his Tory leanings, Hume 
was from the first opposed to the American War, and 
foresaw its disastrous results. His views are indicated 
in various letters, but may perhaps best be inferred per 
oppo'situm from the following letter, in reply to one of 
his, from Mr. Strahan, his printer, which is in its own 
way a gem of unwisdom. Mr. Strahan says : 

" I differ from you toto ccelo with regard to America. 
I am entirely for coercive methods with those obstinate 
madmen ; and why should we despair of success ? Why 
should we suffer the empire to be so dismembered, 
without the utmost exertions on our part? I see 
nothing so very formidable in this business, if we 
become a little more unanimous, and could stop the 
mouths of domestic traitors, from whence the evil 
originated. Not that I wish to enslave the colonists, 
or to make them one jot less happy than ourselves; 
but I am for keeping them subordinate to the British 
Legislature; and their trade, to a reasonable degree, 
subservient to the interest of the mother country ; but 
which she must inevitably lose, if they are emanci- 


pated, as you propose. I am very surprised you are of 
a different opinion. Very true, things look oddly at 
present ; and the dispute hath, hitherto, been very ill 
managed ; but so we always do at the commencement 
of every war. So we did most remarkably in the 
last. . . . But, so soon as the British lion is roused, 
we never fail to fetch up our leeway, as the sailors 
say. And so I hope you will find it in this important 

case." 1 

In the spring of 1775, Hume experienced the first 
symptoms of that internal disorder a haemorrhage of 
the bowels which had its fatal termination in the 
course of the following year. At first the distemper 
created little alarm, but its persistence and increasing 
gravity soon marked it as likely to be incurable. By 
the commencement of 1776, Hume found that he had 
fallen off " five complete stones " in weight. 2 His cheer- 
fulness continued unabated, and his letters to Gibbon 
and Adam Smith show the lively interest excited in 
his mind by the publication of The Decline and Fall of 
the one, and The Wealth of Nations of the other. 3 
The serious state of his health led him, on 4th January, 
to execute a settlement, in which, besides the provisions 
for the disposal of his estate, he made careful arrange- 
ment for the publication of his Dialogues on Natural 
Religion, hitherto, by the urgency of his friends, with- 
held from the press. The bulk of his fortune he left 
to his brother, and after him to his nephew David; 
his sister was to receive 1200; among his legacies 
was one to D'Alembert of 200, and another of the 

1 Burton, ii. p. 477. Probably Hume's French connection influenced 
his views. 

2 Ibid. ii. p. 483. 3 Ibid. ii. pp. 484-7. 



same sum to Adain Ferguson. Adam Smith was 
appointed his literary executor, and on him was laid 
the injunction of publishing the formidable Dialogues. 
Difficulties, however, arose on this point. Dr. Blair, 
Sir Gilbert Elliot, and Smith himself, were strongly 
opposed to the publication of this work, which struck, 
as they regarded it, at the foundations of Theism ; and 
the last must have plainly indicated to Hume his 
unwillingness to take the responsibility laid upon him. 
Hume was as firmly resolved that the Dialogues should 
see the light ; and while, in a qualifying letter to Smith 
of 3rd May, he left it to his discretion to publish or 
not as he saw fit, he soon after, in a codicil to his will 
(7th August), altered the disposition he had made, and 
left his manuscripts to the care of Mr. William Strahan, 
"trusting to the friendship that has long subsisted 
between us, for his careful and faithful execution of 
my intentions." He desired that the Dialogues might 
be printed and published any time within two years 
after his death ; and, failing this, he ordained that the 
property should return to his nephew David, " whose 
duty, in publishing them, as the last request of his 
uncle, must be approved by all the world." l In point 
of fact, the duty was declined by Strahan, as by the 
others; and the Dialogues were only at length pub- 
lished, in accordance with Hume's wishes, by his nephew 
in 1779. In April 1776, Hume wrote the sketch of his 
own life which has been frequently referred to, and 
directions were left that it should be prefixed to any 
future edition of his works. 

The end was now drawing sensibly near. A journey 
which Hume undertook in April and May, at the desire 
1 Burton, ii. pp. 493-4. 


of his friends, to London and Bath, though marked by 
gleams of hope, failed of any lasting good effect, and 
in the beginning of June he returned to Edinburgh, 
consciously to take leave of his friends and of the 
world. The prospect filled him with no alarm. If he 
cherished no religious hopes, it must be confessed that 
he had schooled his mind into a scepticism which 
seemed to enable him to dispense with them. He 
spoke of his approaching end with calmness and even 
playfulness; he maintained his usual unaffected cheer- 
fulness in company; he uttered no repining at a de- 
parture which, he reasoned, only cut off a few years of 
infirmities. In his own last words in his Life, one 
finds the old note of his literary reputation still upper- 
most. " Though I see," he says, " many symptoms of 
iny literary reputation's breaking out at last with 
additional lustre, I knew that I could have but few 
years to enjoy it." His friends, who were unremitting 
in their devotion to him, overflow in their admiration 
and astonishment at the composure, the imperturb- 
ability, the cheerfulness, the gaiety even, as in his jest- 
ing about Charon and his boat, 1 with which he met the 
dread event of death, to most so sad and solemn. He 
is to them the very ideal of the sage. And so, indeed, 
he would be, if the foundations on which his philo- 
sophic indifference rested were sound, if human life 
had, indeed, no higher meaning, no weightier responsi- 
bilities, no more earnest purpose, no more awful issues, 
than he supposed. But that " if " makes all the 
difference in our sense of the fitness of things in the 
way of quitting life. 
Hume died on the Sunday, 25th August 1776, "in 

1 Burton, ii. p. 511. 


such a happy composure of mind," says his physician, 
"that nothing could exceed it." 1 He was buried, 
amidst abundant manifestations of the public interest, 
friendly and hostile, evoked by his person and opinions, 
in the old graveyard on Calton Hill, then in the open 
country ; and above his remains was reared the circular 
monument still to be seen, on which is inscribed, by 
his express directions, only the simple words, " David 
Hume," with the years of his birth and death " leaving 
it," as he significantly says in his will, "to posterity to 
add the rest." 

1 Burton, ii. p. 511. 




IT is chiefly in connection with his speculations in 
philosophy and morals that Hume's name will go down 
to posterity. In other walks of literature he holds a 
high and honourable, but by no means a peculiar place. 
He is unus ex multis no more. Even as a historian 
his fame in later years has been eclipsed by that of 
abler, and more learned and impartial writers. But as 
philosopher his speculations have passed into universal 
thought. Here his niche is his own. There is but 
one Hume, as there is but one Descartes and one Kant. 

It has been seen that Hume's first and greatest 
philosophical work was his celebrated Treatise of 
Human Nature, published anonymously in 1*739-40, 
and that the chief portion of this work was afterwards 
recast, and published in more compact and literary 
form, in the Enquiry concerning ike Human Under- 
standing, in 1748. The roots of his system, however, 
are all to be sought for in the Treatise. 

The aim of both of these works is avowedly to 
inquire into the nature, operations, and limits of the 
human mind. The different parts of this inquiry, held 
to be the grand prerequisite to success in all other 



departments of human knowledge, are stated with 
great distinctness in the introductory section of the 
Enquiry on "The Different Species of Philosophy." 1 
There is first psychology, or, as Hume terms it, " the 
geography of the mental faculties." Here, at least, he 
admits, we are on solid ground. 2 The next inquiry is 
a deeper one. "May we not hope/' he says, "that 
philosophy, if cultivated with care, may carry its 
researches still further, and discover, at least in some 
degree, the secret springs and principles by which the 
human mind is actuated in its operations." 3 The 
purpose of his investigation, therefore, is to disclose 
the ultimate principle or principles of intelligence to 
run up all the operations of the mind to some principle 
which is "general and universal." 4 As yet there is no 
hint given of his peculiar scepticism ; on the contrary, 
though the investigation is owned to be a difficult one, 
his tone is courageous and hopeful. He chooses to 
start with the usual assumption that truth is within 
our reach, leaving it to his after reasonings to disprove 
the postulate. It is only as the system advances that 
we begin to see whither we are drifting. It will 
facilitate the understanding of Hutne's positions, and 
especially of his scepticism, if, before entering on the 
details of his system, we look shortly at the ante- 
cedents of his thinking in Locke and Berkeley, the 
philosophers by whom he was most influenced. We 
shall then consider more precisely the nature of the 
scepticism itself. 

1 With Hume's remarks in this section may be compared Locke's 
"Epistle to the Reader," prefixed to this Essay > and the Preface to a 
still greater work Kant's Kritik. 

2 Works, iv. p. 10. 3 Hid. p. 12. 4 IUcL 


Philosophy may be described in general as the study 
of the nature of knowledge, and, through that, of the 
nature of reality as given in our experience. There 
are two main questions in the present connection : 

1st. How do we know the external world, all 
knowledge (ideas) being in the mind, while objects are 
ex hypothesi out of and separate from the mind ? 

2nd. Is all our knowledge derived from experi- 
ence, or does any of it spring from the nature of the 
thinking faculty, or from reason ? 

The ambiguity of this second mode of stating the 
question will appear after. The real question will be 
found to be, what is experience ? Is sense the whole, 
or is there a rational factor involved in the constitution 
of even the simplest experience? It was, however, 
in the assumption underlying the first question that 
Hume and the philosophers who preceded him found 
their common ground. Whatever differences divided 
Descartes and Locke on such a subject as "innate 
ideas," they were at one in the fundamental point that 
the sole object of the mind's knowledge is its own 
ideas. This was regarded by all thinkers as so self- 
evident as to need no proof. " It is universally allowed 
by philosophers," says Hume, "and is besides pretty 
obvious of itself, that nothing is ever really present 
with the mind but its perceptions or impressions and 
ideas, and that external objects become known to us 
only by those perceptions they occasion." 1 From 
the admission of this position, it has commonly been 
attempted to show that the whole of Hume's conclu- 
sions follow by inevitable sequence. This, we shall see, 
is only in part correct. The statement is strictly true 
1 "Works, i. p. 93, 


only of the Lockean or empirical variety o the 
theory of ideas. Kant, e.g., is as subjective as Hume 
in the assertion that objects are only known to us 
through the impressions they excite in us, but his 
theory involves rational elements which save know- 
ledge from the utter disintegration it undergoes at 
the hands of Hume. It is in the line of the empirical 
development of philosophy, however, that Hume stands. 
Hence it is sufficient to trace the genealogy of his views, 
as proposed, from Locke and Berkeley. 1 

The answer given by Locke to the question of the 
origin of knowledge was on lines which the average 
intelligence of mankind would regard as those of plain 
common sense. He rejects the hypothesis of innate 
ideas. The mind has no ideas but those which it 
derives from experience, and, in the first instance, 
through the gateways of the senses. Prior to sen- 
sible experience, the mind is a tabula rasa, a " white 
paper, void of all characters, without any ideas," 2 an 
"empty cabinet," waiting to be furnished with ideas 
" let in " by the senses. 3 Knowledge begins with the 
impressions produced by the outward world on the 
organs of sense. These, conveyed to the brain, give 
rise to sensations. Thus originate " ideas of sensation," 
which are the first kind of " simple ideas." Through 
sensation the mind receives ideas of the qualities of 
the things which affect it from without through sight, 
e.g., ideas of form and colour; through touch, ideas 
of hardness, softness, roughness, extension, solidity; 

1 Hegel says: "Hume's philosophy starts immediately from the 
standpoint of Bacon and Locke, which derives our ideas from experi- 
ence, and his scepticism has the Berkeleian idealism as its basis" 
(ffeschichte d. Philosophie, iii. p. 446). 

2 Essay, hk. ii. ch. i. 3 Hid. bk. i. ch. ii. 


through hearing, idea of sounds, etc. But, next, the 
mind can reflect on its own operations in dealing with 
this first class o ideas, as in perception, memory, 
imagination, reasoning, and on the affections and 
emotions to which they give rise ; and this furnishes 
it with a second class of ideas, distinguished from 
the former as "ideas of reflection." "Simple ideas" 
of both kinds yield through combination "complex 
ideas," etc. From the ideas derived from these two 
sources sensation and reflection all our knowledge, 
he contends, is, in the last analysis, built up." l 

There is another distinction to be observed in regard 
to these "ideas of sensation," from which, according 
to Locke, our knowledge of the external world is 
derived. They fall, he explains, into two classes. 
The one class of ideas are properly only effects pro- 
duced in us by the operation of external objects, and 
the idea bears no resemblance to the quality or property 
in the object which produces it. Such, e.g., are the 
ideas of sweetness, of warmth, of sound, of colour, 
which exist only in the mind, and have no resemblance 
to the physical properties which are their causes. Ideas 
thus produced in us by properties of body which they 
in no wise resemble, are called by Locke "ideas of 
secondary qualities." It is different with the other 
class of ideas. These, it is held, do resemble, are in 
a manner " copies " or pictures of, the qualities in the 
object. Thus, the ideas of shape, of figure, of solidity, 
are produced in us, as before, by the operation of the 
object; but, unlike the ideas of the secondary qualities, 

1 JOsscvy, bk. ii. clis. i., xxiii., xxiv. Certain ideas, as those of exist- 
ence, power, succession, are supposed to be derived from both sources 
(bk, ii. ch. vi.). 


they have their counterparts in actual qualities of the 
object, which they resemble. These ideas which have 
qualities in bodies corresponding to them Locke names 
" ideas of primary qualities." The qualities in bodies 
themselves are similarly distinguished. 

This eminently common-sense account of the origin 
of our knowledge, however, proves much less satis- 
factory on closer inspection. The theory bristles, in 
fact, as the slightest touch of criticism shows, with 
inconsequences. On the one hand, Locke lays down 
the doctrine that the mind has knowledge only of its 
own ideas ; while, to account for these ideas he assumes 
a world of objects lying beyond consciousness, of which 
the world within our minds is so far a representation. 
But what is the warrant for this assumption ? How 
can an idea which, ex hypothesi, is wholly within the 
mind, yield us the knowledge of an object without the 
mind, or tell us anything of its nature ? It is declared 
that the ideas of "primary" qualities are copies of 
qualities in the objects. But how is this to be ascer- 
tained? Who can overleap his own consciousness to 
verify the supposed resemblance ? If reliance is placed 
on the principle of causation, it is easy to retort, as 
was done by both Berkeley and Hume, (1) that causa- 
tion gives us no title to infer resemblance in the case 
of " primary " any more than of " secondary " qualities ; 
and (2) that it does not entitle us to infer a material 
cause the cause may be spiritual?- Hume adds to 
this criticism (3) that the whole procedure is illegiti- 
mate, as going beyond experience. " As no beings," he 
says, " are ever present to the mind but perceptions, it 
follows that we may observe a conjunction or relation 

1 Works, iv, pp, 174-6. 


of cause and effect between different perceptions, but 
can never observe it between perceptions and objects. 
It is impossible, therefore, that from the evidence of 
any of the qualities of the former, we can ever form 
any conclusion concerning the existence of the latter, 
or ever satisfy our reason in this particular/' l 

The difficulty, on Locke's theory, is accentuated by 
the fact that the knowledge we have of the external 
world is supposed to be derived wholly from sensation. 
It will be seen later that sensation, as a mode of pure 
feeling, can give us no idea of objects, or of anything 
beyond its own immediate existence. But even con- 
ceding that, through sensation, we have the idea of 
external qualities, we are only at the beginning of our 
difficulties. Qualities, as Locke admits when he comes 
to deal with that subject, 2 do not subsist of themselves. 
They are " modes," and modes, he tells us, are neces- 
sarily thought of as inhering in "substances." The 
qualities are qualities of "something." But how are 
we to represent to ourselves this something, this sub- 
stance, this substratum of qualities, which, after all, 
is the real being of the thing ? It is not an idea of 
sensation ; as little is it an idea of reflection. Whence, 
then, is it obtained? On Locke's principles there is 
no room for it at all. No idea, therefore, gave him 
more trouble. He could neither admit it, nor do 
without it. He could only reiterate that we must 
suppose a substratum of qualities, though our idea 
of it is quite " obseure." Locke is in equal difficulties 
when he passes to the idea of self the abiding subject 
of the mental states. That self exists and abides he 
has no manner of doubt ; but whence the idea comes 
1 Works, i. p. 266. 2 Essay, bk. ii. cli. xii. 


he has no means of showing. It is not an idea of 
sense ; it is not an idea of a mental operation ; whence, 
then, do we obtain it ? It would be easy to show that 
the theory equally breaks down in the attempt to 
account for many other ideas ; ideas, e.g., of space, time, 
power, cause, infinity. Such ideas can only be got out 
of sense if they are first of all surreptitiously put 
into it. 

Berkeley, who followed Locke, had an easy task in 
disposing of some of these assumptions of his pre- 
decessor especially of that of material substance. 
Starting from Locke's premiss that the immediate 
objects of all knowledge are ideas, he pointed out, 
with perfect logical conclusiveness, that the assumption 
of a second world of variously-qualified things, outside 
of and behind the world we know, is entirely without 
justification. How, indeed, he argued, can ideas of the 
mind be copies of qualities of objects which we suppose 
to subsist apart from, and independently of, mind ? Is 
it not the very nature of an idea that it exists only 
in being perceived ? " Their esse is percipi, nor is it 
possible they should have any existence out of the minds 
or thinking things that perceive them." 1 Especially 
does Berkeley direct his artillery against the Lockean 
assumption of "substance." Locke had himself ad- 
mitted that we have no proper idea of this mysterious 
something, which is made known to us neither by 
sensation nor by reflection. Berkeley, therefore, justly 
enough on his premises, swept away these imaginary 
substances, and with them the world of independently 
existing objects, and boldly declared that the ideas we 
perceive by the senses are all the world there is. What 
1 Principles of Human Knowledge, pt. i. ch. iii. 


we are entitled to infer from their presence is, not that 
there is, or can be, a world of permanent objects, of 
which our ideas are images, but that our ideas must 
have some adequate spiritual cause, and this Berkeley 
finds in the will of God, who ordains the system of 
the world in the sense that he causes the ideas to 
appear in regular series, and in the orderly connection 
which we call " laws of nature." Hume's criticism on 
this theory (or class of theory) in turn is : 

" It is too bold ever to carry conviction with it to a 
man sufficiently apprised of the weakness of human 
reason. Though the chain of arguments which con- 
duct to it were ever so logical, there must arise a 
strong suspicion, if not an absolute assurance, that it 
has carried us quite beyond the reach of our faculties, 
when it leads to conclusions so extraordinary, and so 
remote from common life and experience. We are got 
into fairyland long ere we have reached the last steps 
of our theory ; and there we have no reason to trust 
our common methods of argument." 3 

As if Hume's own reasonings did not conduct to con- 
clusions " extraordinary and remote from common life 
and experience " ! 

With regard to mind, on the other hand, Berkeley 
was plainly in a dilemma. Having, on Locke's prin- 
ciples, discarded "substance" in the sensible world, it 
was not obvious how he could with consistency retain 
it in the world of mind. If, however, he could dispense 
with matter, he as plainly could not dispense with 
mind as a receptacle of his ideas ; and, accordingly, at 
this point he was compelled to take a step which 
Locke's principles would not justify. This was to 
1 Works, iv. p, 82. 


concede what he calls, not an "idea/' but a "notion," 
of a self as the permanent subject of mental acts and 
states. When, in his Principles of Human Know- 
ledge, he extends this mode of knowledge by means of 
" notions " to relations, he seems on the verge of break- 
ing away from Locke's principles altogether. 

It is now easy, perhaps, to see in a general way how 
Hume got his starting-point, and was led to his main 
conclusions. He adopts we must believe in good 
faith the principles of Locke and Berkeley, and draws 
them out to their ultimate conclusions. Like these 
philosophers, he takes it for granted as self-evident 
that the mind has nothing to work on in knowledge 
but its own ideas, or, as he prefers to call them, 
" perceptions." The details of his system will occupy 
us after; meanwhile it is not difficult to forecast 
what kind of consequences were bound to follow from 
his stringent logical procedure. The idea of "sub- 
stance " of course goes. Berkeley had already banished 
it from the material world, and Hume as summarily 
dismisses it from the world of mind. The bond of 
identity is cut, and all existence, inner and outer, is 
resolved into a train of "impressions and ideas," 
originating we know not how, and representing 
nothing but themselves. Objective reality, as we 
have been accustomed to conceive of it, disappears. 
There is no self, no external world, no God, 1 nothing 
but this stream of perishable " perceptions." Still the 
irresistible conviction of mankind in the existence of 
the world and self remains as a fact to be accounted 
for. Here begins Hume's constructive task, which he 

1 Tliat is, not logically on Hume's premises. On his concessions to 
Theism, see below, Chapter X. 


seeks to accomplish by showing how association and 
custom create a species of union among our ideas 
which we mistake for an objective one. The real 
bearing of all this will be better understood when we 
have examined, as we now proceed to do, the precise 
nature of Hume's scepticism. 

Philosophy with Hume ; as ere long becomes apparent, 
resolves itself into scepticism. His earliest and most 
original work represents a vigorous and unsparing 
attack upon the very foundations of our intelligence, 
the only object of which seems to be to subvert all 
rational certainty, and, as Dugald Stewart expressed 
it, " to produce in the reader a complete distrust of his 
own faculties." l His scepticism was more thorough 
and systematic than that of any who had preceded 
him. The " doubt " of Descartes was only prized as it 
led to a higher certainty, and the same might be said 
of the scepticism of Pascal. Hume, on the other hand, 
never sought to go beyond his doubts, but spent his 
strength in reducing them to scientific form. Even his 
professed solutions are avowedly " sceptical." 2 Bayle 
had preceded him in the attempt to establish universal 
scepticism, availing himself for this purpose of the 
contradictory opinions of different sects, and skilfully 
attacking the grounds on which special dogmas were 
assumed to rest. But Hume, to use his own words, 
" marched up directly to the capital and centre of the 
sciences to human nature itself " 3 and sought by 
capturing that to secure an easy victory. He labours 
to divide the mind against itself, and, by involving it 
in inextricable self-contradictions, to shake the ground 
of all its certitude. There are, however, certain peculi- 

1 Dissertation, p, 209. 2 Jfaquiry, sec. 5. 3 Works, i. p. 8. 


arities of this scepticism of Hume which it will be 
necessary to examine with greater care ; the more that 
its exact nature has been made the subject of consider- 
able discussion. 

One question which has been raised is Did Hume 
really accept the conclusions of his own system ? The 
late J. S. Mill, for example, in his Examination of 
Hamilton) broached the peculiar view that Hume's 
scepticism was simply a thin disguise thrown over his 
real convictions, intended rather to avoid offence than 
to conceal his own opinion. " He preferred to be called 
a sceptic rather than by a more odious name, and 
having to promulgate conclusions which he knew 
would be regarded as contradictory, on the one hand, 
to the evidence of common sense, on the other, to the 
doctrines of religion, did not like to declare them as 
positive convictions, but thought it more judicious to 
exhibit them as the results we might come to, if we 
put complete confidence in the trustworthiness of our 
rational faculties." x This view of Mill's is opposed to 
that of Sir William Hamilton, who had represented 
Hume as reasoning from premises " not established by 
himself," but " accepted only as principles universally 
conceded in the previous schools of philosophy." 2 Mr. 
Mill's judgment is " that Hume seriously accepted both 
the premises and the conclusions." 3 A narrower inspec- 
tion may convince us that the truth upon the subject 
does not lie exclusively with either side. 

There can be no doubt that, whatever may have 
been Hume's real opinions, his avowed sentiments were 
those of a sceptic, and his reasonings lay all in that 

1 Exam, of Ham. p. 555. 2 Discussions, pp. 87, 89. 

3 Appendix to Treatise (1740). 


direction. He was always ready to " plead the privilege 
of a sceptic/' 1 and no doubt correctly interpreted his 
own state of mind when he wrote : " A true sceptic 
will be diffident of his philosophical doubts, as well as 
of his philosophical convictions." 2 On the other hand, 
it must be conceded to Mr. Mill's view, that, so far as 
Hume could allow himself to attain to certainty about 
anything, he was perfectly serious both in his philo- 
sophical starting-point, and in the main conclusions to 
which his reasonings conducted him. He was playing 
neither with himself nor with his reader. It is thus, 
he would hold, we must think, if we are to think 
philosophically at all. It is difficult to doubt his 
sincerity in his acceptance of his fundamental position 
that the mind has nothing present to it but its own 
" perceptions " ; or his bona fides in the use he makes of 
his grand canon, that every idea must be the copy of a 
previous impression. He would admit that the same 
certainty does not attach to all his hypotheses in 
accounting for the particular beliefs of men ; but on 
the whole he is satisfied with the explanations he 
gives i is sure, at any rate, that if it is not quite thus, 
it is somehow thus, that the thing has come about. 
We may safely assume that his conviction was as 
entire as in such a mind it could be, that there is no 
necessary connection between cause and effect, no 
substantiality in self or things, no external world 
apart from our perceptions, no principle stronger than 
association connecting our ideas. 3 

1 Appendix to Treatise (17^). 

2 Works, i. p. 376. 

3 The most important qualification of this statement is in a passage 
in the Appendix to his Treatise in 1740, in which, \vhile declaring that 



There is not, however, the inconsistency which might 
be supposed between this appearance of certainty in 
Hume's convictions and the statements formerly made 
as to his scepticism. The true explanation, as was 
previously pointed out, undoubtedly is, that Hume's 
reasonings, pushed to their issues, had a yet more 
fatal effect than the overthrow of the beliefs of ordi- 
nary common sense; they destroyed the authority of 
reason itself. Mr. Mill had a difficulty in understand- 
ing how Hume, if really a sceptic, could reason so 
seriously and accurately throughout the course of his 
main discussions. Does not this, he held, imply a cer- 
tain faith in the operation of " the rational faculty " ? 
He overlooked that, if Hume's premises and conclusions 
are accepted, there is no " rational faculty " left for us 
to have faith in. In the last result, reason or what 
we call such destroys its own claim to credit. There 
is no rational self ; no rational instrument which self 
employs; only combinations of impressions and ideas 
engendered through association and custom. 1 If it is 
still argued that this is incompatible with the evident 
earnestness which Hume shows in reasoning out his 
conclusions, the answer is furnished by Hume himself. 
In the Treatise of Human Nature he has expressly 
met this objection, and as the passage casts perhaps 
a stronger light on the real spirit of that book than 
any other, we make no apology for quoting it: 

" If the sceptical reasonings be strong, they say, 'tis 

lie can find no flaw in his reasonings, he confesses his difficulty on the 
subject of Personal Identity. 

1 See his Treatise, pt. iv., "Of Scepticism with regard to Reason/' 
and "Of Scepticism with regard to the Senses"; and the J&iquiry, sec. 
12, "Of the Academic or Sceptical Philosophy." 


a proof that reason may have some force and authority ; 
if weak, they can never be sufficient to invalidate all 
the conclusions of our understanding. The argument 
is not just. . . . Reason first appears in possession of 
the throne, prescribing laws, and imposing maxims, with 
an absolute sway and authority. Her enemy, therefore, 
is obliged to take shelter under her protection, and by 
making use of rational arguments to prove the fallaci- 
ousness and imbecility of reason produces in a manner 
a patent under her own hand and seal. This patent 
has at first an authority proportioned to the present 
and immediate authority of reason, from which it is 
derived. But as it is supposed contradictory to reason, 
it gradually diminishes the force of the governing 
power, and its own at the same time ; till at last they 
both vanish away into nothing by a regular and just 
diminution." 1 

It requires considerable faith after this to believe 
that Hume "put complete confidence in the trust- 
worthiness of our rational faculty," as Mr. Mill "has 
little doubt that he did." 2 Mr. Mill is certainly in 
error when he affirms that any intimations to the 
contrary are found only " in a few detached passages " 
in a single essay that " On the Academical or Scep- 
tical Philosophy." 3 The Treatise of Human Nature 
abounds with them. In the Enquiry, no doubt, in 
harmony with the Tnoral purpose of his philosophy 
to clear the way for an easy, humane, and obvious 
treatment of moral subjects by removing the "abstruse 
philosophy" for ever from the field Hume tries to 
soften the impression of the earlier work by toning 
down his scepticism to a very considerable extent. 
1 Works, i. p. 236. 2 JSacam. p. 555. s Ibid. p. 554. 


He still advocates scepticism, but more by insinuation 
than assertion, and the scepticism is of a " mitigated " 
kind. In all essential respects, however, the main 
principles of the two words are the same. In both, 
" Pyrrhonism " holds the field so far as reason is con- 
cerned, though Hume in the Enquiry affects to jest 
at its "curious researches," and to temper its excess 
of doubt by appeal to " natural instinct." x But even 
in the Treatise it is not pretended that the scepticism 
of reason can maintain itself against the non-rational 
force of instinct. The very contrary : 

"It is happy," he says, in the conclusion of the 
passage above quoted, "therefore, that nature breaks 
the force of all sceptical arguments in time, and keeps 
them from having any considerable influence on 
the understanding. Were we to trust entirely to 
their self-destruction, that can never take place, 
until they have first subverted all conviction, and 
have totally destroyed human reason. . . . Thus the 
sceptic still continues to reason and believe, even 
though he asserts that he cannot defend his reason by 
reason." 2 
And later : 

"This sceptical doubt, both with respect to reason 
and the senses, is a malady which can never be radi- 
cally cured, but must return upon us every moment, 
however we may chase it away, and sometimes may 
seem entirely free from it. It is impossible, upon any 
system, to defend either our understanding or our 
senses; and we but expose them further when we 
endeavour to portray them in that manner. As the 
sceptical doubt arises naturally from a profound and 

1 "Works, iv. pp. 182-3. 2 Ibid. i. p. 237. 


intense reflection on those subjects, it always increases 
the further we carry our reflections, whether in oppo- 
sition or conformity to it. Carelessness and inattention 
alone can afford iis any remedy" 1 

Beyond this Hunie never got at any stage. This, 
indeed, is one feature and main point in his scepticism 
to show that what our reason constrains us to re- 
gard as false and contradictory, our natural instincts 
compel us to believe and act upon as \ rue. He does 
not deny us the luxury of believing in an external 
world, in the soul, in the necessary connection of causes 
and effects ; he only shows that we have no reasonable 
ground for so doing that reason is diametrically 
opposed to such belief. Practically things remain 
as they are; theoretically they are subverted. The 
sceptical arguments, like those of Berkeley, " admit of 
no answer, and produce no conviction." 2 Only when 
we venture to transcend the range of common experi- 
ence, and begin to think or speak of such far more 
important subjects as God, Immortality, Providence, 
Creation, Destiny, does Hume bring in his " doubt " to 
show us that such " sublime " topics are entirely beyond 
our reach are, in fact, as exercises of mind, extrava- 
gant and ridiculous. This is indeed the great use of his 
philosophy to scare us from these " abstruse " studies 
by revealing to us the incapacity and fallibility of 
the mind that proposes to deal with them. 

The worst effect of a scepticism like Hume's is, that 
it must inevitably react to vitiate the mind that 
indulges in it, and to unfit that mind for earnest 
dealing with any subject whatever. It destroys the 
power of close and patient investigation for the sake 
1 Works, i. p. 273. 3 Ibid. ir. p. 176. 


of the truth itself. All throughout the reader is sen- 
sible o this defect in the works of Hume. In his 
later writings, especially, we are made to feel, as com- 
pared with his earlier, a growing want of strictness 
in method, and the absence of a fresh interest in the 
subjects of which he treats. On the other hand, we 
mark an increased elegance of style, and a more con- 
cise and effective presentation of his separate ideas. 
Hume's scepticism particularly unfitted him for doing 
justice to men whose minds were possessed by warm 
and earnest convictions in regard to the unseen, and 
whose lives were actuated by correspondingly high 
motives. To enter into the ideas and experiences of 
such men was utterly beyond his power. His two 
ready categories here are superstition and enthiisiasm, 
and to one or other of these every inexplicable phe- 
nomenon in the moral and religious history of man- 
kind is unhesitatingly referred. Hume forgets that 
if "practical instincts" have validity in the lower 
sphere, they are no less necessary and valid in the 
higher. Men need convictions in regard to the ideal 
and unseen quite as much as in reference to the seen 
and temporal. 

A scepticism like Hume's is, as he rightly says, 
incurable. Diffidence in regard to the operations of 
intelligence in difficult and recondite subjects is one 
thing; distrust of the principles on which all truth 
and certainty depend is another. It is useless to ask 
in Hume's philosophy whether the error may not lie 
in the road by which conclusions have been reached, 
and whether another line of reasoning might not cor- 
rect that error, and put us in the path of truth. The 
very asking of that question implies the supposition 


of, and comparison with, a realm of truth, to which 
our faculties stand in relation, and within which the 
discovery and recognition of truth is believed to be 
possible. Such a conception of a rationally-constituted 
universe, to which reason in man stands in essential 
relation, is precisely what Hume's philosophy excludes. 
It is not considered that the very fact that man can 
conceive of such a region of truth, even so far as to 
be at the trouble of denying the power of the mind 
to reach it, is itself a proof of its existence ; for the 
mind that can deny rationality in the universe, in 
the very act of its doing so proclaims itself rational, 
and the universe as well. 


THERE is almndant evidence that Hume regarded him- 
self as an original discoverer in philosophy. He speaks 
repeatedly and complacently of " my system/' He is 
confident that he has succeeded where others had failed 
in establishing the theory of human nature upon a just 
foundation. It has now to be asked whether his own 
contributions to the doctrine of knowledge will prove 
more permanent than those of his predecessors; or 
whether, as he wrote to Hutcheson, that "in a cool 
hour" he was apt to suspect most of his reasonings 
"will be found more useful in furnishing hints and 
awakening curiosity, than as containing principles that 
will augment the stock of knowledge that must pass to 
future ages." l 

The basis of Hume's system is laid in his chapters 
on " The Origin of Ideas." 2 Here he connects himself 
with Locke, but with significant changes of nomen- 
clature. Locke had used "ideas" as the general de- 
signation for all mental acts and states. The name 
Hume uses for the same purpose is "perceptions" a 
designation in every way as open to criticism, Locke 
had no distinction of terms for an idea in its first vivid 
1 Burton, i. p. 118. 2 Works, i. pp. 16 ff, ; iv. pp. 15 ff. 



appearance in the mind, and its subsequent paler re- 
production in memory and imagination. Hume, with 
more precision, distinguishes his " perceptions " into two 
kinds impressions and ideas. The original element 
in knowledge is the "impression," under which he 
includes "all our sensations, passions, and emotions." 
The impression is given with a " force and liveliness " 
in consciousness peculiar to itself. "Ideas" are the 
fainter copies of these impressions in memory and 
imagination. In memory the impressions retain a con- 
siderable portion of their original vivacity ; in imagina- 
tion they are less forcible and vivid, and appear in new 
combinations. Imagination is thus with Hume, as 
with Hobbes, nothing more than " a decaying sense." 
The next point is to prove that we have no idea 
which is not copied from some previous impression. 
Hume adduces two arguments. First, we have only to 
analyse our thoughts, however complex, to find that 
they always resolve themselves into such simple ideas 
as are copied from a precedent feeling or sentiment. 1 
This, however, is plainly not an argument in the proper 
sense at all, but merely an assertion of the point to 
be proved. Second, if we find a man who, through a 
defect in the organ, is not susceptible of any particular 
impression, he is always found to be as little susceptible 
of the corresponding idea. 2 This may be granted in 
regard to sensible ideas. But the question is, Are these 
our only ones? Hume is not unaware that his first 
argument is very much a begging of the question ; he 
therefore adds: "Those who would assert that the 
position is not universally true, have only one, and that 
a very easy method of refuting it ; by producing that 
1 Works, iv. p. 17. 2 Ibid, iv, p. IS. 


idea which in their opinion is not derived from that 
source." l This last remark might have suggested to 
Hume the illegitimacy of his whole procedure. Before 
we are competent to sit in judgment upon the origin of 
our ideas, it is necessary to come to some distinct 
understanding as to their nature. What are these 
ideas of whose origin we speak ? Are they such as can 
all be ascribed to one source ? Granted that some of 
them may have their origin in the senses, are there not 
others whose peculiar features demand for them a 
nobler origin ? 2 As Hume leaves the matter, the way 
is obviously open to vast assumptions. He has not 
really proved that every idea is the copy of a previous 
impression, but has only thrown the onus of proof on 
those who differ from him. Yet, as if he had satis- 
factorily established his main position, he immediately 
proceeds to erect it into a universal test. " When we 
entertain, therefore," he says, "any suspicion that a 
philosophical term is employed without any meaning or 
idea, as is too frequent, we need but inquire, from 
what impression is that supposed idea derived ? " 3 No 
philosopher was ever more peremptory or a priori 

1 "Works, iv. p. 17, 

3 The truth will prove to be that even what Hume calls impressions 
of sensation are not mere products of sense, "but involve an element of 
rational judgment. 

3 "Works, iv. p. 20. It will afterwards appear that Hume is not con- 
sistent in the application of his own canon. It may be (1) that the 
philosophical term is used, as he says, "without any meaning or idea." 
But it may also be (2) that there is an idea, or quasi-ide& } only it is a 
"fiction," or is due to confusion of thought. Hume would hold the 
ideas of self, substance, external existence, to be of this nature. Or (3) 
there may be a real idea, derived from an impression, but the idea is not 
what we take it to be. Such is the idea of necessary connection, which 
has, according to him, a subjective basis in the feeling of expectation. 


than Hume in the application of this rule-of-thumb 
method of " no impression, no idea." It is not difficult 
to see how readily on this principle the mind may be 
despoiled of most of its richest possessions. 

In one important respect Hume is more consistent 
than Locke, and rather resembles his French con- 
temporary Condillac. Locke had distinguished between 
ideas of sensation and ideas of reflection, resting his 
distinction on the contrast of ideas received from 
without, and ideas received from within. But Hume 
more logically perceived that without and ivithin arc 
assumptions we are not entitled to make at starting. 
" All impressions," he tells us in one place, " are internal 
and perishing existences, and appear as such." l Re- 
flection, therefore, is no separate source of ideas. 2 
Locke, indeed, evades this consequence, but only by an 
inconsistency. He assumes, as the receptacle of his 
sensations, a mind, well furnished with active faculties, 
each working according to its own laws on the material 
provided to it from without Yet there is nothing 
" innate " ! Leibnitz well replied, Nisi intellectus ipse. 
Later empiricism, therefore, has done well to dismiss 
this second source of ideas altogether, and to try to get 
on, as best it can, with simple sensations. But in point 
of fact, no empiricist, not even Hume himself, adheres 
consistently to this original position. Hume is forced 
to fall back continually on certain "original prin- 
ciples," which, as permanent factors in our experience, 
and conditions of it, constitute an original " mind " of 

1 Works, i. p. 245. 

a If, in one or two early passages, Hume adopts the Lockean phrase- 
ology (Works, i. pp. 23, 31), it has no proper place in his system, and 
serves only to indicate the contrast between sense-impressions and the 
passions and emotions. 


a meagre sort, which, however, he never distinctly 
accounts for. Such, for instance, are his " principles of 
association/' l and the principle of " custom/' of which 
lie afterwards makes so large a use. 2 These principles 
of association are, it must be allowed, something of a 
mystery in Hume. At times they appear as original 
principles of the "mind" or of "human nature"; 
at other times they figure as mysterious powers of 
" attraction " between impressions and ideas themselves. 
fc{ Here is a kind of attraction," he says, " which in the 
mental world will be found to have as extraordinary 
effects as in the natural." B How attraction can arise 
between ideas which, on his hypothesis, are entirely 
separate and "in perpetual flux and movement," 4 is 
far from obvious, 

The essential assumptiveness of Hume's philosophy 
receives much stronger illustration if we observe the 
very great liberty which, while professing to start only 
with impressions and ideas, Hume constantly allows 
himself in the use of the ordinary terminology of mind, 
He disavows, indeed, any assumption as to the origin of 
impressions. 5 These "arise in the soul," he tells us, 
"from unknown causes. 3 ' 6 But, as the words quoted 
show, he does not disavow in the same way, a " mind " 
or "soul" as the seat of these impressions. On the 
contrary, he continually, and in so many words, takes 
its existence and operations for granted; endows it 
with faculties ; furnishes it with " original principles " ; 
ascribes to it powers of comparison and reasoning; 
concedes to it ideas of " relation " ; under guise of the 

1 Works, i pp. 25 ff. ; iv. pp. 22 ff. Of. pp. 123, 148, etc. 

2 Ibid. iv. pp. 50 ff. 3 Ibid. i. p. 28. 

4 Ibid. i. pp. 312-13. 5 Ibid. i. p. 16. 6 Ibid. i. p. 22. 


personal pronouns ("I," "we," etc.), makes unceasing 
drafts on its activity. This peculiarity is so marked, 
and so much depends on it for the right understanding 
of Hume's philosophy, that space may profitably be 
spared for a few examples (the italics are ours) : 

" I first make myself certain by a neiv review, of 
what I have already asserted, that every simple im- 
pression is attended by a corresponding idea. . . . / 
immediately conclude that there is a great connection 
between our correspondent impressions and ideas." 1 
..." Of this impression there is a copy taken by the 
mind which remains after the impression ceases." 2 
..." The faculty by which we repeat our impressions 
in the first manner is called the memoj^y, and the other 
the imagination" 3 . . . " The liberty of the imagina- 
tion to transpose and change its ideas." 4 . . . "When- 
ever the imagination perceives a difference among 
ideas." 5 . . . " Nothing would be more unaccountable 
than the operation of that faculty were it not guided 
by some universal principles, which render it, in some 
measure, uniform with itself in all times and places." c 
..." The qualities from which this association arises, 
and by which the mind is, after this manner, con- 
veyed from one idea to another." 7 . . . "That parti- 
cular circumstance in which, even apart from the 
arbitrary union of two ideas in the fancy, ive may 
think proper to compare them!' 8 . . . " When we have 
found a resemblance among several objects that often 
occur to us, we apply the same name to all of them, 
ivhatever differences we may perceive in the degrees of 

1 Works, i. pp. 18, 19. 2 Ibid. i. p. 22. 3 ML i, p. 23. 

4 Ibid. i. p. 24 (cf. p. 113). 6 Ibid. i. p. 25. 6 Ibid. L p. 25. 

7 Ibid. i. p. 26. 8 Ibitl. i. p. 29. 


their quality and quantity." 1 . . . " One would think 
the whole intellectual world of ideas was at once sub- 
jected to our view, and that we did nothing but pick 
ot*J such as were most proper for our There 
may not, however, be any present, besides those very 
ideas, that are thus collected by a kind of magical 
ftit'ulfy in the soul" 2 . . . "We begin to distinguish 
tile figure from the colour by <t distinction of reason." 3 

. . " Identity is merely a quality which we attribute 
(to perceptions) because of the union of their ideas in 
the imagination when we reflect on them." 4 

If it is replied that this employment of current ideas 
and phraseology on the part of Hume is merely an 
accommodation to popular speech till the system is 
sufficiently advanced to show how these ideas can be 
dispensed with, the answer is that it is only by the 
assumption of these ideas that the system is able to 
get under weigh at all, and that, without their help, 
it could not present even a momentary appearance of 
plausibility. Suppose, for instance, we hold Hume 
strictly to his impressions and ideas, and ask the 
question, How does he know that his ideas are faint 
"copies" of previous impressions, as he tells us they 
are? what answer could he give? The two, to be 
compared, must have been present at some point in 
consciousness together. But the impression ex hypo- 
thesi has vanished before the idea comes upon the 
scene. When the comparison is made, there is nothing 
present but the assumed copy. What then yields the 
knowledge of its resemblance to the impression, or 
what or who is to make the comparison between 

1 Works, i. p. 36. 2 Ibid. i. p. 41. 

3 lUd. i. p. 43. 4 llrid. i. p. 321. 


them ? l If it is said that memory retains the image 
of the past impression, this is only to repeat that a 
"faint" idea is present, which, for some reason un- 
known, we take to be a copy of a former "lively" 
state. And the "lively" state is now known to us 
only through the idea. But the same difficulty recurs 
in regard to memory itself. Memory differs from 
imagination, Hume tells us, not only in the livelier 
character of its ideas, but in the fact that it is " tied 
down " to the same " order and form " as the original 
impression. 2 This, it may be remarked to begin with, 
is in no way a complete account of memory. In 
memory an image is not only given, but is recognised 
as the image of a past event or experience. It is 
connected with an idea of past time, and is accom- 
panied by belief in the fidelity of the representation. 
But, in the next place, the theory leaves us entirely 
in the dark as to how we become aware that the 
image in memory represents the " order and form " of 
a past experience. " Belief," with Hume, is simply " a 
lively idea related to, or associated with, a present 
impression." 3 But the mere liveliness of an idea is 
surely no guarantee that it is an accurate copy of a 
past (and now vanished) impression. Nor is a solution 
possible on Hume's principles. The real and only key 
to the possibility of recall in memory is that persist- 
ence of the self which Hume ignores. The self, which 
is one and the same throughout, knows the acts which 
it images to itself as its own acts. With this has to 

1 Note the curious assumption in Hume that it is the original impres- 
sion that is making "a new appearance" in the idea. Of course, on 
his theory, the idea is an entirely new and separate mental fact. 

2 Works, i. p. 24. 3 Ibid. i. p. 128 ; iv. p. 56. 


be taken the fact that in no case is memory the mere 
reproduction of a sense impression. Even in percep- 
tion, as will appear later, the " impression " has passed 
into the form of thought has become fixed in perma- 
nent relations and so is preserved in its abiding 
character as knowledge. 

These considerations open the way for a more funda- 
mental criticism of Hume's positions. 

It has just been seen that Hume's theory has not 
gone far before it has involved itself in considerable 
difficulties, rendering necessary, not only the borrow- 
ing of a number of new principles, but a somewhat 
abundant use of the terminology of personal conscious- 
ness. The crucial question that now arises is Is this 
construction of knowledge without a conscious think- 
ing principle to unite and combine the various parts 
of that knowledge possible? Both Eeid and Kant 
assailed the account given by Hume of the nature of 
knowledge. They took up the challenge to produce 
an idea which has not its prototype in a sense- 
impression, and showed that a quality attaches to 
many of our ideas and judgments for which the theory 
of Hume, or any theory which traces all our know- 
ledge to sensation, can never adequately account. 1 
But Kant had a deeper way of attacking the problem. 
He goes back from the nature to the more funda- 
mental question of the possibility of knowledge, and 
lays clown as self-evident the proposition that there 
can be no knowledge of any kind except on the sup- 
position of a principle of synthesis in consciousness 
of a relation of " impressions and ideas " (to use Hume's 
phrase) to a central "self." "The 'I think/" in his 

1 See below, p. 118. 


own words, "accompanies all my representations." 1 
We may illustrate this by a remark of Mr. J. S. Mill's 
on the ultimate nature of belief in memory. "Our 
belief in the veracity of memory," that writer says, " is 
evidently ultimate; no reason can be given for it 
which does not presuppose the belief, and assume it 
to be well founded." 2 This involves an important 
principle. That is ultimate in knowledge for which no 
reason can be given which does not presuppose the 
thing to be explained. Now what Mr. Mill here grants 
to be true of memory, Kant shows to be true of all 
sensible experience : there are certain things involved 
in it which can never be explained by the experience, 
because the experience itself presupposes them. And 
most fundamental of all is this condition, that impres- 
sions can only become impressions for me if they exist 
together in a common self -consciousness. I know a 
thing in consciousness only as I relate it with the other 
elements of consciousness to myself. Self -consciousness, 
in other words, with all that it involves, is an ultimate 
fact, and any attempt to explain it by the chemistry of 
association, is a case of circle-reasoning of the most 
glaring kind. 

It will be obvious that this principle, if admitted, is 
fatal to Hume's whole theory of the origin of know- 
ledge. "A train of impressions and ideas" but how 
do we know them as a train ? " A bundle or collection 
of different perceptions " 3 but what holds the bundle 
together, or knows it as a bundle ? The perceptions 
are, on Hume's showing, " in perpetual flux and move- 
ment." 4 Each, at the most, knows itself in the single 

1 Kritik, p. 21 (Bohn). 2 Exam, of Earn. p. 174, 

3 Works, i. p. 312. 4 Hid. 


moment o its existence, and knows nothing of the 
others. One perception has perished before another 
appears; what holds the vanished members of the 
series in knowledge, and now represents the whole 
as a succession ? Single impressions and ideas are one 
thing; the idea of a succession is another. Applying 
Hume's canon to it, we may ask, From what impression 
is it derived ? But it has already been seen that Hume 
does not succeed in dispensing with this relating 
principle. The "wo" thrusts in its head at every 
point in his expositions, engaged in the most essential 
operations. We " make a review " of facts of conscious- 
ness; we "compare" ideas; we "perceive" resem- 
blances and difference; we "reflect" on experiences, 
and draw conclusions ; " when we have found a resem- 
blance " we give names. Take away the implied self 
from these operations, and what is left of them ? On 
this first rock, therefore, Hume's philosophy, with 
every other which rests on a like empirical basis, is 
already irretrievably shattered. 

But this first step in the criticism of Hume's 
theory leads immediately to a second. It has hitherto 
been assumed, in accordance with Hume's principles, 
that impressions and ideas are something wholly sub- 
jective "internal perishing existences." On psycho- 
logical grounds, however, this position also must be 
pronounced untenable. The " I " or self, viewed as the 
principle of relation among the elements of conscious- 
ness, is, after all, only an abstraction. The " I " never 
subsists in consciousness by itself without relation to 
something else, which it distinguishes from itself as 
object In plain terms, as thinkers of all schools are 
now well agreed, there is no subject-consciousness 


which has not as its invariable counterpart an object- 
consciousness. This is a fact which evidently deserves 
careful attention. In both the "primary" and the 
" secondary " qualities of Locke we found that, however 
illegitimately on his principles, there was involved a 
reference to an outward world. But this answers to 
the fact of consciousness itself. From the first dawn 
of conscious life the subject- and the object-conscious- 
ness grow up together. There is, as Kant again 
showed, no uniting together of the elements of personal 
consciousness which has not as its correlate the uniting 
of other elements in that consciousness in the form of 
an objective experience. This raises more definitely 
the question What precisely is meant by an "object"? 
Here we come on another fundamental ambiguity in 
Hume's system. Hume can as little dispense with the 
idea of the "object" as with the idea of "self." His 
pages teem with references to " objects," of which we 
are assumed to have knowledge. But two things here 
require to be distinguished which Hume, in his philo- 
sophy, as constantly confounds. One is the order or 
succession of impressions and ideas within the mind 
the subjective succession; the other is the order or 
succession of phenomena in nature the objective suc- 
cession. The order of succession in consciousness is, of 
course, in part determined by the order in nature ; e.g., 
I hear the report of a gun, and observe a bird fall. 
Still it is evident that the current of my thoughts is 
one thing, and the order of events in nature is another, 
and there is no necessary correspondence between 
them. When we speak of an objective order, as will 
be seen more clearly later, we mean by it something 
which we definitely distinguish from our own thoughts ; 


which has a connection, coherence, and progress of its 
own, determined by its own laws ; which exists in at 
least relative independence of our knowledge of it, 
And the important fact to be observed is, that when 
we speak of " object," it is this external order of nature, 
not the internal succession, we have in view. For me 
to speak of a thing as an "object" means that I place 
it definitely in this system or order which I distinguish 
from myself ; that I regard it as having its fixed place 
and coherence in that order; as set in determinate 
relations with the other parts of the order; as con- 
nected with it in what goes before and what comes 
after, in short, as belonging to it, and not to the 
course of my individual thoughts. It is, as we shall 
come to see, by habitually confounding two orders, and 
illegitimately passing from one to the other in his 
reasonings, that Hume is able to persuade himself 
that lie has solved the problem of causation by 
"custom," and can even imagine, in the end of his 
Treatise, that he explains by association how the 
"fiction" of the idea of an independently existing 
world is arrived at. 

Kant's answer to Hume on this as on the other point, 
then, is that an object-consciousness, [or idea of an 
objective system, is already implied in the possession 
of the subject-consciousness from which Hume would 
derive it, and that the essential principles which go to 
constitute that object-consciousness must be furnished 
by reason itself, since they antecede experience, and are 
the conditions of its possibility. Thus far Kant, we 
take it, is irrefutable; but he laid himself open to 
criticism equally with Hume when he held that these 
principles which we employ in knowledge are only 


principles of our own thought, and not principles 
constitutive of the world itself. This, however, opens 
up questions which belong to a later part of our 

One important result which accrues from these 
inquiries is, that the object is given only in relations, 
and therefore can never be, as Locke and Hume would 
have it, a mere datum of sense. There is at least the 
act by which I relate it to myself in consciousness; 
but there are also the acts by which I relate it to the 
other objects of the world of which it forms part 
through which, in fact, I constitute it " object/ 7 This, 
indeed, is what is properly called "knowledge" not 
the passive reception of impressions, but the apprehen- 
sion of objects under their permanent relations. This 
leads, as a third test of Hume's theory, to a glance at 
his doctrine of relations. Kant, it is well known, 
analysed the relations through which our knowledge 
is constituted into two groups : forms of intuition, and 
categories of the understanding. The first condition 
of the knowledge of objects in an outward world is 
that I apprehend them under the forms of space and 
time; then I cognize and unite them through the 
understanding under such categories as unity and 
plurality, substance and accident, cause and effect. It 
will be sufficient here to keep to the list of relations 
which Hume himself gives. It may easily be shown 
that the admission of ideas of relation of any kind 
and Hume admits no fewer than seven heads of them : 
resemblance, identity, space and time, quantity and 
number, degree, contrariety, cause and effect 1 is irre- 
concilable with the primary assumptions of his theory. 
1 Works, i. p. 95. 


In the first place, a relation implies two terms, and a 
comparison between them which gives rise to the idea, 
and therefore is unthinkable except on the supposition 
of a relating principle such as has been seen to be 
implied in all knowledge. And in the next place, an 
idea of relation is not, and for this very reason cannot 
be, an idea of sense. It is not the copy of a sense- 
impression, but is the product of an intellectual act. 1 
We have just seen, besides, that relations play a much 
larger part in the constitution of our knowledge than 
Hume allowed. Every object is given in relations as 
the condition of its being known at all. It exists in 
relations, and through relations is known to be what 
it is. In strictness it may be said that the object is 
much more an object of the understanding than it ever 
was of sense. It will be seen after how this bears on 
the philosophy of perception. It may now be shown 
that the admission of even such a list of relations as 
Hume gives involves problems of origin which, on his 
principles, are incapable of solution. 

It has been stated above that both Reid and Kant 
took exception to Hume's account of the origin of ideas, 
not only on the ground that certain of these ideas are 
involved in all possible knowledge, but likewise because 
they have a character of their own which bars us from 
attributing to them an origin in sense. Such is the 
quality of universality and necessity which attaches 

1 Professor Huxley admits the inconsequence of Hume deriving ideas 
of relations from sense-impressions, though he himself errs (like some 
other psychologists) in speaking of them as "feelings." "They are," 
he says, "no more capable of being described than sensations are ; and, 
as it appears to me, they are as little susceptible of analysis into simpler 
elements. . . . When Hume discusses relations, he falls into a chaos of 
confusion and self-contradiction " (Hume, p. 69), 


to many of our ideas and judgments, us, e.y., to our 
ideas of space and time and number, and the mathe- 
matical sciences based on these, of cause and effect, 
of substance and accident. Here, then, is another 
crucial test for Hume's system ; the account it has to 
give of this peculiarity in part of our knowledge. \Ve 
leave out of consideration for the present the ideas of 
cause and substance, and confine ourselves to the funda- 
mental ideas of space and time. This is a test-case for 
Hume, as for the schools descended from him, and it 
need not be said that he entirely fails to show the 
origin of these ideas from sense-impressions. It is not 
that he does not make the attempt. He discusses the 
ideas of space and time at great length, and with much 
ingenuity, in his Treatise. They are for him "no 
separate and distinct ideas, but merely those of the 
manner or order in which bodies exist." 1 "As it is 
from the disposition of visible and tangible objects we 
receive the idea of space, so from the succession of 
ideas and impressions we form the idea of time/' 2 
Precisely ; but it is strange it did not occur to so acute 
a reasoner that to derive the idea of space from the 
"manner or order" in which visible and tangible 
objects are "disposed," or the idea of time from the 
" succession " of impressions and ideas, is simply, under 
a change of phraseology, to derive these ideas from 
themselves. The "distinct ideas" sought for are 
already implied in the expressions used For the 
"manner or order" of the "disposition" of visible 
and tangible bodies, means simply their arrangement 
in a particular manner in space ; and the " succession " 
of impressions and ideas means simply that they are 
1 Works, i. p. 60. 2 IltiL I p. 54. 


cognized as one after another in time. On this latter 
point Reid aptly remarks in his criticism of Locke, that 
' it would be more proper to derive the idea of succes- 
sion from that of duration/' than vice versa, " because 
succession presupposes duration, and can in no sense be 
prior to it." l Time, in other words, as Kant showed 
more thoroughly, is already implied in all apprehension 
of succession, and to derive the former from the latter 
is a case of the old fallacy of explaining a thing by 
itself. It is not otherwise with the attempts to derive 
the idea of space from the perception of " distance " or 
" extension " ; as if " distance " were anything else than 
spatial remoteness, or " extension " (paries extra paries) 
could be defined except in terms of space. Mr. Mill 
says in one place: "Whatever else we may suppose 
removed, there always remains the conception of empty 
space." 2 If this is so, space is a distinct and necessary 
idea, and is not to be confused with the idea of the 
extension of material objects, which are in space. A 
favourite device of a certain school of psychologists 
has been to derive the idea of space from that of time. 
Dr. Thomas Brown did his best to explain in this way 
the genesis of the ideas of space and extension ; and his 
efforts in this direction were heartily seconded by the 
two Mills, and later by Mr. Bain. 3 Even if the attempt 
had been as successful as it was really the reverse, it 
would still have left the idea of time to be explained. 
Kant, in truth, had already met by anticipation this 
attempt of the Association school to confound the ideas 
of space and time by deriving the one from the other. 
So far, he argued, are we from the deriving the idea of 

1 Hamilton's Eeid t pp. 347-8. 2 Exam, of Ham. p. 291. 

8 Mill, ^bid. pp. 227 ff. ; Bain, Mental and Moral Science, pp. 48 ff. 


space from that of time, that we can only picture the 
latter to our imagination through an image of the 
former. We figure duration to ourselves as a drawn- 
out line. 1 

Hume's boldness in deriving all our ideas from sense- 
impressions reaches its culmination in his attempts 
to explain in this manner even the pure ideas of 
"geometry, algebra, and arithmetic." 2 This, while 
conceding that the relations involved in these ideas 
are "intuitively or demonstratively certain/' 3 Kant 
remarks that if Hume had only considered this point 
as carefully as he did the fact of causation, he would 
have been saved from many of his conclusiona He 
came nearest of all philosophers to a solution of the 
great problem, but failed, because " it never acquired in 
his mind sufficient precision, nor did he regard the 
question in its universality." 4 

1 JSritik, p. 95 (Bohn). 2 Treatise, bk. i. pt. ii. 

3 ^Yo^ks, iv. p. 30. 4 Erfalc, pp. 12, 13 (Bohn). 



HUME'S theory may be said to concentrate itself in 
his doctrine of cause and effect. He himself doubtless 
felt this to be the strongest and most original part of his 
system, and in the later edition of his philosophy he 
spared no pains in perfecting it. Viewed as a carry- 
ing out of his principles to their legitimate issues, his 
reasonings have all the force of demonstration. They 
end by depriving the notion of cause and effect of all 
real validity. It is merely, in Hamilton's terse descrip- 
tion, "the offspring of experience engendered on 
custom." l 

In a familiar passage, Hume divides all objects of 
knowledge into two classes: relations of ideas and 
matters of fact. 2 Relations of ideas yield us know- 
ledge which is either intuitively or demonstrably 
certain ; in regard to matters of fact, on the other 
hand, the one relation which carries us beyond the 
experience we have, and gives us new knowledge, is 
that of cause and effect. A priori argument avails us 
nothing here; our knowledge of everything that lies 
beyond the immediate impression of sense must be 
deduced, by a longer or shorter train of reasoning, 

1 Lccts, on Met. ii. p. 394. 2 Works, iv. pp. 30, 41. 



through this single principle of causation. If, there- 
fore, this pillar of the house of knowledge is over- 
thrown, the whole edifice of our reasonings in regard 
to matters of fact is brought to the ground. To show, 
accordingly, that this is how the case actually stands 
with respect to causation that there is, in reality, no 
rational basis for our belief in the connection of causes 
and effects, nor any necessary principle connecting the 
phenomena we so denominate is the end to which 
Hume applies himself with all his force. He has to 
show, first, that the ordinary belief in cause and effect 
is without rational justification ; and, second, what the 
real origin and nature of this belief is. 

The first point to be established is, that the relation 
of causes and effects is one which is discoverable only 
by experience. Keason can furnish us with no aid in 
determining what particular effects will follow from 
particular causes. No man, e.g., could predict, prior to 
experience, that fire would burn, or water drown him. 
This must, of course, be admitted, but it has often been 
pointed out that it evades the real question at issue. 
This is not, whether, before experience, we can tell 
what particular effects will follow from particular 
causes, but whether, either before experience or after 
it, we can believe that any change or event will ever 
happen without some cause. There is an obvious dis- 
tinction between a cause and the cause. This Hume 
must admit, for he afterwards assumes that it is 
possible to strip the causal judgment of its original 
particularity, and erect it into a universal principle. 1 

1 Works, iv. pp. 105-6, 139. This, no doubt, in Hume's case, is 
an inconsistency. (1) His doctrine allows no place for abstract or 
general ideas, so leaves no room for general principles deduced from 


What we have found to be true of particular cases, we 
come to assume will be true of all others. But if we 
can thus universalise our judgments, then we are able 
to affirm that there must be a cause, even where we 
are ignorant of what it is. 

The knowledge of causes and effects being thus 
traced solely to experience, the question which next 
arises is, What is there in experience which can 
generate this idea ? 

" When it is asked," says Hume, " What is the nature 
of all our reasonings concerning matters of fact ? the 
proper answer seems to be, that they are founded on 
the relation of cause and effect. When, again, it is 
asked, What is the foundation of all our reasoning and 
conclusions concerning that relation ? it may be replied 
in one word, Experience. But if we still carry on our 
sifting humour, and ask, What is the foundation of all 
our conclusions from experience? this implies a new 
question which may be of more difficult solution and 
explication." 1 

There are several difficulties to be got over. (1) 
Experience gives us only " loose and separate " events, 2 
but the relation of cause and effect is supposed to be 
that of necessary connection. (2) Experience gives us 
information of those precise objects only which fall 
under our cognizance ; but this does not explain why 
we should extend this experience to other and different 
objects. (3) Experience relates only to what has been 

particular instances ; and (2) the utmost his theory of association will 
yield him is, that antecedents similar to those observed might be sup- 
posed to have similar consequents, not that there is a necessary relation 
between antecedents and consequents generally. 

1 Works, iv. p. 38. 2 find. iv. p. 84. 


observed in the past ; but the inference from cause and 
effect is extended into the future. " We always pre- 
sume," he says, "when we see like sensible qualities, 
that they have like secret powers, and expect that 
effects similar to those which we have experienced will 
follow from them. . . . Now this is a process of the 
mind of which I would willingly know the founda- 
tion." l Hume then shows that this inference from 
the past to the future, however it is to be explained, is 
not founded on any process of argument. These two 
propositions are far from being the same "I have 
found that such an object has always been attended 
with such an effect," and, " I foresee that other objects 
which are in appearance similar, will be attended with 
similar effects." 2 If the inference is made by reason- 
ing, there should be some middle term which connects 
the two judgments ; but this, of course, can never be 
produced. He concludes, therefore, with perfect justice, 
that the uniformity of the operation of causes and 
effects which would enable us to infer the future from 
the past, can never be proved by argument. 

It may be questioned, however, whether Hume is not 
here chargeable with another confusion, besides that of 
constantly identifying the question of a cause with 
that of some particular cause. He rightly assumes 
that when we find a cause in nature we expect it to 
operate uniformly. The idea of a cause, nevertheless, 
is not quite the same as that of the uniform operation 
of the cause. " I say, then," he himself remarks, " that 
even after we have experience of the operations of 
cause and effect, our conclusions from that experience 
are not founded on reasoning." 3 The experience of 

1 Works, iv. p. 39. 3 Ibid. iv. p. 40. 3 Ibid. iv. p. 38. 


the operation of causes, then, precedes, and is distinct 
from, the discovery that they operate uniformly. The 
distinction may be perceived if we reflect on the 
phenomena of volition, or think of that crude stage 
in the history of mankind when effects in nature are 
ascribed to the volition of living agents. Here there 
is causation, but it is conceived of as capricious and 
irregular. The ground of our expectation of uni- 
formity in the operation of causes will be investigated 

The main difficulty Hume has to encounter is the 
apparent existence of an "idea of necessary connec- 
tion " in the causal judgment. He treats of this in a 
separate Essay, but it is really the same question as lie 
had previously before him. We infer that the future 
in natural operations will resemble the past because 
we have already somehow come to believe in the 
necessary connection of events. The gist of Hume's 
theory lies, therefore, in the explanation he has to give 
of this idea of necessary connection. He first shows 
that no such necessary connection is implied in any- 
thing given directly by observation. He easily refutes 
Locke's doctrine that we receive the idea from sensa- 
tion and reflection. What we observe is simply 
constant succession, or constant conjunction; of a 
supposed bond or connection between events, the 
experience of the senses can teach us nothing. 1 He 
argues with great force that the idea cannot be derived 
even from the consciousness of our acts of volition. 
His arguments on this point are in part valid against 

1 "All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows 
another, but we can never observe any tie between them. They seem 
conjoined, but never connected ' ("Works, iv. p. 84). 


Maine de Biran and others of the French school, who 
adopt this explanation ; and against Mansel, who sup- 
poses that we transfer the idea of cause, gained from 
the power of the will over its own determinations, to 
beings and objects generally. 1 We do know ourselves 
as spiritual causes, but this recognition already implies 
the idea of causation, and the legitimacy of the trans- 
ference of the idea to nature, and universalising of it, 
is not obvious. Failing every other explanation, there- 
fore, Hume falls back on CUSTOM, in which he claims to 
find the solution of the problem. When we have had 
frequent experience of similar conjunctions of events, 
a connection between the two is firmly established in 
the mind. The presence of the one event naturally 
suggests the idea of its usual attendant, and leads us 
to expect it. This tie, which is purely a connection 
between our own ideas formed by association, we 
transfer to the objects, and think of it as existing 
between them? So arises the idea of a necessary con- 
nection among objects. 

Briefly expressed, therefore, the idea of necessary 
connection among events is the result of custom and 
association uniting their ideas firmly in the mind. 
The mere fact of one event following another in a 
single instance, or in a few instances, would not of 
itself beget the idea of causation; but when, of two 
events, one is found constantly following the other, 
an association is formed which creates a firm con- 
nection in idea, and brings it about that the appear- 
ance of the one invariably suggests the idea of the 

1 Prol Log. pp. 139-40 ; Met. pp. 266-8. 

2 "Necessity is something that exists in the mind, not in objects" 
(Works, i. p. 212*. 


other. 1 In the vividness of conception with which the 
mind is carried from the one idea to the other, consists 
the nature of belief? With delightful naivete Hume 
points out how this tendency is confirmed when we 
find that the actual order of the world is conformable 
to the train of our thoughts and imaginations, and 
speaks of this as " a kind of pre-established harmony 
between the course of nature and the succession of our 
ideas." 3 

This searching examination of the validity of the 
causal idea was, as every one now acknowledges, pro- 
ductive of the best results in philosophy. First, like 
Hume's other speculations, it showed men clearly what 
were the legitimate consequences of certain principles ; 
and, second, it prompted them to a reinvestigation of 
the whole question. For it did not require a great 
degree of acumen to perceive that the explanation 
offered by Hume was far from covering all the facts. 
It labours under the radical defect of seeking to 
account for an idea, the nature and characteristics of 
which have never been sufficiently examined. Hume 
does not begin with a careful analysis of what is in- 
volved in the notion of cause, but proceeds at once 
to demand the impression from which the idea is 
derived. He admits that there is a necessary con- 
nection to be taken into account ; but, instead of first 
examining the nature of this necessity, and then ask- 
ing, as Kant did, how such an idea of necessary con- 
nection is possible, he forecloses discussion by the 
assumption that, if the idea is not copied from a 
sensible impression, it can have no meaning or validity. 

1 Works, iv. p. 85 ; of. i. p. 210. 2 Ibid. iv, p. 56. 

3 Ibid. iv. p. 62. 


As a preliminary criticism on the theory, a remark 
may be made on the peculiar place which Hume gives 
to the principle of custom in connection with it. It is 
difficult to know how precisely Hume conceives of this 
principle in relation to the general principles of associa- 
tion; whether it is supposed to be distinct, or is re- 
garded as only a special case of the latter. At all 
events, it is described by him in terms which imply 
that it itself operates as a true cause, or force, in the 
mind, determining the connection of ideas. The passage 
is instructive : 

" By employing that word (custom), we pretend not 
to have given the ultimate reason of such a propensity. 
We only point out a principle of human nature which 
is universal, acknowledged, and which is well known 
by its effects. Perhaps we can push our inquiries no 
further, or pretend to give the cause of this cause ; but 
must rest contented with it as the ultimate principle, 
which we can assign, of all our conclusions from ex- 
perience." l 

That is to say, in order to make out that causation 
has no real existence, Hume is compelled to assume a 
principle of causation operating in the very way he 
proposes to get rid of. Causation is to mean strictly 
nothing but constant conjunction of antecedent and 
consequent ; but in order to explain how we come to 
have a feeling of necessary connection between these 
two, he presupposes a cause which is not an antecedent, 
but an " ultimate principle " of mind, determining the 
connection of ideas. He disproves causation by the 
help of a principle of causation ; shows the idea to be 

1 Works, iv. p. 51. The italics call attention to the words and phrases 
deserving special notice. 



a fiction by means of a hypothesis which assumes its 
reality. Similar in effect is his continual use of 
language which implies the reality of " power," " force," 
"influence," "determination," "necessity," at the very 
moment when he is endeavouring to disprove that the 
mind has any such ideas. 

To see how far Hume's theory comes short of an 
adequate explanation of the ordinary notion of cause 
and effect, we may begin by quoting two passages from 
his writings on the nature of this relation : 

" "We suppose," he says, " that there is some connec- 
tion between them : some power in the one by which 
it infallibly produces the other, and operates with the 
greatest certainty and strongest necessity" 1 

Again: "When we consider the unknown circum- 
stance in one object by which the degree or quantity 
of its effect is fixed and determined, we call that its 
power/ 5 2 

It is implied in these statements that the idea of 
cause and effect is, as already seen, (1) that of a 
necessary connection; (2) that of an objective rela- 
tion ; and (3) involves the idea of power. Subsequent 
speculators, who have impugned the doctrine of Hume, 
have assailed it mainly either on the first of these 
grounds, showing that the confessed necessity inherent 
in the relation could never be engendered by custom ; 
or on the second, showing that custom and association 
could never account for the idea of a " fixed and de- 
termined" order of nature. On the other hand, the 
Association school have substantially adopted and de- 
fended the doctrine of Hume, Mr. Mill, e.g., resolutely 

1 Works, iv. p. 85. 

2 Ibid. iv. p. 88 (italics in both passages ours). 


upholding it in his Examination of Hamilton, under 
the name of "inseparable association" for Hume's 
"custom." An intermediate position was occupied by 
Dr. Thomas Brown, who, while adopting Hume's view 
so far as it denied the objective connection of events, 
yet differed strongly from Hume on the power of 
custom to generate belief in the uniformity of nature. 
On this latter point Brown has left many acute re- 
marks, but his own theory is not much better than 
the one he criticises. "Power," he says, "is nothing 
more than invariableness of antecedence." * This, how- 
ever, is a simple question of fact. Do men really 
mean no more than Brown asserts when they speak 
of power ? They mean, surely, by it, not only that one 
event follows another, has always followed it, and will 
always do so in the future, but that one object or event 
exercises a determining influence on another has an 
efficacy in producing change in the other. This ele- 
ment Brown entirely leaves out. He resolves the idea 
of cause into that of uniformity of nature, and, after 
showing that custom could never account for our belief 
in that uniformity, calls in an ultimate principle to 
explain the latter. As if that principle were not itself 
a cause in the rejected sense. Hume is more consistent 
in the description he gives of power, but likewise 
holds the idea to be a figment, because copied from 
no impression. The idea of power, however, which 
has its root for us in the consciousness of voluntary 
energy, is not to be thus summarily got rid of. Not 
to speak of modern systems which find the principle 
of existence even more in "Will" than in "Idea" 
(Schopenhauer, Hartmann), and of the preponderant 

1 Cause and Effect, p. 30. 


place occupied by the ideas of " force " and "energy" in 
modem science, it is surely a most curious inversion of 
Hume's position that our latest " positive " philosophy 
should be found basing its whole interpretation of 
nature and mind on the idea of Unknowable " Power " ! 
The objection to Hume on the ground of the 
necessity of the causal judgment has been urged by 
Kant (in connection with his general theory of know- 
ledge), by Keid, Hamilton, and many others, and is the 
favourite argument of those who adhere to what is 
called the " Intuitional " school. Custom, it is pointed 
out, cannot explain the quality of necessity in the causal 
judgment. It is a judgment we make, apparently, as 
soon as reflection commences, and not a single fact can 
be adduced to show that it increases in strength as 
time goes on. 1 It is also a judgment we make uni- 
versally; it extends to all new events, as well as to 
those which have been previously observed. Now, as 
Hamilton remarks, " Allow the force of custom to be as 
great as may be, it is always limited to the customary, 
and the customary has nothing whatever in it of the 
necessary. But we have here to account, not for a 
strong, but for an absolutely irresistible belief." 2 The 
reply of the empirical school to this is, that " inseparable 
association " has the power of engendering " irresistible 
belief," i.e., of creating a feeling equivalent to necessity, 
Mr, Spencer adds hereditary transmission of acquired 

1 Here again cause is not to be off-hand identified with uniformity of 
nature, as to which our knowledge is clarified and strengthened by ex- 
perience. But no change is ever held to be causers. 

2 Zeds, on Met. ii p. 393. The matter, however, it seems to us, is 
wrongly put, when rested on subjective necessity of belief. The necessity 
rather lies in the nature of the truth or principle, which shines in the 
light of its own rational self-evidence. 


beliefs as giving them enhanced strength. The diffi- 
culties of this explanation, however, become insuperable 
if we take into account the very stringent limits within 
which, by admission of the advocates of the theory, the 
principle of association can operate to generate an irre- 
sistible belief. u The phenomenon," Mr. Mill says, 
"must be so closely united to our experience, that 
we never perceive the one, without at the same time, 
or at the immediately succeeding moment, perceiving 
the other." 1 Again, "No frequency of conjunction 
between two phenomena will create an inseparable 
association, if counter-associations are being created 
all the while." 2 But can any one affirm that these 
conditions have ever been complied with in the case 
of the sequences of nature which we relate as causes 
and effects ? 

The more carefully, in fact, this theory of Hume's 
as to the genesis of the causal idea is examined, 
the more clearly it is seen to abound in assumptions 
and inconsequences. The explanation of belief in 
causal connection is thought to be found in experi- 
ence of constant conjunction of objects and events. 
But, in the first place, every constant conjunction is 
not a case of causation. There may be antecedence 
and consequence, invariable so far as our experience 
goes, to which we yet do not attribute causal con- 
nection. To take the familiar example, day follows 
night, and night follows day ; but it is not held that 
the one is the cause of the other. Else, as Reid 
observes, every case of habitual association would be 
a case of causation. There is a German proverb, " Who 
says A, says B," but A is not on that account held 

3 Exam, of Sam, p. 266. 2 Ibid. 


to be the cause of B. The idea of even invariable 
sequence, therefore, is to be distinguished from that 
of causation. But, in the second place, granting, as 
of course we must, that causes and effects are con- 
stantly conjoined in nature, it is certainly not the case 
that belief in causal connection arises from experience 
of this constant conjunction. In how many instances 
do we observe changes of which the causes are wholly 
unknown to us? Nature is full of apparent irregu- 
larities. The cases in which a sequence has been 
observed so often as to generate a fixed belief through 
custom, are few in comparison with the others. " Among 
so many unconnected but coexisting phenomena," says 
Dr. Brown, "as are perpetually taking place around 
us, it is impossible that in the multitude of trains of 
sequence the parts of one train alone should always 
be observed by us; and the mind, therefore, even 
though originally led to believe in causation or original 
sequence, must soon be rendered doubtful of its first 
belief, when, from the comparison of parts of trains, 
the expected sequence is found to be different" l Again, 
speaking of the numberless cases in which we observe 
a new phenomenon, the same ingenious writer observes : 
"If it be the experience of custom alone which can 
give us that belief of connection by which we denomi- 
nate a change an effect, we are in this case not merely 
without a customary sequence; we have not seen a 
single case of it. Yet there is no one who does not 
believe the change to be an effect as completely as 
if he had witnessed every preceding circumstance." 2 
This leads to a third remark, that it is not the case 
that long experience of conjunction is needed to pro- 
1 Gauze and Effect, p. 122. 3 Ibid. p. 133. 


duce the conviction of causation. It is often sufficient 
to produce the idea of causal connection to see one 
clear instance of the change. The child, e.y. t that 
burns its fingers at the candle (to use an illustration 
of Hume's own *), does not need a second trial to deter 
it from repeating the experiment. So in science, one 
crucial experiment under appropriate conditions may 
be decisive. 

We pass to yet deeper ground when we proceed, 
as a next step, to the second form of objection to 
Hume's theory that it can render no account of the 
objective character of the judgment of causality. The 
force of this will be apparent in view of what has been 
said in the previous chapter, of our idea of an objective 
order. On Hume's principles, what we have passing 
through the mind or rather what constitutes the 
mind is simply a succession of impressions and ideas. 
Any conjunction or association of these is only a union 
of our ideas with each other. But it was before shown 
that there is the broadest possible distinction between 
the succession of our own thoughts, and the objective 
succession of events in nature, and that a large part 
of the plausibility of Hume's doctrine depends on his 
continually confounding these two orders the order 
of thought and the order of things with each other. 
On any hypothesis, it must be admitted that men do 
make this distinction between the course of their own 
thoughts and the objective course of nature, we found 
Hume himself making the distinction, and even speak- 
ing (popularly, no doubt) of the " pre-established har- 
mony" between them, and there is as little doubt 
that when we speak of the relation of cause and effect, 

1 Works, iv. p. 45. 


it is the objective order, not the subjective, we have 
in view. To say that fire molts wax, that prussic acid 
destroys life, that a storm wrecks a ship, is more than 
a description of a succession of impressions and ideas 
in the mind. It expresses a relation of these objects 
among themselves, and modes of their actions upon 
one another, irrespective of the order in which they 
may chance to be presented to our thoughts. In point 
of fact, the effect may be observed before the cause, 
or the cause may never be observed at all. Flame 
causes heat (another of Hume's illustrations), but I 
may perceive the heat before I am led to observe 
the flame. It is not without reason, therefore, that 
Hume is found constantly exchanging "ideas" with 
"objects," and affirming of the latter what is true 
only of the former. 

But Kant goes deeper. It is essential to Hume's 
theory of the derivation of the causal judgment, that, 
prior to the possession of the idea of causality, we should 
observe successions of phenomena in a fixed order. 
It is from observation of their regular conjunctions 
that the idea is supposed to be obtained. It is here 
that Kant strikes in with his penetrating criticism. 
In assuming the existence of an objective world, and 
of orderly succession in that world, you have, he 
argues, already implicitly supposed the operation of 
that causal principle which you imagine yourself to 
obtain from your experience of it. For what is meant 
by speaking of objects, and of a succession of objects, 
in the natural world ? To speak of a thing as object 
at all, is, as shown in last chapter, to give that thing 
a place in an order or system which has a subsistence, 
coherence, and connection of parts, irrespective of the 


course of our ideas of it. It implies an order in which 
the parts are definitely related to each other, in which 
each has its place fixed by relation to the other parts. 
But such an order already involves is constituted for 
our thought and experience through this very prin- 
ciple of causation which we are proposing to derive 
from it. This does not mean that in the system of 
nature each antecedent is regarded as the cause of its 
immediate consequent. But it does mean that every 
term in that succession has its definite place assigned 
to it in the order of the whole, and this is only possible 
through causal relations. The idea of cause may not 
per se imply that of a fixed order; but it is indis- 
putable that the idea of a fixed order implies that 
of cause. Else any given phenomenon would be an 
accident; it might appear equally well at any point 
of the series of events; it would not be integrated 
with the other phenomena as part of an objective 
system. If this be clearly understood, it is fatal to 
the acceptance of Hume's theory, for it shows that his 
derivation of the causal judgment from experience of 
constant conjunctions is an inversion of the actual 
state of the case. 

This enables us to give an answer to the question 
formerly postponed as to the real ground of our belief 
in the uniformity of nature. Hume wishes to know 
how it comes about that, having observed causation 
in a particular instance, we are led to extend this belief 
in causation to similar and future instances. The 
simple answer would seem to be that, in default of 
reason to the contrary, we regard bodies which exhibit 
similar properties, or, as Hume would say, have like 
sensible qualities, as being the same in nature; we 


therefore expect them to operate in the same way. 
That judgment may be correct, or may prove, on 
experiment, to be in whole or part erroneous. Objects 
apparently similar may really differ in some unknown 
respect, or the uniformity we have discovered in their 
action may prove liable to modification (e.g., the ex- 
pansion of water at freezing-point). We thus correct 
mistakes, and enlarge our knowledge of the true laws 
and constitution of nature ; but our confidence is never 
shaken that, so far as we have discovered the real 
nature of objects, they will continue to act according 
to that nature. So far from reason having nothing 
to do with the "inference" we make, it is precisely 
because we believe nature to be a rationally-constituted 
system that we expect constancy in it. 

A few words may now be said, on the basis of 
these discussions, on the true origin and nature of this 
idea of causation. Hume seeks to subvert the causal 
judgment by showing that it spring^ (to use words 
employed in another connection), not from the " cogita- 
tive," but from the "sensitive" part of our nature 
that is, that there is no ground for it in reason. In 
truth, as just said, it is reason, and reason alone, that 
will yield it. The fundamental postulate of reason is, 
that whatever exists, has some rational explanation of 
its existence ; that whatever changes take place, there 
is always a reason which explains these changes. A 
mind to which this is not self-evident on the mere 
statement of it, can never have it proved to it by argu- 
ment. In pure thinking, at least, it will be admitted that 
there is a rational sequence in ideas. In a geometrical 
demonstration, e.g., what we have is not simply one idea 
following upon another, and united with that other by 


association. There is perceived a connection in reason 
between the premises and the conclusion. In the world 
of reality it is not different. We may not perceive the 
reason of a change, but we have no manner of doubt 
that there is a reason, and a sufficient one. Either, as 
in the case of a self -determining agent, the being has 
the reason of the change within himself ; or, as in the 
case of natural (selfless) phenomena, the object is deter- 
mined to be what it is by something beyond itself. It 
is this idea of established connection on some rational 
principle which we denominate " necessary connection " 
in nature a connection not indeed metaphysically 
necessary, as if the constitution of nature might not 
conceivably have been other than it is, but factually 
necessary. Metaphysical necessity inheres only in the 
rational principle that a cause or reason there must be. 
When, accordingly, Hume says that there is never per- 
ceived any rational connection between cause and 
effect, he greatly oversteps the evidence. A man 
frames, we shall suppose, the plan of a house or design 
of a machine ; will any one say that when his plan or 
design is executed, it is simply a case of one thing 
following another, and that there is no rational con- 
necting principle between means and end? When a 
writer like Hume conceives a book intended to convey 
to other minds an idea of a particular philosophical 
system, will any one affirm that there is no connection 
save that of accidental succession between the thoughts 
of the original author, the book he has produced, and 
the impression it makes upon the reader? Even in 
external nature, if the laws concerned in the production 
of a particular phenomenon are clearly grasped, say 
the laws of chemical combination, is it correct to say 


that you cannot, up to a certain point, give a rational 
explanation of the effects that are produced? Else 
what do we mean by explanation ? The result of the 
whole is, that Hume's endeavour to get rid of reason 
in the sphere of causation is as vain as his efforts to 
explain the rise of knowledge without a conscious, 
thinking mind, without rational principles of connec- 
tion among ideas, and without the recognition of an 
objective world, by reference to which our internal 
states are known to be internal. 

In closing this chapter, allusion must be made to one 
other topic directly connected with the subject of 
causation. None of the great speculators on causation 
have left out of view the bearings of their doctrine on 
Free- Will; and Hume likewise has an application of 
his theory to "Liberty and Necessity/' in which he 
consistently reduces all human action to the same law 
of necessity as prevails in nature. " Thus it appears," 
he says, "that the conjunction between motives and 
voluntary actions is as regular as that between cause 
and effect in any part of nature; 1 while he defines 
liberty as simply "a power of acting or not acting 
according to the determinations of the will." 2 And 
at first Hume seems justified; for if causation is a 
necessary principle of connection among phenomena, 
how shall volitions, any more than other phenomena, 
be withdrawn from its scope ? 

One answer that might be given, which is also in part 
Kant's, is that causation applies only to nature to the 
phenomenal world not to the world of spirit. In the 
outward world necessity rules; in mind or spirit, 
freedom. Dugald Stewart wrote : " This maxim (that 
1 Works, iv. p. 100. 2 m ^ p> 107< 


every change implies the operation of a cause), although 
true with respect to inanimate matter, does not apply 
to intelligent agents, which cannot be conceived without 
the power of self-determination." The obvious fault of 
this statement is, that it does not cover all the facts. 
It is not true that causation is confined only to the 
objective world, or to inanimate nature. The will itself 
is a cause, and acts outwards on nature, as well as in 
the regulation of thought and conduct. The principle 
of causation does not apply only to changes in nature, 
but to the fact of change as such. In a large part (the 
involuntary part) of our inward life in the sensitive 
nature, the passions, the emotions, the workings of 
association and habit the reign of causation is as 
obvious as in the world of matter. 

Yet probably it is in this line of what Kant says of 
causation as a category of nature that the real solution 
of our problem is to be sought. If, as was previously 
urged, it is the " I " which is the relating principle in 
knowledge that which relates objects in their causal, 
as in other, connections it seems obvious that it 
cannot itself be treated as one of the objects which 
it helps to relate. It is above the natural order, 
with its laws of causation. This is viewing the self 
as thinking, but the same applies to it as acting as 
mil. In the simple fact of self -consciousness, the self 
knows itself raised above nature with its law of external 
necessitation of determination ab extra. To it belongs 
the power, which is wanting to external nature, of dis- 
tinguishing itself from objects without, and from desires 
and passions within, and of determining itself freely 
in light of principles and ends. Man, as Kant says, is a 
being that acts under the representation of ends. This 


does not mean that the will at any time acts without 
reason or motive; for every act of a free, rational 
nature, there will always be a " why." But it is given 
to the self to determine itself ab intra ; it is a cause 
which originates action, but is not itself an effect. 
Through unfaithfulness or vicious choice, a man may, 
indeed, part with this high prerogative, and become 
the slave of passion : it is the problem of our moral con- 
dition that we do find ourselves in alienation from our 
tiniest selves, and in bondage to evil. But regarded 
in the light of his essential nature, man's dignity 
consists in his power of self-determination, and in 
regulation of his life by rational and moral ends. 

In human freedom, therefore, there is no contradic- 
tion of the law of causation, but rather the raising of 
that law to its own ultimate principle in self-conscious 
personality. It is but following out the same thought, 
if we come to see that the final explanation of the 
causal order even of nature of the objective system 
must lie, not in an infinite regress of finite causes and 
effects, but in a principle on which the whole depends ; 
a principle rational and self-conscious in Spinoza's 
phrase, but in a personal sense, Causa sui. 



THE two great metaphysical categories are those of 
causality and substance. On them rests the entire 
structure of physical science. The natural philosopher 
must assume the unconditional validity of the prin- 
ciple of causation ; not less implicitly must he assume 
the principle of the indestructibility of substance. All 
his reasonings and calculations would else be abortive. 
The sceptic, therefore, who can subvert these two 
important categories by showing them to be chimerical 
and unreal, may justly claim to have overturned the 
whole fabric of knowledge. It has been shown how 
Hume attempted to achieve this with regard to the 
category of cause. It is now to be considered how it 
fares with his assault on the second of these categories 
that of substance. 

Substance we found to be one of the ideas which 
caused Locke particular difficulty. He was unwilling 
to part with it; he upheld to the last its validity; 
but he could give no intelligible account of it. 
The senses reveal to us only qualities of objects 
colours, sounds, tastes, hardness, etc.; they tell us 
nothing of an unknown something in which these 



qualities inhere. Hume was less considerate and more 

"I would fain ask those philosophers," he says, 
"who found so much of their reasonings on the dis- 
tinction of substance and accident, and imagine we 
have clear ideas of each, whether the idea of substance 
be derived from the impressions of sensation and re- 
flection ? If it be conveyed to us by our senses, I ask, 
which of them, and after what manner ? If it be per- 
ceived by the eyes, it must be a colour ; if by the ears, 
a sound ; if by the palate, a taste ; and so of the other 
senses. But I believe that none will assert that sub- 
stance is either a colour, or sound, or a taste. The 
idea of substance must therefore be derived from the 
impression of reflection, if it really exist. But the 
impressions of reflection resolve themselves into our 
passions and emotions, none of which can possibly 
represent a substance. We have, therefore, no idea of 
substance distinct from that of a collection of particular 
qualities, nor have we any other meaning when we 
either talk or reason concerning it. 

" The idea of a substance as well as that of a mode, 
is nothing but a collection of simple ideas, that are 
united by the imagination, and have a particular name 
assigned them, by which we are able to recall, either 
to ourselves or others, that collection." 1 

The language of Dr. Thomas Brown is almost iden- 
tical with that of Hume on this subject. 2 So too is 
that of J. S. Mill in his Logic? though in his Examina- 
tion of Hamilton he is forced to add something to his 
view by the introduction of " permanent possibilities of 

1 "Works, i. pp. 31, 32. 2 Cause wid Effect, Note C, p. 499, 

3 Logic, i. p. 63. 


sensation." In Mr. Spencer, substance expresses the 
persistence of the Unknowable Power (Force), which 
is the ultimate reality behind both matter and mind. 1 

This denial of the idea of substance by Hume leads 
naturally to certain important sceptical results. 

1. And, first, as the consequence of this denial, there 
falls necessarily the idea of an independently existing 
material world. Here, also, we saw that Locke was 
guilty of several patent inconsistenciea Assuming, to 
account for his ideas, a world of objects outside the 
mind, he began by taking this external world for 
granted, and only when his theory was completed, 
considered the question of his right to make so vast 
an assumption. Hume proceeds more regularly, and 
examines at length the question of the veracity of the 
senses in Pt. iv. sec. 2 of his Treatise. He assumes 
as a point which admits of no doubt, that men do 
believe in the existence of body, that is, in its con- 
tinued and distinct existence, and proposes to investi- 
gate the causes wherefore they do so. The opinion 
must arise either from the senses, the reason, or the 
imagination. But it cannot arise from the senses, 
for these give only isolated perceptions, and say 
nothing of existences which lie beyond. As little can 
this opinion arise from reason, for reason teaches, 
first, that nothing can ever be present to the mind but 
its own perceptions ; and, second, that perceptions can 
only exist while they are actually perceived. So far 
we have little more than a reproduction of the 
Berkeleian idealism. To reconcile these contradic- 
tions, philosophers (e.g., Locke) have feigned a world 
of objects which lie beyond ideas and produce them. 

1 Principles of Psychology, i. pt. ii. ch. i. 


But this is not only in itself absurd and opposed to 
popular belief, but it is incapable of proof. The vulgar 
idea of the natural world is simply that of the con- 
tinued existence of the sense-perceptions themselves. 1 
The belief must therefore be due to imagination. 
Hume accordingly attempts to show how it can be 
accounted for by the principles of association, co- 
operating with the coherence and constancy of the 
sense appearances, and with a "propensity to feign" 
continued existence in the case of interrupted percep- 
tions. 2 The result is that we are compelled by irre- 
sistible instinct to believe in the independent existence 
of material things, while, on the other hand, the 
slightest reflection demonstrates this belief to be an 

"The opinion of external existence, if rested on 
natural instinct, is contrary to reason, and, if referred 
to reason, is contrary to natural instinct, and carries 
no rational evidence with it to convince an impartial 
inquirer/' 3 

1 It is certain, on the other hand, that mankind generally distinguish 
the objects they perceive from their perceptions, and regard them as 
other than their perceptions. Even as regards the so-called " secondary 
qualities," the "vulgar" are quite capable of discerning that the sweet 
taste they feel is in them and not in the sugar, the burning sensation in 
them, and not in the poker that touches them, etc. They can dis- 
tinguish the objects from their sensations. 

2 Works, i. p, 262. 

3 Ibid. iv. p, 177. Wundt may be compared. The external world is 
explained through "ideas which we distinguish as objects and images of 
objects." The idea of an external world is "that of a sum-total of 
objects" ; and it is granted that "external nature is a constituent part 
of our consciousness." J3ut, "it belongs to our inner experience just as 
much as any single object does, and has no reality apart from the 
experiences " (Ethics, ii. p. 44, Eng. tr.). So, "matter is a hypothetical 
conception which we ourselves, impelled on the one hand by the 


II is very remarkable that when Hume is dwelling 
on the fact that " all these objects (mountains, houses, 
trees, etc.) to which we attribute a continued existence 
have a peculiar constancy, which distinguishes them 
from the impressions whose existence depends on our 
perceptions," and that even in their changes "they 
preserve a coherence, and have a regular dependence on 
each other " 1 (the fire, e.g., we left burning is extinct 
by the time we return), he does not perceive that 
he is already assuming the existence of that very 
objective order for which it is his business to account. 
It is not as " fleeting and perishing " internal impres- 
sions 2 that our perceptions exhibit this constancy and 
coherence, but as presenting objects to the mind under 
independent relations of coexistence, succession, and 

2. But, second, rejecting the notion of an external 
world, have we any better ground for asserting the 
reality, permanence, and distinct existence of the mind 
or self? The discussion of this subject is omitted 
in the later Enquiry, but the question is fully gone 
into in the Treatise, sec. 6, "of Personal Identity," 
and elsewhere. In these places Hume clearly shows 
that on his original principles we must dismiss the idea 
of a self, as well as that of material objects. 

" What we call a mind," he says, " is nothing but a 
heap or collection of different perceptions, united 
together by certain relations, and supposed, though 
falsely, to be endowed with perfect simplicity and 
identity." 3 

relative constancy of objects, and on the other by the logical demands 
of thought, have manufactured" (p. 46). 
1 Works, i. p. 246. 2 Ibid. i. pp. 246-7. 3 Hid. i. p. 260. 


More expressly : " Setting aside some metaphysicians 
of this kind, I may venture to affirm of the rest of man- 
kind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection 
of different perceptions, which succeed each other with 
an inconceivable i*apidity, and are in a perpetual flux 
and movement. . . . The mind is a kind of theatre, 
where several perceptions successively make their 
appearance; pass, repass, glide away, and mingle in 
an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is 
properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity 
in different, whatever natural propension we may have 
to imagine that simplicity and identity. The com- 
parison of the theatre must not mislead us. They 
are the successive perceptions only that constitute the 
mind; nor have we the most distant notion of the 
place where these scenes are represented, or of the 
materials of which it is composed." 1 

In this uncompromising theory Hume passes far 
beyond Berkeley, though there are indications that the 
latter had also the extreme position before his mind. 

It was these daringly sceptical conclusions which, 
as we formerly saw, awakened Reid, and prompted 
him to a reinvestigation of the principles from which 
they followed. Keid, standing on the ground of com- 

1 Works, i. pp. 312-13. "Wundt, again, whom Professor James largely 
follows, may be compared. "The self-contradictory conception of an 
immaterial matter [ ' ], a substance lacking in permanence, an infinitely 
divisible atom, can be regarded only as a metaphysical superfluity, 
which perplexes rather than facilitates our understanding of psychical 
life." . . . "Representations mil then not be objects but processes, 
phenomena belonging to a ceaseless inner stream of events. Feeling, 
desires, and volitions will be parts of this stream, inseparable in actuality 
from representations, and like these the expressions of no independent 
existences or forces ; rather possessing reality only as individual feel- 
ings, desires, or volitions " (Mhics, iii, pp. 46-7). 


mon sense, naturally and justly regarded the attempt 
to disprove the permanent reality of a self in conscious- 
ness as the reductio ad absurd/urn of all philosophy. 
His reply, however, was not as profound as it might 
have been. He could only fall back on the resistless 
conviction possessed by every man, that the thoughts of 
which he is conscious belong to one and the same think- 
ing principle what he calls himself, a conviction 
which Hume did not deny. The true answer would 
have been to show, as a previous chapter indicated, 1 that 
without the presupposition of this permanent self or 
ego in consciousness there could be no consciousness at 
all. This was the irrefutable principle enunciated by 
Kant in his " Deduction of the Categories," and in light 
of it, the untenable character of Hume's position is 
very apparent. Hume, in the above passage, makes 
self "nothing but a heap (or bundle) or collection 
of different perceptions, united together by certain 
relations/' But what unites the perceptions in one 
consciousness? It cannot be the perceptions them- 
selves, for these are " fleeting and perishing/' and each 
has knowledge only of its own existence. What then 
is it which binds the perceptions into their several 
"bundles," or who or what perceives the relations 
between them ? How, e.g., is perception a known to 
belong to bundle A rather than to bundles B or C ? 
How can the individual even appear to himself as a 
unity ? There is no answer to these questions on the 
principles of Hume ; none, perhaps, even on the prin- 
ciples of Mr. Spencer, whose " aggregates " of states of 
consciousness bear a doubtful resemblance to Hume's 
" bundles." We have only to go back to Hume's own 
1 See above, p. 112. 


sentences to see how inevitably the "we" slips in, if 
only in " the natural propension we have to imagine " 
simplicity and identity. Mr. Mill indeed felt the force 
of some of these difficulties ; but his " series of feelings 
aware of itself as past and future" 1 only made the 
position more hopeless than ever. As he himself put 
it, "we are reduced to the alternative of believing 
that the mind or ego is something different from any 
series of feelings or possibility of them, or of accepting 
the paradox that something which ex hypothesi is but 
a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series." 2 
It does not destroy the value of this deduction of the 
reality of the ego in consciousness, that, under the 
influence of his peculiar idealism, Kant refused to 
identify this "I" with the "noumenal" self, or to 
permit the application to it of the categories. 3 The 
great point against Hume is to show that there is an 
" I " at all in consciousness, as distinct from the par- 
ticular impressions or ideas. It may be a fair question 
whether " substance " (which with Kant is a category 
of nature) is the best term to apply to a spiritual 
subject like the self. There need be no controversy 
on a question of mere nomenclature. The essential 
thing is the admission of a thinking principle which 
abides one and the same through the changing states 

1 Exam, of Haw. pp. 212-13. 

2 Ibid. p. 213. Lotze puts the point thus : "Our belief in the soul's 
unity rests not on our appearing to ourselves such, a unity, but on our 
being able to appear to ourselves at all. . . . What a being appears 
to itself to be is not the important point ; if it can appear anyhow to 
itself, or other things to it, it must be capable of unifying manifold 
phenomena in an absolute indivisibility of its nature " (Merocosmts, i. 
p. 157). 

3 Kant admits that if the phenomenal self docs not represent the real 
self, it at least indicates its existence. 


of consciousness, knows them as its own states, relates 
them to itself, to one another, and to objects. Hume 
said, " I never can catch myself at any time without 
a perception"; 1 to which Professor Calderwood very 
appositely retorted that it was enough if he could catch 
himself with one. This is the self of which each one 
of us Is conscious, and which we cannot think without 
assuming. The consciousness of personal identity may 
arise through memory, in comparison of the present 
state of self with a past state ; but it is not through 
memory, as is sometimes assumed, that personal iden- 
tity is constituted? The reverse is the truth, for it is 
only as I am one and the same person throughout, that 
I retain the memory of past acts, and am able to recog- 
nise them as imaged in consciousness as my very own. 
Reverting to the question of the reality of an ex- 
ternal world which in its connection with the theory 
of perception has always been the cr ux of philosophy 
it is probably again to Kant that we must look for 
the deepest vindication, not certainly of the independent 
existence of the world, but of the rational character 
and necessity of the principle of substance implied in 
our apprehension of it. It has been shown in the 
previous discussion that the question of self and that 
of the reality of an objective world are far from unre- 
lated; that they are, in fact, but different sides of 
the same question. There is no consciousness of self 
which does not include, as its inseparable correlative, 
the consciousness of an other than self, which the 
mind grows to apprehend as a world of "objects," 
with which it stands in closest relations, alike as 
receiving impressions from it, and as itself acting 
1 Works, i. j). 312, 2 Of. Butler on "Personal Identity." 


upon it and effecting changes in it. This, in fact, 
Hume admits under the name of "vulgar belief"; 
but it is to be observed that, apart from vulgar belief, 
and speaking purely as philosopher, he is compelled 
continually to make the same acknowledgment. His 
pages, as has been shown, are full of language which 
has no meaning except on the assumption that there 
is a world of "objects," a "succession of events," a 
" course of nature," different and distinguishable from 
the subjective course of thought and feeling. 1 It is 
for the constitution of such a world that Kant is able 
to show the indispensableness and a priori character 
of the principle of substance. In the view of Hume, 
substance is a "fictitious" idea the imaginary sup- 
port of qualities, perceptions, states of consciousness, 
which are given in "heaps" or "bundles," as others 
would say, "groups" without any such suggestion 
of invisible support. But the question is Are the 
objects we perceive cognized as mere " bundles of per- 
ceptions," or, in Mr. Spencer's phrase, "vivid states 
of consciousness " ? Is it not of the very idea of an 
object-world that it is conceived of as having a sub- 
sistence, connection, modes of action, and successions 
of its own that it goes its own way, in obedience 
to its own laws not necessarily in independence of 

1 Numberless passages might be quoted in illustration, but the follow- 
ing may suffice : 

" We may discover that though those internal impressions which we 
regard as fleeting and perishing [the same description is applied on 
previous page (p. 246) to all impressions] have also a certain coherence 
or regularity in their appearances, yet it is of a somewhat different 
nature from that which we discover in bodies. . . . The case is not the 
same with external objects. Those require a continued existence, or 
otherwise lose, in a great measure, the regularity of their operation 
(Works, i. p. 247). 


all thought, but independently at least of my indi- 
vidual knowledge and experience of it ? The question 
is not, how a " bundle of perceptions " is held together 
in the mind, but how a world of the kind now 
described can exist? Kant fixes on the true idea of 
substance as that of a permanent subsisting in the 
midst of change, and proves, we think irrefutably, 
that this idea is involved in the very possibility of 
such experience as we have. He does not, like Hume, 
raise the question as to whether we have a knowledge 
of an objective order; but, starting from the fact of 
such an order as given in experience, he asks only 
what principles of rational connection are implied in it, 
and finds the principle of substance to be one of them. 
This important position of Kant deserves further 
elucidation. Others besides him have seen the need 
of explaining the permanent in experience; but the 
theories they frame to account for it would be less 
plausible if they paid more attention to the fact of 
change, which Kant emphasises. Mr. Mill, e.g., sup- 
poses that, having found by long experience a group 
of attributes regularly appearing under certain circum- 
stances, we learn to expect their return, and come to 
regard them, even when absent, as " permanent possi- 
bilities of sensation." 1 But this is by no means the 
prominent idea in the thought of substance. We 
understand by substance something which persists, 
not merely when circumstances and groups of sen- 
sations remain the same, but when all these are 
changing. How is the idea of substance in this sense 
to be accounted for? Association can hardly come 
into play here, for all appearances are against the 
1 Exam, of Ham. pp. 192-200, etc. 


permanence. But the strongest objection to this whole 
group of theories turns on the point already men- 
tioned, that one and all they fail to give an account 
of permanence in an objective system. Association 
may create a subjective union among ideas which have 
always been found together ; but unquestionably it is 
a very different kind of bond among phenomena we 
are in search of when we speak of the permanence 
of substance. Mr. Mill himself says: "The matter 
composing the universe, whatever philosophical theory 
we hold concerning it [?], we know by experience [?] 
to be constant in quantity, never beginning, never 
ending, only changing its form!' 1 The truth is, that 
the principle of the permanence of substance which 
lies at the basis of our conception of an "object" 
cannot be manufactured by any process which does 
not already imply its existence. It is the firm basis 
of all objective experience, and to subvert it would 
be to destroy at once the possibility of experience 
and the possibility of science. 

To these considerations in support of the substan- 
tiality of the material universe, the reply may be 
pertinently made, that we have not yet, in answer 
to Hume, shown how real knowledge of such a world 
is possible, or met his arguments in proof that what 
we call perception of objects is simply a subjective 
state. Is the proof not overwhelming, it may be said, 
that what we name sense-impressions are simply in- 
ternal affections of mind, and not the apprehension of 
any qualities existing in objects without? And have 
we not daily corroboration of this in the fallacy of 
the reports which the senses bring (e.g., the bent stick 
1 Exam, of Ham. p. 295, 


in water)? On this much exploited subject of the 
" fallacy " of the senses, it may be sufficient to observe 
at present that we can only properly speak of " fallacy " 
by an implied contrast with a real order of nature, 
which, therefore, is assumed to exist, and to be at 
least in part known. Just as the physiological method 
of speaking of sensations as affections of (or images 
in) the " brain " implies the existence as prius of that 
important organ. Every one is familiar to some extent 
with the limits to be set to the trustworthiness of the 
senses ; but every one is also aware that, assuming our 
knowledge of the objective world to be as well founded 
as we ordinarily suppose it to be, it is possible from 
the laws of light, sound, etc., to give an explanation 
of these alleged deceptions of the senses, which clearly 
enough shows how the appearances arise from which 
our wrong inferences are drawn. It is because there 
is an objective system, with its fixed laws, that these 
appearances are what they are. Still the question is 
not answered as to how we have this knowledge of 
reality external to ourselves at all. Hume's dilemma 
is twofold: (1) Either the object is something truly 
external to the mind, in which case the mind cannot 
know it, or even obtain a clue to the fact of its exist- 
ence, since mind cannot in the nature of things over- 
leap its own consciousness get outside its own ideas ; 
or (2) the object is an idea of the mind or " bundle of 
perceptions " (which is his own hypothesis) in which 
case there is no external world to know, and our 
knowledge of it is illusion. 

It may be of use here to glance briefly first at some 
of the results brought out by Hume's speculations in 
the school most opposed to him that of Keid and 


Hamilton. Reid, as is well known, attacked Hume 
in his fundamental position that nothing can ever be 
present to the mind but its own perceptions a point 
too readily conceded by Kant. This at least is Hamil- 
ton's interpretation of Reid ; and though Reid was not 
always guarded in his language, yet, taking his whole 
position into account, it seems probable that it is the 
correct one. Reid meant, in other words, to defend the 
doctrine of what Hamilton afterwards called " Natural 
Realism." He did so, as usual, on the ground of com- 
mon sense, or natural irresistible conviction. So far, 
it is a fair reply that Hume never denied the existence 
of that natural conviction to which Reid appealed; 
what he did attempt to show was that it was irre- 
concilable with reason. But beyond this, Reid met 
Hume on his own ground, and sought with more or 
less success to prove that this natural belief is not 
merely instinctive, a product of the sensitive, and not 
of the cogitative part of our nature, but is based on 
knowledge; i.e., a priori intellectual principles are in- 
volved in it. Dr. Thomas Brown, who came after, 
yielded the whole ground to the sceptic. He grants 
that the mind is conscious only of its own states, 
concedes that on the principles of reason the sceptical 
arguments admit of no reply, and has nothing to op- 
pose to Hume but the invincible persuasion of external 
reality which Hume had not thought of disputing. 
The doctrine of Reid was taken up and developed by 
Sir William Hamilton. But in developing it Hamilton 
found so much to alter and correct, that in the end the 
homely Reid would have felt it hard to discover any 
trace of himself in his critic's recondite speculations. 
Hamilton's position may be described as an attempt 


to combine a realistic system, founded on Eeid's, with 
a doctrine of relativity, akin in some respects to Kant's. 
Some of the difficulties that pressed on Reid's theory 
he endeavours to avoid by his distinction of Presenta- 
tive and Representative Perception, and of an Organic 
and Extra-Organic sphere of sense-perception. In the 
perception of a table, e.g., it is not the outward object 
I directly perceive, but its illuminated retinal image ; 
in pressing the table with my hand, on the contrary, 
I am directly conscious of the presence of an extended, 
solid object, external to myself. Sense, in both cases, 
contributes its part, and qualifies and modifies the 
total impression hence the "relativity" of all our 
perceptions. The counter developments in the Associa- 
tion school, which stand in direct lineage to Hume, 
need not detain us. The service of this school is the 
minute attention it has bestowed on the influence of 
association in all mental processes; but the result 
arrived at is the same as in Hume, viz., that be- 
lief in an external world is a product of association 
working on sensations which are found to have a 
certain coherence and constancy in their appearances. 
Mr. Spencer attempts a "synthesis" of the opposing 
views. On the metaphysical side his theory claims 
to be one of Realism a " Transfigured Realism" 
but on the psychological side is not unlike Hume's 
in seeking to show how from the association of vivid 
and faint states of consciousness, we come to form 
ideas of objects without us. 1 The modern school has 

1 Of. Green's searching criticism in published Works, vol. i. The 
apparently intuitional character of some of our ideas, as of space and 
time, Mr. Spencer explains by inheritance. But inheritance cannot 
account for these ideas unless they lay also in the original experiences. 


devoted itsell specially to the investigation of the 
physiological conditions of perception. The value of 
these labours in their own sphere is very great ; but 
their importance for the solution of the ultimate 
problem may easily be exaggerated. 

Looking at the problem from our own standpoint, 
it may first bo conceded that Hume is not altogether 
wrong in the account he gives of perception, though, 
at every stage, through neglect of the rational element 
in knowledge, his treatment is marked by oversights. 
He is right, e.g., in his original concession of the irre- 
sistible compulsion laid on mankind even on philo- 
sophers to believe in the reality and continued 
existence of an external world, and in his vivid 
descriptions of the coherence and constancy of those 
perceptions which determine the mind to belief in that 
continued existence. He is right, further, in his conten- 
tion that this belief is not the result of reason in the 
sense of conscious ratiocination. It is the case, as he 
declares, that our belief in an external world is not the 
product of conscious or voluntary reflection. Nature 
takes in hand with the formation of the judgments 
involved in this belief long before reflective thought 
awakens; and so thoroughly does she do her work, 
that, in the first dawn of self-conscious life, we already 
find ourselves in possession of the knowledge of a 
world which experience, while correcting many primi- 
tive judgments by more mature ones, finds in the main 
to be reliable. This, however, does not imply, as Hume 
supposes, that the process is irrational, or originates in 
the " sensitive " as distinguished from the " cogitative " 
part of our nature. It only shows that there is an 
unconscious operation of reason before there is a 


conscious one. We are here in the region of what 
Professor James would term "the subliminal self." 
We may not be able to re-think the process, but we 
are assured that, if we could re-think it, it would 
explain and justify the belief we have in an external 
world, as well as elucidate the anomalies of what we 
call the " illusions " of the senses. 

Yet again, we found that Hume connects the im- 
mediate presentation of the object in perception with 
the peculiar "liveliness" of our impressions (cf. Mr. 
Spencer's " vivid states ") ; nor is he altogether wrong 
in this, though he states the fact inaccurately. The 
sensation which is always connected with perception 
is of a peculiarly lively nature, has an indefinable 
quality of vividness, which, as Hume says, distinguishes 
it from its image in memory and imagination. But he 
errs, first, in supposing that the perception consists 
merely or in its distinctive character of perception 
consists at all in this presence of sensation. In 
reality, as deeper analysis shows, it involves a multi- 
tude of judgments through which we define an object 
to ourselves as existing in relations. 1 Into it there 
enters likewise a large number of other elements derived 
from previous experience from memory, association, 
acquired judgments, etc. constituting it in its totality 
a highly complex fact. 2 But, second, Hume inverts the 
real relation in basing our belief in the object on the 
vividness of the mental impressions, whereas in truth it 
is our belief in the reality and presence of the object, or 

1 See above, p. 117. 

2 Cf. Green, Works, i. pp. 403-4 ; James, Text-Book of Psychology, 
pp. 163-6. "Every object appears with a fringe of relations." See 
also below, p. 162. 


rather our immediate apprehension of it, which imparts 
its forcible character to our perceptions. He errs, third, 
in attributing the vividness in question to the sense- 
affection alone, and in not perceiving that, from the same 
cause, a like character of vividness, force, and indefin- 
able assurance, belongs to all the mental acts involved. 

Two points are involved in the criticism of Hume's 
theory : (1) the possibility of even forming the idea of 
an external world ; and (2) the possibility of the know- 
ledge of that world as existing. But these two are inti- 
mately connected ; for it is evident that if we can form 
the idea of an object distinguishable from self, there 
is no inherent impossibility in the existence of such an 
object, or in its becoming known by us as existing. 
Logically, on his principles, Hume ought to say, not 
that the idea of an external world is "fictitious," a 
product of imagination, but that we have no such idea 
at all. This, however, would be going too far. It is 
plainly absurd to say that the mind cannot form the 
idea of an object which it distinguishes from itself, and 
conceives of as part of an external world, when, apart 
from our constant consciousness of possessing such an 
idea, if the idea did not exist, we could not even be 
found disputing as to the possibility of knowing such 
external objects. 1 

We come, then, to the second and main point, viz., 
the possibility of knowing such objects if they exist. 
And here we venture to think that the fallacy which 
runs through Hume's arguments may be summed up 

1 The form of externality is space. In strictness, therefore, as has 
often been pointed out, it is not the world that is external to the mind, 
but the objects of the world (which include our bodies) that are external 
to one another. 


in one simple proposition that to say we have an idea 
of an object is the same thing as to say that the object 
is an idea. Is this proposition true? To Hume's 
mind it is incontestable. In his language, "ideas/' 
"objects," "ideas of objects," all stand for the same 
thing subjective states or combinations of them. 1 
But is it the case ? The matter may be brought to a 
very simple test. We leave out of account for the 
moment the ideas we form of the external world, and 
would take only the ideas we form of our fellow human- 
beings of other persons. Does Hume, or the veriest 
sceptic that ever lived, mean by his denial to the mind 
of a power of knowing anything beyond its own ideas, 
to affirm that the belief he entertains in the existence 
of other minds than his own is also a chimera a sub- 
jective illusion, or "fiction " ? In consistency he ought 
to do this, for it is certain that we know our fellow- 
men in no other way than we know the external world, 
through our ideas. of them. But it is very curious to 
observe that Hume in practice never reasons against 
the existence of other minds as he does against the 
existence of an external world. To do this would 
be to reduce his system to too palpable an absurdity. 
The picture of the philosopher (not the " vulgar " man) 
sitting down to compose a treatise directed to other 
minds, to convince them of the truth of speculations 
which implied that no minds but the philosopher's own 
(if even that) existed, would be too much for most 
people's sense of the ridiculous. Hume, therefore, 
makes no scruple throughout his work in assuming 

1 Sometimes the usage is ludicrous enough. E.g., " The idea of Rome 
I place in a certain situation on the idea of an object which I call the 
glohe" (Works, i. p. 140). 


that there are other minds besides his own, to which 
he can, in all seriousness, address himself. But if the 
philosopher can do this without thereby reducing the 
minds of his readers to ideas, with the calmest assur- 
ance, in fact, that they are something more, what 
becomes of the principle that to have the idea of an 
object means that the object itself is an idea; or of the 
assertion that because the mind knows only its own 
perceptions, it can have no knowledge of beings or 
objects outside itself ? l Why, if the mind is capable of 
knowing real existences beyond itself in the case of 
other persons, should the same power not be conceded 
to it in regard to external nature ? Is my conviction 
of the existence of my fellow-men one whit stronger or 
more reasonable than my conviction of the existence 
of the dog running at my side, of the fowls I see 
strutting in the barn-yard, of the birds I hear singing 
in the trees ? 

There remains, on the assumption of the perception 
of an actual world, the question of the rationale of the 
act of perception, a subject which involves too many 
complex psychological elements to be considered in any 
detail here. To the how of the act of perception it 
may be impossible for us wholly to give an answer ; 
but we are not precluded by this from a know- 
ledge of the that the fact. And in the investigation 
of that fact, notwithstanding all our investigations of 
physiological antecedents and conditions, we do not 
seem to get much beyond what direct consciousness 
yields us, viz., an immediate. awareness, in some rela- 
tion, or what comes to the same thing, under some 
quality, of an object, which we apprehend as existing, 
1 Mr. Mill, of course, is in the same dilemma. 


and distinguish from ourselves as part of a world, with 
whose other parts it stands in connection. It may be 
a question whether, from the sense of sight alone, pre- 
senting to us, as Hume would say, coloured points 
disposed in a certain manner, we could attain to that 
consciousness of an external, solid, and extended world, 
to which in fact we do attain through the combina- 
tion of sight with the sense of touch and experience of 
muscular resistance. It is not a question that, when 
the act of perception is fully analysed, it is found, as 
already said, to involve many elements and factors, 
some of them primitive, many acquired, others results 
of association, perhaps of inheritance, most of them 
probably interpretations of the sense-accompaniments 
of perception (muscular feelings, e.g., as the indices of 
space relations in judging of distances, etc.) all of 
which mental science cannot too narrowly investigate. 
But the broad fact remains, that through all we reach 
the apprehension of a world of objects, which increas- 
ing experience, and scientific investigation of its laws, 
warrant us in regarding as actually, permanently, and 
independently (of OUT minds) existing. 

When all is said, it must be granted that an ultimate 
inexplicability attaches to this act in which, under 
sense conditions, a world which is not ourselves enters 
as a real factor into our knowledge. How is this 
possible ? Only, it may be replied, on the hypothesis 
that the distinction between ourselves who know and 
the world we know is not after all final that there is 
a deeper ground and ultimate unity, that the universe, 
including ourselves, is a single system the parts of 
which stand in reciprocal relation through the spiritual 
principle on which in the last resort the whole 


depends. 1 Here, however, we enter a transcendental 
region which leaves Hume far behind, and into which, 
in this connection, we need not travel further. 

The conclusions we have reached may be summed 
up in three propositions, which, we take it, represent 
positions that can never finally be extruded from 

1. The first, which is the truth of idealism, is that 
the universe, however construed, can never be divorced 
from intelligence or thought. It is an intelligible 
system ; is constituted through intelligence ; exists for 
intelligence. Its ultimate principle can only be an 
understanding akin in nature to our own. 

2. The second, which is the truth of realism, is 
that the universe, whatever it may be, is something 
actual and independent of man's individual conscious- 
ness. It is as much another's as mine, and as real for 
him as for ma It appears in our consciousness, but it 
is more than our consciousness. Its reality is not our 
knowledge of it, whatever may be its relations to 
knowledge absolutely. This is the point in which the 
school of Eeid is impregnable, and in maintaining 
which it did its peculiar service. 

3. The third, which is the truth of relativity, is 
that the universe we know is yet known to us under 
the conditions and limitations that belong to human 
consciousness, 2 and arrayed in the sense-clothing that 

1 The idea may be studied in Lotze. 

2 Even in regard to such a quality as extension, e.g., we have only to 
reflect that there is no such thing as absolute magnitude, that with 
different optical organs things would appear quite differently (under 
different conditions the atom might be a world, or the microbe a 
monster), to see that this relativity goes through all our natural or 
sense knowledge. It is different with intellectual relations. 


such consciousness gives it. Here comes in the mind's 
own contribution to the world as it knows it the 
brightness of light, the gaiety of colour, the melody of 
sound, the fragrance of odours, delights of the palate, 
the robing of sensation generally which is the prin- 
cipal source of its delight and charm to the sentient 
being. Thus, after all, Locke's distinction of primary 
and secondary qualities is vindicated, though on a 
different ground from that on which he placed it. 


IN the history of ethical systems, three prevailing 
modes of contemplating the phenomena of morals may 
be distinguished, each connected with great names, and 
each still finding its defenders. They may be termed 
respectively the ^Esthetic, the Stoic or Jural, and the 
Utilitarian. The ruling thought in the first class of 
systems is the Beautiful (rb mUv) ; in the second, the 
Right; in the third, the Useful. Plato and Shaftes- 
bury may represent the first ; Kant may stand for the 
second; Hume was an advocate of the third, though 
not to the exclusion of the first. 

Since the time of Hume, the utilitarian philosophy 
has risen into great prominence in Britain. Fixing on 
the acknowledged tendency of virtuous acts and dis- 
positions to promote the happiness of the individual 
and of society, this system erects utility to the place 
of a universal moral standard, and proclaims it as 
the one source of moral distinctions. The theory 
assumes two forms, according as the end contemplated 
is the happiness of the individual, or the happiness 
of society in general. The former is the selfish, the 
latter the disinterested type of utilitarianism, The 
system has, however, its natural parent in the ancient 



Epicureanism, with its exaltation of pleasure as the 
chief good ; and if the doctrine, in its later form, has 
received into itself elements in virtue of which it is 
capable of assuming a more plausible character, it 
achieves this only by a happy inconsistency. 1 With 
the rise of the evolutionary philosophy, specially in 
the hands of Mr. Spencer, the utilitarian hypothesis has 
undergone radical transformations. This has happened 
mainly in three respects: (1) in the explanation of 
moral "intuitions" through the accumulated experi- 
ences of the race transmitted by inheritance; (2) in 
the attempt to deduce the laws of morality directly 
from the laws of evolution; (3) in modifications of 
the idea of the moral end in the substitution, e.g., of 
" efficiency," " life," " health " of the social organism for 
the older " happiness." 2 Most of these later develop- 
ments lie beyond our purview, nor does the final con- 
fession of the author of the evolutionary mode of 
treatment lead us to look with much hope to its 
results. 3 

In this development of the utilitarian philosophy 
in Britain, Hume's writings take a very important 
place. In some respects the theory of utility has 

1 So Wundt declares that "the term 'utilitarian' is hardly an 
adequate substitute for the older term ' eudaemonism ' " (Ethics, 11. 
p. 176). 

3 Of, Mr. Leslie Stephen, Science of Ethics. 

3 In the Preface to Parts V. and VI. of his Ethics (on "Justice"), 
Mi* Spencer says "IsTowthat . . . I have succeeded in completing the 
second volume of The Principles of Ethics . . . my satisfaction is some- 
what dashed hy the thought that the new parts fall short of expecta- 
tion. . . . The doctrine of evolution has not furnished guidance to the 
extent I had hoped. Most of the conclusions, drawn empirically, are 
such as right feelings, enlightened by cultivated intelligence, have 
already sufficed to establish," etc. 


never found a better advocate than it did in him. 
Hume was not, indeed, the first to lay stress, in the 
philosophy of morals, on the disinterested affections. 
Cumberland and Shaf tesbury had done that far earlier ; 
and many of Hume's arguments on this head are simple 
adaptations of those of Hutcheson and Butler. Still, 
it cannot be doubted that Hume's able advocacy gave 
a new impetus to the more disinterested form of the 
theory of utility; and, notwithstanding a partial re- 
action to the selfish view under Paley, we may trace 
since his day an increased prevalence of what is called, 
in utilitarian phraseology, "the greatest happiness 
principle." Alike in Jeremy Bentham, who is specially 
identified with this principle, 1 and in James Mill, there 
is obvious difficulty in adjusting the relations of the 
two interests, public and private; and justice and 
benevolence on their theory constantly tend to sink 
back into more refined forms of self-love. J. S. 
Mill, however, distinctly enunciates the principle, " The 
utilitarian standard is not the agent's own greatest 
happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness alto- 
gether." 2 The selfish doctrine of Hobbes and Paley, 
therefore the "ethics of interest," as Cousin called 
it is thus set aside as defenceless by the best advo- 
cates of the theory. To Hume, with his powerful 
polemic against self-love as the principle of morals, 
must be attributed part of the credit of this result. 

1 The author of the phrase is really Priestley, who in his Essay on 
Government in 1768 introduced as the proper object of government, 
"the greatest happiness of the greatest number." Bentham followed 
in 1776 (the year of Hume's death), adopting the phrase. Mr. Leslie 
Stephen carries it still further back to Hutcheson (English TJiought, ii. 
p. 61). 

3 Utilitarianism, p. 24. 


But we shall see that the credit has to be qualified in 
several important ways. 

Hume's theory of morals, originally published (1740) 
as Book III. of the Treatise on Human Nature, was, 
like the first Book, recast, and afterwards published 
as the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. 
With this work has to be taken the " Dissertation on 
the Passions," appended to the Enquiry concerning 
the Human Understanding, which corresponds to the 
original Book II. of the Treatise. The " Dissertation " 
of itself does not contain much that need detain us. 
It is interesting as an attempt, which in parts reminds 
of Spinoza, to give not merely a classification of the 
" passions " (under which Hume includes all appetites, 
desires, affections, emotions), but as far as possible a 
rationale of them. Occasionally Hume falls back on 
" original instincts," as when he says of pride, " I find 
that the peculiar object of pride and humility is de- 
termined by an original and natural instinct " ; 1 and of 
benevolence, "It is a constitution of nature of which 
we can give no further explanation." 2 In explaining 
the passions, he makes use of what he calls "the 
double relations of ideas and impressions, 3 e.g., both 
the object of pride and the passion of pride have 
relation to "self"; again, the object is something 
agreeable, and the passion is likewise an agreeable 
feeling. His whole aim he thus sums up at the 
close: "It is sufficient for my purpose if I have 
made it appear that in the production and conduct 
of the passions there is a certain regular mechanism, 

1 Works, ii. p. 16. 2 Ibid. iv. pp. 212-13. 

3 Ibid. ii. p. 17 ; cf. iv. p. 216 : "The double relations of sentiments 
and ideas." The discussion is intricate and confusing. 


which is susceptible of as accurate a disquisition, as 
the laws of motion, optics, hydrostatics, or any part 
of natural philosophy." 1 Which "accurate disquisi- 
tion," assuredly, Hume's "Dissertation" has not ap- 
proved itself to be. 

Hume's determination in his " Dissertation " to know 
nothing but impressions and ideas in arbitrary con- 
junction, involves him in curious paradoxes. What 
could be odder, e.g., than his contention that "if 
nature had so pleased, love might have had the same 
effect as hatred, and hatred as love. I see no con- 
tradiction in supposing a desire of producing misery 
annexed to love, and of happiness to hatred." 2 Oc- 
casionally, too, under the influence of his defective 
psychology, we find him slipping into such confusions 
of intellectual and emotional phenomena as the follow- 
ing: "What is commonly, in a popular sense, called 
reason ... is nothing but a calm passion which 
takes a comprehensive and a distinct view of its object, 
and actuates the will without any sensible emotion." 3 
It would be easy to show that, nevertheless, the " Dis- 
sertation " involves many principles, which, if pushed, 
would be fatal to his main doctrine. His whole theory 
of pride and humility, eg., turns on the possession of 
that idea of " self " which, in his theoretic philosophy, 
he had demonstrated could not exist, since we have no 
"impression" of it. How, again, in the light of his 
first principles, are we to construe such a sentence as 
the following ? 

"Being so far advanced as to observe a difference 

1 Works, iv. p. 226. 2 Ibid. ii. p. 112. 

3 Ibid. iv. p. 220. One is reminded of the Hobbean notion of con- 
templative and reasoning passions. 


between the object of the passions and their cause, 
and to distinguish in the cause the quality which 
operates on the passions, from the subject in which it 
inheres, we now proceed," etc. 1 

It is, however, only with the hearings of the " Dis- 
sertation " on the theory of morals we are at present 
concerned, and here its principal interest lies in the 
opening positions on Good and Evil, and on the rela- 
tions of our desires and emotions to these. Hume's 
theory on this subject is, in brief, precisely that of 
Hobbes and Locke, viz., that Good and Evil are but 
names for pleasure and pain respectively. 

"Some objects," he says, " produce immediately an 
agreeable sensation, by the original structure of our 
organs, and are thence denominated GOOD; as others, 
from their immediately disagreeable sensations, acquire 
the appellation EVIL. . . . Some objects, again, by being 
naturally conformable or contrary to passion, excite an 
agreeable or painful sensation; and are thence called 
Good or Emir 2 

When good or evil is certain, or very probable, there 
arises, in the one case JOY, in the other GRIEF or 
SORROW ; when the good or evil is uncertain, it gives 
rise to HOPE or FEAR. 

"DESIRE arises from good, considered simply, and 
AVERSION from evil. The WILL exerts itself, when 
either the presence of the good, or absence of the evil, 
may be attained by any action of the mind or body." 3 

That is to say, good and evil, which awaken desire 
and aversion, and alone can set the will in motion, are 

1 Works, ii. p. 9. Only some of the italics are Hume's. 

2 Hid. iv. p. 189. Of. Locke's Essay, bk. ii. ch. 20. 

3 Ibid. iv. pp. 190-1 ; cf. ii. p. 353. 


agreeable or disagreeable sensations, or personal plea- 
sure and pain. The effect of this initial doctrine on 
the theory of morals can readily be anticipated. 

We return now to the Enquiry in its connection 
with the Treatise. A comparison of these two shows 
that, if the earlier work is somewhat rough and 
unsystematic, it is nevertheless the more vigorous ex- 
position of Hume's ideas. The Enquiry, however, 
is the more polished and readable. In it the doctrine 
of utility as the foundation of morals is more dis- 
tinctly expounded. It has been mentioned that Hume 
himself regarded it as the best of his works, and 
perhaps it is, if judged by a purely literary standard. 
It has at least this merit, that its drift is not, like 
some of his other works, sceptical and destructive. 
Hume has reached the smooth waters of the "easy" 
philosophy, and avows himself as on the side of 
"common sense and reason," as against those "disin- 
genuous disputants " who " have denied the reality of 
moral distinctions"! 1 

In the Enquiry, as in the Treatise, Hume begins by 
considering the question of "the general foundation of 
morals ; whether they be derived from reason or senti- 
ment"; 2 and, after weighing the matter pro and con., 
he concludes that both have to do with our moral 
decisions. Reason is required to sift the facts, and 
make the proper distinctions, exclusions, and com- 

1 Works, iv. p. 229. His own speculations do tend to take the 
foundation from morality, e.g., in his "Dialogue" on moral distinc- 
tions (Works, iv. pp. 395 ff.). In a letter to Hutcheson he wishes 
he could " avoid concluding" that morality, as determined by 
sentiment, is something quite relative to humanity (Burton, i. pp. 

3 Hid. iv. p. 231. 


parisons; 1 but lie thinks it probable that "the final 
sentence depends on some internal sense or feeling 
which nature has made universal in the whole species.' 3 2 
For the better determination of this question, he pro- 
poses to analyse " that complication of mental qualities 
which form what, in common life, we term Personal 
Merit" 3 The method by which he proceeds is that of 
an induction of particular instances. His only object, 
he assures us, "is to discover the circumstances on 
both sides which are common to the estimable and 
blamable qualities, to observe that particular in which 
the estimable qualities agree on the one hand, and the 
blamable on the other ; and thence to reach the founda- 
tion of ethics, and find those universal principles from 
which all censure or approbation is ultimately derived." 4 
We shall have occasion to notice that in Hume's treat- 
ment of morals, he deals almost entirely with the 
estimable and blamable qualities of the agent, scarcely 
ever with the abstract morality of the act. In this 
respect his system constitutes a curious contrast to 
the doctrine of later utilitarians, who give chief pro- 
minence to the 'morality of the action. The purpose of 
utilitarianism, Mr. Mill tells us, is to show what actions 
are right and what wrong, irrespective of the character 
or feelings from which they spring. 5 

We have already anticipated the result of Hume's proof. 
It leads him to conclude in favour of public utility as 
the mark and test of virtuous qualities and dispositions. 6 

1 It will be observed how a distinguishing, judging, comparing reason 
is constantly assumed. 

2 Works, iv. p. 233. It is shown below that this "sense " is not after 
all regarded as original. 

3 Ibid. iv. p. 234. 4 Ibid. iv. p. 235. 5 Utittt. p. 29. 

As early as 1739 we find him writing to Hutcheson, "Now I desire 


"The necessity of justice (to Hume an 'artificial' 
virtue) to the support of society is the SOLE foundation 
of that virtue ; and since no moral excellence is more 
highly esteemed, we may conclude that this circum- 
stance of usefulness has, in general, the strongest 
energy, and most entire command over our sentiments. 
It must therefore be the source of a considerable part 
of the merit ascribed to humanity, benevolence, friend- 
ship, public spirit, and other social virtues of that 
stamp: as it is the SOLE source of the moral appro- 
bation paid to fidelity, justice, veracity, integrity, and 
those other estimable and useful qualities and principles. 
It is entirely agreeable to the rules of philosophy, and 
even of common reason, where any principle has been 
found to have a great force and energy in one instance, 
to ascribe to it a like energy in all similar instances. 
This indeed is Newton's chief rule of philosophising." l 

This conclusion, indeed, is not drawn with great 
logical strictness. In regard to benevolence, for 
example, he claims to have proved no more than that 
the utility resulting from the social virtues forms at 
least apart of their merit, 2 and he sums up thus : 

" It appears to be a matter of fact that the circum- 
stance of utility , in all subjects, is a source of praise 
and approbation ; that it is constantly appealed to in 
all moral decisions concerning the merit and demerit 
of actions; that it is the sole source of that high 
regard paid to justice, fidelity, honour, allegiance, 
and chastity ; that it is inseparable from all the other 

you to consider if there be any quality that is virtuous, without having 
a tendency either to the public good or to the good of the person who 
possesses it, 3 ' etc. (Burton, i. p. 115). 
1 Works, iv. p. 267. 2 Hid. iv, p. 243. 


social virtues, humanity, generosity, charity, affability, 
levity, mercy, and moderation ; and, in a word, it is a 
foundation of the chief part of morals, which has a 
reference to mankind and our fellow creatures." 1 

The reason of the important qualification which 
Hume here makes proves to be that, besides the 
quality of usefulness to ourselves and others, he re- 
cognises the quality of agreeableness to ourselves and 
others, as a ground of moral approbation. In his for- 
mal statements he always joins together "useful and 
agreeable": the utile and the dulce? The distinc- 
tion may at first sight not seem to be great, but by 
useful Hume has in view qualities directed to ends 
other than themselves: by agreeable, qualities which 
give immediate satisfaction to their possessors or to 
others. Such are cheerfulness, greatness of mind, cour- 
age, tranquillity, in the former class; politeness, wit, 
decorum, in the latter. The fault of such a classifica- 
tion is obvious, since, as was objected at the time, 
(1) it confounds talents and accomplishments with 
virtues, and (2) overlooks that mere "agreeableness" 
is far from constituting virtue. Beauty of person, e.g., 
is an agreeable quality to its possessor, but is not a 
virtue. It is more important to notice that, in Hume's 
view, the qualities in question are adjudged to be 
virtues, not from the standpoint of their possessors, 
but from that of the sympathetic onlooker. The cheer- 
ful man's state of mind may be a gratification to him- 
self, but it is the sympathetic pleasure felt in it by the 
disinterested observer which contributes the element of 
approbation* Of course qualities that are agreeable 
can be also useful, and qualities that are useful, e.g., 

1 Works, iv, p. 295. 2 Ibid. iv. p. 335. s Of. ibid. ii. pp. 372-3. 


benevolence, are likewise agreeable in themselves. Hence 
the other part of the merit ascribed to benevolence. l 

The next question relates to the nature of the moral 
sentiment, and this Hume discusses chiefly under the 
heading, " Why Utility Pleases." It cannot be affirmed 
that his doctrine on the point is either clear or satis- 
factory. We have found him declaring above, in 
accordance with " the elegant Shaf tesbury " and with 
Hutcheson, that it is probable that the final sentence 
in morals " depends on some internal sense or feeling 
which nature has made universal in the whole species." 2 
Similarly in the Treatise, " moral distinctions " are held 
to be " derived from a moral sense." 3 

" An action, or sentiment, or character, is virtuous or 
vicious : why ? Because its view causes a pleasure or 
uneasiness of a particular kind. In giving a reason, 
therefore, for the pleasure or uneasiness, we sufficiently 
explain the vice or virtue. To have the sense of virtue, 
is nothing but to feel a satisfaction of a particular kind 
from the contemplation of a character. The very 
feeling constitutes our praise or admiration. We can 
go no further ; nor do we inquire into the cause of the 
satisfaction." * 

It is natural to presume that, as with the writers 
above named, this " internal sense " is regarded as an 

1 "As love is immediately agreeable to the person who is actuated by 
it, and hatred immediately disagreeable, this may also be a considerable 
reason why we praise all the passions that partake of the former, and 
blame all those that have any considerable share of the latter. . . . 
All this seems to me a proof that our approbation has, in these cases, an 
origin different from the prospect of utility and advantage, either to 
ourselves or others " (Works, ii. p. 388). 

2 Works, iv. p. 233 ; cf. p. 356. 3 See above, p. 173. 
4 Ibid. ii. p. 233 ; cf. pp. 231, 238, 354. 


original principle of human nature. As we proceed, 
however, we make the discovery that it is not so. We 
have not gone far before we find our author departing 
from the underived " moral sense " of Shaftesbury and 
Hutcheson, and identifying the principle of approval 
and disapproval with the sentiment of benevolence, 
humanity, or generous sympathy. This is " Why 
Utility Pleases." We are constituted to take pleasure 
in the happiness of others, to sympathise with them, 
to seek their good. This leads us to look with com- 
placency on all acts and qualities that tend to this end, 
as on the end itself. "It is impossible for such a 
creature as man to be wholly indifferent to the well- 
or ill-being of his fellow-creatures, and not readily of 
himself to pronounce . . . that what promotes their 
happiness is good, what tends to their misery is evil." l 
It is not, therefore, acts useful to ourselves, but acts 
useful to others, or to society as a whole, we approve of. 

"Thus in whatever light we take this subject, the 
merit ascribed to the social virtues appears still uniform, 
and arises chiefly from that regard which the natural 
sentiment of benevolence engages us to pay to the 
interests of mankind and society." 2 

"The notion of morals implies some sentiment 
common to all mankind, which recommends the same 
object to general approbation, and makes every man, 
or most men, agree in the same opinion or decision 
concerning it. It also implies some sentiment, so 
universal and comprehensive, as to extend to all man- 
kind, and render the actions and conduct, even of the 
persons the most remote, an object of applause or 
censure, according as they agree or disagree with that 
1 Works, iv. p. 294. 2 Ibid. 



rule of right which is established. These two requisite 
circumstances belong alone to the sentiment of humanity 
here insisted on." 1 

One curious result of this derivation of moral senti- 
ment entirely from benevolence, is that the theory of 
Hume, like that of Hutcheson, would seem to have no 
room left in it for duties to self. It fails to give any 
reason why conscience should smile approval on a man 
for any act tending to his own good. It was probably 
in view of this defect, and with the purpose of meeting 
it, that Adam Smith developed his peculiar doctrine of 
reflex sympathy. It is the more interesting, therefore, 
to observe that Hume, in his earlier work, has already 
anticipated this objection, and given an explanation 
which is almost identical with Smith's, which prob- 
ably, indeed, furnished the latter with the germ of his 
peculiar theory. The close of the following passage 
illustrates this. The point of Adam Smith's theory, it 
may be remembered, is, that the individual's approba- 
tion of merit in himself arises from sympathy with the 
approval of the disinterested spectator a sufficiently 
roundabout hypothesis. So Hume says : 

"Nay, when the injustice is so distant from us as 
in no way to affect our interest, it still displeases 
us; because we consider it as prejudicial to human 
society, and pernicious to every one that approaches 
the person guilty of it. We partake of their uneasiness 
by sympathy ; and as everything that gives uneasiness 
in human actions, upon the general survey, is called 
vice, and whatever produces satisfaction, in the same 
manner, is denominated virtue, this is the reason why 
the sense of moral good and evil follows upon justice 
1 Works, ii. p. 339. 


and injustice. And though this sense, in the present 
case, be derived only from contemplating the actions 
of others, yet we fail not to extend it even to our own 
actions. The general rule reaches beyond these in- 
stances from which it arose ; while, at the same time, 
we naturally sympathise with others in the sentiments 
they entertain of us." l 

Apart from deeper criticism, the obvious remark to 
be made on this view is, that mere sympathy with the 
agreeable experiences of others, whatever pleasure it 
may yield us, is a very different sentiment from that 
of moral approbation. It is far from true that every- 
thing which excites " uneasiness " in human actions, on 
a survey of them, is called " vice," or that which pro- 
duces satisfaction, "virtue"; else our sympathy with 
the feelings of a criminal about to be hanged might 
lead to a condemnation of the act which sentenced 
him. The acts must be of the kind we judge moral, 
before the feelings we call approbation or disapproba- 
tion can arise, and the feelings are regulated by the 
character of our judgment. This was another defect 
in Hume's doctrine which Adam Smith attempted to 
supply by his doctrine of " propriety." A deeper ques- 
tion will arise immediately as to the origin of the 
disinterested sentiment itself. 

To complete this view of Hume's doctrine, we have 
still to consider another point necessarily brought up 
in all discussions of moral subjects the idea or feeling 
of obligation. Here, most of all, the theory of Hume, 
and utilitarian systems generally, are felt to be deficient. 
The question is, Why am I lound to perform certain 
actions rather than others? What constitutes the 
1 Works, ii. p. 266 ; cf. p. 373. 


ouyhtness which I feel in regard to them? Butler 
answers by an appeal to the authority of conscience ; 
Kant, by an appeal to the " categorical imperative " of 
moral law. But Hume and Mill have no answer to 
give based on a moral demand which carries with it its 
own authority. Hume in particular can hardly be 
said to have faced the question at all; he rather 
adroitly avoids it, and substitutes another in its place. 

" Having explained the moral approbation attending 
merit or virtue, there remains nothing but briefly to 
consider our interested obligation to it, and to inquire 
whether every man, who has any regard to his own 
happiness or welfare, will not best find his account in 
the practice of every moral duty/' 1 

The object of this concluding section, accordingly, is 
to show "that all the duties which it (the foregoing 
system) recommends are also the true interest of each 
individual." 2 Obligation, in other words, is simply, on 
this doctrine, another name for the selfish impulse. 
Here surely is the truth coming out at last ! In what- 
ever the Tightness of an action was placed, it might 
have seemed evident that the obligation to perform it 
was something which flowed from that Tightness, and 
needed nothing else to account for it. I ought to do 
the action because I see it to be right. But Hume has 
placed the Tightness of actions on the ground of their 
conduciveness to the public benefit. And this con- 
sideration of utility will not yield the consciousness of 
obligation. Hence he is compelled in the last resort to 
identify obligation with self-interest. I ought to do a 
thing because it is for my own good? This is a return 

1 Works, iv. p. 346. * j bidt iv< p< 348i 

3 In another place, in speaking of political justice, he says "the 


to precisely that selfish view of morals which he had 
previously rejected. It implies that a stronger motive 
than the simple goodness of the action is required to 
make a moral agent feel his obligation, and that self- 
interest is the strongest motive which can be brought 
to bear upon him. Only, unfortunately, when it is 
brought to bear upon him, it is not the motive of 
moral obligation. Between that motive and the con- 
sideration of self-interest, there is a world of difference. 
The thing chiefly important to notice in this con- 
nection is, that this is no accidental flaw in Hume's 
theory, or in any theory of the kind ; it springs from 
its essential nature. Starting from Hume's principle 
(which was that of Hobbes, Locke, and of nearly all 
moral speculators before him), that the Good the sole 
object of desire, that which ultimately moves the will, 
and alone can finally move it is pleasure, no other 
conclusion is possible than that which Hume reaches. 
It might be shown that the sentimental moralists, even 
those who lay most stress on the benevolent affections, 
necessarily fall into the same snare; finding, as they 
must, the ultimate sanction of morality in a state 
of feeling, viz., the peculiar pleasure yielded by the 
moral sense. This is true of Shaftesbury, who labours 
to establish that " to have the natural affections (such 
as are founded in Love, Complacency, and Good- will, 
and in a sympathy with the kind or species) is to have 
the chief means and power of self -enjoyment; and 
that to want them is certain misery and ill"; 1 of 
Hutcheson, who thinks that any fear of sacrifice of 

moral obligation holds proportion with the usefulness " (Works, ir. p. 
269). He should rather say "with the self-interest." 
1 Inquiry concerning yirttie, i, 2. 1 ; of. ii. 1. 3. 


individual happiness must be removed, "if we have 
a moral sense and public affections, whose gratifica- 
tions are constituted by nature our most intense and 
durable pleasures"; 1 of even Butler, who strangely 
declares that "when we sit down in a cool hour we 
can neither justify to ourselves this or that pursuit, 
till we are convinced that it will be for our happiness, 
or at least not contrary to it." 2 Hume's position is 
quite identical. "Each person loves himself better 
than any other single person. ... It appears that, in 
the original frame of our mind, our strongest attention 
is confined to ourselves ; our next is extended to our 
relatives and acquaintance," etc. 3 Nay, ere long it 
comes to be seen that there is an inconsistency in 
the admission of purely disinterested affections at 
all. However strongly their existence is affirmed, the 
necessity of the case tends to an explanation of them 
which finds their origin in egoistic principles. That 
Hume should derive justice from the selfish impulse 
in man, is comprehensible; 4 but in addition to this, 
there are attempts even to give a rationale of sym- 
pathy of a kind which robs it of its primary disinter- 
ested character. E.g. : 

" The minds of all men are similar in their feelings 
and operations ; nor can any one be actuated by any 
affection of which all others are not in some degree 


susceptible. As in strings equally wound up, the 
motion of one communicates itself to the rest, so all 
the affections readily pass from one person to another, 
and beget correspondent movements in every human 

1 On Passions and Affections, p. 19. 

2 Sewions, xi. Cf. Sorley's EtUcs of N dtura l li$m ) p. 88. 

3 Works, ii. p. 252-3. 4 Tbid. ii. p. 355. 


creature. . . . When I perceive the causes of any 
emotion, my mind is conveyed to its effects, and is 
actuated by a like emotion. ... No passion of another 
discovers itself immediately to the mind. We are only 
sensible of its causes or effects. From these we infer 
the passion ; and consequently these give rise to our 
sympathy." 1 Sympathy is thus a sort of automatic 
process, by which pains or pleasures similar to those 
we witness are reproduced in ourselves. 

" When any quality or character has a tendency to 
the good of mankind, we are pleased with it, and 
approve of it, because it presents the lively idea of 
pleasure; which idea affects us by sympathy, and is 
itself a kind of pleasure." 2 

It is the case, accordingly, that in the utilitarian 
schools which succeeded Hume, the egoistic genesis 
of even benevolent sentiments is frankly recognised, 3 
and the motive of self-interest is invariably fallen back 
on as the ground of obligation. The representatives 
of these schools saw, indeed, that Hume's theory needed 
supplementing. They recognised, what he did not, 
that obligation has reference, not immediately to self- 
interest, but to law and authority. If men were left 
merely to consult what they considered their own 
interests in relation to moral action, society would 
soon fall to pieces. There is a necessity for an out- 
ward check or constraint. The law of the State, there- 
fore, and the force of public opinion, are the great 
elements in what Mr. Mill calls " the external sanction 

1 Works, ii. p. 355. 2 Ibid. ii. p. 361. 

3 Not by every one so frankly as Bentham, when he wrote : "I am 
a selfish man, as selfish as any man can be. But in me, somehow or 
other, so it happens, selfishness has taken the shape of benevolence." 


of virtue. 1 But clearly this is still an utterly inade- 
quate account of obligation. Enforced obedience is 
no true obedience in the moral sense. It is only when 
we feel the law to be right that we regard ourselves 
as under real obligation to perform it. This is viitually 
admitted by Mr. Mill when he says : " It is part of the 
notion of duty that a man may be rightfully com- 
pelled to perform it/' When the man perceives this 
right in the compulsion, the obligation is already trans- 
ferred to another sphere. Mr. Mill, however, lays 
comparatively little stress on the external sanction, 
as compared with what he calls the internal sanction. 
We question whether, after all, he has thereby ap- 
proached much nearer the solution of the problem. 
This "internal sanction" is derived from our social 
feelings, combined with education, association, and 
elements derived from other sources, to which the 
evolutionary school would add the accumulated results 
of inheritance. The binding force then consists, Mr. 
Mill would tell us, in the "mass of feeling" which 
must be broken through in order to violate that stan- 
dard of right, and which, if we do violate it, will have 
to be encountered in the specific form of remorse. But 
why of remorse 1 Granted a nucleus of original moral 
ideas, around which the mass of associated feelings 
gathers, we can understand the peculiar nature of the 
compound, but not otherwise. An accumulation of 
feelings, none of them originally moral, can hardly, 
by any chemistry of association, develop features so 
marked and unique as those of the moral sentiments. 
Has this " mass of feeling " no moral elements in the 
heart of it? Or is it something to which we must 
1 So also Beutham, Austin, and James Mill. 


perforce submit because we cannot now shake off its 
power ? Then it ceases to be obligation the moment a 
man, from any cause, feels strong enough to break from 
its yoke. Even on the evolutionist hypothesis that 
the feelings have influence, because in them is regis- 
tered the experience of the race as to what is best 
for its "life," "efficiency," or "well-being," this alone 
does not suffice to constitute obligation. The indi- 
vidual has still to be brought to perceive the reason- 
ableness and duty of subordinating his individual will, 
it may be of sacrificing his personal interest, to that 
which is best for the good of the whole. 

This brings us to the really crucial point in the 
judgment of Hume's and similar theories the true 
nature of the moral end. Is it pleasure, in Hume's 
sense of "agreeable sensation"? Or is it something 
higher say the realisation of man's complete nature 
in the due subordination of its power and capacities 
the attainment, not of happiness in the sense of 
" a sum of pleasures," but of " perfection," which brings 
with it, indeed, the purest pleasures, but only as de- 
light and satisfaction in the things which are esteemed 
the true goods of the soul, among which the pure heart, 
the upright will, the wise mind, the social affections, 
will take the highest rank? It should by this time 
be a truth so well understood as to need no vindication, 
that happiness in the true sense as real satisfaction 
of the self is not to be found by direct seeking of it, 
but only by devotion to ends other than happiness 
ends having value in themselves in the pursuit and 
attainment of which happiness comes. But the subject 
requires a deeper elucidation. 

To test this theory, then, let us start with its root- 


conception that of Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, Mill, even 
of Mr. Spencer, 1 as well as of Hume that good is 
merely a synonym for pleasure. A first question here 
might be : Is this even a possible end for a rational 
being, not to say for one seeking to live rationally? 
Pleasure is a state of simple feeling, and of indi- 
vidual feeling. But a rational being is one who, in 
virtue of his reason, has passed beyond mere feeling, 
has risen above it, has constituted for himself relations 
with his fellow-men, and a " realm of ends," in which 
his higher self and its interests have expressed them- 
selves ; who is the subject of desires, ambitions, aims, 
which only thought could originate, and a self-con- 
scious agent experience. The self of the rational being 
is thus immensely larger than his egoistic self : takes 
in a world of persons and interests that lie beyond 
his narrow personal horizon. It is in the nature of 
things impossible, therefore, that such a being should 
not set before him ends other and higher than pleasure. 
But even if it were possible to make pleasure the sole 
end, a next question would be: Is a life which has 
only pleasure for its end one worthy of a rational 
being? If he stoops to make pleasure his sole end, 
is he not consciously degrading and impoverishing 
himself? It can only be maintained that he is not, 
if there are no higher ends to which his rational and 
spiritual nature points him; and this we explicitly 
deny to be the case. 

The answer that will be given to this kind of reason- 
ing naturally will be, that we are playing upon an 

1 Of. Data of Ethics, p. 27. The question of optimism is declared to 
be simply that of "a surplus of pleasurable feeling over painful feeling" 
(pp. 29-30). 


ambiguity in the word " pleasure " ; are using it in the 
sense of mere animal gratification ; whereas the utili- 
tarian, it will be held, has in view the whole scale of 
pleasures from lowest to highest, and, equally with 
others, discriminates between their values. It is not 
strictly the case that all utilitarians do this (Mr. 
Bentham for one did not); some, however, as J. S. 
Mill, have done so, but thereby have only introduced 
into the system a new inconsistency. For obviously, 
as soon as we have introduced the element of quality 
into pleasures, we raise a new question, that of the 
standard or ideal. How else are we to determine 
which pleasures are high and which low ; which men 
ought to choose, and which they ought to despise and 
reject ? Reflection will show that, in another respect, 
whenever we introduce the idea of scale into pleasures, 
the problem is entirely changed. The pleasures we 
place higher in the scale intellectual pleasures, e.g., or 
moral pleasures cease to be metre pleasures ; they are 
results, reflexes, accompaniments, of the higher energies 
which give rise to them, and they derive their dignity 
and excellence solely from these. It is the objects of 
the energies which are the ends, not the pleasures. 
Take the case of benevolence the disinterested seek- 
ing of another's welfare. This is in a sense the 
foundation of Hume's whole theory ; it is the more 
strange that he did not perceive how, instead of being 
an instance of the seeking of pleasure as one's only 
good, it is, in its very nature, a refutation of that 
principle. Pleasure, in the nature of the case, is the 
pleasure of the person experiencing it, not of the 
person conferring it, or of the mere spectator. The 
well-doer may derive pleasure from his benevolence, 


or from seeing the happiness of others ; but that 
pleasure is not the motive of his action. The good to 
which his action is directed is not his own good, but 
the good of another. Pleasure, in the sense of an 
" agreeable sensation " to him, is not his end, not the 
thing he desires, or which moves his will. To resolve 
the motive of benevolence into the pleasure derived 
from it by the doer, is to deny its disinterested char- 
acter, and reduce it to a finer form of selfishness. But 
in respect even of the person benefited, must it be 
"pleasure" only which I desire for him ? If my own 
well-being includes higher ends, why should his not do 
so also ? If I regard a disinterested habit of soul as a 
good for myself, it cannot but be that I shall desire it 
for others as well, and include it also in my ideal of 
the "well-being" of society. What is now said of 
benevolence applies to all the higher desires which 
intelligence goes to constitute desire of knowledge, 
desire of society, desire of power, desire of property, 
etc. The pleasures arising from these desires are no 
longer mere pleasures. They are accompaniments of 
energies directed to ends which are esteemed to be of 
worth for themselves, and hence beget pleasure. 

Finally, the question may be brought to the test of 
fact. Is it the case that all men do set happiness, in 
the sense of pleasure, before them as their highest end, 
and the only thing desirable ? For this is what Hume 
and all utilitarians assume. We recall here, in the 
first place, a remark of Mr. Mill's own : " It is better 
to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." l We 
notice, secondly, the admission of all the higher class 
of utilitarians, that virtue ought to become an end, 

p. 14. 


and to be loved for its own sake. " The mind," says 
Mr. Mill, " is not in a right state, nor in a state con- 
formable to utility, not in a state most conducive to 
the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this 
manner, as a thing desirable in itself/' 1 This, it must 
be felt, is a very remarkable position. The utilitarian 
tells us, in the first instance, that the rightness, the 
goodness, of actions lies only in their conduciveness to 
happiness; yet we are informed that it is right and 
even necessary that men should come to believe in 
virtue as having a goodness and value in itself. Why 
it should be advantageous that men should come under 
this delusion is not very obvious. It seems like saying 
that, however true utilitarianism may be, it is not 
desirable that men should believe in it ; that, prac- 
tically, it is necessary that they should act on another 
hypothesis. But, thirdly, without dwelling on this, 
are there not numberless cases in which we judge that 
we ought to do a certain action for far higher reasons 
than merely that it conduces to happiness? Hume 
regards justice as resting wholly on human conven- 
tion; but are there not judgments in the sphere of 
justice which arise prior to, and independently of, all 
human sanction ? When, for instance, we reflect that 
we ought to be fair and candid in our dealings with 
others even in our thoughts, is there no motive 
except that such fairness and candour will be pre- 
eminently useful to society ? Do we not feel that it 
would be in itself an unworthy thing to act otherwise ; 
unworthy of our own character and dignity as rational 
and moral beings? Do we not recognise that we 
ought to respect the rights of others, as Kant would say, 

1 Utilitarianism, p. 5-~ 


for the sake of the humanity that is in them ? Are 
we not bound to respect their liberty, their consciences, 
their intelligence, their possessions lawfully acquired, 
on the simple grounds that they are persons ? For the 
same reason every man owes a certain respect to him- 
self, and is bound to use every means to conserve and 
perfect his nature. Those qualities, e.g., which Hume 
specifies as useful or agreeable to one's self self-control, 
magnanimity, tranquillity, and the like shall we say 
that it is their utility or agreeableness which is the 
ground on which we pronounce them virtues ? Why 
do we praise them ? Is it not because we discern in 
them an intrinsic excellence? And is not their 
" agreeableness " to us simply the index and result of 
this high esteem in which we hold them ? When 
Kant says, "There is nothing in the world which 
can be termed absolutely and altogether good, a good 
will alone excepted," 1 do we not feel instinctively the 
nobility of his utterance, and recognise that such a 
possession is more desirable than any amount of 
" pleasure " ? It may be true though it is far from 
being always the case that the highest dignity and 
integrity of a nature brings with it also the greatest 
happiness; but the happiness assuredly is not the 
first thing aimed at. The man who would barter his 
integrity for any increase of pleasure lias no true 
integrity to barter. 

There is no coldness in Hume's praises of virtue, 
though it is rather the "beauty" and "amiability" of 
moral qualities than the character of acts as " right " 
and " wrong " that engage his interest. But the defect 
in his foundation weakens his whole structure, and 
1 Met. qf Stoics, cli. i. 


leaves him with no room for " duty for duty's sake," 
Everything becomes precarious because based simply on 
the pleasing and customary. This is seen in the easy 
view he takes of male chastity, and in his defence of 
the right of suicide. There is no place for heroic 
virtue of any kind in Hume. His ethics, as Mr. Green 
remarked, never rise above the level of "respectability/' 
Language like Wordsworth's in his " Ode to Duty," or 
such as Carlyle's on the eternal and infinite difference 
between right and wrong, would sound meaningless to 
him. Even Justice in his hands sinks down to mere 
human " artifice." As for the higher obligations and 
sanctions of religion, these, it is needless to say, 
altogether disappear. 



AFTER metaphysics, there is perhaps no sphere in 
which Hume's influence has been so palpably felt as 
in theology. Hume is not, as we shall immediately 
see, to be off-hand classed with English deists or 
French atheists. His speculations went much deeper 
than those of either. On the one hand, he always 
professed, however inconsistently, some kind of belief 
in a Supreme Being ; on the other, his philosophy was 
as fatal to the natural revelation of Deism as it was 
to the supernatural revelation of Christianity. His 
arguments, a little altered, have passed into the camp 
of unbelief, and taken a permanent place in its armoury. 
It is significant that nearly every modern theorist on 
the subject of religion deist, pantheist, agnostic, 
pessimist, believer in a limited God, and believer in 
no God at all can find his share in Hume, and fortify 
himself by his reasonings. 

It was remarked in the Introduction, that in 
Hume, as in some of his contemporaries, the sense 
for religion appears almost entirely wanting. He tells 
Sir William Elliot, indeed, <i propos of the Dialogues 
concerning Natural Religion, that he began his 
inquiries with a search for arguments to confirm the 



common opinion, but that gradually doubts " stole in." l 
That stage, however, if it ever existed to any marked 
extent, was prehistoric in Hume's career ; it antecedes 
any definite knowledge we have of him. It is certain, 
as before hinted, that at a very early period he had 
reasoned himself out of all positive beliefs in respect 
of religion, and had betaken himself for his ideals of 
life to his two favourites, Cicero and Virgil. The 
influences of French literature and society were not 
likely to do much towards the removal of this anti- 
pathy ; and it is to be feared that his personal 
disposition his easy temper, his love of fame, his 
engrained sceptical habit made him naturally averse 
from any system which identified itself with earnest 
faith, or intensity of moral purpose. 

It contributed to this aversion that the age in which 
Hume lived was one marked by a cold, rationalising 
temper generally. The account he gives in one of his 
Essays of the state of religion in his time recalls a 
well-known passage in Butler : 

" Most people in this Island," he says, " have divested 
themselves of all superstitious reverence to names and 
authority; the clergy have lost much of their credit, 
their pretensions and doctrines have been ridiculed; and 
even religion can scarcely support itself in the world." 2 

1 Burton, i. p. 332. See above, p. 47. 

2 "Works, iii. p. 51. Butler's statement in the Advertisement to the 
first edition of Ms Analogy is: "It is come, I know not how, to be 
taken for granted, by many persons, that Christianity is not so much 
as a subject of inquiry ; but that it is, now at length, discovered to be 
fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this 
were an agreed point among all people of discernment ; and nothing 
remained, but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, 
as it were by way of reprisals, for its having so long interrupted the 
pleasures of the world." 


It never enters Hume's mind to doubt that morals, 
politics, social life, could go on quite well without 
religion; on the contrary, he has a firm persuasion 
that tilings would be better in its absence. Philo's 
words in the Dialogues may be assumed to be a true 
expression of his own sentiments on this point : 

"If the religious spirit be ever mentioned in any 
historical narration, we are sure to meet afterwards 
with a detail of the miseries which attend it. And no 
period of time can be happier or more prosperous than 
those in which it is never regarded or heard of." l 

Naturally, with such views, repugnance to every- 
thing savouring of "priesthood" was one of the 
strongest passions of Hume's nature ; and his custom- 
ary synonym for religion was " enthusiasm " or 
"fanaticism." No doubt all this is spoken of the 
religion of the "vulgar," or "religion as it has 
commonly been found in the world," 2 and exception 
is made, as we shall find, of the "philosophical" 
religion, which resolves itself into the "speculative 
tenet of Theism," 3 and is admittedly the possession 
only of a few. But the poverty of Hume's conception 
of religion generally is manifest in nearly every line 
he wrote about it. No man, e.g., who ever really 
understood what true. religion is, could have written 
as he did in the Essay on Immortality : 

"But if any purpose of nature be clear, we may 
affirm that the whole scope and intention of man's 
creation, so far as we can judge by natural reason, is 
limited to the present life. . . . There arise, indeed, in 
some minds some unaccountable terrors with regard to 
futurity; but these would quickly vanish were they 

1 Works, ii. p. 530. 2 Ibid. ii. p. 534. 


not artificially fostered by precept and example. And 
those who foster them, what is their motive ? Only to 
gain a livelihood, and to acquire power and riches in 
this world. Their very zeal and industry, therefore, 
are an argument against them." 1 

It will not be questioned that Hume's philosophical 
principles were such as readily lent themselves to the 
purposes of the religious sceptic, and Hume was by no 
means slow to make the application. His system had 
undermined the foundations of all certitude, and, 
harmless though he might esteem this to be in the 
common' affairs of life, the case was different when it 
came to questions of religion. His aim here avowedly 
was "to subvert that abstruse philosophy and meta- 
physical jargon which, being mixed up with popular 
superstition, renders it in a manner impenetrable to 
careless reasoners, and gives it the air of superior 
wisdom." 2 This could readily be accomplished by a 
system which grounded all our knowledge and beliefs 
on sense-experiences. Our inferences may be valid 
for practical purposes within the circle of experience, 
but we have no guarantee that they are so beyond it. 
Hence all questions are at once ruled out which relate 
to God, 3 the origin of the world, providence, destiny, 
and the future life. How far Hume meant to include 
Christianity among his "popular superstitions," may 
be gathered from other parts of his writings. The 
Essay on Miracles is a bold attempt to reduce Chris- 
tianity, as respects its historical foundations, to a 
tissue of fables, believable only by those who are 
willing to part with their reason. "Our most holy 

1 Works, iv. p. 549. 2 Ibid. iv. p. 9, 

3 On Hume's concessions to Theism, see below. 


religion," he says, " is founded on Faith, not Reason, 
and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such 
a trial as it is by no means fitted to bear." 1 We may 
conjecture how much " faith " Hume would be prepared 
to concede to a system against which reason was in 
arms. This mocking deference to a religion in which 
he had no particle of real belief, is one of the most 
offensive features in his writings the adding, if that 
were possible, of insult to injury. 2 In the Essay on 
Parties he takes an opportunity of showing in what 
esteem he held the system here denominated " our most 
holy religion." Christianity is there represented as a 
"sect" which owed its success to certain accidental 
circumstances, and the result of which has been to the 
world "the greatest misery and devastation." The 
"furious persecutions of Christianity," he traces, for 
the most part, to " the imprudent zeal and bigotry of 
the first propagators of the sect." 3 Of good effects 
resulting from Christianity there is no mention. It is 
no real contradiction of this, though a fact curious in 
itself, that, as a concession to the prejudices of the 
" vulgar," Hume was willing to have an established 

1 Works, iv. p. 149. 

3 Prof. Huxley says: "If ever lie seems insincere, it is when ho 
wishes to insult theologians by a parade of sarcastic respect " (Hume, 
p. 140). This, however, was a characteristic feature of the kind of 
literature which Hume represents. Gibbon's t( irony" is proverbial. 
Shaftesbury indulges profusely in this kind of sarcasm. Rejecting 
every article of the Christian faith, he professes "his steady orthodoxy, 
resignation, and entire submission to the truly Christian and Catholic 
doctrines of our Holy Church, as by law established." On miracles he 
"submits most willingly, and with full confidence and trust, to the 
opinions ly law established" (MiscelL JReftections, ii. chs. ii. and iii.). 
Hume, to his credit, never went so far as that. 
8 Works, iii,, p. 61. 


Church, on the Presbyterian model too, in his ideal 
commonwealth. 1 His establishment was meant as a 
curb on religious enthusiasm, not as a means of pro- 
moting religion, save of the " philosophical " sort. As 
Mr. Leslie Stephen says of Shaf tesbury : " The Church 
was excellent as a national refrigerator ; but no culti- 
vated person could believe in its doctrines." 2 

In looking at Hume's positions more in detail, we 
have first to seek to make clear to ourselves his atti- 
tude to Theism. We may begin with his Natural 
History of Religion, which was published in his life- 
time. This production, which it would not be unjust 
to describe as a daring piece of satire, yet with a 
definite enough purpose in the heart of it, forms an 
essential part of Hume's system. For, even if it be 
granted that the idea of the supernatural is an illusion, 
the belief is still at least there as a psychological fact 
to be accounted for. There are two questions, we are 
told, to be considered in relation to religion: (1) con- 
cerning its foundation in Human Reason; and (2) 
concerning its origin in Human Nature. 

"Happily," says the sceptic, "the former question, 
which is the more important, admits of the most 
obvious, at least the clearest solution. The whole 
frame of nature bespeaks an Intelligent Author; and 
no rational inquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend 

1 Works, ill. p. 554.. It was essential to Hume's scheme that the 
Church should bo entirely under the control of the magistrates. " The 
magistrates name rectors or ministers to all the parishes." "The 
magistrates may take any cause from this (ecclesiastical) court, and 
determine of themselves." "The magistrates may try, and depose or 
suspend any presbyter." Thus Hume's boasted liberality turns round 
into the sheerest tyranny. 

2 English Thought in the Eighteenth Qentiwy, ii. p. 19, 


his belief for a moment with regard to the primary 
principles of genuine Theism and Religion." x 

We are apt to suspect that here again we are on the 
track of sarcasm ; and the rest of the treatise shows us 
that beyond doubt we are. The direct purpose of the 
work is to prove that in reality the belief in God and 
in supernatural existences had a very different origin, 
viz., in men's ignorance and superstitious fears. Re- 
ligion has no basis in the essential nature of man 
"springs not from an original instinct or primary 
impression of nature/' but arises from "secondary 
principles 2 mainly from man's hopes and fears in 
view of the uncertainties and contrary events of nature 
and life. Hume's treatment in this, as in most of his 
other works, has the decided merit of showing clearly 
where the true issue lies. If man's nature is not 
conceived of as spiritual, and religion is not regarded 
as springing from the depths of that nature in the 
consciousness of a relation to a supra-natural power, 
necessity is laid on the theorist of accounting for it 
from purely psychological, i.e., 7&<m~religious and ir- 
rational, causes. This is precisely what Hume attempts 
to do in the treatise in question, His work is not only 
the precursor of that long train of "natural histories 
of religion " with which the " Science of Religion " has 
made us so familiar, but is wonderfully acute in some 
of its anticipations of modern theories. Dr. Tylor 
will readily recognise his " animistic " principle in such 
a sentence as the following: "There is a universal 
tendency among men to conceive all beings like them- 
selves, and to transfer to every object those qualities 
of which they are intimately conscious." 3 Through 
1 Works, iv. p. 419. 2 Ibid. iv, p. 420. 3 Ibid. iv. p. 429. 


this principle, with the help of the " allegorising " (as 
moderns would say, " mythological ") tendency, and the 
deification of heroes, Hume believes himself able to 
explain the rise of polytheism in his view the earliest 
form of religion, and the only one possible to man, 
when he was yet " a barbarous, necessitous animal." 1 
The next step is to show how " this gross polytheism 
of the vulgar " passed into monotheism ; and here Hume 
may certainly claim to be original. He explains the 
transition wholly by reference to the tendency in men to 
magnify and flatter those on whom they depend. 2 The 
same principle of flattery leads them to ascribe to the 
Deity the formation of the world. This is on a level with 
his theory of the origin of " priests," who, he says, " may 
justly be regarded as proceeding from one of the grossest 
inventions of a timorous and abject superstition." 3 He 
goes on, finally, to compare these two forms of religion 
polytheism and monotheism in their character and 
effects, the result in every case turning out in favour of 
polytheism. Thus, in regard to toleration : " The intoler- 
ance of almost all religions which have maintained the 
unity of God, is as remarkable as the contrary principle 
of polytheists." 4 Having thus completely nullified his 

1 Works, iy. p. 422. Hume's statements on this point are not, indeed, 
consistent. " It is a matter of fact incontestable," he says in one place, 
"that about 1700 years ago all mankind were polytheists " (p. 420); 
the Jews apparently count for nothing. But ere long we read : "The 
doctrine of one Supreme Deity, the author of nature, is very ancient ; 
has spread over great and populous nations," etc. (p. 445). . . . "The 
Getes . . . were genuine theists and Unitarians. They affirmed 
Zamolxis, their deity, to be the only true God," etc. (p. 452), 

2 Sec. 6. 5 Works, iy. p. 79. 

4 Works, iv. p. 458. On this view, we must conclude, Rome did not 
persecute the Christians, missionaries have not been massacred by 
idolaters, etc. Altogether, what is said of the tolerance of polytheists 


original concession, he concludes with a few general 
corollaries, of which the satire is scarcely concealed. 

But Hume has not left us in ignorance of the real 
value he put on the theistic proof that "admirable 
adjustment of final causes" 1 which on occasion we 
find him extolling. His posthumous Dialogues con- 
cerning Natural Religion, and his Essay on " Provi- 
dence and a Future State," hear mainly on this and 
related topics. The Dialogues, elaborated and revised 
with the utmost care, and bequeathed to his executors 
under stringent provisions for their publication, 2 may 
be regarded as the most mature expression of his 
opinions on these grave subjects of any of his works. 
They are constructed somewhat on the model of 
Cicero's discussion on the Nature of the Gods, and 
close in language almost identical with his. 3 Hume 
evidently regards the whole question of Theism as a 
perfectly open one. As much can always be said on 
the one side as on the other ; or rather, as he exerts 
himself in the sceptical interest to show, generally a 
great deal more against Theism than for it. Demea, 
the defender of a faith that repudiates reason, serves 

has to be taken with considerable limitations. Rome had laws enough 
against foreign rites ; even when they were permitted, the permission 
did not extend to Eomans. Hume's own tender mercies towards 
" enthusiasts" in religion were not great. See below, p, 232. 

1 Works, iv. p, 431. g ee a ^ OV6) p> 8 3. 

3 "The conversation ended here " Cleanthes and Philo pursued 
and we parted. Velleius judged not this conversation much further, 
that the arguments of Cotta (the ... I confess that, upon a serious 
Academic) were truest ; but those review of the whole, I cannot but 
of Balbus (Stoic, and defender of think that Philo's arguments are 
the gods) seemed to me to have the more probable than Demea's ; but 
greater probability " (Cicero). that those of Cleanthes approached 

still nearer to the truth " (Hume). 


mainly as a foil to the other two disputants; of the 
latter, it is easy to see that it is into the arguments 
of Philo, the sceptic, that Hume puts his whole 
strength; while Cleanthes, with his solemn rhetoric 
about the testimony which universal creation bears to 
" its intelligent Author " (" the whole chorus of nature 
raises one hymn to the praises of its Creator"), 1 
advances arguments only to have the bottom taken 
out of them by Philo, and in any case does not argue 
for more than a being "finitely perfect, though far 
exceeding mankind." 2 It is Cleanthes with whom, 
as we saw, Hume would have his friends believe that 
he is personally most in agreement ; 3 but as Philo does 
no more than reason from Hume's own principles on 
causation and the nature of mind, and in every case 
gains an easy argumentative victory over his opponent, 
it is difficult to credit this preference. If, towards the 
close, Philo himself is allowed to assume the pious r61e, 
and declaim on his " adoration to the Divine Being, as 
he discovers himself to reason, in the inexplicable con- 
trivance and artifice of nature," 4 one knows what value 
to put on this profession, while the previous reasonings 
are unref uted. On both sides, of course, the disputants 
have a cultivated " abhorrence of vulgar superstitions." 6 
How far Hume did allow any academic value to the 
theistic arguments is considered below. 

The question of Theism, in a speculative point of 
view, is at bottom simply that of a rational and moral 
constitution in men and things. Man as a rational 

1 Works, ii. p. 458. 2 Im ^ iL p> 507> 

3 See his correspondence with Elliot referred to above (Rnrton, i. 
pp. 331-2), and the close of the Dialogues. 

4 lUd. ii, p, 552. IUd t ii. p. 529. 


being, finds himself in a rationally - constituted uni- 
verse ; he cannot, therefore, without self-contradiction, 
construe it to himself otherwise than as proceeding 
from an intelligence kindred in principle with his 
own. 1 He is self-conscious and personal; he cannot, 
therefore, think of the ultimate principle and cause of 
things in terms lower than those of self-consciousness 
and personality. He is above all moral, and cannot, 
without renunciation of his ethical standpoint, regard 
the universe as other than a moral system, proceeding 
from a moral will, and subserving moral ends. The 
theist, in other words, takes in earnest, what Hume 
can at most admit only dialectically or sceptically, that 
Deity is "MiND or THOUGHT," 2 and draws out this 
admission to its legitimate conclusions. From this 
standpoint everything in religion assumes a new aspect, 
and admits of a new interpretation, from the dim grop- 
ings of the savage after a Higher than himself, whose 
presence he feels even where he cannot articulately 
express the nature of his feelings, to the tendency 
constantly evinced in thought and aspiration to rise 
from the finite to the infinite, from the caused to the 
uncaused, from the temporal to the eternal, from the 
conditioned to the unconditioned. To one occupying 
this standpoint, Hume's sceptical dialectics, based on 
the contrary assumption of the 72,<m-rational constitu- 
tion of man and of the universe, must always appear 

What are his objections to the theistic hypothesis ? 

1 Of. T. H. Green, FroL to Mhics, p. 23 : "The understanding which 
presents an order of nature to us is in principle one with an understand- 
ing which constitutes that order itself." 

3 Works, ii. p. 526. 


First, and perhaps mainly, that the whole subject is 
"quite beyond the reach of our faculties." 1 The 
analogy between what we call thought in man and 
the infinite intelligence we assume as the cause of the 
universe, is so inconceivably remote, that no inference 
from one to the other is warrantable. 

" What peculiar advantage has this little agitation 
of the brain which we call thought, that we must thus 
make it the model of the whole universe ? ... If 
thought, as we may well suppose, be confined merely to 
this narrow corner, and has even there so limited a 
sphere of action, with what propriety can we assign it 
for the cause of all things ? " 2 

In the next place, our belief in causation rests solely 
on the custom of seeing objects and events in invari- 
able conjunction, 3 and therefore fails us where, as in 
the present case, custom cannot operate. " Our ideas 
reach no further than experience," but " we have no 
experience of divine attributes and operations." 4 In 
causation we are entitled only to infer from observed 
eases to similar cases ; but here, " does not the great 
disproportion bar all comparison and inference ? " 5 
Reasoning from causation rests on experienced con- 
junctions ; but there is no " experience of the origin of 
worlds." How can the argument have place "where 
the objects, as in the present case, are singular, indi- 
vidual, without parallel or specific resemblance" ? 6 As 
he puts the point in the Essay on Providence, the world 
is " a singular effect." 7 Or, viewing the cause as an 
ideal plan in the divine mind, must we not say that 

1 Works, ii. pp. 421, 431. 2 Hid. ii. pp. 438-9. 

3 Ibid, ii. p. 441. 4 Ibid. ii. pp. 431, 438. 

5 Ibid. ii. p. 438. 6 Ibid, ii. p. 441. 7 Ibid. ii. p. 168. 


this collocation of ideas needs another cause to explain 
it, and so ad infinitum. Hume's reasoning here is so 
deliciously illustrative of the conception he forms of a 
rational mind, that a few sentences must be quoted : 

" Have we not the same reason to trace that ideal 
world into another ideal world, or new intelligent 
principle ? But if we stop, and go no further ; why 
go so far ? Why not stop at the material world ? . . . 
To say that the different ideas which compose the 
reason of the Supreme Being, fall into order of them- 
selves, and by their own nature, is really to talk 
without meaning. If it has a meaning, I would fain 
know, why it is not as good sense to say, that the parts 
of the material world fall into order of themselves, and 
by their own nature. ... If it requires a cause in 
both, what do we gain by your system in tracing the 
universe of objects irifco a similar universe of ideas? 
The first step which we make leads us on for ever. It 
were therefore wise in us to limit all our inquiries to 
the present world, without looking further." l 

The whole point being, that a rational mind can 
think, and form a plan, while the parts of the material 
world cannot. 

A more trenchant, because really inductive, argu- 
ment is based on the imperfection, evil, and misery of 
the world, which, it is argued, negatives the idea of a 
perfectly wise and beneficent author of the universe. 2 
Mr. Mill's famous indictment of Nature in his Three 
Essays on Religion 3 is ably anticipated in these sec- 

1 "Works, ii. pp. 455-6. Of. on the modus operandi of thinking " The 
ideas in a human mind, we see, by an unknown, inexplicable economy, 
arrange themselves so as to form the plan of a watch or house " (p. 436). 

2 Parts X., XL 3p p 2 8 ff. 


tions of Hume's. In the Essay on Providence and a 
Future State the argument is directed to prove that 
the safety of the State and social order generally are 
as secure without the belief in a providence as with it. 
For, Hume reasons, on the principle that we are not 
entitled to put into the cause more than we find in the 
effect, it is illegitimate to ascribe to the Creator greater 
perfection than already belongs to the material order, 
taken by itself. The order of the world being in any 
case what it is, the assumption of a providence adds 
nothing to it, and the argument for a future life based 
on the injustices of the present state likewise falls. 
For we have no warrant to infer any more perfect 
justice than the facts of the present disclose. To 
Hume's reasoning, like Mill's, it must be replied, first, 
that their picture of the evil and misery wrought by 
mere nature is egregiously overcharged. On Hume's 
principles, the only consistent philosophy of existence 
would be Pessimism. But the description is an exag- 
geration. The " nature red in tooth and claw " theory 
is only one aspect of the facts. There is sound sense 
in Paley's rejoinder : " It is a happy world after all. 
The air, the earth, the waters teem with delighted 
existence." 1 But next, it is not solely on induc- 
tion from nature that belief in the perfection of the 
Creator is established. It stands or falls, in truth, 
with the reality of the moral ideal. The man whose 
faith is anchored there will not lack the power to 
discern a moral system, if in imperfect degree, even in 

How then has the universe, with its wondrous 
" adjustments," which are not denied, come into exist- 

1 Nat. TJieoL, ch. xxvi. Of. Dr. H. Stirling's Darwinism, pp. 205 ff. 


ence? That problem remains, even if. the theistic 
explanation is rejected. Here, in the person of his 
sceptic, Hume fairly revels in hypotheses. It would 
hardly seem as if there need be any difficulty so 
fertile is he in the invention of theories. Need there 
be any cause at all ? For the principle of causation, 
engendered through custom, has no application beyond 
the sphere of experience. Or why should not the 
world, as the old philosophers thought, bo analogous 
to an animal or vegetable, having the principle of its 
development within itself? 1 Order, arrangement, or 
the adjustment of final causes, is not of itself any proof 
of design ; " but only so far as it has been experienced 
to proceed from that principle." 2 Nay, even the 
Epicurean hypothesis of a " fortuitous concourse of 
atoms" is not beyond defence: 

" A finite number of particles is only susceptible of 
finite transpositions ; and it must happen, in an eternal 
duration, that every possible order or position must 
be tried an infinite number of times. . . . No one, who 
has a conception of the powers of infinite, in compari- 
son of finite, will ever scruple this determination." 3 

It would be idle to refute these phantasies. The 
fallacy of the last lies in supposing that the fortuitous 
clashing of elements even through infinite duration 
must result in all possible combinations even such 
as we attribute to mind. That, it is certain, an aimless 
concourse would never do ; any more than compositor's 
types clashing together to all eternity would produce 
an Iliad, a Hamlet, or a Treatise of Human Nature, 
though that is a possible combination of them. The 
matter is not mended when, as in Darwinism, processes 

1 Works, ii. p. 468. 2 Ibid. ii. p, 436. 3 Ibid. ii. p. 481. 


essentially fortuitous are clothed with sounding titles 
like " natural selection " and " survival of the fittest." 

In the Essay on the Immortality of the Soul, sup- 
pressed in Hume's lifetime, 1 similar modes of reasoning 
are employed to destroy all physical or metaphysical 
arguments for immortality. It seems to Hume that, 
in words already quoted, " if any purpose of nature be 
clear, we may affirm that the whole scope and inten- 
tion of man's creation, so far as we can judge by 
natural reason, is limited to the present life." 2 Widely 
different has been the judgment formed of man's capaci- 
ties by other and deeper thinkers, from Plato down to 
Wordsworth and Browning, and even J. S. Mill 1 3 The 
Essay commences and concludes in Hume's most repre- 
hensible mock-pious style : 

"In reality it is the gospel, and the gospel alone, 
which has brought life and immortality to light." 4 

"Nothing could set in a fuller light the infinite 
obligations which mankind have to divine revelation, 
since we find that no other medium could ascertain 
this great and important truth." 5 

A " truth," which is represented in the Essay not 
only as unsupported by reason, but as positively 
outraging it ! 

Is Hume's final attitude to Theism, then, to be de- 
scribed as one of absolute negation, or only as one of 
scepticism ? If regard be had solely to the principles of 
his philosophy, there can be no hesitation as to the 
answer ; for through them the foundations of Theism 
are undeniably destroyed. On the other hand, if any 

1 See above, p. 58. 2 Works, iv. p. 549. 

3 Of. Mill's striking remarks in his TJiree Essays, pp. 249-50. 

4 Ibid. iv. p. 547. 5 Ibid. iv. p. 555. 


weight is to be attached to Hume's own repeated pro- 
fessions, if they are not simply to be regarded as 
accommodations to popular opinion, like his admiration 
for "our most holy religion," he did stop short in 
practice of this extreme position, and gave Theism the 
benefit of the Academic doubt. The frame of things, 
he would allow, did suggest the idea of an intelligent 
author, though the instant the solvents of reason were 
applied to it, the grounds of that belief, or tendency to 
belief, vanished. 1 But when the utmost is granted to 
Hume that he ever thought of claiming, his Theism is 
found to be a purely speculative, inoperative thing, 
hardly deserving to be described by so dignified a 
name. It is a Theism between which and atheism, as 
comes out in the close of the Dialogues? the difference 
is only verbal. It amounts to no more than the 
acknowledgment of the probability " that the principle 
which first arranged, and still maintains order in the 
universe," bears also "some remote inconceivable 
analogy to the other operations of nature, and among 
the rest, to the economy of human nature and thought." 3 
In respect of moral attributes if such can be spoken 
of at all this " principle " is at a still greater remove 
from man. 4 Moreover, this belief in Deity, such as it 
is, is entirely otiose, It is not allowed, any more than 
the idle belief of the Epicurean in his gods, to have any 
influence on affection or conduct. It excludes prayer. 
As Hume succinctly summed it up in his letter on 
Dr. Leechman's sermon, the religion of the rational 

1 Huxley observes : "Hume's theism, such as it is, dissolves away in 
the dialectic river, until nothing is left but the verbal sack in which it 
was contained " (Hume, p. 146). 

2 Works, ii. pp. 527-8. 8 2Md. ii. p, 528. 4 Ibid. ; cf. p. 502. 


man is confined to "the practice of morality, and the 
assent of the understanding to the proposition that God 
exists!' l Here Hume drew the line for himself, with a 
large mark of interrogation behind. 

Hume's task, however, was not yet finished. On the 
basis of reasonings like the above, the fate of historical 
revelation was no longer doubtful. Since, however, 
in that age, belief in revelation was supposed to be 
supported chiefly by the evidence of miracles, it re- 
mained for Hume, as the culmination of his philo- 
sophical undertaking, to subvert effectually that reputed 
foundation of the Christian religion. This is the work 
he takes in hand in the most famous of all his sceptical 
writings the Essay on Miracles. It has been seen 
in an earlier chapter how the idea of the Essay 
originated. 2 Hume himself, with that complacency 
which never failed him when judging of his own 
performances, regarded its reasonings as absolutely 
fatal to the belief assailed. 

" I flatter myself," he says, " that I have discovered 
an argument of like nature [to that of Tillotson against 
transubstantiation], which, if just, will, with the wise 
and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of 
superstitious delusion, and consequently will be useful 
as long as the world endures ; for so long, I presume, 
will the accounts of miracles and prodigies be found in 
all history, sacred and profane." 3 

1 Burton, i. p. 162. See above, p. 37. 2 See above, p, 26. 

3 Works, iv. p. 125. Hume's argument was reviewed by La Place, 
the French astronomer, in his Sur les Probabilities, and was supported 
by an elaborate criticism in the Edinburgh Review (N"o. 46), universally 
attributed to Professor Leslie. The most noted of the many replies was 
that of Dr. Campbell of Aberdeen. His Dissertation on Miracles (see 
above, p. 61) is an acute and well-reasoned production. 



Notwithstanding this preliminary flourish of trumpets, 
it is not difficult to show that this celebrated argument 
of Hume's, in the form in which he presents it, is little 
better than an elaborate sophism. Its essence may be 
said to be contained in the two following propositions : 

" A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, and 
as a firm and unalterable experience has established 
these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the 
nature of the case, is as entire as any argument from 
experience can possibly be imagined." l 

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle 
unless this testimony be of such a kind that its false- 
hood would be more miraculous than the fact which it 
endeavours to establish." 2 

Something might be said in limine on the definition 
of a miracle as a "violation" of the laws of nature, 
and on the manifest inconsistency of the reasoning 
with Hume's own account of the origin of our belief in 
the uniformity of nature. How can a belief which is 
simply a product of custom of subjective association 
of our ideas be set up as a bar against any number of 
"violations" of the ordinary course of nature? To 
make good his contention, Hume would have to show 
that the power of custom was so strong that what he 
calls a " violation " of the laws of nature was not even 
conceivable, or at least believable, by us. But then his 
argument would not have been needed, and would have 
been stultified by his own admission that " accounts of 
miracles and prodigies " are found in all history. 3 

1 Works, iv. p. 130. 2 1Udm iv< pj 131< 

3 Part of Hume's argument against Theism in the Dialogues is that 

Deity might have prevented the evils flowing from "general laws" by 

means of "particular volitions" ("Works, ii. p. 511). 


More important is the objection that, taken on its 
own merits, the argument is a glaring begging of 
the question. "A firm and unalterable experience," 
Hume says, "has established these laws." Even this, 
it may be remarked in passing, is an erroneous state- 
ment. Belief in a law of nature does not, as a rule, 
rest on any such induction from universal experience. 
How, if it did, could the " firm and unalterable experi- 
ence " ever be proved ? Many laws are quite recent 
discoveries, and rest on a very few observed instances. 
A few crucial experiments in a laboratory may establish 
the existence of a law to the satisfaction of all thinking 
men. Besides, as has often been pointed out, in this 
way of putting it, there can be no proper contrast 
between "experience" and "testimony," or room for 
the mathematical weighing of the one against the 
other. All the experience we have on this or any 
similar point, except our own, is testimony only 
reaches us through testimony. 

Two things may be supposed to be covered by 
Hume's statement that " a firm and unalterable experi- 
ence has established" the laws of nature. It may 
mean (1) that experience has established that there are 
laws of nature; or (2) that experience has established 
that no events ever take place in " violation " of these 
laws. On either supposition the reasoning must be 
pronounced fallacious. No one questions that there 
are laws of nature ; the strength of the argument must 
lie, therefore, in the assertion that " firm and unalter- 
able experience " has established that none but natural 
causes have ever been concerned in the production of 
events that natural laws, in Hume's phrase, have 
never been "violated." But this is very manifestly 


the begging of the very point at issue. For the 
assertion of a miracle is precisely the assertion that 
this has not been the universal experience. The " firm 
and unalterable experience" can only be gained by 
discrediting beforehand all testimony to miracle; by 
refusing it a hearing. " It is a miracle," Hume says, 
" that a dead man should ever come to life, because that 
has never been observed in any age or country." l But 
then, has it not? That is the very question to be 
answered. There is no need for going through the 
form of an argument, if the whole matter is to be taken 
for granted at the outset. Better say at once with Mr. 
Arnold " Miracles do not happen " 2 and leave it so. 

Mr. J. S. Mill is conscious of this weakness of 
Hume's argument, and seeks to avoid some of these 
objections by giving it a new turn. He interprets 
it to mean simply that no testimony can ever prevail 
against a complete induction. 3 This is not the shape 
that Hume himself gave it; but even so, it is inter- 
esting to observe that Mr. Mill does not admit its 
cogency. The assertion of a miracle, he concedes, 
contradicts nothing which the experience of mankind 
has "firmly and unalterably established." His own 
words are worth quoting. " In order that any alleged 
fact," he says, "should be contradictory to a law of 
causation, the allegation must be, not simply that the 
cause existed without being followed by the effect, 
for that would be no uncommon occurrence ; but that 
this happened in the absence of any adequate counter- 
acting cause. Now, in the case of an alleged miracle, 
the assertion is the exact opposite of this. It is, that 

1 Works, iv. p. 130. 2 Preface to Literature and Dogma, (1883). 
" Logic, ii, p. 151. 


the effect was defeated, not in the absence, but in 
consequence of a counteracting cause, namely, a direct 
interposition of an act of the will of some being who 
has power over nature ; and in particular of a Being, 
whose will being assumed to have endowed all the 
causes with the powers by which they produce their 
effects, may well be supposed able to counteract them. 
... Of the adequacy of that cause, if present, there 
can be no doubt; and the only antecedent improb- 
ability which can be ascribed to the miracle is the 
improbability that any such cause existed." 1 

What real cogency Hume's argument possesses does 
not lie in these logical subtleties, based on an assumed 
"firm and unalterable experience," but in the other 
direction of the strong antecedent improbability of 
deviations from the known course of nature, as com- 
pared with the admitted fallibility of human testi- 
mony. Every one recognises that the presumption 
against a really miraculous event is so strong as, in 
ordinary circumstances, to be practically insuperable. 
As Hume argues, the course of nature is uniform, 
while human testimony is notoriously fallible. How, 
then, shall the one ever be successfully pitted against 
the other? The simply unusual is frequently dis- 
credited on this ground, often with an excess of scepti- 
cism ; 2 how much more the positively miraculous ? 
Even here, however, it may be shown that Hume 

1 Logic, pp. 161-2. Of. Brown in Cause and fi/ect (notes A and F) : 
" A miracle is no contradiction of the law of cause and effect ; it is a 
new effect supposed to be produced by the introduction of a new 

2 Of. Hume's case of the Indian prince (from Locke) refusing to 
believe in water freezing because he had never seen it (Works, iy. 
p. 129). 


pushes his argument beyond its due bounds. The 
improbability in question is felt when the circum- 
stances are ordinary; but what if they are extra- 
ordinary? Hume assumes that the presumption 
against a miracle must always be practically infinite. 
But everything here depends on circumstances. It is 
quite conceivable that the circumstances may be such 
as not only to create no antecedent presumption against 
the miracle, but to yield a strong presumption for it. 
A miracle, that is, can never be treated as a wholly 
isolated event. If it is, the presumption against it 
will be invariably strong. If the miracle, in addition 
to being sporadic, is frivolous or absurd, as, e.g., in 
the case of Mr. Arnold's prodigy of the pen being 
turned into a pen- wiper, 1 or Professor Huxley's centaur 
trotting down the street, 2 it may be summarily dis- 
missed from consideration. Where, on the other hand, 
the miracle is not isolated, but stands in a context 
which renders it rational and credible, the case is widely 
altered. Given, e.g.) to state the Christian position 
such a Person as Jesus Christ declared Himself to 
be, the miracles that are attributed to Him become 
in the highest degree 'nat'wral events to be expected 
from such an One. Given, again, a great scheme of 
divine revelation, extending through many ages, 
in successive historical dispensations, it is in itself 
anything but incredible that miracles should have been 
employed in the founding of these dispensations, or 
in connection with them. Even in nature, it can be 
argued, the founding of a new kingdom, or rise from 
a lower to a higher as at the introduction of life 
cannot well be construed without something analogous 

1 Lit. and Dogma, p. 95 (1883). 2 Hume, p. 134. 


to miracle. This is a class of considerations of which 
Hume takes no account perhaps was incapable of 

But Hume shows himself equally in error in unduly 
belittling the force of the testimony for miracle. Here, 
as in the other case, everything depends on circum- 
stances. Human testimony may generally be very 
faulty ; but there are instances in which testimony is 
given by such persons, of such character, and under 
such conditions, that it would do more violence to 
reason wholly to reject, than it would do to accept, 
their witness. Testimony is not to be measured by 
the mathematical rules of which Hume is so fond 
so many instances for the general rule, so many for 
this particular exception to it. There is not neces- 
sarily any real contradiction between the two sets 
of experiences. Contradiction can only arise where, 
of two persons on the spot, one affirms and the other 
denies. When the two conditions which have been 
mentioned coincide : (1) a presumption in the nature of 
the case, not against, but for the miracle ; and (2) the 
testimony of reliable witnesses, in cases where the 
matter is one on which they are plainly competent 
to judge, the evidence for miracle, instead of being 
weak, may be very strong indeed. 1 

It may be noted as a last criticism on Hume's argu- 
ment, that it narrows down the testimony for miracles 
too exclusively to individual testimony. It is over- 

1 On the parallels which Hume draws in his Essay between the 
miracles at the tomb of the Abb4 de Paris and the Christian miracles, 
the reader had better suspend his judgment till he has studied the 
real facts about the former, as brought out by Campbell, Leland, and 
others, in their respective replies to Hume. 


looked that miracle may be verifiable on the large 
scale as well as on the smc&K, so that it may some- 
times be easier to establish the supernatural character 
of a general system, than to verify all the particular 
miracles connected with it as parts or corollaries. Even 
as respects testimony, the individual form is far from 
being the only, or always, even, the most important 
one. There is, e.g., such a thing as the testimony of 
the collective or national consciousness, which may 
retain the memory of great events, where individual 
witnesses can no longer be identified ; or, as in Chris- 
tianity, the witness of the consciousness of the his- 
toric Church to the great facts connected with its 
origin. But this class of considerations, again, is quite 
foreign to the mode of thought of our author, who, 
confident of having destroyed the defences of revealed 
religion, closes with great satisfaction in his usual 
strain of satire: 

"So that, upon the whole, we may conclude that 
the Christian Religion not only was at first attended 
with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed 
by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason 
is insufficient to convince us of its veracity ; and who- 
ever is moved by Faith to assent to it is conscious 
of a continued miracle in his own person, which sub- 
verts all the principles of his understanding, and gives 
him a determination to believe what is most contrary 
to custom and experience." 1 

1 Works, iv. p. 150. 



UNDER the heading of "Miscellaneous Writings," we 
have in view chiefly the Essays Moral and Political, 
originally published in 1741-2 (changes and additions 
after), and the Political Discowses, which appeared 
first in 1752 the whole subsequently comprised under 
Essays and Treatises on several Subjects. 1 The Essays 
were Hume's first popular writings, and in the main 
deserved their popularity. They are written with 
excellent taste and finish, and, though by no means 
the most important part of Hume's contribution to 
literature, are nearly always learned, thoughtful, and 
suggestive. As already told, they were commenced 
with a view to weekly publication on the model of 
the Spectator and the Craftsman? and affect the easy, 
natural treatment proper to that class of composition. 
Dividing the "elegant part of mankind" into "the 
learned and the conversible," Hume describes himself 
as a " kind of ambassador " whose mission it is to pro- 
mote a good correspondence between the two States. 3 
He accepts Addison's definition of fine writing as con- 

1 On the history of the Editions, see Appendix. 

2 See above, p. 36. 3 " Of Essay Writing," Works, iv. p. 519. 



sisting of sentiments which are natural, without being 
obvious; 1 and sets it before him as his aim to earn 
that distinction for his own performances. Save, how- 
ever, for some papers of the slighter sort, afterwards 
dropped, the Essays are of too solid and durable a 
quality to be well adapted for the purposes of mere 
"polite" recreation. Even the abstrusest of them is 
marked by the utmost literary care. No one who 
reads the papers on "Delicacy of Taste/' on "Elo- 
quence," on "Simplicity and Kefinement in Writing," 
will doubt that Hume had bestowed great pains on the 
study of style, and on the canons of literary excellence 
generally, and that, however curiously awry some of 
his own critical judgments unquestionably were, he 
entertained on the whole very correct views on these 
subjects. The Essay on " The Standard of Taste," in 
particular (later in date than the others), is in its way 
a model of fine writing on a purely literary theme. It 
abounds in just and discriminating observations, and 
manifests on every page the author's own refinement 
of judgment and delicacy of taste. A favourite method 
of Hume in the Essays is to lay down his thesis in the 
form of a paradox, bringing up first all that can be 
said against it, then proceeding to explain, illustrate, 
and defend his own position. 

One incidental advantage of the Essays is that they 
frequently afford interesting side-lights on Hume's 
opinions in regard to subjects other than those of 
which the Essay directly treats. The " abstruse philo- 
sophy " is now, indeed, left wholly behind. " Impres- 
sions and ideas" have disappeared, and we stand on 
the broad ground of common humanity. The trans- 
1 " Of Simplicity and Refinement," Works, iii. p. 211. 


formation is so curious that the reflective reader can 
hardly help sometimes being amused by it. No longer 
are causes and effects arbitrary conjunctions of pheno- 
mena, but " effects will always correspond to causes," 1 
and the rational connection between the two is so clearly 
seen, that effect may be deduced from cause with per- 
fect certainty. The principles from which the author 
reasons are no longer precarious subjective assumptions, 
but " eternal and immutable truths." E.g. : 

"So great is the force of laws, and of particular 
forms of government, and so little dependence have 
they on the humours and tempers of men, that conse- 
quences almost as general and certain may sometimes 
be deduced from them as anything which the mathe- 
matical sciences afford us." 

The "inconveniences" of an elective monarchy are 
" such as are founded on causes and principles eternal 
and immutable." 

" An observation of Machiavel . . . which, I think, 
may be regarded as one of those eternal political truths 
which no time nor accidents can vary." 2 

A special interest attaches to the " political " Essays, 
as showing how Hume's mind, even at this early date, 
was working forward to his great History. Most of 
the principles of the History, in fact, are already here 
in nuce. There is already the evidence of extensive 
reading in the history of the past, of keen powers of 
observation, of accurate comparison of forms of political 
government, of the habit of mind that is not content 
till it has traced effects to their causes, and particular 
facts to the general principles that explain them. 

1 Works, iii. p. 20. 

2 On "Politics a Science," Works, iii. pp. 12, 14, 18. 


There is the same wide knowledge of human nature, 
and interest in its workings, as in the History ; the 
same philosophic impartiality, or affectation of it ; the 
same inability to comprehend the profounder springs 
of human action; the same intense antipathy to 
" priesthood " and " fanaticism." In one of his letters 
he says of the Essay 'on the Protestant Succession : "I 
treat that subject as coolly and indifferently as I would 
the dispute between Caesar and Pompey." 1 His views 
on the general principles of government, and the 
workings of different constitutions, are based on a 
wide induction from Greek and Roman, Venetian, 
Italian, French, and other forms of rule, and are fre- 
quently marked by shrewd insight. His own judgment 
is in favour of such a balance of the constitution as 
existed in England a "mixed monarchy," with a 
hereditary ruler though from the first there is all too 
favourable an estimate of the effects of despotism. 

" It may, therefore, be pronounced," he says, " as an 
universal axiom in politics, That an hereditary prince, 
a nobility without vassals, and a people voting by their 
representatives, form the best MONARCHY, ARISTOCEACY, 
and DEMOCRACY." 2 Yet, while not unfriendly to a 
republic in the abstract, he avows: 

"I would frankly declare that, though liberty be 
preferable to slavery, in almost every case, yet I should 
rather wish to see an absolute monarch than a republic 
in this Island." 3 

One thing which unduly biassed Hume in favour of 
absolutism was what he took to be the peculiar success 
of that form of monarchy in France. 4 Though not blind 

1 Burton, i. p. 239. 2 Works, iii. p. 15. 

3 Ibid. iii. p. 52. 4 IUd. iii. pp, 98, 102. 


to the evils of oppressive taxation in that country, he 
had not the dimmest perception of the terrible cata- 
strophe that was preparing beneath the brilliant sur- 
face he beheld, and thought the mischiefs could be 
remedied by a better system of finance. 1 He was 
strangely insensible to the evils of even such a govern- 
ment as that of Turkey, and had a high opinion of 
the "integrity, gravity, and bravery" of the Turkish 
people ; " a candid, sincere people," he calls them. 2 

Yet there is a difference between the earlier and the 
later Hume on this point of attachment to political 
liberty, though it must be owned that the distinction 
is at best a relative one. When Hume first wrote, the 
English Revolution was not far behind, and the Crown 
had long been dependent on Whig support. But 
change was impending, and, while Hume's sympathies 
were in the main with freedom, he took up, from his 
philosophic standpoint, a very detached attitude to 
parties in general. He says of his Essay on the 
Protestant Succession, "The conclusion shows me a 
Whig, but a very sceptical one." 3 Walpole, the head 
of the party, had been in power for well-nigh a genera- 
tion, and, in an Essay which he wrote on that statesman, 
(afterwards reduced to a note), Hume showed that he 
had formed by no means too flattering a judgment on 
his character and administration. " During his time," 
he says, "trade has flourished, liberty declined, and 
learning gone to ruin. As I am a man, I love him ; as 
I am a scholar, I hate him ; as I am a Briton, I calmly 
wish his fall." 4 Probably the most genuine evidence 
of his interest in freedom is his defence (still how far 

1 Works, iii. p. 103. 2 Ibid. iii. pp. 225, 232. 

3 Burton, i. p. 239. 4 Works, iii. p. 27, 


from the elevated note of Milton !) of the liberty of the 
press in his Essay on that subject in the earlier editions. 
In the course of the discussion he says : 

" It has also been proved, as the experience of man- 
kind increases, that the people are no such dangerous 
monsters as they have been represented, and that it is 
in every respect better to guide them like rational 
creatures than to lead or drive them like brute beasts." 1 

But it is significant that the passages containing 
these liberal sentiments were subsequently expunged ; 
and at the close of his Essay on Parties in Great 
Britain he made a yet more general retractation. 
"Some of the opinions in these Essays" he writes, 
"with regard to the public transactions in the last 
century, the author, on more accurate examination, 
found occasion to retract in his History of Great 
Britain. . . . Nor is he ashamed to acknowledge his 
mistakes. These mistakes were, indeed, at that time, 
almost universal in that kingdom." 2 

Of all Hume's Essays, however, the most important 
are unquestionably those originally published under 
the title of Political Discourses. In the present state 
of economical science, indeed, the Essays contain 
scarcely anything which we may not find much better 
stated elsewhere ; but in a historical respect, they form 
a link in the development of that science of no mean 
importance. " The Political Discourses of Mr. Hume," 
says Dugald Stewart, in his life of Adam Smith, " were 
certainly of greater use to Mr. Smith than any other 
book that had appeared prior to his Lectures." Adam 
Smith, strangely enough, does not take much direct 
notice of Hume in the Wealth of Nations, but the 
1 Worts, iii. p. 10. 2 Iudt ^ pi 76m 


careful reader will easily discern Hume's influence, and 
will observe that, incidentally, there are few of Hume's 
speculations which are not taken up, and carefully con- 
sidered. In this connection, the Essays on "Money," 
"Interest," "The Balance of Trade," "The Jealousy of 
Trade," "Taxes," and "Public Credit," are the most 
important. The spirit in all these papers is identical 
with that of the Wealth of Nations. In the very first 
sentence of the Essay on Money, e.g., we have the 
key-note of Smith's epoch-making work: 

" Money is not, properly speaking, one of the subjects 
of commerce. ... It is indeed evident that money is 
nothing but the representation of labour and com- 
modities, and serves only as a means of rating or 
estimating them." 1 

Hence the folly, Hume goes on to show, of supposing, 
as had been done by nearly all European nations, that 
the real wealth of a country could be increased by the 
mere increase of its gold and silver. This is exactly 
the error which, under the name of " The Mercantile 
System," Adam Smith spends his strength in combat- 
ing, sometimes in language that might seem almost an 
echo of Hume's own. On certain minor points, indeed, 
he differs from Hume; for instance, on the question 
whether, even in the case of war, or of any negotiations 
with a foreign power, an abundance of the precious 
metals is, as Hume supposes, any real advantage. But 
in regard to main principles, the two are perfectly 
at one. So, again, on the question of Commerce and 
Free Trade, Hume shows unanswerably, as Smith did 
more fully after him, that no policy can ever be whole- 
some which attempts to place restraints either on 
1 Works, iii. p. 309. 


home manufacture or on foreign commerce. He main- 
tains the thesis that the tendency of industry, arts, and 
trades is to increase the power of the sovereign, as 
well as the happiness of the subject. The true policy 
of any country, therefore, must ever be to encourage 
trade and manufacture, as bringing commodities into 
the market, and into contact with the circulating 
specie. As in the former case, there are parts of 
Hume's exposition to which well-grounded exception 
may be taken ; but, on the whole, his defence of the prin- 
ciple of unrestricted competition will bear comparison 
with that of his more illustrious successor. It is 
strange that with such clear views of the fallacies 
involved in the idea of a " Balance of Trade/' Hume 
should have remained so enamoured as he was of the 
idea of a " Balance of Power " in politics. He regarded 
this as " a secret in politics fully known only to the 
present age," 1 and devoted an Essay to the discussion 
of the question, " Whether the idea of the balance of 
power be owing entirely to modern policy, or whether 
the phrase only has been invented in these later ages." 2 
He was not, withal, insensible to the fact that the prin- 
ciple had been pushed much too far in the politics of 
his time. 8 In certain other respects, as in his idea that 
a tax on German linen " encourages home manufactures 
and thereby multiplies our people and industry/' and 
that a tax on brandy " increases the sale of rum, and 
supports our foreign colonies," 4 he is clearly in incon- 
sistency with his own principles. It is chiefly, how- 
ever, on the subject of bank credit, paper-currency, 
and related topics, that his views, though ingeniously 

1 Works, iii. p. 100. ' find. iii. p. 364. 

3 IbiiL iii. p. 371. 4 Hid. iii. p. 356, 


explained and defended, are out of accord with those of 
modern economists, and have been most convincingly 
refuted by experience. 1 Hume was unduly influenced 
by the dread of " banishing " the precious metals from 
the country ; a fear from which, again, his own reason- 
ings might have saved him. But he confesses that the 
subject is "extremely complicated," and states fairly 
enough the advantages of the system he opposes. 2 

The originality of the economical speculations of 
Hume will hardly be questioned. He had few pre- 
decessors in England, 3 and the French economists, 
Quesnay, Turgot, and others of their school, had not 
yet written. In fact, a powerful influence of Hume 
may be traced in these authors, as well as in Adam 
Smith. 4 The Discourses were early translated into 
French, and Turgot himself produced a translation of 
several of them. 

It remains now to speak of Hume in that depart- 
ment of his work in which his fame culminated, 
viz., as historian. 

A truly great History is a work of art. Lord 
Macaulay represents history as occupying the border 
land between reason and imagination, and therefore as 
coming partly under the jurisdiction of both. The 
solid qualities of the historian learning, veracity, 
sound sense are all important; but he fails in the 
higher department of his work if he cannot, in addition, 
throw over the details of his narration the fresh 
interest and warm glow of imagination ; if he cannot 

1 Works, iii. pp. 811, 347 ff. 2 Ibid. iii. p. 349. 

3 Dugald Stewart has a note on some of these in his Life of Adam 

4 Of. Burton, i. p. 365, and Dugald Stewart's Life of Adam SmitJi. 


combine vivid and picturesque description of situations 
and incidents, with the philosophical exhibition of the 
course and connection of events. It was in these 
higher qualities of historical presentation that Hume 
showed himself a master. His History, as we shall 
immediately see, was far from perfect; abounded 
indeed in faults. But its excellences were also con- 
spicuous. Gibbon declared that its ease and grace 
filled him "with a mixed sensation of delight and 
despair." 1 Hume has the rare art of presenting the 
circumstances of a long and complicated train of events 
in such a light that the art is hidden by the apparent 
naturalness of the arrangement. Few have excelled 
him in the picturesque and vivid grouping of details, 
and in the combination of elaborate description with 
clearness, simplicity, and ease. He has the eye of the 
artist for the things that contribute to dramatic effect ; 
and when he finds a subject suited to his pen, as, for 
instance, the Gunpowder Conspiracy, or the meeting of 
the Long Parliament, or the trial of King Charles, or, 
on another plane, such a chapter of court scandal as the 
rise and amours of Somerset, he extends his canvas, 
and lingers to produce a picture which shall at once fill 
the mind and captivate the imagination. As in his 
other writings, so here, he makes skilful use of the 
principle of contrast ; in a complex case, e.g., setting 
forth first the reasons of one side, then those of the 
other, and finally summing up as the impartial spec- 
tator. 2 Beyond all, the History is characterised by the 
presence of a subtle yet unobtrusive vein of reflection, 

1 Autobiography. 

2 As examples, the chapters on the Gunpowder Plot and on the 
Petition of Eights may be compared. 


which makes it in many parts a model of what 
"reflective" history ought to be. Hume's temper, 
commonly, is so even, his judgment so calm, in all 
matters where his own prejudices are not involved 
(unfortunately a serious qualification), that it would be 
a misfortune if, with all its faults, his History should 
ever be allowed to be forgotten. It was the first really 
great History of which our language could boast, and 
there are critics who doubt whether, in certain respects, 
it is not the best still. 

The faults of the work, however, are equally mani- 
fest. They are such faults as were inevitable in any 
History proceeding from the mind of Hume. One 
must try, of course, to be scrupulously just to the 
author even here. If Hume took the side of arbitrary 
power to an extent which jars upon our sense of jus- 
tice and impartiality, it may be allowed that he did so, 
not because he sympathised with tyranny as such, but 
because, in the circumstances, that seemed to him the 
side of order. His natural dislike of all turbulence and 
fanaticism operated strongly to prejudice him against 
the popular party in the nation, as well as against the 
principles with which that party was identified. A 
popular cause can never be altogether separated from 
inflamed passions, unreasonable excesses, extravagant 
demands, and misguided zeal. These abuses a calm 
and enlightened historian ought to have been able to 
distinguish from the true merits of the case. But 
Hume looked mainly to the faults. His high apprecia- 
tion of the interests of learning and literature threw a 
powerful weight into the scale of the party possessed 
of the greatest education, politeness, and refinement. 
Still, after every allowance for the colour which must 


be given to every historian's narrative by the peculiar 
lights of his own mind, it is impossible to acquit Hume 
of making an unfair and careless use of his materials. 
Hallam, the model of a temperate and impartial his- 
torian, is compelled at times to speak in the strongest 
terms of his unreliability. Macaulay is himself far 
from blameless in the matter of bias, but his estimate 
of Hume can scarcely be accused of exaggeration. 
" Hume," he says, " is an accomplished advocate. 
Without positively asserting much more than he can 
prove, he gives prominence to all the circumstances 
which support his case; he glides lightly over those 
which are unfavourable to it ; his own witnesses are 
applauded and encouraged ; the statements which seem 
to throw discredit on them are contradicted ; the con- 
tradictions into which they fall are explained away ; a 
clear and connected abstract of their evidence is given. 
Everything that is offered on the other side is 
scrutinised with the utmost severity ; every suspicious 
circumstance is a ground for comment and invective ; 
what cannot be denied or extenuated is passed by 
without notice ; concessions even are sometimes made ; 
but the insidious candour only increases the effect of 
the vast mass of sophistry." l 

The History was conceived and written, as Hume 
himself indicates, with a very definite purpose, viz., to 
correct what he supposed to be the " misrepresenta- 
tions of factions " in connection with the reigns of the 
Stuarts. 2 Mr. Maurice has, we think, not unjustly 
connected this design of Hume's with the spirit of the 
so-called " Philosophical History " at that time in vogue 

1 On History, Mis. Writings, p. 154. 

2 My Own Life. 


in France under the auspices of Voltaire. 1 History 
was to be made a popular and interesting medium for 
diffusing the principles of that "easy and obvious" 
philosophy, of which the essence was the absence of 
every high and ideal aim. The past was to be made 
to speak, as far as possible, the thoughts, the feelings, 
the temper of the present. Everything that might 
interfere with that temper the belief in God, in 
providence, in eternal destiny was to be skilfully 
extracted, and in this way the reader was to be trained 
to regard every attempt to rise above the sphere with 
which he was habitually conversant, as extravagant 
and ridiculous. Hume need not, indeed, be supposed to 
have formed any deliberate design of introducing these 
French modes of thought and literature into Scotland. 
It is asserted only that his History is strongly imbued 
with the same spirit and tendency. His mind was 
naturally disposed in this direction ; the contagion was 
in the air, and he naturally caught the prevailing 

The History 9 we saw, 2 was commenced in 1752, 
after Hume had been appointed Librarian to the 
Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. The influences 
already noticed had not a little to do with his choice 
of the accession of the House of Stuart as the starting- 
point of his undertaking. Then commenced in Britain, 
not merely the grand struggle between court and 
country, but also what Maurice calls " the great theo- 
cratical conflict " for religious principle and liberty of 
conscience. The fullest admission may be made of 
the grave faults, the uncultured narrowness, the mani- 
festations of bigotry, which may frequently be charged 
1 Mod. PUl.t oh. ix. . * , 2 See above, pp. 50 ft 


against both English Puritans and Scotch Covenanters, 
though it is easily possible here to exaggerate. But 
what is inexcusable is that one should be indifferent to 
the higher meaning of these struggles, out of which 
have sprung nearly all our modern civil and religious 
rights and privileges. Hume himself, in a passage 
which is retained to the last edition, remarks on the 
Puritans, most inconsistently, indeed, with other parts 
of his work : " The precious spark of liberty had been 
kindled, and was preserved by the Puritans alone ; it 
was to this sect, whose principles appear so frivolous, 
and their habits so ridiculous, that the English owe 
the whole freedom of their constitution." l If this was 
so, what is to be said of the historian who, in the same 
and in earlier volumes, condemns all, or nearly all, 
their important acts in the struggle for freedom, and 
as warmly espouses the cause of their opponents ? For 
this is what Hume did. Throughout he was a zealous 
defender of the royal prerogative against the party 
identified with religion and constitutional liberty. 
Whatever evils may be supposed to attend an absolute 
monarchy, and he does not pretend to ignore them, 
they are not, in his judgment, comparable to the far 
worse evils which spring from anarchy and faction. 
And the chief source of anarchy and faction, in Hume's 
view, was religion, or, as he prefers to name it, " en- 
thusiasm." The spirit of English freedom he believed 
to be inseparably associated in its progress with 
religious fanaticism and bigotry, and this was sufficient 
to condemn it in his eyes. His philosophical preference 
for freedom did not avail to overcome his repugnance 
to the persons and parties identified with its cause; 

1 Oh. xl (Hist, v^-p. 183). 


while it permitted him to look with great placidity 
on the usurpations, tyrannies, and persecutions of the 
rulers who sought to crush it, and to find palliations 
and excuses for their worst acts. 

The general course of the publication of the History, 
and the character of the reception it met with from the 
public, have been described in a previous chapter. The 
first volume, published in 1754, narrates, as was seen, 
the struggle for civil and religious liberty, from the 
accession of James up to the execution of Charles I. 
Here, most of all, the critics found reason to complain 
of Hume's strong spirit of partisanship, his unjustifi- 
able bias, and his general untrustworthiness as an 
authority. In this volume his Tory leanings are 
extreme. He admits in numerous passages that 
liberty was being justly contended for, and maintains 
a certain appearance of partiality by blaming particu- 
lar acts of James or Charles, or their instruments. 
But with little qualification he takes the side of the 
monarch, even in his most arbitrary exercises of 
power. He might be acting wrongly, but it is Hume's 
habitual contention that he had ancient or more recent 
precedents to justify him. 1 Whatever incidental con- 
cessions may be made, therefore, the scale, in nearly 
every instance of unconstitutional action, is caused to 
turn heavily against the opponents. It was not neces- 
sary that Hume should pretend nor did he that the 
Court of High Commission or the Star Chamber were 
salutary institutions ; or that Hampden was not justi- 
fied in his resistance to ship-money; or that Laud's 

1 Hist. vi. p. 52 ; of. pp. 160 ff. The illusory character of many of 
these alleged precedents has been repeatedly shown (by Brodie, Hallam, 
and others). 


character and policy were commendable; or that 
Charles acted wisely in his dealings with the Scots. 
But it was open to him to produce the same impression 
by subtler methods. When, for instance, the above- 
named engines of tyranny, the Court of High Com- 
mission and the Star Chamber, are represented as 
old and accredited instruments of justice, 1 and their 
victims are turned into ridicule as fanatics who got 
little more than they deserved ; 2 when the King's 
arbitrary impositions are bolstered up by precedents, 3 
and it is declared that " the grievances under which 
the English laboured," considered in themselves, 
" scarcely deserve the name " ; 4 when Hampden, not- 
withstanding his acknowledged virtues, is denied " the 
praises of a good citizen " ; 5 when Strafford is vindi- 
cated in his policy of " Thorough," 6 and Laud is 
apologised for, his offences minimised, and his memory 
hallowed ; 7 when the Covenanters are scoffed at for 
their fury against " the mild, the humane Charles, with 
his inoffensive liturgy," 8 and their grievances are 
roundly declared to be " imaginary," 9 it is not easy to 
distinguish the result upon the mind from that of 
direct approval of the obnoxious measures. The Puri- 
tans are, of course, Hume's pet aversion, and the 
smallest possible allowance of respect is meted out to 
them. 10 They are seldom alluded to without some term 
of opprobrium being applied to them ; their scruples 
about ceremonies are jeered at; 11 if they are called 

1 Hist. vi. pp. 160, 307. etc. 3 E.g., ibid. vi. pp. 295, 299. 

3 Cf. Hid. vi. p. 52. * Ibid, vi. p. 319. 

5 Ibid. vi. p. 521. 6 Ibid. vi. p. 418. 

7 Ibid. vii. p. 42. 8 Ibid, vi p. 330. 

3 Ibid. vi. p. 348. 10 Of. ibid. vi. pp. 11. 13, 85. 
11 Ibid. vii. pp. 13, 19, 203, 303. 


to suffer for their opinions, it is well if a spice of 
mockery is not thrown into the description always 
unsympathetic of their sufferings. 1 They are gloomy, 
unreasonable, fanatical, hypocritical zealots ; and while, 
in the character finally given of him, Charles, as man 
and ruler, is pictured as a model of all the virtues, 2 
Cromwell, as we saw, is branded on his first appear- 
ance as " this fanatical hypocrite." 3 

It is scarcely to be wondered at that, as Hume tells 
us, this first volume was assailed on its appearance by 
a universal cry of disapprobation. The second volume, 
issued in 1756, covered the period from the death of 
Charles I. till the Revolution. It was, as before shown, 
better received. There was probably less room for the 
intrusion of the historian's offensive sentiments in this 
period; but it will be difficult entirely to exculpate 
Hume from deliberately toning down his work, and 
bating his breath, to secure for his book a more favour- 
able reception. In this volume, too, a long note was 
inserted for the express purpose of explaining away 
the more violent and offensive statements in Vol. i. 
This was subsequently cancelled, and numerous altera- 
tions were made in later editions, all on the Tory side. 
Then, in 1*759, appeared the third and fourth volumes, 
comprising the history of the House of Tudor. Por- 
tions of these volumes, especially in the reign of 
Elizabeth, contain some remarkably strong historical 
writing ; but it is universally conceded that his desire 
to justify the actions of Charles I. led him, in this 
earlier period, to represent the Koyal prerogative under 
the Tudors as much greater and more absolute than 

1 Cf. as above, vi. pp. 295, 299, etc. 

2 Hist. vii. p. 150. 3 Ibid. vi. p. 274. 


the facts will warrant. He had committed himself to 
an indefensible thesis, and was obviously shackled 
throughout. After this the work became more a 
matter of drudgery and profit than of inclination. 
What interest had the philosophical historian in 
" skirmishes of kites or crows/' l or in the doings and 
institutions of a people only emerging out of bar- 
barism? Apart from the pleasingness of the style, 
therefore, Hume's account of the Anglo-Saxon and 
succeeding early periods presents little that is of 
permanent value to the student 

It is hardly necessary to speak of the influence 
which, as historian, Hume has exerted on our litera- 
ture. For long his History was the standard book on 
the periods of which it treats. It entered largely into 
school instruction, and in this and more direct ways 
helped to form opinions and establish prejudices which 
in some instances have lasted to our own generation. 
Expurgated editions of it were produced for the use 
of " Christians." 2 Hosts of replies were published on 
the appearance of the several volumes, controverting 
what were thought to be their main misrepresentations. 
Most of its important errors have been pointed out 
by critics and historians since Hume's day by none 
more fairly than by Mr. Hallam. But the History 
of Hume stills stands alongside of those of his con- 

1 Hist. i. p. 28. 

2 One such, published in 1816, bears the title "Hume's History of 
England, Revised for Family TJse, with siich Omissions and Altera- 
tions as may render it Salutary to the Young, and unexceptionable to 
the Christian. Dedicated by Permission to the Eight Rev. the Lord 
Bishop of Rochester, By the Rev. George Berkeley Mitchell, A.M., 
Vicar of St. Mary, m Leicester, etc. In Eight Vols." [The Alterations 
have only reference to the Church of England.] 


temporaries Robertson and Gibbon as a great work 
of genius ; and probably no historian of England will 
ever think himself properly equipped for his work 
till he has made himself familiar with its page and 
mastered the secret of its charm. 

Our sketch may here close. No formal summing- 
up of the character and abilities of Hume is necessary 
after what has been said in the course of the foregoing 
narrative, exposition, and comment. Enough if it has 
been established that, for good or harm, Hume's 
memory and influence are likely to abide with us 
as long as our literature lasts. 



[THIS Appendix is based partly on examination of the editions 
themselves, partly on the lists of editions in Hume's Works 
(A. & C. Black), vol. i., and in Green and Grose, vol. iii. pp. 
85-6, with Mr. Grose's History of Editions. These are 
checked by reference to Burton, etc.] 


The Treatise of Human Nature^ Being an Attempt to 
introduce the experimental Method of Eeasoning into Moral 
Subjects. Book I. Of the Understanding. Book II. Of the 
Passions. London, John Noon[e], 1739 (two vols.). 

Do. Book III. Of Morals. With an Appendix -wherein 
some Passages of the foregoing volumes are illustrated and 
explained. London, Thomas Longman, 1740. 

The above were recast and popularised as under : 

Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding. 
By the Author of the Essays, Moral and Political. London, 
A. Millar (April), 1748. (Includes Essays on Miracles and 
on A Particular Providence and a Future State.) 

Do. Eeprinted in November with the Author's Name 
(Grose, iii. pp. 48-9). 

Do. Second edition, with Additions and Corrections, 



London, A. Millar, 1750. [Publication delayed "because of 
the earthquakes," cf. Burton, i. p. 300.] Burton says it was 
published by Millar in 1751. Grose omits this edition 
(given in list in Black's vol. i.) and substitutes next. 

Do. Second edition, with Additions and Corrections. 
London, M. Cooper. [Thus Grose. Copy in Bodl. Same 
edition transferred?] 

In the collected Essays (1758) the title of this work was 
changed to An Enquiry concerning the Human Understanding, 
by which it is generally known. 

An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. By David 
Hume, Esq. London, A. Millar, 1751. 

The above, with the other Essays of Hume, were finally 
published under the general title of Essays and Treatises on 
several Subjects (1753-4, 1758, etc. See below). 


The history of the editions of the Essays is intricate, but 
the main facts are these. We take in order the Essays 
Moral and Political, the Political Discourses, and the Four 

I. Essays Moral and Political. Edinburgh, A. Kincaid, 

Do. Second edition, corrected, 1742. 

Do. Vol. ii., 1742. 

Do. Third edition (one vol.), corrected, with Additions. 
London, A. Millar; and Edinburgh, A. Kincaid, 1748. 

As originally published, vol. i. of this collection contained 
15 Essays, and vol. ii. 12 Essays, 27 in all, as compared 
with the 23 that appear in Part I. of the Essays and Treatises, 
in their final adjustment. The changes are accounted for 
as follows: (1) As many as 8 of the original Essays were 
gradually dropped, or were never reprinted, reducing the 
number to 19. Thus, the Essays on Essay- Writing, on Moral 


Prejudices, and on the Middle Station in Life (in vol. ii.) 
were never reprinted. Other three (in vol. L), on Impudence 
and Modesty, Love and Marriage, and the Study of History, 
were dropped in 1764. The Essay on Avarice (vol. i.) was 
dropped in 1770. Finally, the Essay on the Character of Sir 
Robert Walpole (vol. ii.) was first reduced to a footnote in 
1748, and was finally omitted in 1770. (2) To balance these 
losses, three new Essays were added in 1748 (third edition), 
viz., those on the Original Contract, on Passive Obedience, 
and on National Characters [at first these were published 
separately]. The two former, however, were subsequently 
transferred to the Political Discourses, so that the gain thus 
far is only one Essay. (3) The Essay on the Origin of Govern- 
ment first appeared in the posthumous edition of 1777. (4) 
It will be seen below that two of the pieces originally published 
as Dissertations, viz., those on Tragedy and on The Standard 
of Taste, were in 1758 incorporated in Part L of the " Essays, 
Moral, Political, and Literary," This total addition of 4 
Essays brings up the number from 19 to the existing 23. 

2. Political Discourses. By David Hume, Esq. Edin- 
burgh, A. Kincaid and A. Donaldson, 1752. [Misprint in 
Grose of "Gent. Mag. Feb. 1742" for 1752.] 

The volume as published in 1752 contained only 12 Essays 
as compared with the final 16. None were omitted (though 
title of second Essay is changed from " Luxury " to " Refine- 
ment in the Arts ") ; but it has been seen, that two Essays (on 
Original Contract and Passive Obedience) were transferred 
to the group from the Moral and Political Essays, and two 
others were added in 1758, those, viz,, on Jealousy of 
Trade and on Coalition of Parties. Thus the number 16 is 
made up. 

Before referring to the final distribution, it is necessary to 
look to the complicated history of the four Dissertations. 

3. Four Dissertations. I. The Natural History of Religion. 
II. Of the Passions. III. Of Tragedy. IV. Of the Standard 


of Taste. By David Hume, Esq. London, A. Millar, 

In 1758 a readjustment was made in the Essays and 
Treatises. The Dissertation on the Passions (answering to 
Book II. of the Treatise, was appended to the Enquiry 
concerning Human Understanding; and the Natural History 
of Eeligion was similarly made to follow the Enquiry con- 
cerning the Principles of Morals. The two remaining Dis- 
sertations, those, viz., on Tragedy and on the Standard of 
Taste, were transferred to Part II. of the "Essays, Moral, 
Political, and Literary." 

But besides this public history, the Dissertations had a secret 
history, which was only gradually unravelled. Originally it 
was meant to be a work of Five Dissertations, including two 
which were subsequently suppressed, namely, those on Suicide 
and on the Immortality of the Soul. [The Essay on the 
Standard of Taste was not yet inserted.] The Advocates' 
Library contains a first proof of the work, without title-page, 
but with the following in what is thought to be Hume's 
handwriting : 

Five Dissertations, to wit, The Natural History of Eeligion ; 
of the Passions ; of Tragedy \ of Suicide ; of the Immortality 
of the Soul. The Essay on Suicide is cut out in this copy, 
but that on Immortality remains. 

It was vaguely known that suppression had taken place, 
but the facts were first brought clearly to light by the publica- 
tion in 1784 of a book entitled "Essays on Suicide and the 
Immortality of the Soul, ascribed to the late David Hume, 
Esq. Never before published. With remarks, intended as 
an Antidote to the Poison contained in these Performances, 
by the Editor." The whole circumstances of the publication 
may be read in Burton or in Grose. It appears that 
Hume had at first intended to include as No. 1 of his 
list a Dissertation on Geometry. This was never printed. 
When the obnoxious Essays were suppressed, the Essay 


on the Standard of Taste was inserted to make up the 

It remains to refer to the final arrangement in the Essays 
and Treatises. First came 

Essays and Treatises on several Subjects. By David 
Hume, Esq.; in four volumes. London, A. Millar; Edin- 
burgh, A. Kincaid and A. Donaldson, 1753-4. 

The Dissertations intervened in 1757 ; then appeared 

Do. A New Edition, 1758 (one volume). To this edition 
is prefixed the following Advertisement : " Some alterations 
are made on the Titles of the Treatises, contained in the 
following volume. What in former editions was called 
Essays Moral and Political) is here entitled, Essays, Moral, 
Political, and Literary, Part I. The Political Discourses 
form the Second Part. What in former editions was called 
Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding, is 
here entitled An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. 
The Four Dissertations lately published are dispersed through 
different Parts of this Volume." 

The slight modifications made in subsequent editions of 
the Essays by omissions and additions have already been 
referred to. The editions (1760, 1764, 1768, 1770 finally 
the authoritative edition in 1777) vary from two to four 
volumes; the two-volume form prevailing. In the 1777 
edition a section of the Enquiry concerning Morals was 
transferred to the Appendix under the title, Of Self Love. 


The dates of the publication of the successive volumes are 
given in the text, and need not be repeated. The authoritative 
edition is that of 1777, since reproduced in various forms. 



ASSOCIATION, 10, 11, 45, 95, 98, 
108, 116, 120 ; in causation, 
127 ft; Mill on, 130, 133; in 
perception, 157, 159 ; in morals, 

Atheism, in France, 69; Hume's 
relation to, 192, 208. 

BAIN, A., 13, 120. 

Belief, 111, 128. 

Benthara, J., 168, 183, 184, 187. 

Berkeley, his idealism, 92 ft, 101, 

145, 148. 
Blair, Dr. Hugh, oil Ossian, 60, 61, 

62, 75, 79. 
Boufflers, Madame de, 64 ft, 70, 73, 

Brown, Dr. T., on extension, 120; 

on substance, 144 ; on causation, 

131, 134 ; on perception, 156 ; 

on miracles, 213. 
Butler, Bp., 28, 180, 182. 

CALDERWOOD, Prof., 151. 
Campbell, Principal, on miracles, 

26, 61, 209, 215. 
Carlyle, Dr., 43, 79. 
Causation, Hume's view of, 116, 

122 ; origin in custom, 127 ft ; 

Brown on, 131, 134 ; Kant on, 

136 ft ; relation to free-will, 140 ; 

rational basis of, 138 ft 


Christianity, Hume's view of, 195 ; 

ironical references to, 26, 58, 

195-6, 207, 216; relation to 

miracles, 214. 
Condillac, 107. 
Cromwell, 55, 233. 
Custom, principle of, 108, 127, 

129 if. 

DEISM, 3, 50, 192. 
Descartes, 26, 84. 95. 
Dissertations, their curious history, 
58. Of. Appendix. 

ENGLISH, dislike of the, 4, 77-8. 
FRENCH, love of the, 5, 64, 68. 
GREEN, T. H., 157, 159, 202. 

HAMILTON, Sir WM,, on Hume's 
scepticism, 96 ff. ; on cause, 122 ; 
on perception, 156-7. 

History of England, 40, 41, 50, 
53 ft, 231, 226 ff. See Hume. 

Hobbes, 34, 105, 170-1, 181, 186. 

HUME, place and influence, 1, 9-13, 
84, 128, 167,192; character, 2, 
15, 72, 79 ; influences moulding, 



3 ff. ; love of fame, 3, 5 ff., 53, 
72, 79, 83 ; style, 7-8, 32, 36, 
47, 172, 217-18 ; appearance, 15, 
16, 42, 68. 

Hume, Life of : Parentage, 14; 
youth, 15 ; at university, 16 ; 
early studies, 18 ft; letter to 
physician, 21 ff. ; illness, 21 ; in 
business, 25 ; in France, 25 ff. ; 
publication of Treatise, 27 ff.; 
its reception, 29 ff. ; scope of 
work, 31 ; Treatise completed, 
34; Essays Moral and Political, 
35 ff.; on grayer, 36-7; candi- 
date for chair, 37 ; relations with 
Annandale, 39 ; secretary to St. 
Glair, 40 ff.; mission to Turin, 
41 ff. ; Philosophical Essays, 44 ; 
Enquiry concerning Morals, 47 ; 
removal to Edinburgh, 48 ; Po- 
litical Discourses, 49 ; candidate 
for chair in Glasgow, 49 ; elected 
librarian to Faculty of Advocates, 
50 ; composition of History, 50 ff. ; 
reception of volumes, 53 ff. ; 
accused to Assembly, 57 ; Dis- 
sertations , 58 ; correspondence 
with Campbell and Eeid, 61-4 ; 
secretary to Embassy, 65 ; popu- 
larity in Paris, 66 ff.; dwrgt 
d'affaires, 70 ; advocates dissimu- 
lation, 71 ; Under Secretary for 
Scotland, 72 ; relations with 
Kousseau, 65, 72 ff. ; quarrel with 
Eousseau, 78 ff.; closing years 
in Edinburgh, 77 ff.; dislike of 
English, 77; occupations and 
friendships, 78 ; views on Ameri- 
can rebellion, 80 ; last illness, 
81; will, 81; difficulty about 
Dialogues, 82 ; death, 83. 

Hume, Philosophy of: Scope of 
Treatise, 32-3, 85 ; of Enquiry, 
46, 86 ; relations to Locke and 
Berkeley, 88 ff,; scepticism, 10, 
95 ff. ; theory of knowledge, 11, 
104 ff. ; ideas of space and time, 
119-20 ; causation, 122 ff, ; prin- 
ciple of custom, 108, 127-9 ; 
free-will, 140 ; idea of substance, 

143 ff. ; denial of material reality, 
94, 145 ff.; of self, 94, 147 ff. ; 
inconsistencies of Hume, 12, 
109 ff., 114-16, 135, 149, 152; 
external perception, 158 ff. ; 
ideas and objects, 161 ff. ^ [See 
under special heads, Scepticism, 
Causation, Perception, Substance, 

Hume, Moral theory of : Principle 
of utility, 47, 167 ff.; doctrine of 
passions, 169 ; good and evil, 
171 ; merit and demerit of actions, 
174 ff.; moral sense, 173, 176 ff.; 
theory of sympathy, 175, 177-8 ; 
theory of obligation, 179 ff. ; dis- 
interested sentiments, 182-3 ; the 
moral end, 185 ff. ; ethics of re- 
spectability, 191. 

Hume, Religion and theology : 
Irreligious character of age, 193 ; 
lack of sympathy with religion, 
2, 3, 37, 55, 71, 83, 192-4, 229 ; 
bearing of philosophy on religion, 
5, 101, 195, 229 ; on Christianity, 
195; Natural History of Religion, 
197 ff. ; origin of Monotheism, 
199 ; Dialogues concerning Natu- 
ral Religion, 200 ff.; arguments 
against theism, 202 ff.; personal 
attitude to theism, 207 ff. ; essay 
on miracles, 209 ff. [See under 
special heads, Theism, Miracles, 

Hume, Politics and Literature : 
On forms of Government, 220 ; 
on political parties, 221-2, of. 
55, 78, 80 ; on political economy, 
222; merits of History, 52 ff., 
226-7 ; its defects, 54-5, 227-8 ; 
injustice to Puritans, 230 ff.; 
defence of royal prerogative, 231. 

Hutcheson, F., 3, 34-5, 38, 168, 

176, 177. 
Huxley, T., 7, 118, 196, 208, 214. 

IDEALISM of Berkeley, 92, 145 ; 
truth of, 164. 



Immortality, essay on, 58, 194, 

Impressions and ideas, 94, 104 ff., 

147 ff. 

JAMES, Prof. WM., 12, H8, 159. 

KANT, 6 ; indebtedness to Hume, 
9-10, 46, 84 ; subjectivity of, 88, 
116, 151 ; on knowledge, 112 ff., 
118, 121 ; on causation, 128, 132, 
136 ff. ; on freedom, 140-1 ; on 
self, 112, 149-50 ; on substance, 
151 ff., 180. 

Knowledge. See under Locke, Ber- 
keley, Kant, etc. 

LEECHMAN, Dr., on prayer, 36-7, 

Literary judgments, Hume's, 17, 
59 ff., 218. 

Locke, 4, 9 ; theory of ideas, 86 ff., 
104 ; primary and secondary 
qualities, 89, 115, 165 ; on sub- 
stance, 91 ff., 143, 145 ; on ex- 
ternal world, 90, 92, 145; on 
the good, 171, 186. 

Lotze, H., on self, 150 ; on world, 

MILL, J. S., 22 ; on Hume's scepti- 
cism, 96 ff.; on self, 150; on 
memory, 120 ; on space, 120 ; on 
cause, 130 ; on substance, 144, 
153-4, 162 ; utilitarianism of, 
173, 183 ff., 188 ff,; on religion, 
204 ; on miracles, 212. 

Miracles, essay on, 26-7, 45, 62, 
209 ff.; and natural law, 211 ff.; 
and testimony, 213. 

Morals, theory of. See under 
Hume, Mill, Hutcheson, Utility, 

OBJECTS and objective order, 12, 

115-17, 135, 147. 
Ossian, Dr. Blair on, 60. 

PERCEPTION, problem of, 87 ; theo- 
ries of Locke, 88 ff. ; Berkeley. 
92 ff.; Hume, 104 ff., 145 ff,; 
Spencer, 13, 149, 157, 159; 
Reid, 155 ff.; Hamilton, 156 ff.; 
James, 12, 148; Wundt, 146, 
148 ; complexity of, 159, 162-3 ; 
results, 164. 

Philosophy, importance of Hume 
for, 11, 85 ; problems of, 87 ; on 
special philosophies, see Locke, 
Berkeley, Kant, etc. 

Political economy, Hume's influ- 
ence on, 222; on money, 223; 
on free trade, 223 ; on banking, 

QUALITIES, primary and secondary, 
89, 115, 165. 

RATIONALITY of mind and universe, 
12, 103, 112 ff., 117-18, 138 ff., 
149 ff., 164, 201-2. 

Realism, of Scottish school, 156 ; 
of Spencer, 157; truth of, 

Reid, Dr. T., indebtedness to 
Hume, 8, 62-4, 148 ; on know- 
ledge, 112, 113 ff.; on cause, 
132 ; on self, 148-9 ; on per- 
ception, 156, 164. 

Robertson, Dr., his History, 7, 60, 

67, 79, 235. 
Rousseau, J. J., Hume's relations 

with, 65, 72 ff.; quarrel with, 

78 ff. 

SCEPTICISM, Hume's, 10, 56, 79, 

95 ff., 195. 

Self, 94, 108-14, 147-51, 169. 
Shaftesbury, 168, 176, 177, 196-7. 
Smith, Adam, 1, 9, 10, 35, 49, 66, 

81-2, 178, 179, 222 ff. 
Spencer, H., 13, 132; on substance, 

145 ; on self, 149, 152 ; on real- 



ism, 157 ; on perception, 159 ; 

on evolutionary ethics, 167 ; on 

the good, 186. 
Stephen, Leslie, 10, 167, 168, 

Stewart, Dugald, 3, 8, 47, 95, 


Stirling, Dr. H., 10, 205. 
Strahan, W., 80, 82. 
Style, Hume's, 7-8, 217-18. See 

Substance, views of Locke, 91 ff., 

143, 145; Berkeley, 92 ff.; 

Hume, 94, 144 ff.; Spencer, 145 ; 

Kant, 151 ff.; idea of, 153. 

Suicide, essay on, 58, 191. See 

THEISM, speculative, 37, 47, 194 ; 
arguments against, 202 ff. ; 
Hume's attitude to, 192, 197 ff., 
207 ff. 

UTILITY, in morals, 47, 166, 
173ff.; utilitarian schools, 166 ff. 

WUNDT, 146-8, 167. 

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