NPJ Book Review:  David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Editor, Peter Millican

An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding by David Hume. Editor, Peter Millican (2007)

My un-authoritative perspective: David Hume was a brilliant Eighteenth-Century Philosopher (Scottish Enlightenment), historian, essayist along with being an economic and political theorist while wearing other thought provoking philosophical attire.

My first experience with Hume’s Enquiry was decades ago as I struggled with the idea of experience being a precursor to reason and the nature of chance. Delving into natural philosophy and philosophy of human nature or moral philosophy, one may arrive at more questions than answers. That suits me very well.

I’m intrigued with the 18th century –  revolutions, enlightenment, writings, art, theater, science, inventions and all interlaced with ambiguous social and political upheavals and people like Hume, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, monarchists, patriots, vagabonds, explorers, pirates, adventurers, castaways from society and others living on the margins of the perceived civilization and the maelstrom of the times.

Humanist thinkers may not always be perceived as putting into practice their philosophy. In a later century one might consider another “Renaissance style thinker” Albert Schweitzer, a polymath in that he was a humanitarian, theologian, philosopher, writer, physician (in the jungles of Africa), among other things etc., who believed in applying his experiential perceptions, impressions and memories to his daily tasks. Testimony had its place.

Whereas, Hume in effect I would suggest brilliantly weaves the empirical world around him trying to make sense of it…he was a man who through his turbulent youth discovered the passions of experience as the basis of his reasoning. His application of ideas was provocative – when a mind challenges the status quo of say religious belief with the question in whether man can behave in certain ways within the context of the invisibility of a “God” he or she worships, coupled with the erroneous acts attributed to that “God” in history…then for Hume religious beliefs betrayed an illogical quality. And believing in a God (that man invented) was about power. Easier to justify one’s actions when suggesting it had to do with God or the Devil or heaven and hell if one accepts dualism. The concept of God didn’t rhyme with actuality for Hume. Showing him a flower and asking where it came from didn’t mean that God existed.

Life is ambiguous. Hume displayed that ambiguity in his writing and his understanding of the world around him. Reading Hume again has the echo of familiarity. The tremors of Hume’s thinking still surprisingly sends minor waves of disturbance across the philosophical and theological landscape today.

For myself the substantial introduction of analysis by the editor, Peter Millican, of Hume’s work is a pleasure to consider. I’m a lover of footnotes and commentary offering a variation in insights and research.

The depth of a thinker may be measured in terms of how many times one might return to his words and reflect.  I would delude myself if I thought my thinking was arrived at without the influence of my experiences in life including my readings which is in itself a form of experience. What Hume offers for me is the idea that  we learn from the world around us….that we are essentially animals and our reasoning capability may have its limits, but reason we must strive to do.