Hume, David (1711–76)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB040-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2005
Retrieved October 24, 2018, from

13. Hume’s legacy

Every philosophical generation since Hume has been obliged to understand itself in relation to his philosophy. Scottish common-sense philosophers (see COMMON SENSE SCHOOL) such as Thomas REID read it as a demonstration that Locke’s ‘way of ideas’, according to which we can be directly aware only of the contents of our own minds, led inevitably to scepticism and must be rejected. Kant famously proclaimed that he had been ‘awakened from his dogmatic slumbers’ by the challenge of Hume’s treatment of the concept of causation and took his own transcendental idealism to be the only way to avoid Humean scepticism. Utilitarians took inspiration from his emphasis on the essential relation of morality to what is useful and agreeable. British idealists such as T.H. GREEN and F.H. BRADLEY took Hume to be a prime example of the dangers of an atomistic and sensation-based account of the capacities of mind. The logical positivists of the early twentieth century (see LOGICAL POSITIVISM) saw Hume’s concern to trace the content of concepts to their experiential basis as a precursor of their own methodology – which they regarded as properly purged of Hume’s conflation of philosophy and psychology. To broadly empiricist and naturalistic philosophers of the present era, Hume’s philosophy is a powerful example of the effort to integrate the scientific understanding of human cognitive and conative nature into the scientific understanding of nature itself, to account for the normativity of reason and morals within the structure of that understanding, and to turn that understanding onto the understanding of philosophizing itself. Now widely regarded as the greatest philosopher to write in English, perhaps no philosopher of the early modern period has proven to be of greater relevance or importance to contemporary philosophy than Hume. The best evidence of this is the number of topics – from concepts to causation, from induction to the emotions, from scepticism to free will, from theology to practical reason, from morality to politics – on which a ‘Humean’ approach is one of the primary live options.

Citing this article:
Garrett, Don. Hume’s legacy. Hume, David (1711–76), 2005, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB040-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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