Hume & Scottish Enlightment

Term: Spring 2011

Subject Code: GPHI

Course Number: 6639

Hume has recently been described as 'the most important philosopher ever to write in English.' There is no doubt that Hume would have been pleased by the recognition of his philosophical eminence amongst those who write in English. In his own day Hume was more likely to be regarded as one of a group of upstart Scots, who not only failed to recognize their subordinate status, but also threatened to dominate intellectual life, not just in England , but also in France and other centers of enlightened thought. In this course, we will attempt to understand Hume in the context of what has come to be called the Scottish Enlightenment. The core of the course will be a close reading of the amazingly precocious Treatise of Human Nature, However, we will also look at Hume's later writings, especially where they seem to introduce new or different material. Close attention will be given to Hume's skeptical views about causality, induction, personal identity, but we will also look at his account of the passions, morality, religion, and politics. At various points, we will look at the relationship between Hume's views and those of his Scottish predecessors and near contemporaries, especially Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and James Beattie. For too long Hume has been treated as an episode in the textbook history of 'British empiricism,' or dismissed with faint praise by students of German idealism as the philosopher who managed to disturb to Kant's pre-critical slumbers. In fact, he is one of the most exciting and creative of modern philosophers, and astonishingly relevant to contemporary philosophical debates and differences.

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