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On David Hume

David Hume

 

Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them - David Hume

 

When I was studying, inter alia, Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh many years ago, local boy made good David Hume was a name never far any philosophy professor or tutor's lips. Aeon now writes movingly of Hume's life:

"While Hume was lying aged 65 on his deathbed at the end of a happy, successful and (for the times) long life, he told his doctor: ‘I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire.’ Three days before he died, on 25 August 1776, probably of abdominal cancer, his doctor could still report that he was ‘quite free from anxiety, impatience, or low spirits, and passes his time very well with the assistance of amusing books’."

Indeed, while first thought of primarily as historian, Hume's philosophical standing has grown to the highest level. A few years ago, thousands of academic philosophers were asked which non-living philosopher they most identified with. Hume came a clear first, ahead of Aristotle, Kant and Wittgenstein.

Aeon concludes that all who stand for the secular, reasonable way of life Hume himself stood for ought to avoid hysterical condemnations of religion and superstition as well as overly optimistic praise for the power of science and rationality. We should instead be "modest in our philosophical pretensions, advocating human sympathy as much, if not more, than human rationality. Most of all, we should never allow our pursuit of learning and knowledge to get in the way of the softening pleasures of food, drink, company and play. Hume modelled a way of life that was gentle, reasonable, amiable: all the things public life now so rarely is".

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