Philosophy of David Hume
Episode #7 of the course “Brief history of Renaissance and Modern philosophy”
Considered one of the greatest philosophers to write in the English language, Scottish-born David Hume was an exemplary and influential thinker in the 18th century. In opposition to strict rationalists like René Descartes, Hume argued from a strictly skeptical viewpoint that valued empirical evidence and psychological schema above all. Hume’s work as a historian, a moral philosopher, and an early proponent of scientific psychological studies makes him not only one of the most influential theorists of his own time, but one who caused a ripple effect through generations of scholars.
Hume had a great impact on moral and ethical philosophy in particular. Rather than placing the emphasis on reason as the drive for human behavior, Hume believes it is innate desire. This desire is enhanced by a person’s experiences, which form a system of sensations by which a person comes to define himself or herself. Hume argued that it is these sensations and the individual feelings they produce which constitute moral “goodness” or “badness” of human actions, rather than morality existing as an independent absolute. He does not promote that something “ought” to be moral or immoral simply because it exists, but supposes that it is a fallacy to assume something “ought” to be a certain way because of its appearance.
Some of the most highly-influential texts from David Hume that are still studied today include Treatise of Human Behavior, Concerning the Principles of Morals, and Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding. Even though his topics seem limited, the impact of them was broad across the sciences, especially from his skeptical, empirical methods and approaches to questions. As a giant figure in the Enlightenment, David Hume’s topics of causality and necessary connection continue to be debated today.
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