Biography of David Hume (1711-1776)

David Hume.

Philosopher and English historian, whose philosophy - through the influence of Berkeley, developed the doctrine of Locke, and became a total skepticism. Precisely this skeptical approach would be the sting later wake to Kant's "dream of dogmatism".

Life and works

Born May 7, 1711, Hume came from a family of the petty bourgeoisie Scottish landowner. Initially his family wanted to study law, and even trade, but in the end they had to leave him free to follow what was his great ambition: philosophy. In those years the philosophical work of Locke and Berkeley theories were subjects of lively discussions. After completing his studies, he decided to travel to expand the horizon of its ideas, and so we find it in La Flèche (France), where, in the shadow of Descartes, he wrote his Treatise of Human Nature (in 1734 he published the first two books and in 1740 the third) through which I hoped to achieve great fame. But this work, considered today as his most important work, unnoticed, despite the compendium published in 1740 that trying to make their ideas more affordable. Your stay in France was born a great friendship with Rousseau, which, however, ended badly. He fought for a professorship at the University of Edinburgh, but it failed due to the opposition of the Orthodox ecclesiastical environment. He returned to France, this time as Secretary of the general Saint-Clair. In 1752, on his return to England, he was appointed librarian at the bar of Edinburgh. Meanwhile he was reformulating the terms of the Treaty; Thus were born Phylosophycal Essays concerning Human Understanding (1748), which together with Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) shall constitute his most work. The political work appeared in 1752. Also wrote Four Dissertations (1757), of which the most important was The natural history of religion. History of England (1754-61), met with attacks from all sectors, Dialogues concerning natural religion, appeared posthumously (1779). After a painful illness with fortitude of mind, died in Edinburgh, the same city where he was born.

Philosophical doctrine



The first concern of Hume, as well as the Locke, is the research based on the ideas. As one empiricist, reaches this conclusion: everything that contains our minds are perceptions. The degree of intensity with which these manifest themselves in our mind a distinction: the perceptions may be impressions and ideas. Prints, basic perceptions, they are immediately captured and to them belong the feelings, emotions and passions. Ideas, on the other hand, are copies or faded representations of impressions in the mind and keep some resemblance with the impressions, as they actually come to be generated by the same mental images.

On the other hand, prints can also be simple (which do not support distinction or separation) and complex (those that support divisions). As a result there will be simple and complex ideas. For example: the impression that causes the perception of clicks to us, is a simple impression, and it will be a simple idea. However, when listening to a Symphony, will have a complex printing (the variety of musical notes), which in turn, will evoke a complex idea. It is possible, Furthermore, to distinguish prints that are feeling, coming from the external senses, and impressions that are reflection, those produced by the internal exercise of the mind.

With the cluster of ideas that is able to "create", assimilating and archive the mind, we make the set of thoughts and human reasoning. The plethora of ideas that the human mind can produce, can be grouped in three categories: relationships, modes and substances. Relations Hume means all associations likely to comparison, and which are: similarity, identity, the relationship of time and place, the amount, the degrees of quality in common for two objects, the opposition and the cause-effect relationship. Only four of those relationships are able to provide us with certain knowledge: likeness, opposition, degrees in the quality and quantity or number. This means that only mathematics will be able to provide us with certain knowledge. Modes and substances are groups of simple linking imagination and ideas can be assigned to which a distinguishing name.

The cause-effect relationship

What is usually understood as relation of cause and effect, Hume explains it as the finding that a particular phenomenon continues to another. But never experienced this happen in reality, just look at it. It aims to show that causality is a "relationship of ideas" that makes us notice the contiguity in the phenomena. This amounts to saying, in another sense, that the science on natural phenomena is based on "belief" - idea that will have great impact - affirmed in us by the habit of observing a concrete phenomenon as another causal phenomenon after repeatedly. They are the truths indeed, according to the classification of Leibniz. It is easy to conclude here that the experimental science must be based on observation. She is thus formulated the principle of empiricism: any thought that prepares our mind comes from experience, since any true idea comes from printing.

The idea of substance and of the self

Since the idea of substance comes not from a specific impression, we can neither own the idea of it. The traditional idea of substance is reduced to "a collection of simple ideas together by imagination" in Hume. There are only qualities and ideas of those qualities, as he had said Berkeley; something else, the substance, that supports them is not that. But Hume goes further than Berkeley to deny the objective validity to the ego, to spirit, which happens to be a bunch of several perceptions. For this reason it will affirm - and therein will pick up the idea of Locke-who is forced to believe in self, but without actually knowing what it is.

Ethics and religion

Hume denies the existence of a "practical reason" and the possibility of a rational foundation of ethics. The object of morality (passions, volitions and action) is not subject to that agreement or disagreement between the ideas upon which are based what is true and what is false. If the reason is not the source of the value judgment, must be sought in the feeling, that spontaneous arises in us to actions capable of what we consider moral valuation. This sentiment analysis reveals that it is a form of pleasure or 'taste'. This leads him to exclude moral all trace of austere moralism or mortification of the soul or the body, because the purpose of morality is the happiness and the joy of living in the greatest possible number of men.Also hard shows Hume to the religious problem. It undermines the claim of proofs of God's existence, and denies their existence by appealing to the problem of evil in the world. Religion has its origin in the sense of fear of the people and ignorance of the causes of the terrible events of nature. In his book natural history of religion, defend an evolution from polytheism, until you reach the abstract idea of the divinity of the monotheistic religions.

Historical projection of Hume

Hume exerted great influence on the French and German enlightenment. Just remember the debt that Kant says have contracted with the scepticism of Hume, in which identified the famous "awakening from the dogmatic dream". Its influence, however, declined, at least in Europe, because of the criticisms of superficiality that romantic philosophy made against empiricism. But continued very live in England, and exerted enough influence in the United States. The true historical acceptance of Hume, however, began at the end of the 19th century, with the revaluation of the Treaty, whose thesis have directly influenced the neopositivism.


LEROY, a.: David Hume, Paris, 1953;

RÁBADE, S.: Hume and the modern fenomenismo, Madrid, 1975.

ARDAL, p.: Passion and Value in Hume completo Treatise, Edinburgh, 1966.