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Hume: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Alfred Ayer
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Oct 2000 Very Short Introductions (Book 33)
Hume is one of the greatest of all British philosophers, and even in his own lifetime was celebrated as one of the pivotal figures of the Enlightenment. A central theme of his philosophy is the conviction that questions traditionally thought of as completely independent of the scientific realmDSquestions about the mind, about morality, and about God, for exampleDSare actually best explained using the experimental methods characteristic of the natural sciences. Hume's 'naturalist' approach to a wide variety of philosophical topics resulted in highly original theories about perception, self-identity, causation, morality, politics, and religion, all of which are discussed in this stimulating introduction by A J Ayer, himself one of the twentieth century's most important philosophers. Ayer also gives an account of Hume's fascinating life and character, and includes generous quotations from Hume's lucid and often witty writings. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New Ed edition (12 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192854062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192854063
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 11.3 x 17.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 248,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

Sir Alfred Ayer, formerly Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford from 1959 to 1978, was a Fellow of Wolfson College Oxford, and of the British Academy. He was the author of many well-known philosophical works, including Language, Truth and Logic, The Central Questions of Philosophy, and Russell. His autobiographical Part of My Life was published as an Oxford Paperback in 1978.

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David Hume, to my mind the greatest of all British philosophers, was born at Edinburgh on what, in the old calendar, was 26 April 1711. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Introduction 15 Jun 2005
Format:Paperback
This is a great starting point for an interaction with the works of Hume. It is written in a format of a long essay that briefly touches upon biographical details of Hume's work. Secondly, it discusses all the major works of Hume and places them in both historical and philosophical context of the period. The language of this book is clear and to the point. I was particularly interested in the economic ideas of Hume and used this book as a reference point for further investigation. I highly recommend this book to both philosophy students and those working outside the field. It is certainly worth the time and money.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Steve
Format:Paperback
Another fairly demanding read from Oxford's Past Masters series repackaged and reissued as a Very Short Introduction. Here it's Ayer's 1980 treatment of David Hume. It's worth noting this because any complaint from beginners about the use of the word 'introduction' should be directed at the publisher rather than the author who I think has done a magnificent job with this beautifully precise study.

Following a short biographical first chapter, Ayer quickly delves into an exposition of Hume's philosophy, focusing on his aims and methods, his assessment of bodies and selves, his analysis of cause and effect, and his thoughts on morals, politics and of course religion. Rather than focusing on a single work at a time, he switches back and forth between the Treatise, the Enquiry, and so on, extracting and assimilating passages seamlessly into his own examination.

Some have complained that Ayer intrudes too heavily with his analysis, shoehorning in too many of his own thoughts and ideas. Personally I didn't have a problem with it. Ayer was an important philosopher in his own right, and it was inevitable that any scholarly treatment of Hume's ideas would include their vulnerabilities and demand interpretation and critique. On balance, I don't think he overstepped the mark.

This may be a short read, but it isn't a light one, and beginners (I count myself as one) should be prepared to concentrate and even make notes to get the most out of it. If you were expecting Hume for Dummies, you'll likely feel overwhelmed and disappointed. It's worth persevering though. I came away with not only a deeper understanding of Hume's own philosophy but also a capacity to actually reflect on the ideas themselves.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this book but it's a bit of a struggle in parts (especially the chapter on Causation). It feels a bit out of place to include it as part of the excellent "Very Short Introductions" series as it's based on a series of lectures from 1979 and seems written for a different audience than more recently commissioned titles in that series. Still worth a read mind you but not quite what I was expecting.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Harder to read than the man himself 3 Oct 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fascinating introduction to the mans works, although Ayer's writing style is very hard to get to grips with and I found the extracts from Hume's work much easier to get my head around (have a dictionary on stand-by if you attempt to read this). Off the back of this I think I'll invest in some of Hume's writings as he's still currently my favourite philosopher.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
As the reviews posted previously have pointed out, this book was not originally written as an OUP Very Short Introduction. The whole point, as I understand it, of this series is to introduce new subjects to readers in a a manner less intimidating than an academic text. What we have here is, essentially, an edited version of an academic text Ayer wrote back in 1980, simply repackaged. The obvious con aside, the real problem with this book is that it is almost totally inaccessible if you're not an academic and, moreover, one who is already accustomed to reading philosophical texts.

As one review here has already mentioned, Ayer's style is almost less palatable than that of Hume. He has a tendency to write absurdly long sentences (I noticed one which last almost three quarters of a page) filled with so many sub-clauses that, by the time you reached the end, you've forgotten the beginning. This frustrated me immensely as a Philosophy undergraduate. It is almost unbearable in the context of what is supposed to be a short, accessible introduction.

Hume is not an easy subject. I felt stifled by him when I did my degree, which was precisely the reason I thought it would be illuminating to read Ayer's take on his ideas. Unfortunately, the book has been a struggle from beginning to end and has done little to clear the murky waters. Ayer dedicates countless pages to addressing one idea, only for it to be more oblique at the end than it was at the beginning.

I would suggest to the publishers than it would be hard to justify calling this an "introduction". The book is very languorous and very weighty and, as a consequence, does not make for an even remotely enjoyable read. Added to the fact that I feel I have learnt almost nothing from reading it, I really cannot think of a single reason to recommend this book.
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