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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford Philosophical Texts) Paperback – 26 Feb 1998

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, U.S.A.; New Ed edition (26 Feb. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198752482
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198752486
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 1.5 x 15.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 644,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Review

Tom Beauchamp has produced two excellent editions, which will remain the standard editions of both Enquiries for years to come. An enormous amount of research has gone into this edition. . . Tom Beauchamp [has given] thirty years of devotion to the writings of Hume brought to . . . a splendid conclusion, . . . Beauchamp has attended to "the extreme Accuracy of Style" that Hume demanded and has produced reliable texts of the two enquires, edited to the highest standards. (O. M. Brack, Eighteenth-Century Scotland)

About the Author

David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian, as well as an important figure of Western philosophy and of the Scottish Enlightenment. Tom Beauchamp is at Georgetown University, Washington.


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By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME on 23 Dec. 2005
Format: Paperback
David Hume was perhaps the leading light in the Empiricist movement in philosophy. Empiricism is seen in distinction from Rationalism, in that it doubts the viability of universal principles (rational or otherwise), and uses sense data as the basis of all knowledge - experience is the source of knowledge. Hume was a skeptic as well as empiricist, and had radical (for the time) atheist ideas that often got in the way of his professional advancement, but given his reliance on experience (and the kinds of experiences he had), his problem with much that was considered conventional was understandable.
Hume's major work, 'A Treatise of Human Nature', was not well received intially - according to Hume, 'it fell dead-born from the press'. Hume reworked the first part of this work in a more popular way for this text, which has become a standard, and perhaps the best introduction to Empiricism.
In a nutshell, the idea of empiricism is that experience teaches, and rules and understanding are derived from this. However, for Hume this wasn't sufficient. Just because billiard balls when striking always behave in a certain manner, or just because the sun always rose in the morning, there was no direct causal connection that could be automatically affirmed - we assume a necessary connection, but how can this be proved?
Hume's ideas impact not only metaphysics, but also epistemology and psychology. Hume develops empiricism to a point that empiricism is practically unsupportable (and it is in this regard that Kant sees this text as a very important piece, and works toward his synthesis of Empiricism and Rationalism).
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Bound by necessity to start with the evident, I must say that Hume's Enquiry constitutes indeed a display of philosophical genius. Definitely a far more mature work than his Treatise on Human Nature (of which the reading I nevertheless do recommend), its principal qualities are its rigor of structure, the solidity of its arguments and the eloquent style through which Hume captivates the reader in such a way that the density of content is hardly perceptible.
Yet beware, as even though the style is to be revered, in the domain of philosophy it is the quality of content that constitutes the main criterion for judging a text. Yet neither in this sphere does Hume leave anything to be desired.
The leading thread of the argumentation is Hume's conception of the process of knowledge acquisition, but all through the book you'll find passages dealing with a variety of topics, from "writing theory" to 18th century theology and ethical debates.
On the first section Hume distinguishes between two types of philosophy, the distinction of which is based more on the style that characterises each of them and to the public they are addressed to than on their content.
The sections from two to five present a concise presentation of Hume's empiricist conception of the process of learning, which owes much to Locke's views on the topic (see Locke, an Essay Concerning Human Understanding) but can be said to constitute an "improvement" on his predecessor's thought.
Sections six to nine also deal with Hume's conception of learning and human knowledge, but this part differs from the previous one (sections two to five) in that it no longer consists on an explanation of the process of acquisition of knowledge, but rather of the consequences of this process.
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This book was written in 1748 and I must say it certainly humbled me to realize that modern philosophical concerns are neither new nor unique. Terminology may have changed since the time when this book was written, but the underlying deliberations and contemplations remain unchanged. Hume's first 100 pages discuss the experiential foundation of knowledge. His arguments are compelling, but too enduring. The final 45 pages are superb. In these pages, Hume presents his treatises on miracles and academic skepticism and I must admit that it is one of the best discussions on practical skepticism that I have had the pleasure of reading.
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I enjoyed this so much, I am actually going to buy the original - Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. Hume himself spent the rest of his life claiming to hate that book, written in the enthusiasm of his youth. This book was supposed to summarise his arguments in a much more "politically correct" way for back then. This book is extremely interesting, and Hume's writing on subjects like Miracles is absolutely superb. Written hundreds of years ago, it is still considered one of the most important books ever written in english.
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The first but fundamental book published by Hume in 3 volumes (1 and 2 in 1739; 3 in 1740) dedicated to the methodical study of knowledge, passions, through experience and practical observation. It is with Hume that empiricism (following Locke and Berkeley) reaches its complete expression as a "modern" classical system, against previous dogmatic visions of philosophy. According to Kant, Hume awoke him from the dogmatic dream......
With Hume, english illustration comes to a definitive expression. Through his opus, empiricism is systematized and acquires a new dimension that expands its influence on all fields of philosophy. Previous conceptions about the theory of knowledge, ethics, politics, esthetics, and the philosophy of religion, all are transformed or renovated by Hume. In spite of his critics, Hume's system dwelled with different topics of modern interest: positivism, psychology, nominalism, critical skepticism, determinism, agnosticism, moral philosophy, political economy, etc.
No serious philosopher after Hume, has been able to avoid a careful look at his system. So if you are a student or scholar of the subject matter, I highly recommend this edition of Hume's seminal work.
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