- Paperback: 278 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (15 Sept. 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1479321729
- ISBN-13: 978-1479321728
- Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.6 x 25.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 29 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 989,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A Treatise of Human Nature Paperback – 15 Sep 2012
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Hume begins by observing that all of our ideas are founded on experience. He then uses this observation like a spanner, to dismantle the arguments for the traditional objects of philosophy, such as substance and the immaterial soul. Most famously, he exposes the problem of induction, although he doesn't use that word himself. It is raised as part of a longer, magnificent examination of our understanding of causation.
Whilst all of these arguments are interesting, not all are entirely convincing: some of those on space and time are based on an assumption that reality must match our ideas of it, which leads to some pretty tenuous conclusions. Some of Hume's points are also a little hard to understand, not because they are too abstract, but because the rolling, convivial eloquence in which most of the book is written sometimes escapes him. A little reflection is normally enough to work out what he's talking about.
In the second half of the book, Hume builds his own system. He proposes a mechanism for our passions based on pain, pleasure and sympathy. (For a modern reader it is tempting to judge this in the light of neuroscience, but to do so is to lean on a conceptual system, whereas Hume is trying to derive truths from life as it is experienced.) He then argues for a compatibilist interpretation of free will, that our sense of morality and much else is based on sentiment, and that societies are created out of self-interest. Some of the mechanisms he proposes seem rather contrived, most are plausible, but none are as thrilling as the preceding destruction.
Eight years after publishing the Treatise, Hume returned to what he regarded as its most important ideas in An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Oxford World's Classics). Whilst most philosophers consider the Treatise to be his major work, Hume regarded the Enquiry as the definitive statement of his philosophy. You may wonder, then, which of the two to read. If so, the first thing to note is that there is much in the Treatise that is not in the Enquiry, namely:
- Hume's arguments concerning space and time, including an amusing assault on geometry;
- his dismissal of a unified, immaterial self;
- everything on passions, morality and society.
The areas covered by both works are:
- the empirical nature of ideas;
- causation, including induction, power and probabilities (i.e., ideas of which we are less than certain);
- the reasoning of animals;
- free will.
Most, if not all, of these areas are covered in more detail in the Treatise. However, where the Treatise is digressive and sometimes opaque, the Enquiry is concise and clear. It is also shorter and cheaper. For these reasons the Enquiry is the ideal book with which to start. You may find it is enough for you. If not, you may find, like I did, that it helps you follow the Treatise.
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