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on 25 November 2013
Hume is presented here as inconsistent and ambivalent in an almost equally ambivalent and unpalatable style which, is not at all accessible to the beginner. The text is plodding and overly personalized. Ayer presents mostly his own views and disagreements and leaves Hume's position in the dark - unpresented that is. It is also very slippery like a desert mirage. As soon as you get pulled into the author's argument and presentation it pulls away from you and disappears leaving you feeling disappointed. It reads like a professional academic philosophical article and not like an introductory text which is meant to generate enthusiasm and interest and illuminate a highly noted philosopher. Disappointing and boring.
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on 18 March 2017
If you don't know anything about Hume, this is NOT the place to start. The author rambles endlessly on tangential details and Hume's own points get lost in the muddle.
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on 5 January 2011
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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on 15 June 2005
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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on 3 October 2011
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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on 28 July 2007
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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on 16 January 2010
AJ Ayer was himself one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. This book was not originally written as a snappy OUP "Very Short Introduction" and assumes a great deal on the part of the reader. I personally found Hume's own Enquiries a more accessible introduction to his thought. This book provides fascinating insights and opinions, but will be difficult if you have no background at all.
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on 18 June 2012
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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on 7 April 2013
This is not so much an introduction to Hume as a brief and limited consideration of the areas Hume was interested in. Ayer spends more time discussing other people and his own counter arguments than he does actually explaining and sharing the work of Hume. The book is littered with diversions such as, `So far as I know..., I agree with Kemp Smith..., I think we can arrive at a far more realistic theory..., I shall go on to argue...' Personally, I'm not interested, Mr Ayer, in reading what your theories are or your position is: I can read your books if I want to do that. I got this book as an introduction to David Hume, I would like you to be self-effacing and merely introduce his work, not your own.

When I introduce one friend to another in a pub, I introduce that friend briefly and then let him speak for himself: I don't spend the next three hours talking louder than him and commenting about him and saying how he's wrong and how other people think he's misguided. Nor do I say in advance, 'This guy's a waste of time, you'd be better off listening to me.' Viz: 'Before we examine Hume's handling of this problem, which leads to the nerve of his theory of causality, I should perhaps say that I think it doubtful whether any of the three elements which Hume takes to be essential to our idea of the causal relation really is so.' [p71] This is the sort of rudeness I do not expect from my companions, especially when I'm buying the drinks. I stopped reading after this. Because it was apparent that Mr Ayer would, as in the preceding pages, continue to spend more time talking about his disagreements than actually stating what Hume's position is.

If you want an introduction to the work of David Hume, plainly laid out and openly explained, without prejudice, this is not it.

[Now I look at the other reviews of this book, especially those mentioning its manufacturing process and its cobbled nature, I can see how my response is a result of that and says the same thing. This is not a short exposition of and introduction to the work of David Hume and was never written as that; it is an argument against Hume which takes for granted a prior knowledge of Hume and therefore doesn't trouble itself with introducing Hume's position.]
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on 28 December 2016
This book offers a general overview of his philosophy and thinking, you don't have to read his works to know what his philosophy is about.
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