David Hume

Philosopher, Historian, Economist, and Essayist

Portrait of David Hume
"Portrait of David Hume," 1754, by Allan Ramsay

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.

David Hume

Regarded as among the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume was an intellectual maverick whose interests included human nature, epistemology, religion, and history.

He explored the science of human nature, arguing that ideas are governed by sensory impressions, writing "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

As a philosophical empiricist, he posited knowledge can be derived only from experience (contrast with rationalism, which asserts knowledge can be derived from reason, independently from the senses).

Although his final views of religion are unclear, he criticized religion in various philosophical writings, such as in his intentionally posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. His rebuttal of the teleological argument (or argument from design) is held to be the first intellectually significant counter prior to Darwinism. During his lifetime Hume was attacked as “The Great Infidel” for his skeptical views of religion and deemed unfit to teach the young. The Church of Scotland made a concerted effort to excommunicate him.

Despite being an industrious writer mired in philosophical thought, he found time for a lively social life and loved entertaining. With a wide circle of adoring friends, he was known to be equable and lighthearted. Parisian intellectuals called him "Le Bon David."

His work influenced prominent thinkers such as Immanuel Kant (who credited Hume as having awoken him from a "dogmatic slumber"), Adam Smith (his friend), Albert Einstein, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Popper.

A brief timeline in events of David Hume's life:

  • 1711 — Born as David Home in Edinburgh, Scotland
  • 1713 — Father dies
  • 1723 — Enrolls at University of Edinburgh at the age of 12 (14 was typical)
  • 1734 — Changes surname to Hume
  • 1740 — Publishes (final) Book 3 of A Treatise of Human Nature
  • 1748 — Publishes An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  • 1751 — Publishes An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
  • 1757 — Publishes sixth (final) volume of The History of England
  • 1776 — Dies at the age of 65


The Natural History of Religion A Treatise of Human Nature An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.

David Hume

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