Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature
Hume: An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

Hume: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Painting_of_David_HumeAn Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a 1748 work by David Hume. It is often known as the First Enquiry, as distinguished from the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Human Morals. Both works provide succinct accounts of aspects of the philosophy originally developed in Hume's Treatise on Human Nature.

The opening sections of the Enquiry offer a theory of knowledge which owes much to Locke, while making a clearer distinction between sense impressions and ideas. Hume's more fundamental departure was his conclusion that there was no rational justification for our making judgements about the world based on cause and effect, and that we do so simply out of custom and habit.

In the latter part of the book, Hume applied his scepticism to a variety of metaphysical and religious beliefs, concluding however with a chapter recommending the approach of the more moderate Academic sceptics among the ancients, rather than that of the more radical Pyrrhonians.

He ends with a paragraph whose precise significance, as a criterion of truth or of meaningfulness, has been much debated by later analytic philosophers:

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

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Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and Selections from A Treatise of Human Nature (1907). Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, with works by Locke and Berkeley. (Great Books of the Western World edition, 1937). Multiple formats.

University of Adelaide: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. HTML and other formats.

Audio Resources

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: David Hume - Melvyn Bragg with Peter Millican, Helen Beebee and James Harris.

Librivox: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding - Public domain audiobook

Philosophy - The Classics. Hume - Enquiry - Podcast with Nigel Warburton.

Other Resources

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: David Hume (1711-1776) - Hume on Causation.

PhilPapers: Hume - An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding - bibliography with open access option.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: David Hume - Kant and Hume on Causality.

Wikipedia: David Hume - An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Curtius: Histories of Alexander the Great - Heavily criticised by Hume in his discussion of the value of witness testimony.

Descartes: Discourse on Method and The Meditations

John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Nicolas Malebranche: The Search After Truth and The Discourses on Metaphysics.

David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature.

Immanuel Kant: The Critique of Pure Reason and Prologomena to Any Future Metaphysics.

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