David Hume: A Brief Appreciation

David Hume: A Brief Appreciation
by Sean Gabb
(Published in The Salisbury Review, Summer 2004)

In writing about David Hume (1711-76), it is hard to know where to begin. He was a first rate philosopher, historian, economist, political philosopher and literary critic. He was also one of the greatest prose writers of his age. How does one appreciate that achievement – especially as briefly as the space here requires?

One answer is to see his work, in all its diversity, as part of one consistent project. Hume was interested above all in what we can know about ourselves. His philosophy can be seen as a purely negative achievement – as a retreat into scepticism. It is that. But it is also a great clearing away of misconceptions. Most previous thinkers had regarded knowledge as most surely gained by a chain of deduction from undeniable first principles. Hume denied that reason in itself gave any knowledge about the world. For him, there could be no jump – as there was for Descartes – from simple to complex certainties. He rejected the old Platonic distinction between an intelligible world of essences and the world of appearances. Instead, he completed the work of Locke and Berkeley, focussing attention on the world of appearances. Even this, however, could not yield certain knowledge. The evidence of our senses was no more than a stream of sense impressions that might or might not be related to an external reality. These impressions we processed according to conceptions of cause and effect that could not themselves be rationally demonstrated. To say that A caused B for Hume meant only that we had always experienced certain effects one after the other, and that we had a customary expectation that they always would be.

He did not deny the possibility of knowledge. But he did define our capacity to know in far less ambitious terms than it usually had been. There could be no dogmatic certainties, only provisional hypotheses. The test of truth was to be not its inventiveness or its appeal to the emotions, but its economy of hypotheses and its accordance with common sense.

This was the conclusion of his philosophy, and the beginning of his investigations into the world of appearances.

His most important achievement here was to introduce the notion of impersonal laws into the study of mankind. In the previous century, Newton had replaced the mass of speculation on occasional miracles that passed for physics with a few simple laws of motion. These could be used to explain the position of every atom in the universe. By observing human affairs over a long period, Hume believed it possible to arrive at similar laws for ourselves.

Therefore, his writings on history explained events in terms less of individual character than of general tendencies. James I and Charles I, for example, were stupid men who helped bring on a revolution. At the same time, though, the progress of commerce was raising up classes of men who could not be contained within the old order, and was bringing problems of finance and administration that could not be solved in the old ways. Some reconstruction of English government would have happened regardless of who wore the crown or of what he did. Hume was one of the first historians to move away from the chronicle of events inherited from the middle ages, or from the analysis of high politics inherited from the ancient world, towards an understanding of the social and economic tendencies that connected events and that gave shape to the actions of those in and around power.

These laws or tendencies of human nature could be used not simply to explain events, but also to reconstruct them from the distant past. Most famously, he rejected the almost universal belief of his day that the ancient world had been more densely populated than the modern. He looked at the rate of interest on loans, and at the forms and productivity of ancient agriculture. He used a combination of literary sources and linguistic analysis to guess the nature and extent of slavery in the Roman Empire; and he used the known facts of slave reproduction from the Americas to discuss birth rates. He looked at probable death rates. His interpretation of all the evidence pointed to a very sparsely populated Western Empire compared with the France and Italy of his own day. A quarter millennium of further work in historical demography has not shaken his conclusions.

Hume was not original in all his work. There had been intelligent writers on economics and history before he came to those fields. But what he did was to provide a theory of knowledge that justified a search for general laws; and he showed how those laws so far discovered could be unified into a single conceptual framework with which to explain and predict human affairs.

His philosophy stands on its own merits. Indeed, it may be fair to say that the whole of modern philosophy is an argument over the first book of his Treatise of Human Nature (1739). But in other subjects he was eventually eclipsed by his contemporaries or by those who came soon after. In economics he was excelled by Adam Smith, in history by Edward Gibbon, in moral philosophy by Adam Smith and the utilitarians of the next century. For every ten who read them, perhaps only one reads Hume. But it is hard to imagine how, without his own example, they could have written as they did.

To argue for precedence in an age as rich in genius as 18thcentury Europe is perhaps unwise. But any short list of candidates for the title greatest man of the Enlightenment must include David Hume.


  1. An excellent summary of a British genius.This article (and prior discussion with Paul) prompted me to start re-reading the Treatise. While obviously it is somewhat outdated, Hume’s determination to rein in the extravagances of philosophies ungrounded in reason and reality remains a beacon in the darkness. It’s sad that so many people take against him; I believe it is precisely because he cuts their unjustified certainties off at the knees.

  2. During his lifetime Hume’s fame was largely the consequence of his History of England which was the most popular history of the country in the 18th century. The philosophy took a time to gain a hold – his tremendous A Treatise of Human Nature in his own words “fell deadborn from the press”.

    Hume and Darwin are the two great thinkers I have felt most comfortable with because they made such efforts to strip away all the fancies which overlay reality.

    • Ian, Robert – He was an astonishing genius. He is the giant on whose back everyone stands who wants to see things as they are.

  3. How do you know the difference between ‘the world as it appears to us’ and ‘the world as it does not appear to us?’

  4. And how would you know “what you can really know” about the world independently of appearance?
    In other words, Hume’s assumption seems to be that our senses distort in some manner – creating a mere “appearance” at odds with the “true” nature of reality.

    • Well, it’s only recognising a basic reality that human sensory systems translate the world into something the brain can work with. So, you need to be really careful about trusting them. Vision isn’t a video camera. Seeing is the act of interpreting the inputs from the sensory system. That’s just nature.

      I think the problem is that people like certainty and find uncertainty disturbing. But the reality is uncertainty, so we have to live with that.

    • Reason is not the primary driver of Man

      Robert henderson

      Man, at least in his modern secular First World form, has the illusion of free will. That is unsurprising because he is a highly intelligent and self-conscious entity with a discrete personality and an ego and it is natural for such a being to think that the choices they make are free choices insofar as they act without overt constraints from other people, their biology or brute circumstances. In fact, free will is an illusion not as a consequence of the constraints of human biology or the nature of the universe Man inhabits but as a consequence of the fact that the concept is a logical nonsense.

      Imagine the most powerful entity which can exist: the omnipotent, omniscient god. Such a being can not have free will because it must have a discrete intelligence which is conscious of its existence, in short a conscious mind. Any such mind will require motivation otherwise it would never act, it must have desires, it must have what we would call a personality. Consequently, the omnipotent, omniscient god would be in the same general existential position as a man, that is, bound by its own mentality.

      Of course Man is in vastly more constrained circumstances than the omnipotent, omniscient god. Human beings live within the general constraints that apply to every other organism. We copulate, eat, drink, and sleep, fight, respond to weariness perform our bodily functions in the same way that an animal does, without any great thought. We feel desire or necessity and act on impulse.

      Within our bodies a great system of checks and balances – repair mechanisms and the automatic systems needed for an organism to function – continue without our conscious control or even our awareness of the functions being accomplished. Hormones and enzymes control not only essential functions but our emotions and desires. Physical illness or wellness determines how we behave.

      What we experience in our minds is a very different thing from what actually comes through our senses. All we can perceive is what our biology and experiential “programming” allows us to perceive. We can only see or hear within certain wavelengths of light and sound. Our senses change in their efficacy throughout life. All external stimuli are filtered through our brains and are the brain’s best guess at what has been perceived, hence the ease with which we mistake things either through insufficient data (for example, something seen in shadow) or through the brain matching sense data with something we already know, for example, when we see a man’s face in a cloud.

      Our mental world is subject to congenital differences which affect behaviour. These range from differences in mental capacity and special talents to brain defects and injuries. Someone born with Downs Syndrome, severe epilepsy or autism perceives the world very differently to someone born without such conditions. Their capacity for rational behaviour is much reduced because their level of understanding is reduced. The most severe example of innate disablement of the rational are those people born without the development of the frontal lobes, the acephaletic. These unfortunate individuals occasionally survive and behave in a manner which seems to be entirely without conscious reason.

      We also know from much experience that injuries to the brain or the effects of disease or ageing can have the same effect as innate abnormalities. Those who suffer brain injuries sometimes develop behavioural traits which are completely different from what they had before. They may become more violent or more subdued, lose their initiative or develop new talents or inclinations such as artistic impulses. Frontal lobotomies subdue behaviour. Age leads to declines in rationality ranging from loss of short term memory to full blown senile dementia.

      In our brains we store a myriad of memories which act as both primers for action and the means to take action. We see someone we do not like and respond with open hostility or caution. We meet a situation which appears to be dangerous because we have previously met it or a situation which resembles a danger we have imagined and feel fear and act accordingly. We see someone we love and act favourably towards them. Of course, our memories do much more than provide immediate or particular behavioural responses for they also shape our general character within the confines of the basic, genetically determined personality.

      What constitutes a learned response? Not a simple thing to define. Keeping your hand away from fire after you have been burnt is obviously such. Going from A to B along a familiar route is another. Putting a cake in an oven at a particular heat for a particular time a third. But suppose I master the philosophy of Kant. If I explain his philosophy without commentary to someone that might reasonably be described as a learned response in the sense that I am merely regurgitating what I have learnt. Yet it is also true that the act of comprehending Kant goes beyond mere memory and the effort of remembering what Kant’s philosophy is after it has first been learnt is a very different thing from recalling a piece of “inert data” such as the date of the Battle of Hastings.

      Mental calculation is, of course, more than prolonged self-conscious intellectual consideration. It is what happens when someone calculates the distance to throw a ball or how to place pieces in a jigsaw or spontaneously comes up with a clever pun, as well as the sustained mental thought which led Newton and Einstein to develop their physics or Aristotle his logic.

      Somewhere in between lies the great mass of considered utilitarian mental calculation such as computer programming and applied mathematical computation and the everyday ability to see contradictions and connections and to generally engage in logical reasoning.

      We function as organisms at various levels. We do some things without conscious thought: we breathe, produce hormones and enzymes, and circulate the blood, digest food and so on. Our biology produces basic states of mind such as hunger, fear and sexual desire over which we have little control although we are conscious of the states of mind. Then come conscious choices which are designed to give us pleasure or at least satisfaction; we decide on an activity which we know will produce pleasant sensations or avoid unpleasant ones. Finally, we have rational thought designed to solve particular problems.

      Man, or at least Man in advanced modern societies, flatters himself that he is a rational being whose behaviour is the consequence of consideration. (Even without free will, a self-conscious being could still operate rationally within the confines of its existential circumstances). In fact, most human behaviour is not rational in the sense of being self-consciously decided after having weighed the pros and cons of what to do or of trusting what we perceive to be the rational decisions of others, whether by engaging in self-decided emulation or through the suggestion or order of another.

      Most of what we do falls into three classes of behaviour: the repetition of rational behaviour which has previously proven successful, or at least not harmful, what our biology tells us to do, for example to drink, or as an unconsidered response which is a consequence of whatever constitutes an individual’s basic personality, for example, traits such as timidity, aggression, affection. Even when we self-consciously decide on future action, our decisions are mediated by our knowledge of what has happened before, our biology and our personality traits, both innate and developed.

      Men are frequently faced with conscious decisions which they are unable to decide rationally because they lack the knowledge or intellect to do so. Sometimes they fail to make a decision because of fear. In all these circumstances the individual does one of three things: (1) he makes a decision simply to make a decision, (2) he follows the herd or (3) he allows himself to be manipulated by another individual.

      Most of this (to various degrees) automated behaviour is at worst harmless and at best positively desirable – it would be an impossible world if we had to seriously consider every deliberate action before acting, not least because it would be utterly exhausting. But it can be damaging. Even when acting self consciously, humans are quite frequently in the grip of ideas which are in themselves objectively wrong or at least have no certain truth. Moreover, those afflicted with such ideas often know at some level their beliefs are suspect – the reason that believers in religions or secular ideologies are generally very keen on suppressing any questioning of their beliefs is because they know in their heart of hearts that they will not stand up to questioning. Yet men adhere to such ideas and act upon them even though their reason tells them that they are questionable or even plain wrong because they are emotionally satisfying in themselves or they are group values from which the individual gets emotional satisfaction from sharing in the group experience.

      Alternatively, group pressure may produce a state of mind whereby the individual does not actually believe something but is conditioned not to question it because at some level the mind has marked such questioning as dangerous or inappropriate. In our own time political correctness produces such feelings in many.

      Where a set of ideas form an ideology the effect is particularly pernicious, both because of the multiplication of error and because the tendency to adopt a religious attitude towards the ideas is heightened, for to deny one part of the ideology is to question its general veracity. (By an ideology I mean a mental construct which consists of a menu of tenets which the adherent applies without regard to their utility or truth). The observance of the ideology becomes an end in itself. All ideologies are inadequate to a lesser or greater extent, because they are menus of ideas which are (1) incompatible and/or (2) based on premises which are objectively false or at least debatable.

      An example of (1) is the attitude of libertarians to immigration. On the one hand they complain of the illiberal consequences of mass immigration – political correctness, laws which discriminate against the majority, restrictions on free speech and so on – on the other they advocate an open border immigration policy. The two policies are self-evidently incompatible.

      An example of (2) is Marxism, whose claims of objective truth were routinely and consistently demolished by reality, the consequences of which were ever more fanciful revisions of Marxist theory to fit the evolving non-Marxist world.

      Sociological Constraints

      Man is constrained by sociological laws of which he is only dimly aware. When a general election is held in Britain Members of Parliament are elected for one of 646 constituencies on the very simple basis of who gets the most votes in the constituency. There is no multiple preference voting, just a single vote for one candidate. As a platform for the study of human behaviour it is splendidly uncluttered.

      Because people are voting for an individual it might be thought that the voting pattern throughout the country would vary tremendously because people would be voting on the record of the government and opposition in the previous four or five years, the parties’ stated policies if they form the next government, local interests, how the sitting MP has performed and the perceived quality of the other candidates in the constituency. In fact the voting pattern is always remarkably uniform throughout the country. If the swing from the Government is on average 5% throughout the country, there will be few if any constituencies which show a swing of less than 4% or more than 6%. This uniformity does not vary greatly with the size of turnout.

      It is impossible to supply any plausible explanation for this behaviour based on the idea that Man is rational. One could see how a small population might be influenced by peer pressure and word of mouth but not a country of sixty million. Nor is it the consequence of modern mass media because the phenomenon predated television and the Internet. If I had to hazard an explanation it would be this: different personality types are distributed throughout populations in certain proportions as the consequence of natural selection working to ensure that human society functions. Each personality type will tend to behave in the same way. Hence, the aggregate societal effect in response to a particular stimulus will be relatively stable. When people vote in a General Election they produce similar voting effects because the personality types are distributed similarly throughout Britain and consequently people throughout the country respond to circumstances in a similar fashion. In other words, personality traits trump reason.

      A less obvious example is the trade cycle. There is no certain explanation for why such a cycle should exist, but it is possible to provide plausible explanations for the ebb and flow of economic activity, for example, that there comes a point in the trade cycle whereby most individuals have purchased everything they want within the constraints of what they can afford and consumption lessens which in turn reduces economic activity which creates a further impetus to reduced consumption as people worry about the future. Equally, it is plausible that when the down side of the cycle has gone on for a while demand increases because goods need replacing and as consumption slowly grows confidence increases triggering further growth.

      What is not so easy to provide is a plausible explanation of why the population acts uniformly enough to regularly create such a cycle. How could it be that the large majority of a population routinely respond in the same way? The answer again probably lies in a stable distribution of personality within a population.

      What evidence is there for personality being so distributed throughout a population? Well, from our own everyday experience we all know that there is a range of personality types who are met in any reasonably large group, but quantifying such knowledge in an objective manner is to say the least problematical. Whether we have any “objective” statistical evidence at present largely depends how much credence is placed on psychometric tests which supposedly determine personality. Having seen them used to select people for employment I am sceptical of their predictive power, because all too often their assessment of personality fails to match the person‘s performance. More trustworthy although less focused is the information from psychological experiments. Many psychological experiments show personality differences obliquely, for example, the famous experiments of Abrahams in the 1950s on peer pressure and The Stamford prison experiment of the early 1970s. They showed recurrent patterns of obedience and disobedience and of a willingness to abuse and to accept or resist abuse.


  5. @IanB
    “Well, it’s only recognising a basic reality that human sensory systems translate the world into something the brain can work with. So, you need to be really careful about trusting them. Vision isn’t a video camera. Seeing is the act of interpreting the inputs from the sensory system. That’s just nature.”

    But is that actually the case?
    It seems plausible from our outside view of observing someone else looking at the world but when we look at the world ourselves we do not see a “translation” or an “interpretation” or a representation of reality inside our heads – we only see the world.

    So it is a mistake to assume our senses distort reality – our senses are absolute, they cannot distort or invent anything.

    • It may seem plausible, but it’s not what happens. Every brain, faced with a stimulus, has to interpret it. Every brain, as it learns about the world, constructs a model of that world and places new experiences within that developed context. Most of the arguments we all have are because we actually all have different subjective interpretations of the same external world.

      One interesting element of this is that we all start off with different biological substrates, so even if you could give two people identical stimuli they will not end up thinking the same or seeing the world the same way. This is probably why twins often seem to have an uncanny “telepathy” and identity of personality, because they started off with virtually identical brain wiring, whereas singular children are all different.

      • But in what sense precisely do we have different subjective perceptions of the world?

        A colour blind man does not experience the world in a less real or less accurate sense than someone with normal vision.

        Each man experiences the world as it is – automatically.

        For each man his experience is EXACTLY how the world is – so it is not appropriate to label our individual perceptions of reality as “subjective,” nor “intrinsic,” nor “objective,” – it just is

        What we make of our perceptions – the abstractions we form, the conclusions we draw, the opinions we hold – these belong to the realm of conceptualisation, not perception.

        Perception, as such, is incapable of departing from reality.

        • Perception and conceptualisation are the same process. Individuals’ basic sensory wiring varies between individuals (your “green” is not quite the same as my “green”) but are similar enough that it doesn’t matter much. But “seeing”- the perception of objects- is a process of converting raw signals into a meaningful form “the green ball bouncing towards me” and is thus the process of conceptualisation. In other words, basic objects we see are abstractions from the raw sensory inputs.

          • Perception is not the same process as conceptualisation though is it?

            Perception – the awareness of entities- is automatic. It is the given, the self-evident.

            A concept on the other hand is a product of mental selection and mental comparison and mental integration.
            It is a product of choice dependent on mental focus and language.

            Higher animals are dependent on perception but only man can reason because only man possesses a conceptual-volitional consciousness.

  6. Robert Henderson-

    I think the answer regarding rationality is that it is a learned skill, like arithmetic. The brain is not very good at these skills, but can do them better than other animals (who cannot do them at all). So reasoning and logic, like arithmetic, require the adoption of rigid rules which have been gradually developed over time. For instance, humans by nature prefer to jump to conclusions (which is a good strategy often) but rationality requires resisting that impulse and asking for evidence, or doing a thorough statistical study.

    We actually all find faith and impluse more satisfying than reason though. Which is why for instance at the moment, most people prefer to believe every story about Jimmy Savile, and those few of us pointing out that reason compels us to be sceptical are in a small (and not popular) minority.

    So I would say that man *can* be rational, but generally doesn’t bother.

  7. That was annoying – I clicked the wrong button and my entire comment went away, oh well I will try and type some of it out again.

    David Hume as a sceptic – he was not a “constructive” philosopher (a system builder) and he never pretended to be.

    In philosophy (not in economics were he had beliefs of his own – especially about money an banking) his role was to cast doubt on obvious truths (for example the existence of the external universe including other people, the existence even of oneself – the reasoning “I”, and the ability of human beings to choose some of our actions – to choose between good and evil). Not because he did not believe them (David Hume was not an idiot or a madman), but to point out how difficult it is for humans to PROVE (in the normal sense of the word “prove”) the obvious truths – indeed that it may be impossible to prove them in the normal sense.

    This is not a philosophical system (and it is not meant to be) it is sceptical doubt – and philosophers have tried to reply to it. Indeed such philosophers as Thomas Reid and I. Kant have had little in common other than that they were (in part) trying to reply to the doubts presented by David Hume.

    What one must not do (what David Hume would have been horrified by) is to try and system-build on the basis that Hume’s doubts are actually true (that the obvious truths, for example the existence of the reasoning “I” and the ability of human beings to know and to choose between good and evil, are false) – this both the American Pragmatists and the 20th century Logical Positivists tried to do and (I repeat) David Hume would have been horrified by their efforts.

    David Hume as historian…….

    Again (although less fundamentally) this is a matter of sceptical doubt – of trying to rise people from their dogmatic slumbers.

    So instead of “Glorious Revolution jolly good thing” we get “defend the Stuarts” – and one can make a case for the Stuarts (a clever lawyer can make a case for almost anything), there was no National Debt or Central Bank under James II, and there were no laws against Catholic property owners in Ireland and……….

    However some people took everything Hume wrote literally – whereas a lot of it was meant ironically (or as sceptical doubt to rise people from their dogmatic slumbers).

    For example, Louis XVI took from Hume’s “History of England” (one of the favourite books of Louis) the lesson that if Charles the First had never fought he would have been safe (“that is not really what Hume meant Paul” – I have not said it was). This is why Louis demanded that anyone who tried to fight for him (such as the Swiss Guard) should lay down their arms, after all as long as he did not “oppose the people in arms” he and his family were safe, his favourite book said so…….

    David Hume was not an idiot but Louis was), he know that plenty of people who refuse to live by the sword die by it. Sometimes one has to fight – Louis might think “but why would people kill me if I agree to everything they want”, but the answer is the same as the reason a mountain climber climbs a mountain, BECAUSE YOU ARE THERE. This Louis did not understand (till it was too late – and even then his only plan was to try and run away), thus he de facto signed the death warrant of himself, his wife, his son – and hundreds of thousands of people in France, and millions in Europe.

    “Paul – David Hume is not responsible for the misinterpretation of his works by the American Pragmatists, the Logical Positivists, Louis XVI and on and on…..”.

    Fair enough I suppose.

    And I am looking at David Hume with centuries of hidesight – at the time he seemed fine. Even political opponents such as Thomas Reid and Edmund Burke liked Hume (they did not agree with the doubts he expressed, and they were not expected to, but they liked him as a person).

    Oddly enough his supposed political ally Dr Johnson did not like David Hume. English Tory folk did not tend to like their supposed ally – and not because he was Scottish.

    English Tory folk did not tend to like the “clever” – those who expressed doubts about the basic obvious truths (even if they had no ill intent in expressing these doubts). Whigs were more confident that there was no danger – as they would use reason and argument to show that the doubts about the basic obvious truths were absurd.

    The Whigs did not foresee that in the 19th (and especially) the 20th century the doubts about the basic obvious truths would be turned into systems – David Hume may not have wanted that (he almost certainly would have horrified by such wickedness), but it is what happened.

  8. Those who cast doubt upon the basic, foundational, philosophical principles of civil society – of freedom both philosophical and political (and there can be no political freedom without AGENCY, the ability to make real choices [moral responsibility] , – the so called “metaphysical” liberty is the basis of all other liberty, without which human “freedom” has no more moral worth than the “freedom” of water after a dam has been blown up) must be very careful what they do and how they do it.

    Otherwise they open the gates to those who seek “the freedom not to be free” – i.e. to the Legions of Hell.

    But I must stress that David Hume was not the only philosopher to be sadly misused – for example James McCosh points out (for example in the “Scottish Philosophy” 1877) that an entirely one sided view of John Locke was fashionable in France in the 18th century. A “John Locke” that Locke himself would not have recognised, a “John Locke” that held that humans were machines (flesh robots) with no real ability to choose (and, thus, no moral responsibility).

    The Devil (if he exists) is very well read – but has the nasty tactic of twisting everything in the direction of evil (regardless of the intentions of the author), And if the Devil does not exist – “intellectuals” use the same tactic on their own.

    Therefore any doubts expressed about the obvious fundamental truths (the existence of the external universe including other people – i.e that everything is not just a dream or illusion, that the self the reasoning “I” also exists, and that humans are beings – i.e. have the ability to choose between good and evil and are, thus, responsible for their conduct) should be preceded and followed by the statement that the author him (or her) self, does not hold these doubts to be true – but is simply engaging in a thought experiment.

    Of course the author may still be quoted out of context – but a clear statement (both before and after any such “thought experiment”) that the doubts are not to be believed, will reduce the danger.

  9. Ian B It is quite true that for example an acquaintance with Western philosophy will improve some people’s ability to follow trains of logic, see missing components of an argument and understand the nature of evidence. But it will not improve such abilities in the many individuals. The basic innate qualities of intellectual curiosity and a certain level of intelligence have to be there. Just as it is impossible to make someone a salesman who does not have the right qualities, so it is impossible to bring rationality to someone lacking the intellectual and personality traits which that requires. You can improve people who start with the right innate qualities but you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    It is not a question of pure intelligence. I attended a university (Keele) which when I was there operated on the ideal of the academic allrounder. It was uniquely for England a four year Bachelor’s degree course, with the first year devoted to the entire core curriculum of a university taken to different levels of difficulty according to the student’s academic background. The last three years comprised the degree course which involved a minimum of two and and maximum of three subjects,. During those years two subsidiary subjects also had to be taken. If you were taking arts/social sciences for your degree subjects you had to take at least one natural science as a subsidiary subject. If you were taking natural sciences as your degree, you had to have an arts of social science for at least one of your subsidiary subjects,

    Many Keele students struggled with the breadth of the curriculum, but Interestingly, the natural scientists seemed to struggle more than those taking arts or social science degrees when they were asked to take a subject outside those their natural inclinations. There were highly intelligent
    physicists, mathematicians and chemists who simply did not understand the rules of the game for subjects such as history and Eng Lit,. I became interested in this phenomenon and developed the theory of what I call the bounded- unbounded mind spectrum

    The extreme bounded mind seeks subjects with definite or at least the possibility of definite limits to the questions which are raised by the subject, for example ,maths and physics, while the extreme unbounded mind is comfortable with subjects such as history and politics and literary criticism, subjects which by their nature will always have no bounds or certainty attached to the judgements they provoke.. Most people of course come somewhere in the middle of the continuum, which if it was possible to quantify the degree of boundedness or unboundedness in a person would I suspect plot out as a Bell Curve.

  10. Paul,

    You can’t judge a philosophy on whether it produces conclusions you like. That’s just not how it works. Not if you’re interested in truth, anyway.

    I get the feeling that your assessment of Hume comes more from reading his critics than from actually reading his work and pondering it. I am sorry to be snippy, but it is my considered opinion that if a person rejects what Hume basically discovered- the subjectivist nature of human thought- you can’t understand reality and, frankly, have no right at all to be an Austrian- since the Austrian school is subjectivism applied to economics.

    This for instance is where Ayn Rand went wrong for instance. She wanted an objective moral system. It can’t be done, so she ended up just making shit up to suit her intended conclusions.

    Hume applied the scientific method to philosophy, and in the process laid waste to much philosophical nonsense that had preceded him. Science frequently sets bounds on what can be and what we can know. This may be its main function. Understanding limitations is what distinguishes the world of science from the world of magic. One can imagine a magical perpetual motion machine. Science says it cannot be done. One can imagine a magical faster than light spacecraft; science says it cannot be done. One can imagine measuring position and momentum of particles to an unlimited precision. Science says it cannot be done.

    And one can imagine deriving an objective moral code from nature. From Hume, we learned that that, too, cannot be done. This upsets many people. I am upset by the inability to travel faster than light; but I just have to live with it, because it cannot be done.

    The whole point of the Enlightenment is scepticism. Science is intrinsically sceptical. So are post-enlightenment legal systems, which is why we say that a man is innocent unless you can prove otherwise. The belief that he has committed a crime is not enough. Where’s the evidence? Again, constraints, which upset some people who want to hang the bastard.

    Either Liberty stands for Enlightenment values or it stands for very little of any use. And if anyone brought the Enlightenment to philosophy, it was David Hume.

  11. Ian – either you fundamentally misunderstand, or you have written poorly (not an insult – I often write poorly, because expressing thoughts is difficult).

    Hume does not (in philosophy) produce “conclusions” (in a system-builder sense) – he is a sceptic.

    As for the Austrian School of economics – Carl Menger (although not Hayek) was an Aristotelian – NOT in economics, but in philosophy.

    To be subjective one must first have a subject – a reasoning “I” (a subject may be an object – but is not just an object).

    It human choice does not really exist (if humans are not really beings) then there is no Austrian Economics (this point is where Hayek fails philosophically – he tried to avoid the “I”, Mises does not avoid it, although he occasionally made nods to fashionable falsehood, in contradiction to what he says at other points) for there are no human beings for it to discuss (and what happens to non-existent human beings is of no importance anyway – whip the flesh robots to death, or burn them, so what?).

    Humans (being self aware beings) have the ability (if we try) to choose between good and evil – and they also have the ability (if we try) to know what they are.

    What route people take to get to the basic (the fundamental) conclusions is not a matter of fundamental importance – as long as they get there.

    As for post enlightenment legal systems…….

    John Adams expressed the hope that “law” produced by “legislatures” would prove to be far more “rational” than law produced by cases and judgements (both “Feudal” Common Law and Canon Church Law – about both of which he had uncomplimentary things to say). Although in his actual work as a lawyer he used all the old traditions of the Common Law to seek natural justice (which DOES exist) in individual cases (in defiance of the will of the “Legislature”) – this is a contradiction in the thought and conduct of John Adams that I am unable to explain (praising enlightened legislatures in theory – while trying to frustrate them in practice).

    James Madison already knew the truth – that the legislatures were producing arbitrary ravings and that it was in the nature of the beast to do so (as had been the case with the Greek city states – with their endless laws, so mocked by the Romans till they went down the same “enlightened” path, as Tacitus said the greater the number of laws, the more corrupt the state).

    Once we adopt the enlightenment view of the lawgiver “creating law” (as opposed to law being created by disputes and judgements) then things go down hill. There have been competent (ish) codes of law – but only when the code writers have adopted traditional natural justice, non violation of the bodies and goods of others, and tried to write it down (as opposed to seeing “law” as orders of the state – trying to mold people by telling them how to dress, what food to eat and so on). Indeed the one worse form of “law” to that “made” (not discovered) by a “legislature” is “law made by the executive – which is how most “laws” are made in the modern West (under vague enabling statutes – with Ministers and Civil Servants doing what they like in broad areas).

    Actually both David Hume and F.A. Hayek score here – an “enlightened legal system ” (i.e. one where law is “made” by a “legislature” [or, even worse, the executive] – be it one man or an assembly of people) is something to be avoided.

    Even the genius of Roman law was actually when it was a matter of judgements over disputes – once it became a decrees from on high (from the Enlightened Prince – codes from the Emperor) it went into decline.

    By the way – an amusing example.

    The first great Greek style law giver in Rome as actually the Greek HATER – Cato the Elder.

    Cato the Elder tried to use Greek methods (laws as ORDERS imposed by the “legislature”) to stop Romans acting like Greeks.

    Although (as Hayek points out) the genius of Greek civilisation itself came before this view of law became the norm in Greece (with endless enlightened regulations).

    Once in the Greek city states – law was about disputes (the effort to find natural justice – not to order people about in every detail of their lives).

    Thomas Hobbes knew what he was doing when he claimed that there was no such thing as natural justice – and that, consequentially, the “students of the common law of England” were wasting their time looking for it (that they might as well be looking for unicorns or dragons) – as (as Hobbes well knew)the alternative is to see law as the will-of-the-state (which is what he wanted).

    Hans Kelson (the teacher of Hayek) had essentially the same view as Hobbes – and was thus helpless against the National Socialists. After all they were only putting such an idea, that “law” is just the will of the state, into practice.

    “You can not judge a philosophy on whether it produces conclusions you like” – on the contrary if a “philosophy” (such as “Legal Positivism”) produces “conclusions” that are fundamentally evil it proves the philosophy is false (indeed this is the surest proof – far more reliable than the word games that modern philosophy so often falls into).

    Hayek rejected Hans Kelson and the other Legal Positivists – but he did not return to traditional ideas of natural justice (right and wrong – good and evil) either. And so was stuck in a void.

    This is odd – because Hayek understood that the Scottish (really British – as it should include thinkers in the other lands of the United Kingdom) Enlightenment was rather different to mainstream European Enlightenment – and he supported the “Scottish” and opposed the “European”.

    Hayek groped for the difference (trying to explain it – but never quite finding the words), yet the answer was staring him in the face.

    The British Old Whigs (like a few of the European thinkers also) never rejected traditional natural justice (good and evil – right and wrong), indeed they made this the centre piece of their thinking (the keystone without which everything else falls).

    Without the keystone of the arch (without traditional individual moral responsibility) the mass murder and robbery (and so on) of the French Revolution (and so on) becomes inevitable.

    After all it is the “will of the people” (or “the interests of the people”) – and if there is nothing higher than that……

    Hence Edmund Burke’s warning to the Duke of Bedford in “Letter to a Noble Lord”.

    If you continue to give money to activists who say that the “will” (or the “interests”) of the people is the highest “law” (who deny that there are things that government must-not-do) – then you are signing the death warrant of yourself and your family.

  12. Paul,

    That’s the point of Hume. He shows why “system builder” philosophies are broken. Which is probably the most powerful conclusion in philosophy since A is A. That is the point of my post.

    My other point (which is not from Hume, but I believe an inevitable extrapolation) is that libertarianism is the only compatible system with subjectivism- and subjectivism is the only rational philosophy for a libertarian.

    Simply put; if there is an objective “system” you don’t need liberty. There is no need for choice. Everyone should just follow whatever the system is. Anyone doing anything else is objectively wrong. Anyone following the system- say, stoicism- is objectively right.

    Just as, if economic values can be objectively derived, you don’t need a market price system. You can set all the prices to a correct level, by a central planner. So, we must see economic subjectivism as merely a subset of a more general subjectivism of all human values.

    So from that, we logically conclude that the only system truly compatible with human nature (and its subjective values) is one in which no person may impose their preferences (values) on another person, since none is preferable. And out of that falls the libertarian idea. In other words, the absence of “system” itself becomes “system”. Which I think is rather neat, myself.

  13. “David Hume brought enlightenment to philosophy”.

    Actually Hume denied (or at least cast doubt upon the idea) that philosophy (reason) could prove the fundamental (foundational) truths. That it could (in this sense) enlighten us.

    This does not mean that these principles are not true – or are not fundamental (foundational), Nor it is it good enough to say that we should act “as if” they were true – they are true or they (and we) are worthless.

    All it means (if the doubts that are presented are correct) is that philosophy is useless (worthless) – it does not (can not?) do the job of proving the obvious foundational truths.

    At least this would have one beneficial consequence – departments of philosophy in universities could be closed (thus saving money).

    Actually (come to think of it) it is does NOT even mean that – as philosophy may have other uses. It may not be able to prove the foundational (fundamental) truths – but it can used for other things (once the foundational principles have been accepted).

    Even if the “Whig” dream of proving the foundational (fundamental) principles is unattainable and the “Tory” view that the principles must just be assumed (not “as if” true – but as true) is correct – philosophy may still have other (more minor – but still useful) uses.

    “But what is the answer to those who deny the fundamental (the foundational) truths?”

    Well if the “Whig” view (that one can prove the foundational truths) is mistaken – then all one can do is ignore such people (people who deny the foundational truths) if they are just talking, but remember to hang them if they try and put words into practice.

    If people who wish to be “free not to be free” just wallow in their own filth this is not the concern of the Sword – only if they seek to attack others (claiming that there is no moral principle not to plunder other people) does it become the concern of the Sword.

    I remember Erick Brown saying that they felt more respect for the Germans at Belson who admitted that what they had done was wrong (that did not play relativist games) .

    However, whether they admitted the truth that what they had done was wrong (and that they could have done otherwise – that had chosen to do evil in the knowledge that was evil) or not, they still had to be hanged.

  14. Ian.

    For there to be subjectivism there must be subjects – self aware, reasoning “I”s.

    And for there to be morality – people (the subjects) must be able to choose some of their actions.

    The actions can be “determined” – as long as the “I” is accepted as the determiner.

    But if all actions are PRE determined – then there can be no morality (whether one calls it objective or subjective). For there are no human beings (or other agents).

    I think this is the conclusion we hammered out in a previous conversation – and would have hammed out more quickly it I had not got too interested in my own thoughts and paid close enough attention to what you typed – I assumed you meant PRE determined by “determined” and you did not.

  15. Paul, I think I already said this, but you write about Hume like someone who has not read Hume, but has only read critiques of Hume by opponents. The Stanford Encylopaedia of Philosophy gives a pretty good summary-


    I do not mean to be patronising, but you really don’t seem to know what he actually said. I’ve noticed this before when you keep quoting “slave of the passions” without appreciating what he meant by it.

  16. I have read some of Hume’s books – but not recently.

    The problem is that if the doubts that David Hume expresses (which may of course not be his opinions – playing Devil’s advocate and all that, or just showing the “limits of reason”) then Dr Johnson is also correct.

    When Dr Johnson met a philosopher (not Hume) who denied his (Johnson’s) existence – Johnson did not argue with him (as a Whig would), he kicked him.

    And when Dr Johnson met a philosopher (again not Hume) who denied human agency (our ability to make real choices – to do other than we do) again Dr Johnson did not do the Old Whig thing of arguing with the man, – he just said “we know our will is free and that is the end of it” whilst stroking his, large and heavy, walking stick.

    This is the problem with “the Sceptic” effort to cast doubt (pour acid upon) the “Whig” position (to destroy the philosophical foundations of the “Whig” position – without which the pro freedom view of POLITICS collapses) – it leaves us with just the “Tory” position.

    The “conversation” becomes as follows……

    “You can not PROVE you exist”.


    “You can not PROVE that we have the ability to see what is good and what is evil”.


    “Even if good and evil, right and wrong, are real things and we have the ability to work out what they are – you can not PROVE that we have the ability to CHOOSE between them”.


    If the “Whig” view (that reason can be used to prove the fundamental, foundational, truths) is wrong – this leaves the “Tory” position

    The world is left with only FORCE (not reason) when it comes to the matters of fundamental importance. As reason “can not prove” fundamental (foundational) truths such as our ability to see what is good and what is evil – and our ability to choose between them.

    Not even Tory folk (such as Dr Johnson) actually like FORCE being the only way.

    “Just because people do not like it does not mean it is not true Paul”.

    Fair enough – as long as you know where the project of pouring acid over (destroying) traditional philosophy leads.

    Still let us leave aside David Hume (who was a gentleman and may well have had no bad intentions) – by the 19th century some “liberals” were even praising Thomas Hobbes (even paying for his works to be put in libraries – whilst throwing the defenders of freedom, such as Ralph Cudworth, [who had been highly regarded by the Whigs] down the “Memory Hole”), their philosophical bankruptcy was complete. Thus making the rise of statism in the 20th century inevitable.

  17. I should point out that Dr Johnson did not want the rise of statism (most 18th century Tory folk did not). He certainly did not love of force being the way to deal with matters of fundamental importance.

    Freedom (political as well as philosophical) depends on certain fundamental (foundational) truths (Mr J.S. Mill is exactly WRONG when he implies that attacking these truths is a way of expanding freedom – it is actually the way to destroy freedom) – the “Whigs” (such as Thomas Reid – but also “Whigs” in the Aristotelian tradition) did not mind these truths being attacked as they believed that the absurdity of the attacks could be shown (proved).

    “Tory” folk (such as Dr Johnson) did not like the attacks (and therefore regarded their “ally” David Hume with deep hostility) precisely because they believed that the doubts “The Sceptic” expressed (whether or not he personally believed them) could not be easily refuted.

  18. In this sense (and in this sense ONLY) are people correct when they say that Edmund Burke moved from being a “”Whig” to being a “Tory”.

    Burke remained a Whig (politically) to his dying day, but……..

    As a young man (and as middle aged one) Edmund Burke was confident of the ability of reason to prove the fundamental (foundational) proofs – that any reasonable person would agree when the arguments were presented to them.

    However, after the French Revolution (without changing his political or philosophical opinions) Burke became far less certain of the ability of reasoned argument to convince all people of the basic truths.

    It was not so much the French Revolution itself that shocked Burke – there have been all too many outbreaks of human wickedness (of mass murder and robbery) in history. It was the reaction of so many seemingly civilised people in Britain to the Revolution – this (the reaction) was what shocked him to core (and shook his faith that attacks on the basic truths were harmless – because such attacks could be easily refuted).

    John Adams had a similar experience.

    It was not the murders and robbery that shocked him (he had seen a lot of that before) – it was seemingly civilised, educated and cultured people celebrating the outbreak (treating evil as good) that shocked him.

    I believe that David Hume (had he lived) would have had the same reaction as Edmund Burke and John Adams.

  19. I have now looked at the article you suggested Ian (would not a link to an article by Hume himself have been better – he did not just write books, there were articles to).

    I had forgotten (if I ever knew) the Newton connection – I may have known that 20 years ago, but I did not know it when I read the article (I doubt I will remember it – as it does not make sense, literally sense, intelligence self-awareness, can not explained in this way – if in any way, the “I” may be “un analysis able” – now James McCosh and Noah Porter will rise from the grave to bash me with the massive books in which they attempted to do just this).

    The sensationalism (and so on) were as I remember them (Locke with knobs on – with added twists). Lots of experiences with no actual person having the experiences.

    I think the article seriously underestimates the scepticism of the doubts Hume presents (whether or not he actually believes what he implies – or whether he is trying to wake people from their dogmatic slumbers). It is not really a matter of the Moral Sense philosophers (which the article calls the “sentimentalists” – which they were sometimes called) versus the Moral Rationalists (with Hume favouring the former against the latter). The doubts are rather more fundamental than that.

    I liked the Hobbes bashing in the article (although his stuff was not “shocking” to anyone who had heard of the sophists – and it certainly was not “brilliant”), but then I like most (although not all) forms of Hobbes bashing.

  20. Paul,

    I linked to the article because honestly I prefer something in modern English. Also, I think a summary of a philosophy or idea can be more useful than the works of the philosopher themself. For instance it takes far fewer words to summarise Von Mises’s key points than to plough through the whole of Human Action.

    Come to that, rather than read all of Marx, a summary can be achieved in two words-

    “Utter nonsense”.


  21. Yes your last point is well made Ian. It is very odd that the “libertarian” left have tried to dig up Marxist concepts (such as “exploitation” – everything being the fault of “the rich” “capitalist business”). Karl Marx interpreted David Ricardo and James Mill in the “light” of certain forms of German philosophy. The economics of David Ricardo and James Mill was wrong to start with (J.S. Mill is no longer about to attack me for showing disrespect for his sainted father – the real crime of Sir William Hamilton) and mixing it with the sort of German philosophy that Karl mixed it with, made it vastly worse (taking out the good parts of it).

    Yes – I am being too long winded.

    Your summing up of the concepts of Karl Marx “utter nonsense” is sufficient.

  22. The key question to ask about David Hume is “does he mean it literally?” (the “does he really mean this?” question).

    For example did Hume really mean (literally) “Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them” (the “philosophy” of “the beast” – “blond beast” or otherwise) and “virtue to be whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation and vice the contrary” (a rather different thing from the voice of conscience of the Moral Choice school – the difference is not only in the flippant language used).

    If the answer is “yes he means it all literally – there is no “I”, humans are not beings, humans are just passions, propensities, and an assorted bundle of perceptions” then David Hume should not detain us (we should express contempt at this enemy of the foundations of liberalism, and move on), but if Hume does not mean it all literally (after all he did not mean all his history literally – as Louis XVI found to his cost), if Hume is doing something else here (for example trying to wake us from our dogmatic slumbers) then things are radically different.

  23. “Reason … slave of the passions” is absolutely ambiguous when stated out of context. I have not read the Inquiry since college, back before the Silurian Epoch, so have no worthwhile opinion. And the problem with reading interpretations of anybody is figuring out the degree to which they accurately state the person’s position.

    Of course, intellectual honesty requires that one acknowledge that one’s own interpretation is not guaranteed to be correct.

    This, unfortunately, leads us directly to the “no one can know anything for sure” conclusion, from which one usually slides directly into the Pit of Despair: “Nobody can know nuttin’.” Which is epistemological nihilism, which leads directly and logically to metaphysical nihilism.

    In consequence of which one must ask, “Then why are we having this conversation in the first place?”

    To which there are two and only two possible answers.

    1. To while away the time until the next Appetite-Gratification Event. (Amounts to trying to solve an inherently-unsolvable puzzle.)

    2. It wouldn’t be possible to have it at all were there no such thing as Reason; therefore epistemology, which is the study of the question “How do we know” (at the abstract, not the psychological/somatic level) is a legitimate field of study, since Reason is our name for how we go about conducting the study.

    However, Answer 1 also implies the existence of Reason, by the very fact of Answer 2.

  24. Paul keeps on quoting that “reason is the slave of the passions” quote without any attempt to understand why Hume said it, like he got it of a Christmas cracker or something.

    The actual meaning of it is pretty easy to grasp; Hume concluded that we are driven to do things not by reason, but my motivations (from “sentiment”). Reason can tell you how to save a child from drowning, but you do it because of the desire to save the child, which is a sentiment. If you have no sympathy for the child, you’ll not bother reasoning how best to save them. So reason is a tool we use to achieve our goals, but doesn’t generate the goals itself.

    The way Paul deploys it, I think he takes it to mean “passions” as negative things like partying instead of working or something. But “passions” can be good or bad, including the “passion” to help the needy, the “passion” to protect your children, the “passion” to produce beautiful music, the “passion” to build a succesful business, etc.

    As to knowledge, we get back to Hume’s enormously important identification of the distinction between facts and values; facts are things we know (and are derived from “simple impressions”) and values are things we judge subjectively, as individuals (whether opera is better than ballet). Values cannot be derived from facts. Hume distinctly does not say that we cannot know anything for sure (this would be more of an Idealism thing) but his system protects us against believing that subjective values are objective facts.

    The baffling thing for me continues to be that so many libertarians- who base their entire economic understanding on subjectivism of values- reject it in other areas. This is at the very least grossly inconsistent.

  25. There can not be reason without at least one reasoner (no apology for bad spelling or whatever).

    There can be no “subjectivism” if there are no subjects (no reasoning “I”) just objects.

    David Hume (IF one takes him literally) denies the existence of the agent (of the reasoning I) – he thus denies the existence of reason itself.

    This is not philosophy – indeed it is the denial of the very possibility that there can be philosophy or philosophers (after all David Hume, IF one takes him literally, is denying his own existence as a reasoning agent).

    No reasoners – no reason.

    The “I” (the reasoning agent – the choser) is not a “conclusion” of a chain of reasoning. He (or she) is the starting point of any chain of reasoning, without which no reasoning can take place.

    As for the reply a-thought-does-not-mean-a-thinker – yes it does.

    As for morality……

    If we have no real choice over any of our actions (if we can not do otherwise – if to say “he could have done otherwise” is “meaningless”) then THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MORALITY.

    Saying this is “subjective morality” is false (utterly false) – if we do not have a real choice over any of our actions then there is no morality (and no human, or other, beings).

    If there is no reasoning “I” (no chooser), then there is no moral agent (no one with moral responsibility for their actions – because they could have done otherwise), then there is no morality (“subjective”, and one can not have “subjective” without subjects, or otherwise).

  26. A practical example…..

    Assume (for the sake of argument) that Kevin Carson knows that the various historical statements he makes in a typical Kevin post are false – that he is deliberately lying.

    If good and evil are just feelings (“boo and cheer” words as A.J.A. put it – seemingly unaware what people were cheering in Soviet Russia or in Germany at the time he was writing) then Kevin would not be being evil by lying – as there is no evidence that he has any bad feelings about lying (or that his friends as “spectators” feel anything but good feelings about his clever use of lies).

    But things are rather more radical than this.

    If Kevin really can not help himself (if all his statements are predetermined – if he can not do otherwise than he does) then he can not be evil in this regard no matter how false his statements may be – because he has no choice over the matter (he can not stop himself making the statements). He can not be evil – if he has no choice over his actions.

    Further – if Kevin does not exist (as a reasoning “I” – a choosing agent) he can not be an evil person, because he would not be a person at all.

    I might as well call an object (for example my coffee cup) “evil” if it accidentally fell on someone’s head.

    It should be stressed that the claim that reasoning agents do not exist is different from the claim “morality is subjective” – indeed it is in radical conflict with it. After all if there are no subjects (only objects), no reasoning agents (no choosers), then morality can not be “subjective” – because there are no subjects (only objects).

  27. The denial of human personhood which one finds openly (blatantly) in Thomas Hobbes and it is ALLEGED that one finds in David Hume (actually one finds it only if one takes his philosophy literally, at face value, and I am far from sure that this is the correct way of viewing David Hume) is an attack upon the Great Tradition of Western thought. Sometimes described as the “revolt against the crushing moral burden of freedom” – or “the freedom not to be free”.

    It is not “first rate” philosophy (it is wrong – wrong about the most fundamental thing, the existence of the human person, our existence as a reasoning agent, our ability to make real choices between good and evil – which are real things, not just arbitrary fancies) and it can lead only to tyranny – either Fascism or some other form of tyranny.

    In this Heinrich Rommen (struggling against the Nazis) was quite correct, but he may have been utterly WRONG to take Hume literally.

    I am not good with irony (in fact I am very bad in seeing it – I have a very “unBritish” mind in this respect), but at least I am a native English speaker (Rommen was not).

    I suspect that there is a lot of irony (perhaps even whimsy) in the works of David Hume (there certainly is in his historical works – if you do not resist enemies they will not kill you [as if you do not resist there is, by definition, no war] is certainly NOT what Hume really meant, he was presenting a word game about Charles the First, although one that Louis XVI took literally) – how much irony (or whimsy) there is in his philosophical works (what David Hume is really doing) is an open question.

    One that, I freely admit, I am not a good person to answer.

    “Say what you mean (tell the truth), say it plain – and be prepared to die for it” I can understand with less difficulty.

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