Hume and the Historicity of Human Nature

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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This paper urges a reconsideration of Hume’s role in the philosophy of history. It begins by challenging the common perception of Hume as a proto-positivist hoping to draw from history a mechanical causal account of the unchanging human nature. It draws attention instead to his grasp of historical contingency, the sui generis nature of the social world, and the complexity of the relationships of recognition and identity-formation which structure its operation. The paper goes on to examine Hume’s position in the light of the idea of the historicity of human nature. It is argued that Hume could be perfectly comfortable with the idea of changes in human nature as well as with the contextual dependence of terms in which human nature comes to define and redefine itself over time. What Hume cannot countenance is the prospect of a radical discontinuity within human nature, the potential significance of which is downplayed by his methodological reliance, qua a historian, on critical common sense and the moralistic vocabulary of folk psychology associated with it.

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References

1

H.-G. Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Continuum, 1999), 4.

2

R. Collingwood, The Idea of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 78.

4

For discussion, see D. Livingston, Hume’s Philosophy of Common Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 187.

6

C. Berry, Hume, Hegel and Human Nature (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), 18.

7

G.W. Hegel, “Fragments of Historical Studies”, Clio, 7 (1977), 113–134, p. 128.

8

Farr, “Explanations”, 57.

9

N. Capaldi, “Hume as a Social Scientist”, The Review of Metaphysics, 32 (1978), 101–123, p. 105.

11

Pompa, Human Nature, 192.

12

Farr, “Explanations”, 57; Livingston, Life, ix; D. Siebert, The Moral Animus of David Hume (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1990), 9; Capaldi, “Hume”, 101.

14

W. Melaney, “Hume’s Secular Paradigm, Skepticism and Historical Knowledge”, History of Philosophy Quarterly 25 (2008), 243–257, p. 247.

16

For more on this point see Livingston, Life, 228.

18

Nicholas Phillipson, David Hume: The Philosopher as Historian (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 11.

19

See S. Foster, “David Hume and Edward Gibbon: Philosophical Historians/ Historical Philosophers: Introduction and Overview” The Modern Schoolman 84 (2007), 285–295, p. 289 and C. Schmidt, “Hume and Kant on Historical Teleology” Clio 36 (2007), 199–218, pp. 205–6.

20

Ibid., 206.

21

Ibid., 214.

24

John Danford, David Hume and the Problem of Reason: Recovering the Human Sciences (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 11.

26

Ibid., 57–8, Livingston, Life, 191–2, and Farr, “Explanations,” 57.

27

Ibid., 58.

28

Livingston, “Explanation”, 59.

29

Capaldi, “Hume”, 118.

30

Farr, “Explanation”, 73.

31

Capaldi, “Hume”, 123; also, Livingston, “Explanation”, 66.

33

Ibid., 196.

34

Capaldi, “Hume”, 101.

35

N. Capaldi, Hume’s Place in Moral Philosophy (New York: Peter Lang, 1992), 310.

36

D. Livingston, Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 218.

38

C. Berry, “Hume on Rationality in History and Social Life” History and Theory 21 (1982), 234–247, p. 240.

39

S. Wertz, “Hume, History, and Human Nature”, Journal of the History of Ideas 36 (1975), 481–496, p. 488.

42

Livingston, Life 216.

44

J. Farr, “Hume, Hermeneutics, and History: A ‘Sympathetic’ Account”, History and Theory 17 (1978), 285–310, p. 301. See also Livingston, Life 225.

45

Capaldi, Hume’s Place, 261.

46

K. Haakonssen, “The Structure of Hume’s Political Theory” in The Cambridge Companion to Hume, 182–221, p. 188.

47

Capaldi, “Hume”, 113.

49

Berry, Hume, Hegel, 153.

50

Comp. Farr, “Explanations”, 67 & 74 and Capaldi, “Hume”, 109.

51

D. Long, “Hume’s ‘Imagination’ Revisited”, Lumen 17 (1998), 127–49, p. 132.

52

Livingston, Life, 286.

54

Ibid., 43.

55

R. Popkin, “Hume: Philosophical Versus Prophetic Historian”, The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 7 (1976), 83–95, p. 83. Also, see Livingston, Life, 297–300, Capaldi, “Hume”, 103, Siebert, Moral Animus, 142–3.

56

Farr, “Hume,” 286.

57

Schmidt, Reason in History, 407.

58

Berry, Hume, Hegel, 102.

59

Ibid., 103.

60

Danford, David Hume, 133.

61

Ibid., 135.

62

Berry, “Hume on Rationality,” 243.

63

Phillipson, David Hume, 16.

64

Berry, Hume, Hegel, 184.

65

V. Wexler, David Hume and the History of England (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1979), 88.

66

Berry, “Hume on Rationality,” 247.

67

Berry, Hume, Hegel, 199.

68

Ibid., 200.

70

Pompa, Human Nature, 63–4.

71

Livingston, Life, 221.

73

Pompa, Human Nature, 64.

74

Ibid., 47. As Pompa puts it, by treating human nature as constant we blind ourselves to the history of changes in human nature.

75

M. Phillips, “Hume and Historical Distance”, Lumen 21 (2002), 1–19, 5.

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