David Hume and the Culture of Scottish Newtonianism 

Methodology and Ideology in Enlightenment Inquiry


Author: Tamás Demeter
David Hume has a canonical place in the context of moral philosophy, but his insights are less frequently discussed in relation to natural philosophy. David Hume and the Culture of Scottish Newtonianism offers a discussion of Hume’s methodological and ideological commitments in matters of knowledge as reflected in his language and outlook. Tamás Demeter argues that several aspects of Hume’s moral philosophy reflect post-Newtonian tendencies in the aftermath of the Opticks, and show affinities with Newton-inspired Scottish physiology and chemistry. Consequently, when Hume describes his project as an 'anatomy of the mind' he uses a metaphor that expresses his commitment to study human cognitive and affective functioning on analogy with active and organic nature, and not with the Principia’s world of inert matter.

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Tamás Demeter, Ph.D. (2010), University of Cambridge, is Research Group Leader at the Institute of Philosophy, RCH, Hungarian Academy of Sciences and teaches at the University of Pécs, Hungary.
"There are a great many books and articles published on Hume each year, so many in fact that one may wonder if anything significant is left to be said about Edinburgh’s most famous philosopher. Can anyone still offer fresh and interesting reading of a figure who has enjoyed such abundant and sustained academic attention? In just over two hundred pages, David Hume and the Culture of Scottish Newtonianism not only assuages this doubt, but opens new vistas for interpretation that are likely to influence Hume scholarship for decades to come.

James J. S. Foster, University of Sioux Falls, in The Journal of Scottish Philosophy 18.2 (2020): 213–225
DOI: 10.3366/jsp.2020.0268

“Demeter makes a very clear and convincing case, not only with regard to the big picture […] but with regard to the details […]. As a result, most readers should come away from his book with a better appreciation of some of the more nuanced aspects of Hume’s method and concepts, in addition to developing a better understanding of the broader scientific context in which he lived and worked.”
Stefanie Rocknak, Hartwick College, Oneonta. In: Isis, Vol. 110, No. 1 (March 2019), pp. 163-164.

“[...] long-standing readers of Hume will be delighted to find Hume in this fresh intellectual landscape.”
Miren Boehm, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In: Hume Studies, Vol. 42, Nos.1-2 (2016).

“In recent years, the commonplace that David Hume sought to become the Newton of the moral sciences has been challenged by a number of scholars. The significance of Tamás Demeter’s book lies in the fact that he seriously weighs up this claim by considering the nature of Scottish Newtonianism, and its consonance not only with the writings of Hume but also with those of other Scottish moral philosophers.”
John P. Wright, Central Michigan University. In: Eighteenth-Century Scotland, Vol. 32 (2018)

“Demeter’s work undoubtedly represents a valuable contribution in the history of modern philosophy, destined to lead to a change in Hume scholarship. Not only does he give us a new and more solid version of his Newtonianism, but he explores its effects on every sphere of his philosophy.”
Alessio Vaccari, Sapienza University of Rome. In: British Journal for the History of Philosophy, Vol. 27, No. 1 (2019), pp. 221-224.

“an exciting and useful volume”
Roger L. Emerson, University of Western Ontario (Emeritus). In: Metascience, Vol. 26, No. 3 (2017), pp. 417-419.

“The merits of Demeter's book are [...] substantial. I recommend David Hume and the Culture of Scottish Newtonianism for anyone who is interested in the integrated history of the natural sciences and humanities/social sciences, the work of Hume and the history of philosophy as contextualized in its social environment.”
Matias Slavov, University of Jyväskylä. In: Journal of Early Modern Studies, 2017, pp. 207-212.

“a valuable contribution to our understanding of the intellectual context of Hume’s philosophy, that should make a decisive change to what we mean when we describe Hume as a ‘Newton of the mind’.”
James A. Harris, University of St Andrews. In: The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 68, Issue 271 (April 2018), pp. 419–421.



I. The Conceptual Unity of Scottish Newtonianism
II. The Methodological Unity of Scottish Newtonianism

III. Hume’s Copernican Turn
IV. Newton’s Method and Hume’s Science of Man
V. Hume and the Changing Ideology of Natural Inquiry

VI. The Experimental Method
VII. A Chemistry of Perceptions
VIII. An Anatomy and Physiology of the Mind

IX. Three Perspectives on Human Action
X. The Objectivity of Moral Cognition and Philosophy



All interested in the philosophy of David Hume, the Scottish Enlightenment, eighteenth-century Newtonianism, history of scientific methodology, history of science in the Enlightenment.