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DAVID HUME: A STUDENT IN CRISIS

The Treatise of a Tumultuous Youth

He [Hume] threw no light on this species of knowledge, but he certainly struck a spark from which light might have been obtained, had it caught some inflammable substance and had its smoldering fire been carefully nursed and developed. (Kant, 1783, Prolegomena, Preface)

Everyone who is acquainted either with the Philosophers or Critics knows that there is nothing yet established in either of these two Sciences, & that they contain little more than endless Disputes, even in the most fundamental Articles. Upon Examination of these, I found a certain Boldness of temper, growing in me, which was not enclin’d to submit to any Authority in these Subjects. (Hume, quoted in Mossner, 1980, 1.5, p. 62)

David Hume (1711-1776) was raised as a Scot Presbyterian Protestant. He was manifestly gifted since his early childhood. His parents wanted him to pursue a career in law, which he studied at the University of Edinburgh. However, his real ambition was to become a writer. To fulfill this ambition, and to cure a recurring depression, he decided to continue his studies in France.1 He departed for England, and then for France, where he lived close to the Jesuit College of La Fleche, where Descartes had studied a century earlier. In spite of a difficult emotional life, Hume was adept at managing the meager funds provided by his family, read abundantly, was mostly self-taught, and organized himself by writing A Treatise of Human Nature.

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