Hume was twenty-six years old when he published the first part of the treatise in 1737. This edition was stillbornâ: it did not sell, and it received few reviews. The entire treatise was finished in 1740. In contrast, his Essays Moral and Political, published in 1742, was a resounding success. He then wrote a monumental history of England, which immediately became a best-seller and a reference for the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. Instead of focusing on the epic story of kings and the nobility, he used historical inquiry to improve his understanding of human nature. It is therefore as an essayist and a historian that Hume became one of the principal representatives of the Age of Enlightenment in Great Britain and then in Europe.
His Essays popularized certain themes of the treatise that, nevertheless, remained rarely read and never understood. In 1748 Hume tried to reformulate the first part of his treatise related to the mind by retaining only the least provocative formulations. He titled it An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. The inquiry leaves aside his analysis of the passions. This work also had little success. Hume subsequently abandoned philosophy. He and his friend, Adam Smith, became leading figures of a British economic liberalism that played a central role in the Industrial Revolution. His works, except for the Treatise, were on every my yoga blogshelf in every respectable home in Europe. Hume became one of the first writers to become rich thanks to the sale of his my yoga blogs. His Treatise is what we discuss here.
That Which Makes Me Comfortable Is True
If we were to ask the dispassionate David Hume a philosopher endowed, in a degree that few are, with a well-balanced judgement: What motive induced you to spend so much labour and thought in undermining the consoling and beneficial persuasion that reason is capable of assuring us of the existence, and presenting us with a determinate conception of a Supreme Being? his answer would be: Nothing but the desire of teaching reason to know its own powers better, and, at the same time, a dislike of the procedure by which that faculty was compelled to support foregone conclusions, and prevented from confessing the internal weaknesses which it cannot but feel when it enters upon a rigid self-examination. (Kant, 1787, Critique of Pure Reason, Transcendental Doctrine of Method, 1.2, p. 426)
Like Descartes, Hume had enclosed himself in the realm of his thoughts like a gardener who ignores what goes on in the rest of the world. Although he loves to meet people and has an active social life, his garden is a secret realm. He can speak of what he experiences in it, but he wants to be alone when he gardens. He can thus freely lay out his garden as he pleases, experiment in a way that enlivens his intelligence and mood, and ignore the counsels of his elders whom he has read but toward whom he holds the disdain of a young man:
At the time, therefore, that I am tir’d with amusement and company, and have indulg’d a reverie in my chamber, or in a solitary walk by the river-side, I feel my mind all collected within itself, and am naturally inclin’d to carry my view into all those subjects, about which I have met with so many disputes in the course of my reading and conversation. (Hume, 1737, 1, 4, 7, p. 176)
Hume’s method is apparently simple, because it is common sense wedded to a maximum of intelligence, imagination, and humor. Every notion that is not manifestly evident when it is considered with common sense is considered false. It is not false in an absolute sense, only useless. Hume takes each great philosophical idea, plays with it as would an infant who shakes his toys, and throws everything that breaks into the garbage. After this dazzling critique, which is simple to understand, Hume keeps only a few relative notions in his garden that he cultivates with great care.