What Are You Reading…On David Hume

David Hume has had a profound impact on many intellectuals. My first encounter with him came at the end of an undergraduate class entitled “Rationalism and Empiricism,” which covered Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, and Hume. Throughout the class I struggled to figure out where I stood on the issues under discussion, but all the philosophers seemed to me to have equally valid arguments. It wasn’t until we read David Hume that I realized my uncertainty came from my feeling that none of the philosophers had yet gotten back to a firm foundation for knowledge (which is not to say that they all don’t make valuable contributions to philosophy). No wonder, then, that Hume rescued Kant from his dogmatic slumber, inspiring the critical project the latter is known for.

Philosophy has transformed itself many times since Hume wrote. New experiments show how our sensations are influenced by prior experiences, psychological states, identity, and culture, among many other factors. The role of empiricism was questioned by Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein, among others, and continues to be examined today. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that academics have not thought of empirical data in the same way since Hume wrote. If for no other reason than that, his contributions deserve continued study.

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