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The Essays of David Hume

David Hume was one of the great essayists of the 18th century, writing on a breath-taking range of issues from taxation to suicide. Through reading and discussing a selection of his often overlooked essays, we will explore Hume's philosophy.

David Hume (1711–1776) published his first collection of essays in 1741. It was an instant success. Covering a wide range of issues, the essays are fascinating expressions of the Scottish Enlightenment. Further collections followed, and Hume was celebrated during his life for these elegant and thought-provoking essays. He was proud of them; as he said with typical charm and irony, they made him financially independent but opulent. Yet, there is a peculiar discrepancy: the philosophical books for which Hume is renowned now were mostly ignored in his lifetime; and what is largely ignored now are the essays that made him famous while alive.

In this course, we bring them back to life, and through them we approach several aspects of Hume’s philosophical thoughts on ethics, religion, politics, and metaphysics. The course is suited to beginners in philosophy; and participants with interdisciplinary interests (literature, arts, history) are particularly welcome.

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2017-01-13 13:38
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Resources for this course

Displaying 1 - 20 of 23
Type Resource Description People Full details
Document Further Analysis of OC 32-7 (Handout 9)

More background on passages in 'Of the Original Contract' (paras. 32-7).

Peter Wyss view
Document Politics (Handout 8)

General background information for Hume's views of political philosophy.

Peter Wyss view
Document 'Of the Original Contract': Outline (Handout 7)

An attempt to summarise the essay.

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Document Fifth coursework sheet

Questions and background information for 'Of Civil Liberty', 'Of Passive Obedience', and 'Of Parties in General'.

Peter Wyss view
Document Hume, First Enquiry XI ('Of Providence and of a Future State')

Further reading linked with handout 6. (Hume changed the title for the 'Enquiry'.)

Peter Wyss view
Document Religion: 'like Foreigners in a strange Country' (Handout 6)

Some background information about Hume's view on religion.

Peter Wyss view
Link The Miller edition of Hume's Essays for online reading

This part of the Liberty Fund website hosts all of Hume's essays for online reading (and printing).

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Document Fourth coursework sheet

Leading questions and some background for 'Of Superstition and Enthusiasm' and 'Of Suicide'.

Peter Wyss view
Document Outline of 'Dignity and Meanness' (Handout 5)

The revised version of a sheet that sketches the essay.

Peter Wyss view
Document Virtue and Utility (Handout 3)

Some (rough) notes on Hume's moral philosophy.

Peter Wyss view
Document Hume, Treatise 1.4.7 ('Conclusion of this Book')

Further reading D linked with Handout 4.

Peter Wyss view
Document The Four Essays 'on human life and happiness' (Handout 4)

Backgound information for 'The Epicurean', 'The Stoic', 'The Platonist', and 'The Sceptic'.

Peter Wyss view
Document Hume, First Enquiry I ('Of the Different Species of Philosophy')

Further reading B linked to Handout 4.

Peter Wyss view
Document Hume, First Enquiry XII ('Of the Sceptical or Academical Philosophy')

Further reading C linked to Handout 4.

Peter Wyss view
Document Hume, Treatise 3.3.6 ('Conclusion of this Book')

Further reading A linked to Handout 4.

Peter Wyss view
Document Third coursework sheet

Leading questions for 'Of the Dignity and Meanness of Human Nature' and the four happiness essays.

Peter Wyss view
Document Impressions, Ideas, Taste, and Beauty (Handout 2)

Background notes about the passions and taste.

Peter Wyss view
Document Second coursework sheet

Questions for 'Of the Standard of Taste' and 'Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences'.

Peter Wyss view
Link M. Martin on Hume on Taste

A podcast in which M. Martin explores Hume's 'Of the Standard of Taste' (17 mins.).

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Link Hume: Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary

All the essays in the E. Miller edition (1985, Liberty Fund) available for online reading or download.

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