David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment. Hume is often grouped with John Locke, George Berkeley, and a handful of others as a British Empiricist.
Hume attended the University of Edinburgh at the unusually early age of twelve (possibly as young as ten) at a time when fourteen was normal. At first he considered a career in law, but came to have, in his words, "an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning; and while [my family] fanceyed I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring." He had little respect for the professors of his time, telling a friend in 1735, "there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books."
Hume made a philosophical discovery that opened up to him "...a new Scene of Thought," which inspired him "...to throw up every other Pleasure or Business to apply entirely to it." He did not recount what this "Scene" was, and commentators have offered a variety of speculations. Due to this inspiration, Hume set out to spend a minimum of ten years reading and writing. He came to the verge of nervous breakdown, after which he decided to have a more active life to better continue his learning.
As Hume's options lay between a travelling tutorship and a stool in a merchant's office, he chose the latter. In 1734, after a few months occupied with commerce in Bristol, he went to La Flèche in Anjou, France. There he had frequent discourse with the Jesuits of the College of La Flèche. As he had spent most of his savings during his four years there while writing A Treatise of Human Nature, he resolved "to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except the improvements of my talents in literature". He completed the Treatise at the age of 26.
In contrast to Locke, Hume believes that private property isn't a natural right. Hume argues it is justified, because resources are limited. Private property would be an unjustified, "idle ceremonial", if all goods were unlimited and available freely. Hume also believed in an unequal distribution of property, because perfect equality would destroy the ideas of thrift and industry. Perfect equality would thus lead to impoverishment.
His thought contains elements that are, in modern terms, both conservative and liberal, as well as ones that are both contractarian and utilitarian, though these terms are all anachronistic. Thomas Jefferson banned Hume's History from the University of Virginia, fearing that it "has spread universal toryism over the land".
Yet, Samuel Johnson thought Hume "a Tory by chance... for he has no principle. If he is anything, he is a Hobbist". His central concern is to show the importance of the rule of law, and stresses throughout his political Essays the importance of moderation in politics. This outlook needs to be seen within the historical context of eighteenth century Scotland, where the legacy of religious civil war, combined with the relatively recent memory of the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite risings, fostered in a historian such as Hume a distaste for enthusiasm and factionalism that appeared to threaten the fragile and nascent political and social stability of a country that was deeply politically and religiously divided. He thinks that society is best governed by a general and impartial system of laws, based principally on the "artifice" of contract; he is less concerned about the form of government that administers these laws, so long as it does so fairly (though he thought that republics were more likely to do so than monarchies).Hume expressed suspicion of attempts to reform society in ways that departed from long-established custom, and he counselled peoples not to resist their governments except in cases of the most egregious tyranny. However, he resisted aligning himself with either of Britain's two political parties, the Whigs and the Tories
Hume's views on human motivation and action formed the cornerstone of his ethical theory: he conceived moral or ethical sentiments to be intrinsically motivating, or the providers of reasons for action. Given that one cannot be motivated by reason alone, requiring the input of the passions, Hume argued that reason cannot be behind morality.
Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.
Hume's sentimentalism about morality was shared by his close friend Adam Smith, and Hume and Smith were mutually influenced by the moral reflections of Francis Hutcheson.
Hume's theory of ethics has been influential in modern day metaethical theory, helping to inspire various forms of emotivism, error theory and ethical expressivism and non-cognitivism and Allan Gibbard.
His valuable works are as follows:
A Kind of History of My Life (1734)
A Treatise of Human Nature: (1739–40)
An Abstract of a Book lately Published: Entitled A Treatise of Human Nature etc. (1740)
Essays Moral and Political (first ed. 1741–2)
Political Discourses, (part II of Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary within vol. 1 of the larger Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects) Edinburgh (1752).
Political Discourses/Discours politiques (1752–1758), My Own life (1776), Of Essay writing, 1742
Four Dissertations London (1757
The History of England (1754–62)
The Natural History of Religion (1757)
"My Own Life" (1776)