Review of Hume's a Treatise of Human Nature

Topics: Mind, Cognition, Idea Pages: 27 (11171 words) Published: December 15, 2001
A Treatise of HUMAN NATURE: Being an Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects. London: Printed for John-Noon, at the White Hart, near Mercer-Chapel, Cheapside, 1739. Vol. II. Octavo. Pages 475-318.

I Do not recollect any Writer in the English Language who has framed a System of human Nature, morally considered, upon the Principle of this Author, which is that of Necessity, in Opposition to Liberty or Freedom. The Truth of the Principle itself has been often and very carefully discussed. Some have endeavoured to prove even the Impossibility of Liberty, while others have asserted it to be an essential Property of human Nature, the Basis of all Morality, Religion and happiness, which can subsist upon no other Foundation, and are utterly subverted by the Denial of it. To form the clearest Ideas we can have upon this abstruse Subject, we should read some Letters that passed thereupon between those tow acute Reasoners, Mr. Locke and Mr. Limborch, and the incomparable Dr. Clarke's Answers to several Pieces of Leibniz and Collins.

Our Author has sufficiently (he says) explained the Design of this Work of his in the Introduction. Perhaps he expects we should understand it by the following Passages. It is evident, that all the sciences have Relation, greater or less, to human Nature; and that however wide any of them may seem to run from it, they still return back by one Passage or another. Even Mathematicks, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in {354} some measure dependent on the Science of MAN; since they lie under the Cognizance of Men, and are judged of by their Powers and Faculties. It is impossible to tell what Changes and Improvements we might make in these Sciences, were we thoroughly acquainted with the Extent and Force of human Understanding, and could explain the Nature of the Ideas we employ, and of the Operations we perform in our Reasonings. And these improvements are the more to be hoped for in natural Religion, as it is not content with instructing us in the Nature of superior Powers but carries its Views farther, to their Disposition towards us and our Duties towards them, and consequently we ourselves are not only the Beings that reason, but also one of the Objects concerning which we reason.

If therefore the Sciences of Mathematicks, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, have such a Dependence on the Knowledge of Man, what may be expected in the other Sciences whose Connexion with human Nature is more close and intimate? The sole End of Logick is to explain the Principles and Operations of our reasoning Faculty, and the Nature of our Ideas: Morals and Criticism regard our Tastes and Sentiments; and Politicks consider Men as united in Society, and dependent on each other. In these four Sciences of Logick, Morals, Criticism and Politicks, is comprehended almost every thing which can any way import us to be acquainted with. --

Here then is the only Expedient from which we can hope for Success in our philosophical Researches, to leave the tedious lingering Method which we have hitherto followed; and instead of taking no and then a Castle or Village on the Frontier, to march directly to the Capital or Center {355} of these Sciences, to human Nature itself; which being once Masters of we may every where else hope for an easy Victory. -- There is no Question of Importance, whose Decision is not comprized in the Science of Man; and there is none which can be decided with any Certainty, before we become acquainted with that Science. In pretending therefore to explain the Principles of human Nature, we in effect propose a compleat System of the Sciences, built on a Foundation almost entirely new, and the only one upon which they can stand with any Security.

And as the Science of Man is the only solid Foundation for the other Sciences, so the only solid Foundation we can give to this Science itself, must be laid on Experience and Observation. -- For it...
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