Hume still enlightening after 300 years

hume-portraitDavid Hume is among the best known names in Western philosophy, but appreciation of the influential Scottish thinker’s work tends to be fragmented, according to Dr Stephen Buckle.

Dr Buckle, a world-renowned Hume scholar, has worked on a new book on Hume with Dr Craig Taylor, Head of Philosophy at Flinders and the book’s lead editor.

The book, Hume and the Enlightenment, will be launched in the Flinders University Function Centre at 4pm on Thursday, May 5. Dr Taylor and three other Flinders academics have contributed chapters to the book.

Hume’s works spanned economic theory and history as well as posing challenges to religious ideas and beliefs.

“Hume is more admired than understood because people tend to study his works in isolation,” Dr Buckle said.

Dr Buckle, a lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, said Hume’s importance is also underrated because the 18th century Enlightenment is often defined narrowly in terms of reason and human rights.

“The reason why Hume is still relevant and popular is because the Enlightenment can be understood as the revolution in social thinking that followed the scientific revolution; it was as an attempt to start thinking about the social world in the causal way that scientists had started thinking about the natural world,” Dr Buckle said.

“It was, literally, a knock-on effect.”

“This is explicit in Hume, although people tend to skip over it – his biggest book, A Treatise of Human Nature, is subtitled An Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects.”

The Enlightenment, Dr Buckle said, remains an important source of contemporary ideas

Many of the essays in the book were presented originally at a 2009 Flinders conference on Hume convened by Dr Taylor, with Dr Buckle as keynote speaker.

“We were very fortunate to have such an outstanding line-up of national and international researchers and scholars contribute to the Hume conference and the subsequent collection,” Dr Taylor said.

“A particularly distinctive feature of the collection Hume is its assessment of Hume’s credentials as an Enlightenment thinker as opposed to a philosopher who simply wrote during that period.”

With Hume’s 300th birthday occurring on May 7, Dr Taylor said the launch is very timely.

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