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Anthony Gottlieb MAY 26, 2016 ISSUE
Hume: An Intellectual Biography

by James A. Harris
Cambridge University Press, 621 pp., $55.00

David Hume, who died in his native Edinburgh in 1776, has become something of a hero to academic philosophers. In 2009, he won first place in a large international poll of professors and graduate students who were asked to name the dead thinker with whom they most identified. The runners-up in this peculiar race were Aristotle and Kant. Hume beat them by a comfortable margin. Socrates only just made the top twenty.

This is quite a reversal of fortune for Hume, who failed in both of his attempts to get an academic job. In his own day, and into the nineteenth century, his philosophical writings were generally seen as perverse and destructive. Their goal was “to produce in the reader a complete distrust in his own faculties,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1815–1817. The best that could be said for Hume as a philosopher was that he provoked wiser thinkers to refute him in interesting ways. As a historian and essayist, though, Hume enjoyed almost immediate success. When James Boswell called him “the greatest Writer in Brittain”—this was in 1762, before Boswell transferred his allegiance to Dr. Johnson—he was thinking mainly of Hume’s History of England, which remained popular for much of the nineteenth century. “HUME (David), the Historian” is how the British Library rather conservatively still catalogued him in the 1980s.


As James Harris drily notes in his fine new biography, Hume’s private letters show that “he was not very good at being serious about religion.” His lack of piety and the decorously veiled attacks on theism in his published writings may play some part in his current academic popularity. Most professional philosophers today are atheists—73 percent of them, according to the 2009 survey. Perhaps Hume’s cheerful wit and enjoyment of life also help to make him a model for today’s philosophers, who do not like to think of themselves as unduly serious when off-duty. When he lived in Paris in his early fifties, the famously equable and entertaining Hume was celebrated in the salons as le bon David. A plausible report in a London newspaper quoted him as declining his publisher’s requests for further volumes of his profitable History on the grounds that he was now “too old, too fat, too lazy, and too rich.”



Attention to Hume's philosophical works grew after the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783), credited Hume with awakening him from his "dogmatic slumber".[184]


“I freely admit that it was the remembrance of David Hume which, many years ago, first interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a completely different direction.”

ちょくちょく書いていますが、本を読める英語力がない人は書評から始めてもいいのではないでしょうか。New York Review of Bookは書評も長いのでNew York Timesあたりから始めるといいかもしれません。