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    A. J. Ayer, Hume. A Very Short Introduction

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback

    Messages : 18919
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
    Localisation : France

    A. J. Ayer, Hume. A Very Short Introduction Empty A. J. Ayer, Hume. A Very Short Introduction

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback Dim 23 Oct - 19:57



    "In his valedictory My Own Life, an autobiography running to only five pages, which Hume composed in April 1776, four months before his death, he showed pride in coming of good family, on both sides. His father, Joseph Home, combined the profession of law with the ownership of an estate at Ninewells in Berwickshire, which had belonged to the family since the sixteenth century, the family being, as Hume put it, ‘a branch of the Earl of Home’s or Hume’s’ (D 233), which was in the twentieth century to produce a Conservative Prime Minister ; his mother, Katherine, was ‘the daughter of Sir David Falconer, President of the College of Justice’, and one of her brothers inherited a peerage. The couple had three children, of whom David was the youngest, his brother John being born in 1709 and his sister Katherine a year later. Joseph Home died in 1713, while David was still an infant. The estate passed to the elder son and David was left with a patrimony of some £50 a year, which even in those days was not quite enough to make him financially independent. It was planned that he should follow his father’s example and become a lawyer. Their mother, who did not remarry, managed the estate until John was old enough to take charge of it. By all accounts, David was devoted to her, as well as to his brother and sister. She was an ardent Calvinist, and brought her children up in

    The faith, which David rejected, together with all other forms of Christianity, in his teens. That this did not impair his relations with his mother suggests that he concealed it from her or at least did not obtrude it." (pp.1-2)

    "In 1723, when David Hume was not quite 12 years old, he went with his elder brother to the University of Edinburgh. They were there for the best part of three years and left, as was quite common in those times, without taking a degree. The arts course, in which they were enrolled, comprised Greek, logic, metaphysics, and natural philosophy, now better known as physics, as compulsory subjects. There were also elective courses in other subjects such as ethics and mathematics. The level of the lectures seems to have been fairly elementary, but it is probable that Hume gained some knowledge at this stage of the seminal work of Isaac Newton and John Locke. All that he himself says about his university studies is that he ‘passed through the ordinary Course of Education with Success’.

    Having returned to Ninewells, Hume tried to settle down to the study of law, but very soon gave up the attempt." (p.2)

    "He remained subject to attacks of nervous depression, with physical symptoms such as palpitations of the heart, and the local physicians, to whom he frequently resorted, were unable to cure him. Eventually, he himself decided that he had better give up his studies, at least for the time being, in order to ‘lead a more active life’, and in February 1734 he left Scotland for Bristol, where he had been offered a post as clerk in a firm of sugar-merchants. His decision may have been influenced by the fact that he was shortly to be cited by a local servant-girl before an ecclesiastical court, presided over by his uncle, as the father of her illegitimate child. The charge was not considered proved against him and did not, even locally, damage his reputation. There is, indeed, later evidence that he remained susceptible to women, though he never married and was of too calm a temper, and too thoroughly immersed in intellectual pursuits, to qualify as an amorist." (p.4)

    "Having resolved to devote himself to the writing of his Treatise, Hume migrated to France, probably on the ground that he could manage better there on his small private income. After a short stay in Paris, where he obtained some useful introductions from a fellow Scotsman, the Chevalier Ramsay, he spent a year at Rheims and two years at the small town of La Flèche in Anjou, the site of the Jesuit College where Descartes had been educated. He made friends among the Jesuit Fathers and took advantage of their extensive library. By the autumn of 1737 the greater part of the book was written, and Hume returned to London to find a publisher for it.

    This did not prove so easy as he had hoped. It was a year before he succeeded in making a contract with John Noon for an edition of a thousand copies of the first two ‘books’, entitled ‘Of the Understanding’ and ‘Of the Passions’, for which he received £50 and twelve bound copies. The work was published, anonymously, at a price of ten shillings, in January 1739, under the general title of A Treatise of Human Nature : Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects. The third ‘book’, ‘Of Morals’, was not yet ready for publication. Its appearance was delayed until November 1740." (p.5)

    "Hume believed that the hostility arose largely from a misunderstanding of his views, and he sought to remedy this by publishing in 1740 an anonymous sixpenny pamphlet, advertised as An Abstract." (p.6)

    "The publication of these essays not only made Hume some money, amounting perhaps to £200, but emboldened him to become a candidate for the Professorship of Ethics and Pneumatical Philosophy at Edinburgh University. The suggestion that he should apply was made to him in 1744 by his friend, John Coutts, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. The holder of the Chair, Alexander Pringle, had been on leave for the past two years, serving abroad as an army doctor, and his appointment as Physician-General to the Forces in Flanders did not seem compatible with his remaining a professor in Edinburgh. There was then no overt opposition in the Town Council to the choice of Hume as his successor. Unfortunately, however, Pringle delayed his resignation till Coutts had ceased to be Lord Provost and the zealots, whom Hume had after all offended, had had time to gather their forces. A pamphlet, entitled A Letter from a Gentleman to his friend in Edinburgh, which Hume published anonymously in 1745, denying that he had rejected, as opposed to explicating, the proposition ‘that whatever begins to exist must have a cause’, or that the argument of his Treatise led in any other way to atheism, failed to appease them. The Chair was offered in the same year to Hume’s friend and mentor, Francis Hutcheson, who was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow." (p.8 )

    "Still lacking the financial security which the appointment would have given him, Hume accepted an offer of a salary of £300 a year to act as tutor to the Marquis of Annandale, an eccentric young nobleman, soon to be declared insane, who lived near St Alban’s at a convenient distance from London. In spite of his employer’s vagaries, and the illwill shown him by an influential member of the family, Hume was sufficiently contented with his position to be willing to consider retaining it at a lower salary. No doubt the reason was that it allowed.

    Hume him leisure to write. It was at this time that he began work on his Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding, later to be entitled An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, which was designed to supersede the first book of the Treatise, and most probably also wrote his Three Essays, Moral and Political. Both works were published in 1748.

    The Enquiry is, indeed, a much better written work than the Treatise, from which it differs more in emphasis than in argument. The central issue of causality is brought more into the foreground, and it is less encumbered with what would now be reckoned as psychology. There are also sections of the Treatise, such as that on Space and Time, for which it has no counterpart. On the other hand, it includes a chapter ‘Of Miracles’, which Hume had omitted from the Treatise out of prudence. The central argument of this chapter ‘That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact, which it endeavours to establish’ (E 115–16), with its iconoclastic implications, procured Hume more fame among his contemporaries than anything else in his purely philosophical work." (pp.8-9)

    "Three Essays, Moral and Political, which appeared in February 1748, was the first of Hume’s books to which he put his own name, a practice he was thenceforward to continue." (p.9)

    "Hume remained at Turin until the end of 1748, so that he was absent from England during the period of the publication of the Three Essays, the first volume of the Enquiry, and a reissue of Essays, Moral and Political, which laid the foundation of his literary reputation. The great French writer Montesquieu was so impressed with these Essays that he sent Hume a copy of his L’Esprit des loix, and the two men corresponded regularly for the remaining seven years of Montesquieu’s life." (p.11)

    "This hostility did not extend for the most part to the Political Discourses, though they did not escape being placed on the Roman Catholic Index, in 1761, along with all Hume’s other works." (p.11)

    "He would have been, however, prepared to move to Glasgow, if he had been able to secure the University Chair of Logic, which Adam Smith vacated in 1752 to succeed to the Chair of Moral Philosophy, but though he had the support of other professors besides Adam Smith, the opposition of the zealots again prevented his appointment. Hume was in some degree consoled for this failure by being made Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates at Edinburgh. The salary was only £40 a year and Hume refused to take it after 1754, when the Curators rejected, on the ground that they were indecent, three books that he had ordered, one of them being the Contes of La Fontaine. Hume did not resign till 1757, but compromised in the meantime by giving the money to his friend Blacklock, the blind poet. The advantage to Hume of the position was that, the library being exceptionally well stocked, it gave him access to the books that he needed for the writing of his History." (p.12)

    "Hume planned to bring the number of Dissertations up to five by adding to the first three mentioned an essay ‘Of Suicide’ and one called ‘Of the Immortality of the Soul’, but his publisher, Millar, was afraid of the consequences of their being taken as a further affront to religion, and Hume withdrew them. Copies of the manuscripts were in private circulation, but the essays were never included in any authorized edition of Hume’s works, though unauthorized versions appeared in 1777 and 1783, and they are to be found among ‘Unpublished Essays’ in the second volume of the Green and Grose edition of 1875." (p.15)

    "From the moment of his arrival in Paris Hume enjoyed the most extraordinary social success. As Lytton Strachey put it, ‘he was flattered by princes, worshipped by fine ladies, and treated as an oracle by the philosophes’. His closest friends among the philosophes were the Encyclopédistes Diderot and d’Alembert, and the materialist Baron d’Holbach. There is a story of his dining at Holbach’s and saying that he had never met an atheist, whereupon Holbach told him that of the persons present, fifteen were atheists and the other three had not made up their minds. Among the fine ladies, his chief admirer was the Contesse de Boufflers, who had made herself known to him by letter in 1761. Fourteen years younger than Hume, she was the mistress of the Prince de Conti, whom she had vain hopes of marrying when her husband died. Though she never lost sight of this primary objective, she appears for a time to have been in love with Hume, and there is stronger evidence from their correspondence that he was in love with her. Though they did not meet again after Hume left Paris in January 1766, they continued for the next ten years to write to one another. His last letter to her, commiserating with her on the death of the Prince de Conti and saying of himself ‘I see death approach gradually, without any Anxiety or Regret. I salute you with great affection and regard, for the last time’, was written within a week of his own death.

    When Hume left Paris he took Jean-Jacques Rousseau with him." (p.16)

    "Hume and Rousseau liked and admired one another. There was some trouble in finding a place where Rousseau would consent to live, but he finally accepted an offer from Richard Davenport, a rich country gentleman, of a house in Staffordshire at a nominal rent. Hume also arranged for him to receive an offer of a pension of £200 from King George III. But then Rousseau’s paranoia broke out. Horace Walpole had written a squib against him, which Rousseau attributed to Hume. There had been jokes about him in the English press. Thérèse made mischief. Rousseau became convinced that Hume had joined with the philosophes in a conspiracy against him. He refused the King’s pension, became suspicious of Mr Davenport, and wrote bitter letters to his friends in France, to the English newspapers, and to Hume himself. Hume tried to persuade Rousseau of his innocence, and when he failed, became anxious for his own reputation. He sent d’Alembert an account of the whole affair, giving him leave to publish it, if he thought fit. D’Alembert did publish it, together with the letters that constituted the principal evidence, and an English translation of d’Alembert’s pamphlet appeared a few months later. Rousseau remained in England till the spring of 1767 and then, without a word to Mr Davenport, returned with Thérèse precipitately to France. There was no doubt that Rousseau had behaved very badly to Hume, but some of Hume’s friends thought that he should have made allowances for Rousseau’s paranoia and that it would have been more dignified for him not to have publicized the quarrel." (p.18)

    "Hume had acted as Chargé d’Affaires in Paris and shown himself to be a capable diplomat. He refused Lord Hertford’s invitation to serve with him in Ireland, but in 1767 accepted an offer from the Secretary of State, Lord Hertford’s brother, General Conway, to serve in London as Under-Secretary for the Northern Department. He carried out the duties of this position very successfully for the following two years.

    When Hume returned to Edinburgh in 1769, he had become so ‘opulent’ as to enjoy an income of £1,000 a year. He built himself a house in the New Town in a street off St Andrew’s Square, which came to be known in his honour as St David’s Street. He resumed his active social life, took no public notice of the numerous attacks that were made on his philosophy, and occupied himself with the revision of his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. The work was posthumously published, most probably by Hume’s nephew, in 1779. In the spring of 1775 he was, in his own words, ‘struck with a disorder in my bowels, which at first gave me no Alarm, but has since, as I apprehend it, become mortal and incurable’ (D 239). He suffered little pain and never ‘a moment’s Abatement of my Spirits’. Boswell characteristically intruded on him to see how he was facing the prospect of death, and was convinced by his assurance that he viewed it serenely. Equally characteristically, Dr Johnson insisted that Hume must have been lying. Death finally came to him on 25 August 1776." (p.20)

    "Reid was the founder of the Scottish school of common-sense philosophers who carried the tradition into the nineteenth century, and his Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense, published in 1764, set the fashion of regarding the first book of Hume’s Treatise, which Hume himself had intended his own Enquiry to supersede, as the primary source of Hume’s philosophical views. Reid gave Hume credit for taking Locke’s premisses to their logical conclusion. Since the result was patently absurd, it followed that something had gone wrong at the start. The principal error, as Reid saw it, was the adoption by Locke and his followers of the theory of ideas: the assumption that what is immediately perceived, whether it Hume be called an idea, as by Locke, or a sensible quality, or, as Hume preferred, an impression, is something that has no existence apart from the perceptual situation in which it figures. If we reject this assumption, as indeed most philosophers now do, and follow common sense both in taking for granted the existence of persons to whom perceptual acts can be attributed, and in taking these persons to be directly acquainted through their senses with one and the same world of physical objects, which exist independently of being perceived, then Hume’s scepticism may not have been met in every detail, but at least its most outrageous features will have been obliterated.

    The same conception of Hume, as the sceptic who brought the empiricism of Locke and Berkeley to grief, appears over a century later in the work of the Oxford philosopher T. H. Green, who published an edition of the Treatise with a long introduction, the main purpose of which was to demolish the work that he was editing. His line of attack, however, had next to nothing in common with that of Thomas Reid. By this time, in spite of the rearguard action commanded by John Stuart Mill, the influence of Kant and Hegel was belatedly extending itself over British philosophy, increasingly to the detriment of common sense. Green was one of the leaders of this fashion, and his main objection to Hume was that he admitted no greater order into the world than what could be supplied by the mere association of ideas.

    Once again, Hume was held to be justified on the principles which he had inherited from Locke and Berkeley, and the moral drawn was that a new approach was needed. This had been appreciated by Kant, who, in his Prolegomena, gave Hume credit for interrupting his ‘dogmatic slumber’ and giving his ‘investigations in the field of speculative philosophy quite a new direction’. At Oxford in the 1930s, and perhaps still to this day in some places, the canonical view of Hume, as advanced, for instance, by a former Master of Balliol, A. D. Lindsay, who churned out the introductions to the handy Everyman editions of required philosophical texts, was that, for all his errors and inconsistencies, which Green had relentlessly pinpointed, Hume had still performed a considerable service to philosophy. By showing on the one hand how an uncritical trust in reason had foundered in dogmatism, and on the other by reducing pure empiricism to absurdity, he had paved the way for Kant.

    So far as I know, the first commentator to treat Hume neither as an appendage to Locke and Berkeley nor as a forerunner of Kant, but as a philosopher of original views which at least deserved serious consideration, was Professor Norman Kemp Smith, whose book The Philosophy of David Hume: A Critical Study of its Origins and Central Doctrines was published in 1941. Kemp Smith’s book is very long, and not always very lucid, but it is sustained by careful and far-reaching scholarship and it has the merit of paying close attention to what Hume actually said. For example, he points out that if Hume’s principal intention had been to liquidate the estates of Locke and Berkeley, he would have been unlikely to assert, as he does in the introduction to the Treatise, that ‘In pretending . . . to explain the principles of human nature, we in effect propose a complete system of the sciences, built on a foundation almost entirely new, and the only one upon which they can stand with any security’ (T, p. xvi). He remarks also that while Locke does figure in this introduction on the list of ‘some late philosophers in England, who have begun to put the science of man on a new footing’, the others whom Hume mentions, ‘my Lord Shaftesbury, Dr Mandeville, Mr Hutcheson, Dr Butler’ (T, p. xvii), are all of them moral philosophers. This accords with Kemp Smith’s view that Hume’s main concern was to assimilate natural to moral philosophy. In moral philosophy, Hume follows Francis Hutcheson in representing our moral judgements as founded on the operations of a sovereign ‘moral sense’." (pp.24-26)
    -Alfred Jules Ayer, Hume. A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2001 (1980 pour la première édition), 125 pages.

    « La question n’est pas de constater que les gens vivent plus ou moins pauvrement, mais toujours d’une manière qui leur échappe. » -Guy Debord, Critique de la séparation (1961).

    « Rien de grand ne s’est jamais accompli dans le monde sans passion. » -Hegel, La Raison dans l'Histoire.

    « Mais parfois le plus clair regard aime aussi l’ombre. » -Friedrich Hölderlin, "Pain et Vin".

      La date/heure actuelle est Jeu 29 Fév - 15:37