David Hume


David Hume

David Hume was the greatest philosopher of his age and a central character in the Scottish Enlightenment. He was also an accomplished economist and historian. Hume was unusually intelligent; he studied law at Edinburgh University when he was just 12 years old but preferred reading books himself to being taught by professors.

He worked for a merchant in Bristol for a short while but disliked it and so went to France in 1734 to continue his education. While there he wrote his first great work A Treatise of Human Nature which was published in London in 1739.

Hume was a fairly prolific writer and in 1741 he published the first volume of his work Essays, Moral and Political which was successful enough to merit a second edition and a second volume the following year.

Hume championed the power of reason and brought his scepticism to bear on the institutions of the day attacking religion as superstitious nonsense, a view which was to cost him the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University. Instead he worked as secretary for General St Clair on the continent for two years before returning and eventually taking the post of librarian at the Advocate's Library in Edinburgh.

During his time as librarian Hume continued to write mostly works of history including the hugely popular History of England which was published in 1753 and made him rich and famous throughout Europe.

Hume became ill in 1775 prompting him to write an autobiography called My Own Life and he died in 1776 in Edinburgh just four months after completing it.

David Hume was a hugely influential figure and continued to be so long after his death. More recognised for essays and history in his own lifetime his philosophical works were re-evaluated and highly praised only after he passed on.

Hume was a loyal friend to many and by all accounts great company. James Boswell famously visited Hume on his deathbed seeking a last minute conversion from the famous atheist but he did not get it. Asking Hume if it were not possible that there may be life after death, Hume replied it was possible that a piece of coal put upon the fire would not burn. He went on to explain that the idea of life everlasting was unpleasant and undesirable. Despite being on his deathbed Boswell reported that Hume was placid and even cheerful.