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2011 marks 300 years since the birth of the great David Hume. He was perhaps the greatest philosopher ever to write in the English language and on these grounds the ABC recently devoted four programs of The Philosopher’s Zone to his life and work. You will find several references to him if you search for his name on this website.
A pillar of the Scottish Enlightenment David Hume was, and continues to be, enormously influential. Even those who were less sceptical of received beliefs than he was were persuaded by his moral philosophy.
In many ways his ideas were formative in the development of Australia; as I have described elsewhere.
I still have A Treatise on Human Nature; An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding; The Natural History of Religion; and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion; from my time reading Philosophy at University; complete with my youthful underlining and marginal notes.
These stand alongside Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published 100 years later, as among the most important books ever written in English. These seminal works joined Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, by the young Isaac Newton, first published in Latin in 1687; a century before Hume’s publications.
There were great intellectual and cultural strides during those intervening years. Despite his differences with traditional theologians, Newton, like his slightly older contemporary French scientist and mathematician Pascal, still had one foot in theology. Hume swept this mysticism away and set the scene for Darwin and the other great intellects of the 18th Century.
Thanks to Hume Darwin was able to become a true modern scientist and rationalist. But Hume’s influence did not stop there. His method of sceptical thought led on through Russell and Einstein to contemporary mathematics and science; including our understanding of subatomic physics and the wider Universe; and the computer and biological revolutions of our day. I have described this process elsewhere on this website.
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