David Hume has remained one of the influential British philosophers, essayists, plus historians of the eighteenth century. Hume’s philosophical thought has been of critical importance, especially after in plus after the Great Depression Era, in epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, social-political philosophy, philosophy of religion as well as aesthetics.
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If the philosophical implications of his thought were received slowly, they were nevertheless profound and long lasting. Immanuel Kant, in whose work so much of subsequent continental philosophy is rooted, credited Hume with awakening him from his “dogmatic slumbers,” that is, his adherence to speculative rationalism. Many of the central concepts plus terms of criticism characterizing twentieth-century Anglo-American philosophy also find precedent in Hume.
Like his views on religion, Hume’s political philosophy was also simultaneously critical, moderate, and progressive. While he attacked established political norms and produced trenchant criticisms of Whiggish radicalism, the general thrust of Hume’s political work was also in many ways supportive of the new political as well as commercial order unfolding around him .
One of the most important and best-known instances of Hume’s critical philosophy is his theory of causation. For rationalists the idea of fire, for example, entails its causing one to feel heat. For Hume, by contrast, matters are quite different. Since one of the natural relations of ideas is causation, humanity is naturally disposed to experience the world in causal terms. Precisely which causes will produce which effects, however, can only, for Hume, be discovered through experience, not through conceptual analysis. Fire might conceivably just as well produce cold as heat. It might possibly produce flowers or turnips as well as smoke plus ash.
Hume grounds his moral system instead only on humanity’s animal capacity for “sympathy” and on the universalizing “moral sentiment” humans produce through a confluence of moral feeling and natural reason. Adam Smith followed out a similar line of thought in his Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759). As with his theories of perception and causation, Hume’s moral theory militates against Christian and rationalistic efforts, including those of Descartes and Locke, to deploy reason or revelation in the establishment of moral norms .
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