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Apr 14, 2015


What kind of narrative order can be imposed on the intellectual development of David Hume, a man demonstrably interested in so many different things? The history of Hume scholarship suggests this question has been found hard to answer, not least because of the variety of Hume's concerns, but also because one of Hume's concerns was philosophy. What makes the case for Hume particularly difficult is two-fold: first, his Treatise of Human Nature speaks directly to philosophers in a way other eighteenth-century books do not. Second, philosophers since the 19th century have regarded the problems that they work on as completely different in kind to the problems Hume explored in his subsequent works, such as in the Political Discourses and in the History of England. Hume, philosophers think, was both one of us and, at the same time, very obviously not one of us. In this lecture James Harris explains how previous approaches to Hume's intellectual developments have been attempted, and argues that such approaches are largely anachronistic. In their place, he suggests a new way of viewing Hume, which relocates him in his eighteenth-century context as a man of letters.