Philosophy | History of Philosophy: Special Topice
P401 | 24873 | Schmitt

Topic: Hume: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, and
Philosophy of Religion

Our focus will be Book I of Hume’s great work A Treatise of Human
Nature, one of the most influential and esteemed works of philosophy
in the Western tradition. Our aim will be to try to understand
classical empiricism—a central trend in the tradition—by getting a
sense of Hume’s core positions in metaphysics, epistemology, and
philosophy of mind. We will spend time trying to understand the text,
and we will consider important criticisms of Hume’s empiricism and
skepticism. We will relate Hume to his predecessors, especially
Descartes and Locke, and to his successors, especially Thomas Reid
and Kant.  I’m hoping to give a fairly broad sense of the history of
modern philosophy on topics metaphysical and epistemological. Under
the heading of philosophy of mind, we will treat Hume’s theory of
perceptions, impressions, ideas, and beliefs, and his theory of
mental representation, especially abstract ideas. Much of this
material is indebted to Locke and Berkeley and is organized as an
alternative to innatism about ideas. We will pay some attention to
Reid’s attack on the theory of ideas, and his alternative accounts of
sensations and concepts (rejected by Hume as an attempt to revive
innatism). This will involve reading a portion of Reid’s great work,
the Inquiry. Most of the course will concern Hume’s epistemology. In
what sense, if any, was Hume a skeptic? What basic epistemology, if
any, underlies his accounts of causal inference and identity
ascriptions and his epistemic evaluations of beliefs about bodies,
material substances, matter, and mental substances? Does he subscribe
fundamentally to empiricism in epistemology, or to some other view?

If time permits, we can move on to consider the basics of Hume’s
treatment of the teleological argument in the Dialogues Concerning
Natural Religion.  I will assume no knowledge of Hume or other
history of philosophy—background will be filled in as we go.