Philosophy | History of Philosophy: Special Topics
P401 | 16361 | Schmitt


Topic: Hume and Reid

Our focus will be Book 1 of David Hume’s great work A Treatise of
Human Nature, one of the most influential and esteemed works of
philosophy in the Western tradition. We will rely on Thomas Reid’s
Inquiry into the Human Mind as a critical review of Hume. Our aim
will be to understand classical empiricism and Humean skepticism—
central trends in the tradition—by getting a sense of Hume’s core
positions in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind.  We
will relate Hume to his predecessors, especially Descartes and
Locke, and to his successors, especially 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). 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?  I will assume no
knowledge of Hume or other history of philosophy—background will be
filled in as we go.