restricted access David Hume, Many-sided Genius (review)
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103. K. R. Merrill and R. W. Shahan (eds.): David Hume, Many-sided Genius, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1976. 192 pages. Hardback $9.95; paperback $3.95. This is a collection of nine independent essays which are calculated to remind us, as the editors remark, of the "depth and range of Hume's intellectual gifts". The volume opens with a characteristically astute addition to Terence Penelhum's growing quiver of publications on the self, Hume and personal immortality. In the present piece Penelhum argues (p. 10) that Hume's dominant use of the term "self" is one in which "the self is the mind rather than the whole person". His conclusion is that such an account - although unsatisfactory - is free from outright self-contradictions . The second essay, "Hume on the Standard of Morals" by R. F. Atkinson, is concerned with those passages in which Hume seems to make good and evil relative to pains and pleasures . Atkinson's thesis, which is supported by detailed textual argument, is that although Hume did not intend to be and was not a sub jectivist, he nevertheless gives a seriously deficient account of the standard of morals. In "Hume's Catalog of Virtue and Vice" William Davie focuses upon the list of "estimable or blameable qualities of men" which can, according to Hume, readily be constructed from "the very nature of language" (second Enquiry, sect. I. I am entirely baffled by Davie's page references) . Davie points out that the enterprise is not as straightforward as Hume implies and that the name of any given quality, e.g. "tough", could occur in the estimable or the blameable column depending upon the culture or character of the person drawing up the list. Moreover this is not a merely technical objection to Hume, but one which shows up the intricate variety of moral life and language which "thwarts any philosophical efforts to sum it up". The points are important and warrant further discussion. I can 104. only remark that Hume may be able to admit variations in the cataloguing of a given quality if he can show that the variations are brought about by different estimates of the utility resulting from possessing the quality. James Noxon ' s wide-ranging article "Hume's Concern With Religion" starts by asking what motivated that concern. Noxon' s answer is that interest in establishing the limits of the understanding was the motivational force. He then considers Capaldi' s and Penelhum's accounts of the final estimate which Hume put upon the design argument. He concludes with some new observations on the chapter "Of Miracles" . The essay of Richard Popkin, "Hume: Philosophical Versus Prophetic Historian", is of the stimulating and vigorous character which one has come to expect of him. Apart from slightly cliquish opening references to "some of us", Popkin' s argued thesis is that Hume in the History, and elsewhere, rejects the "providential and prophetic history" which had long been the norm of Christian historians . Instead he wrote secular history, in which there is no beginning, no Divine Drama, and no apotheosis. "Hume's history starts nowhere and goes nowhere. The sort of world we live in has sequences, events, developments, dramas, but all on a human level" (p. 92). The thesis is challenging and important and one hopes to hear more of it. My only irritation is Popkin' s perpetuation of an old malpractice in referring to the "Essay of Miracles" (p. 89), and my only hesitation is whether Hume makes prophecy a sub-class of miracles for the reasons Popkin suggests (p.87f) or because their appeal to the rational apologist had already been eroded by earlier controversy. Ralph Cohen's "The Rationale of Hume's Literary Inquiries" is concerned with Hume's writings on literature, aesthetics, criticism and taste. These are to be found, for the most part, in his essays, but also include "The Dissertation of the Passions" - surely the most thin and vapid thing Hume ever published. I remain unconvinced 105. that Hume had significant things to say on aesthetics. This is not due to any deficiency in Cohen's article but to my own persuasion that few if any philosophers have things...