Sympathy, Understanding, and Hermeneutics in Hume's Treatise


With his theory of sympathy in the Treatise of Human Nature, Hume has been interpreted as anticipating later hermeneutic theories of understanding. It is argued in the present article that Hume has good reasons to consider a hermeneutic theory of empathetic understanding, that such a theory avoids a serious difficulty in Hume's "official," positivist theory of sympathy, that it is compatible with the complex and subtle form of positivism, or naturalism, developed in Book 1 of the Treatise, and that his analysis of sympathy provides valuable methodological rules for empathetic interpreters. Against the interpretation of James Farr in "Hume, Hermeneutics, and History," it is maintained that Hume's theory does not support a hermeneutics of non-empathetic Verstehen.