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David Hume

Historical Thinker, Historical Writer

Edited by Mark G. Spencer

Publication Year: 2013

This volume provides a new and nuanced appreciation of David Hume, the historian. Gone for good are the days when one can off-handedly assert, as R. G. Collingwood once did, that Hume “deserted philosophical studies in favour of historical” ones. History and philosophy are commensurate in Hume’s thought and works from the beginning to the end. Only by recognizing this can we begin to make sense of Hume’s canon as a whole. Only then are we able to see clearly his many contributions to fields we now recognize as the distinct disciplines of history, philosophy, political science, economics, literature, religious studies and much else besides. Casting their individual beams of light on various nooks and crannies of Hume’s historical thought and writing, the book’s contributors illuminate the whole in a way that would not be possible from the perspective of a single-authored study. Aside from the editor, the contributors are David Allan, M. A. Box, Timothy M. Costelloe, Roger L. Emerson, Jennifer Herdt, Philip Hicks, Douglas Long, Claudia M. Schmidt, Michael Silverthorne, Jeffrey M. Suderman, Mark R. M. Towsey, and F. L. Van Holthoon.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Cover Front

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pp. 1-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Many people have helped to make this book possible. For financial support, I am especially grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Humanities Research Institute at Brock University. At The Pennsylvania State University Press, Sandy Thatcher (now retired) gave the fledgling idea his backing early on. ...

Method of Citation

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Hume as Historian

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pp. 1-12

David Hume (1711–1776) appreciated the centrality of historical thinking and writing to the enlightened world within which he lived. As the aging scholar put it reflectively in 1770 in a letter to his London publisher, William Strahan, “I believe this is the historical Age and this the historical Nation” (L 2:230). ...

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Chapter 1: Hume and Ecclesiastical History: Aims and Contexts

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pp. 13-36

Ecclesiastical history, in so far as it deals with the Church Triumphant, concerns things not of this world, but things beyond experience about which we can know nothing. Its subjects lie in the realm of grace and amid the mysteries of faith. In so far as sacred history has a mundane side, it lies originally in the Hebrew scriptures, ...

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Chapter 2: Artificial Lives, Providential History, and the Apparent Limits of Sympathetic Understanding

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pp. 37-60

Once regarded as the hero of positivism, Hume is now widely appreciated as a proponent of a hermeneutic philosophy of history. In pursuing his project of developing a science of human culture, of “introducing the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects,” Hume recognized that human actions cannot be understood unless grasped as intentional, ...

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Chapter 3: “The Spirit of Liberty”: Historical Causation and Political Rhetoric in the Age of Hume

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pp. 61-80

In his History of England (1754–62), David Hume routinely used such phrases as “the spirit of independency” and “the spirit of opposition” (H 5:147, 6:387), commonplace language for eighteenth-century Britain. The notion that a person or collectivity might possess a “spirit” or distinguishing characteristic connected to a larger climate of opinion ...

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Chapter 4: “The Book Seemed to Sink into Oblivion”: Reading Hume’s History in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

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pp. 81-102

Hume’s assessment of the public response to the first volume of his History of England was typically witty, forthright, and astute, but it presents those of us who are interested in what Robert Darnton has called the “social history of ideas” with something of a conundrum.1 The full range of criticisms outlined by Hume can be found in abundance in contemporary reading notes. ...

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Chapter 5: Reading Hume’s History of England: Audience and Authority in Georgian England

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pp. 103-120

“The advantages found in history seem to be of three kinds, as it amuses the fancy, as it improves the understanding, and as it strengthens virtue”: so reckoned David Hume in the whimsical essay “Of the Study of History,” first published in 1741 (E 565). But how far did his own History of England, which began to appear more than a decade later, justify this carefully worded proposition ...

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Chapter 6: Medieval Kingship and the Making of Modern Civility: Hume’s Assessment of Governance in the History of England

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pp. 121-142

David Hume paused in the middle of his second medieval volume, the last of The History of England to be published, to consider the reign of one of England’s most glorious monarchs, declaring: “There is not a reign among those of the ancient English monarchs, which deserves more to be studied than that of Edward III” (H 2:283). ...

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Chapter 7: Hume and the End of History

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pp. 143-162

Friedrich Meinecke regarded Hume’s History to be a precursor of the proper and scientific approach to writing history.1 David Hume, however, was a historian in his own right, and rather than as merely a precursor, he is, as a historian who wrote in a style distinct from nineteenth-century historiography, worth consideration. ...

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Chapter 8: David Hume as a Philosopher of History

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pp. 163-180

The discipline called the philosophy of history is often treated as a rather obscure branch of philosophy. At least in the United States, the philosophy of history is rarely included in the philosophy curriculum either at the undergraduate or at the graduate level and is perhaps never identified as an area of specialization for a prospective hire. ...

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Chapter 9: Fact and Fiction: Memory and Imagination in Hume’s Approach to History and Literature

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pp. 181-200

This chapter explores the central role Hume assigns to imagination in historical writing by comparing and contrasting it to the function the same faculty plays in poetry, the literary forms of lyric, dramatic, pastoral, and epic, to which the majority of Hume’s remarks are directed.1 It begins with the distinction he draws between memory and imagination. ...

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Chapter 10: Hume’s Historiographical Imagination

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pp. 201-224

This essay attempts to link the distinctiveness of David Hume’s historiographical “voice” to the distinctiveness of his philosophical understanding of the imagination. Section I shows how two distinctive features of Hume’s idea of the imagination—its “sympathetic” character and its “constructive” power—shape his account of history and historiography ...

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Chapter 11: The “Most Curious & Important of All Questions of Erudition”: Hume’s Assessment of the Populousness of Ancient Nations

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pp. 225-254

One hundred and eight of the 304 pages in the second edition of David Hume’s Political Discourses belonged to “Of the Populousness of Antient Nations,” 101 pages of 270 in the third edition. The version of that discourse in the 1772 Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects included over 260 footnotes, many lengthy and impressively erudite. ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 255-266

List of Contributors

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pp. 267-270


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pp. 271-282

Cover Back

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p. 296-296

E-ISBN-13: 9780271060873
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271061542
Print-ISBN-10: 0271061545

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013