- An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
An edition of Hume's philosophic writings on rigorous, modern bibliographic principles has long been a scholarly desideratum. Readers in the many fields in which Hume's thought and style have made a profound impression have basically relied on the originals or derivatives of efforts of the Victorian era. One is Hume's Philosophical Works (4 v., London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1874-75), edited by the Oxford dons, T. H. Green and T. H. Grose. Well-known for his idealist philosophy and theory of liberalism, Green contributed introductions to the first and second volumes criticizing Hume from an anti-empirical standpoint. Grose offered a "History of [Hume's] Editions" as an introduction to the third volume, and claimed to have revised Hume's text throughout. This edition has the virtue of comprehensiveness, but is deficient in its offering of variant readings. Later there came from Oxford University Press editions of the Treatise of Human Nature (1888), deemed generally sound, and the two Enquiries (1894), marred by departures from Hume's text, prepared by a prominent civil servant, Sir Lawrence Amherst Selby-Bigge, whose chief contribution was to provide useful analytical indices. An attempt at achieving higher editorial standards was made by P. H. Nidditch, Professor of Philosophy in the University of Sheffield, in a "second" edition of Selby-Bigge's Treatise (1976) and a "third" edition of his text of the Enquiries (1975). Limits were imposed by Oxford University Press, apparently unwilling to make more then small changes in the existing pages. Nidditch announced (Enquiries, 1975, at p.348, n.2) that he had a "fresh" edition in preparation, but he did not live to complete this project.
In the event, the challenge to produce a critical edition of Hume's philosophical, political, and literary writings was canvassed at early meetings of the Hume Society formed in 1973. Thereafter, in 1982, a team of general editors was formed by T. L. Beauchamp, D. F. Norton, and M. A. Stewart, determined to organize and finish the task in hand, and Oxford University Press finally conceded it was time to replace Selby-Bigge. With the appearance of Tom Beauchamp's "critical edition" of the second Enquiry (hereafter identified as EPM), published on 4 August 1999, but bearing the date 1998, the long wait for a reliable text, bibliographic apparatus, and ancillary scholarship, worthy of Hume, must be declared over.
If we grant that it is appropriate to introduce the new Clarendon Edition of the Works of David Hume with the piece he deemed "best," it must also be asked why he made this judgment. Philosophers have generally held that his Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) is the most profound and searching statement of his epistemological and moral thought, but its seeming lack of immediate success with readers made Hume dissatisfied with it. Such were his negative feelings, coupled with irritation at attacks on him focused on this "juvenile" work, that he partially repudiated the Treatise at the end of his life. He wrote an "Advertisement" to this effect, and it was inserted as a preface to the authoritative and posthumous 1777 edition of his Essays and Treatises. Here he stated he was "sensible of the error of going to the press too early, and he cast the whole [of [End Page 280] the Treatise] anew in the following pieces [including EPM], where some negligences in his former reasoning and more in the expression, are, he hopes, corrected" (EPM Intro., xii-xiii, n.4).
On the evidence of Beauchamp's editorial labors, it would appear that EPM is Hume's "best" work in this sense. It represents the most thorough recasting of source material provided by the Treatise. Its essential moral principles and psychological insights about the passions are retained, but "readability and elegance" are achieved by pruning, simplifying, and compacting the Treatise's complex teaching, while adding a wealth of illustrative material drawn from Hume's mature reflection on his subject and...