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Hume Studies Volume 30, Number 2, November 2004, pp. 405-407 Book Reviews CLAUDIA M. SCHMIDT, David Hume: Reason in History. University Park: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Pp. xiii + 473. ISBN 0-271-02263-9, cloth, $85. Claudia Schmidt begins her new book, David Hume: Reason in History, by noting how recent literature has tended either to offer an overview of Hume's thinking or to develop a "unified account of a number of themes" from it; there are no extant studies, she emphasizes, that both display the "explicit order of a systematic survey" and provide "a unified interpretation of his thought" (2). Schmidt takes this to be a "lacuna in the literature," one she intends to fill by combining a "systematic survey" of Hume's contributions to the various branches of philosophy, history, and the social sciences, with a "distinctive interpretation" of her own (10). In so doing, she casts her net over a wide audience: the book is intended to bring in those starting out on their study of Hume, as well as attract the more seasoned specialist in search of a new interpretation, the non-specialist with an interest in recent scholarship, and those outside philosophy who are curious about Hume's place in the methodology and history of their own disciplines. The "systematic survey" part of the study is an unmitigated success. Schmidt arranges the material explicitly to correspond to the order of Hume's intellectual development (8), and in a way that inadvertently reflects her own considerable knowledge of both Hume and the secondary literature. Beginning with the early sections of the Treatise and ending with the History of England, the reader is led accordingly through some thirteen chapters covering in near exhaustive fashion Volume 30, Number 2, November 2004 406 Book Reviews every conceivable theme in Hume's wide repertoire. Even where much of this ground is familiar and well-trodden—in matters of epistemology, metaphysics, moral theory, and religion, for instance—Schmidt's descriptions are fresh, combining concise, elegant, and informative summaries with judiciously chosen forays into complexities of interpretation and debates in the literature. Other chapters take on themes less familiar even to the Hume devotee—his writings on economics , aesthetics, and history, for example—and here well-seasoned Humean and novice alike will find something of value in Schmidt's detailed descriptions and informed surveys. While the systematic presentation of Hume's ideas will undoubtedly satisfy a large section of her intended audience—beginning students, non-specialists, and parties from outside philosophy—the specialist will be more interested in the "distinctive interpretation" side of Schmidt's study. Here, needless to say, success is harder won. Schmidt's thesis is that the various strands of Hume's thought can be woven into a broad cloth by teasing out the "constructive account of human reason" that she claims to see running through his writings. This "account," the reader is told, consists "of the elements and principles of human cognition, by which he [Hume] intends not only to explain but also to justify and improve our reasonings in both the natural and human sciences. . ., establish the limits of human reason and . .. trace out. .. the social and historical dimensions of human consciousness" (2). Thus "Hume's study," one learns a few pages later, "can be understood... as an examination of 'reason in history,' or as an account of the historical dimension of rationality" (6). Or, as Schmidt writes in the Conclusion, Hume "presents an account of reason in history, by examining both the historically relative aspects of human cognition and the standards of objectivity that we articulate, as principles of criticism, through reflection upon our historical experience as individuals and members of a community" (421). In the course of defending this thesis, Schmidt offers up one or two interpretive gems. Her discussion of the passions (chapter 6) is particularly illuminating, and the treatment of the self in terms of "concern" clearly breaks new ground (182ff.). Schmidt also develops a provocative account of character as the "prevailing passions and dispositions of an individual... expressed in the actions of that person," which she integrates convincingly with Hume's view of judgment, causal connection, the prediction...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 405-407
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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