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Hume Studies Volume 30, Number 2, November 2004, pp. 412-415 LEON POMPA. Human Nature and Historical Knowledge: Hume, Hegel, and Vico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. First paperback edition, 2002. Pp. viii + 234. ISBN 0521381371, cloth, $70.00; ISBN 0521892201, paper, $25.00. This book, now available in paperback, was not reviewed in this journal when it first appeared, but that omission is corrected here. Since its first appearance, the book has established itself as an important contribution to the philosophy of history and Hume's place in it.1 Because of the scope of this journal, I shall mainly focus on Professor Pompa's discussion of Hume, but the three thinkers—Hume, Hegel, and Vico—are a nice contrast. (Contrasts are what primarily interest Pompa.) In his concluding chapter 4, Pompa sums up this contrast in the following way. In the foregoing chapters it has been argued that, despite the many differences between them, Hume, Hegel and Vico shared the belief that knowledge of human history presupposes a theory of human nature or of the development of human nature. According to Hume, knowledge of human history is impossible unless it presupposes the constancy of human nature or of human consciousness and is grounded upon an experimental knowledge of the latter___Hegel, on the other hand, while agreeing that there is a problem about the presuppositions of historical knowledge is explicitly opposed to the uniformity of nature thesis.... Vico is shown to be aware of the same problem as Hegel, i.e., of providing a framework for establishing historical knowledge while allowing for the possibility of historical change, but to have a different understanding of it in so far as he believes that the solution must lie in a properly grounded form of first-order history, provided by an account which is at once both an history and a philosophy of the development of human nature. The account which he offers is very much less rationalist than Hegel's. (192-3) Is this a valid contrast and assessment of Hume? I have my doubts and I will give a few of my reasons for thinking so here. First, this is much too tidy and neat; Hume's view is much more complicated than this suggests. Pompa derived this contrast and assessment from examining the Treatise and the first Enquiry. Left out are the Essays and The History of England . For there to be an adequate, complete account of Hume on human nature and historical knowledge, these works need to be consulted. Pompa's approach is analogous to that of scholars who treat the Treatise by examining only Book 1 and ignoring Books 2 and 3, yielding only a partial perspective on what Hume Hume Studies Book Reviews 413 is up to. We are in a unique position with Hume concerning history, because he not only contemplated the nature of history, but practiced the craft. Because both theory and practice are seen in Hume, we have an unusual opportunity to balance these modes of inquiry and to achieve a better portrait of him. In the past thirty to forty years in Hume scholarship, we have seen this balance, but there is still a tendency to ignore the Essays and the History. What Pompa does in his account of Hume based on the Treatise and the first Enquiry is not inaccurate or wrong, but incomplete. My reservation with Pompa on Hume concerns the methodology of interpretation he employs. He is perpetuating an old methodology of interpretation , the focus of which is too narrow. Pompa anticipates this criticism by saying that his approach takes Hume's view as being "reasonably well reflected in the order of his major discussions of topics" (14) which stems from Norman Kemp Smith (1941),2 where the more fashionable and recent approach takes his view as being "grasped only by attempting to render coherent a very much wider range of his remarks on specific subjects, no matter where they are to be found" (14). Pompa cites Donald Livingston3 as an exponent of this latter approach. According to Pompa's account the key to Hume's idea of history is his belief in the constancy of human nature. This...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 412-415
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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