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The Anatomist and the Painter: The Continuity of Hume's Treatise and Essays John Immerwahr The three volumes of Hume's first and most famous work, A Treatise ofHuman Nature,1 were followed almost immediately by two volumes ofEssays, Moral andPolitical. What is the relationship between these two early projects? Modern readers of Hume have, at least implicitly, read these two works as discontinuous and largely unrelated. In this article I argue that much can be learned by reading the Essays as the natural continuation ofa chain ofthought that is begun in the Treatise butnot completed there. Myinterpretationrelies on Hume's discussion oftwo different roles for the philosopher, the "metaphysician" and the "moralist," and two different styles of philosophical work, which he metaphorically describes as the "anatomist" and the "painter." Adetailedargumentforthisthesis wouldrequireaninterpretation of the Essays in their entirety. In this article I focus only on the very first ofthe essays, "Ofthe Delicacy ofTaste and Passion." As I read it, this briefessay serves as a bridge between the Treatise and the Essays, spelling out the connections to the earlier work and pointing to the themes that will be developed in the following essays. The Case for Discontinuity Both the Treatise and the Essays emerge from a highly productive period in Hume's life. The first two volumes of the Treatise appeared in 1739, followed by a third volume in 1740. The first volume ofEssays, Moral and Political appeared in 1741 and the second volume was published in 1742. All ofthese works were published anonymously. Despite the fact that all of these works were completed within a few years ofeach other, scholars have treated Hume's early projects as havinglittle direct relationship to one another. Most have emphasized the continuity between the Treatise and the later Enquiries and paid little attention to the Essays at all.2 Even those who do read the Essays have sometimes stressed their differences from the Treatise. M. A Box, for example, compares Hume's behaviour to that of Samuel Johnson, who diverted himselffrom the intense effort of writing the Dictionary by turning out occasional essays for the Rambler. Box sees Hume's Volume XVII Number 1 JOHN IMMERWAHR Essays as a way of providing relieffrom the efforts ofthe Treatise and also generating much needed income: After the intellectual rigors of the last few years, the writing of [an essay] might easily have seemed, in the contemplation, a diverting and potentially remunerative project.3 A comparison of the style of the two works tends to support the idea that the two projects have little to do with one another. The Treatise provides an extended analysis in a dense and technical style; the Essays are comparatively light (sometimes even frivolous) in tone, and discuss a variety of seemingly unrelated topics. Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the discontinuity ofthe two projects comes from what Hume himself says about them. Each work begins with a prefatory "advertisement" where the anonymous author lays out his goals and intentions. These two short passages suggest a picture of an author who abandons his ambitious youthful project for a less challenging one that may be more rewarding. The Advertisement ofthe Treatise In the 1739 advertisement to the first two volumes of the Treatise, Hume sketches out an ambitious philosophical program: IfI have the good fortune to meet with success, I shall proceed to the examination of'morals, politics, and criticism; which will compleat this Treatise of human nature. The approbation of the public I consider as the greatest reward ofmy labours; but am determin'd to regard its judgment, whatever it be, as my best instruction. (T xii) If we are to take Hume at his word, the original project would have consisted offive volumes. The 1740 publication ofbook 3, "OfMorals," might have been followed by two more volumes, book 4, "Of Politics" and book 5, "Of Criticism." But Hume's promise to deliver on this ambitious project also seems to have been contingent on public acceptance ofhis work. The Treatise was not, ofcourse, the success that Hume had hoped for. Rather than extending the Treatiseinto additional volumes, Hume seems to abandon it for a totally different and discontinuous project, since in 1741...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 1-14
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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