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104. INTERPRETING HUME Nicholas Capaldi: David Hume: The Newtonian Philosopher, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1975. Terence Penelhum: Hume, 'Philosophers in Perspective' series, The Macmillan Press, London, 1975. These two books are comparable in several respects . Both are general studies which cover the full range of philosophical topics treated by Hume. Both begin with a biographical essay and a summary account of Hume's position and aims. Following Hume's own order, both move from epistemology, introduced by a chapter on causation, through the psychology of the emotions to ethics, arriving at a discussion of Hume's philosophy of religion. Both are written by scholars who are well versed in Hume's texts and consider them important for contemporary philosophy. Both authors attribute certain current misrepresentations of Hume's teaching to such contemporary preconceptions about the nature of philosophy as its radical difference from all empirical disciplines. Since both of them oppose standard interpretations at many points with thoughtful alternatives, their books will interest mature students as well as help beginners to appreciate the main exegetical and critical issues currently debated by Hume's commentators . There is a difference between these two books as striking as their similarities. Professor Capaldi' s interpretation is developed under the control of a master hypothesis, and Professor Penelhum' s is not. Capaldi considers Newton to have been the decisive influence on Hume's formation, and he interprets Humean philosophy as a response to Newtonian science. Starting with a clear and definite conception of Hume's strategy, he reconstructs the blueprint from which Hume worked when putting his 105. philosophical system together. Penelhum sets to work without any master plan except the quite general one of elucidating Hume's doctrines in the light of the intellectual concerns of his age and the diverse philosophical influences that worked upon him. He brings current distinctions and conceptions to bear upon the assessment of Hume's theories while avoiding such anachronistic criticism as has produced the common complaint about Hume's psychologism. Capaldi brings the system into focus from a consistent perspective, affording his readers a clear view of the whole and fresh insight into its principles of organization. Penelhum' s critical analyses provide readers with a basis in argument for judging the contemporary relevance and strength of Hume's central doctrines . That Hume aspired to be 'the Newton of the moral sciences ' is a familiar fact of eighteenth century intellectual history. Various aspects of this important fact have been considered by previous commentators, but none of them have explored its ramifications throughout Hume's system with the thoroughness displayed by Capaldi. A conveniently brief statement of his thesis is made at the beginning of Chapter 3, where he says: It is generally accepted that Hume's philosophical program was greatly influenced by Newton. . .Nevertheless, what has never been made clear is the exact manner in which that influence is translated into Hume's specific philosophical statements. An understanding of the exact nature of Newton's influence on Hume can serve as the key to understanding Hume's philosophy as a whole, and it can explain why Hume structures the Treatise as he does. Finally, it can serve as the basis for correcting a number of misconceptions about Hume's philosophy. (49) The Newtonian influence, Capaldi argues, can be appreciated only when viewed against the backdrop of the Aristotelian tradition, which the mechanistic world view replaced during the scientific revolution. Fundamental to 106. this great shift in man's conception of his world, himself, and of the conditions of knowledge was the revision of the medieval theory of causation, which had its source in Aristotle's doctrine of the Four Causes. On that older view, prediction and explanation required insight into the essence or form of the object of investigation. What happened in the world happened necessarily by virtue of a formal cause operating efficiently to produce the effect determined as natural by the final cause governing the process. Given sufficient analysis of the nature of a thing, its cause and effect could be deduced. On the view of causation implicit in Newtonian physics, whatever happens to things in the world happens because of forces impressed upon them, not by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 104-115
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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