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HUME ON THE 'DISTINCTION OF REASON1* In a 1959 paper, Richard H. Popkin1 propounded what was then taken to be a most extraordinary thesis: Hume may never have read Berkeley. Popkin's paper marks the end of one of the stranger stories in the history of philosophy, the relationship of the British Empiricists — Locke, Berkeley, Hume — to one another. The thesis was hardly news either to Berkeley or Hume scholars because for several decades in careful studies of the historical contexts and sources they had relied less and less on any theory about significant common themes. In this paper I rehearse the arguments against the "partnership" doctrine and then turn to some ways in which Berkeley and Hume differ over abstractionism and the 'distinction of reason'. Finally, I discuss George Davie's suggestion that this 'distinction' may belong to a very different side of Hume's thought. The linking of Locke with Berkeley is not a feature of early commentary on Berkeley. Berkeley was seen by his contemporaries as a product of Pierre Bayle's scepticism or of Malebranche's immaterialism.2 The work of A.A. Luce, and to a lesser extent, of T. E. Jessop, seeks to restore Berkeley to a place in those traditions and to reduce his indebtedness to Locke. The work of Hume scholars from Kemp Smith to Ardal, Davie, Norton, and Popkin all places Hume outside the direct Berkeley line. So far as the traditional epistemological picture was concerned, there was not enough internal evidence to support a Hume-Berkeley connection. The argument took a different turn when a new Hume letter came to light. Hume's letter to Michael Ramsay from Orleans is dated August 31, 1737. I desire of you, if you have Leizure, to read over La Recherche de la Vérité of Pere Malebranche, the Principles of 90 Human Knowledge by Dr Berkeley, some of the more metaphysical Articles of Bailes Dictionary; such as those /...of/ Zeno, & Spinoza. Des-Cartes Meditations wou'd also be useful....5 In 1973, Michael Morrisroe, Jr., surveyed the contributions of Wiener, Popkin, Mossner, Hall, Flew, and Conroy to the debate. Morrisroe takes the several Hume references to Berkeley as internal evidence that Hume read Berkeley. He then prints a new Hume letter to Michael Ramsay, dated "Rheims. Sepfc. 29 1734. N. S." A ten sentence letter, the eighth reads: "It is my Pleasure to read over again today Locke's Essays and the Principles of Human Knowledge by Dr. Berkeley which are printed in their original state and in French copy." Morrisroe explains in a footnote that he was granted permission to make a typescript of the letter, that it was sold at auction, and that its "present location ... is unknown." In addition, he thanks six graduate students: "without their attention to bibliogaphical detail this letter might not have been made ready for publication until much later." But the bibliographical detail does not include telling us whether he saw the original or how the Hume authorship was established; nor does it include speculation on what Hume means in that eighth sentence. Did Hume find one book containing Locke and Berkeley in French and in English which he then read in one day? A bilingual Locke plus a bilingual Berkeley? Or can he mean an edition of Locke's Essay in French and an edition of Berkeley's Principles in English? That seems to be the least likely interpretation, unless the reference to Berkeley is a mere parenthetical afterthought, and Hume had his hands on Locke in English and French plus an English edition of Berkeley. Whatever this letter means, we know that Locke's Essay was available in Pierre Coste's translation. Berkeley is another story. The "Principles appeared in 1710. A revised edition, together with the Three Dialogues (also revised) was published in 1734. The first French edition appears to have been in 1889. The Three Dialogues first appeared in 1713 and the first French translation in 1750. The New Theory of Vision, first published in 1709, appeared together with the first edition of Alciphron in 1732. French translations appeared together in 1734. In any case, it can be granted, if only on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 89-108
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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