Hume at La Flèche:Skepticism and the French Connection
This paper presents new evidence regarding Hume's stay in La Flèche and attempts to reconstruct the intellectual world in which he wrote A Treatise of Human Nature. The evidence comes from a 1777 manuscript containing the catalogue of the library of the College of La Flèche, where Hume worked, and from a study of the books still extant in that library. Based on this new evidence, I claim a) that La Flèche provided Hume with a rich intellectual environment where he could learn not only about philosophy and classical literature but also get acquainted with the main debates that agitated scholars on the Continent; b) that Hume had access to the works of Sextus and to other important sources on skepticism; and c) that we should pay closer attention to the influence of some less-noticed French sources on Hume's philosophical views.
Claude Buffier, Jean-Pierre de Crousaz, Hume, Jesuits, Malebranche, skepticism, Bayle, Levesque de Pouilly, La Flèche, Sextus Empiricus, A Treatise of Human Nature
During my retreat in France, first at Reims, but chiefly at La Fleche, in Anjou, I composed my Treatise of Human Nature. After passing three years very agreeably in [End Page 45] that country, I came over to London in 1737. In the end of 1738, I published my Treatise, and immediately went down to my mother and my brother, who lived at his country house, and was employing himself very judiciously and successfully in the improvement of his fortune.(E xxxiv)
It is thus "chiefly" at La Flèche that Hume wrote one of the masterpieces of early modern philosophy. Hume's stay in France extended from July 1734 to August 1737. He spent a few weeks in Paris in the summer of 1734, hosted by Chevalier Ramsay. With letters from the latter, Hume moved to Reims and then, in May 1735, to La Flèche, where he stayed until his return to London. As Ramsay had connections with the Jesuits, it is possible that he also introduced the young Hume to Jesuits in La Flèche.
We know very little of Hume's early stay in France and almost nothing of his stay in La Flèche. Besides the above-quoted passage of "My Own Life," the only direct evidence we have concerning his time in the small town in Anjou is three letters. The first is a letter to James Birch, written by Hume in May 1735, wherein he claims that he knows "no place more proper than La Flèche" for learning French and "seeing the World . . . without encroaching in the least upon your Studies or more serious designs." He adds that in the town "there is a College of a hundred Jesuits, which is esteem'd the most magnificent both for Buildings & Gardens of any belonging to that Order in France or even in Europe."2 Besides the general contention that small towns in France are ideal for combining social life with quiet study and the complaint that he has not heard of any "celebrated Professor" worth meeting in this part of France, the letter does not give us much information about Hume's stay in La Flèche. This is not surprising, given that Hume wrote it just after his arrival in the small town in Anjou.
The second is a letter Hume wrote to Michael Ramsay while returning to London from La Flèche in 1737. In that letter, Hume recommends the books his friend should read to understand the "metaphysical parts" of the Treatise:
I shall submit all my Performances to your Examination, & to make you enter into them more easily, I desire of [y]ou, if you have Leizure, to read once over La Recherche de la Verité of Pere Malebranche, the Principles of Human Knowledge by Dr Berkeley, some of the more metaphysical Articles of Baile's Dictionary as those [o]f Zeno, & Spinoza. Des-Cartes Meditations wou'd also be useful, but [I] don't know if you will find it easily among your Acquaintainces. These Books will make you easily comprehend the metaphysical Parts of my Reasoning.3
This letter provides important evidence on the intellectual background Hume deemed central to understanding the "metaphysical parts" of the Treatise. The letter does not specify whether Hume had been reading these authors while at La Flèche or even during his stay in Paris or Reims. However, it is fair to assume that at least the French authors cited in the letter (Descartes, Bayle, and Malebranche) were among his readings during this period.4 [End Page 46]
The third letter is the one Hume wrote to George Campbell in June 1762. That year, Campbell published A Dissertation on Miracles, where he sharply criticized Hume's argument in "Of Miracles."5 Hume informs Campbell that the argument he was attacking first occurred to him when he "was walking in the cloisters of the Jesuits' College of La Flèche" and engaging in a discussion with "a Jesuit of some parts and learning" about "some nonsensical miracle performed in their convent." He amusingly tells Campbell:
I believe you will allow, that the freedom at least of this reasoning makes it somewhat extraordinary to have been the produce of a convent of Jesuits, tho perhaps you may think the sophistry of it savours plainly of the place of its birth.(HL 1:361)
Together, these letters only show the following: that Hume probably read some Descartes, Malebranche, Bayle, and Berkeley during his stay in France; that Hume composed most of the Treatise at La Flèche; that he enjoyed the combination of society and tranquility that La Flèche provided; and that he went to the renowned Jesuit College in that town and engaged in philosophical discussion with some Jesuits.6
All in all, the scant evidence says little about what is most important—the intellectual world in which Hume wrote A Treatise of Human Nature. In 1932, John Laird complained that "we know very little of this first visit to France."7 Since then, the best attempt at understanding the La Flèche period remains Mossner's, who made a series of conjectures based not only on the evidence from Hume's writings and letters, but also from his own research on nineteenth-century French historians. Mossner also edited the only extant letter that Hume wrote from La Flèche in 1735.8 Seventy-five years later, David and Mary Norton, the editors of the critical edition of the Treatise, cannot say much more: "There is little to report about Hume's three years in France or about his work on the Treatise while there."9 In his recent biography of Hume, James Harris appears to reach the same conclusion and gives only cursory treatment to Hume's early stay in France.10
In this paper, I present new evidence regarding Hume's stay in La Flèche. The new evidence comes from a 1777 manuscript containing the catalogue of the library of the Jesuit College of La Flèche and from a study of the books still extant in that library (today the library of a prestigious military college).11 Based on this [End Page 47] new evidence, on a study of the history of La Flèche's College, and on conjectures already made in the secondary literature, I will claim a) that La Flèche provided Hume with a rich intellectual environment where the young Scotsman could not only learn about philosophy and classical literature, but also become acquainted with the main debates that agitated scholars on the Continent; b) that, while at La Flèche, and in spite of the doubts of many scholars, Hume did have access to the works of Sextus and to a range of early modern sources on skepticism; and c) that, in addition to those that are already acknowledged in the literature, we should pay closer attention to the possible influence of some less-noticed French sources on Hume's philosophical views. The Hume emerging from this study is deeply interested in engaging with ancient and early modern skepticism. He is also interested in the writings of eclectic French (or francophone) thinkers struggling to find a via media between Cartesianism and Locke. This paper provides important elements that can contribute toward a reconstruction of the intellectual world in which he composed the Treatise in France. In this respect, it fills an important gap in our understanding of the way Hume came to entertain the thoughts that led him to write the Treatise. This reconstruction provides further support to the view that the narrative of his intellectual development cannot, as was common in the past and is still sometimes the case, focus almost exclusively on Hume's influences in England and Scotland.12 The point is not to deny the influence of British authors. That influence is already well-documented by excellent works of scholarship.13 But it is important to realize that the story is much richer and more complex. Since the focus of this paper is mainly on Hume's philosophical influences during his stay at La Flèche, it cannot do justice to other possible non-philosophical influences during that period. Historians, humanists, and classic sources are also important to understand Hume's thinking during the time in which he worked on the Treatise.14 [End Page 48] More research on the sources presented here will help us have a better view of Hume's intellectual world while at La Flèche.
1. the royal college of la flèche
At the outset of the eighteenth century, La Flèche was a small town of approximately 5,200 inhabitants, in the former county of Anjou (today the department of La Sarthe), in western France.15 The life of this small town revolved around the Collège Royal de La Flèche, founded in 1603 by Henri IV, and entrusted from then on to the Jesuits who remained there until the order was suppressed in France in 1762. Although removed from Paris, this small-town college was nonetheless a prestigious and important intellectual center for the education of French elites, particularly the clergy and aristocracy. Mersenne and Descartes were among its distinguished alumni. Notwithstanding his well-known critical stance towards the traditional education of philosophy in the schools, Descartes wrote, in 1638, that, "there is no other place in the world where philosophy is better taught than at La Flèche."16 He would also underwrite the vibrant intellectual atmosphere reigning in the College: "the number of young people coming from everywhere in France, and due to their mutual conversation, produces a mix of humours that has almost the same learning effect as if they were travelling."17 La Flèche's college became a prominent cosmopolitan intellectual center in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as a result of the order's worldwide missionary activities. The College hosted several missionaries from abroad (particularly from Canada, China, India, and Siam—nowadays Thailand), and many international endeavors were conceived there (e.g. the foundation of Montréal). For that reason, La Flèche played an important role in the circulation of information and ideas between Europe, Asia, and the French colonies in America.18
In 1737, there were about ninety Jesuits in the College, both pères and novices. Students were either matriculated or non-matriculated.19 Among the matriculated, some were boarders or convicti and paid no tuition, while others were day pupils that paid tuition.20 At any given time, there were approximately 300 boarders and 1,000 day pupils. In addition, there were a significant number of non-registered students (étudiants libres).21 In his letter from La Flèche, Hume also says the town is "so much frequented by our Countreymen, that there was once 30 Englishmen boarded in this small Town."22
The Collège Royal de La Flèche was the first in France to apply the Jesuit plan of studies, the Ratio Studiorum, first drafted in 1586, made official by the order [End Page 49] in 1599, and published in France in 1603.23 The Ratio Studiorum comprised 13 classes: six for letters, humanities, and rhetoric; three for philosophy; and four for theology.
Instruction in philosophy lasted three years, with a curriculum based on Aristotle and Aquinas. It was divided into three classes and four topics: Logic (first year), Physics (second year), Metaphysics, and Mathematics (third year). The Ratio Studiorum prescribed that the first year of philosophy be devoted to an introductory survey of Aristotelian logic, taught employing Toledo (Toletus) or Fonseca as manuals. This survey was to be followed by a discussion of analogy and relations in the Categories, the second book of De Interpretatione, and most of the Prior Analytics.24 Finally, in order to prepare for the classes of physics and mathematics, the Ratio recommended reading excerpts from the Physics and De Anima, which were meant to introduce the student to Aristotle's conception of scientia.25 During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the teaching of the Jesuits had to adapt to the rise of the "new philosophy," as is reflected in the logic courses of some of professors of the Royal College. In 1655, Father Gautruche (or Gaultruche), a professor at La Flèche, published his logic course with no references to Cartesianism.26 But Cartesianism, the Port-Royal Logic, and Jansenism began to be discussed in 1688 in Father Challemoux's logic course and acquired even greater importance in Father Girauld's course of 1696.27 The library of the College also held copies of the Port Royal Logic and Crousaz's Logique.28
During the second year, instruction in physics focused on Aristotle's Physics, De Caelo, and parts of De Generatione et Corruptione and Meteorologica. Given their role in the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits resisted innovation and defended traditional Aristotelian science, particularly in its Thomist version. It would be wrong, however, to think they ignored or downplayed the discoveries of the scientific revolution.29 Although mechanistic explanations of physical phenomena had made some inroads in the French colleges by 1670, the real influence of mechanical philosophy began only around 1690, when Cartesian physics began to be taught in the University of Paris. The Jesuits did not entirely replace Aristotelianism with mechanical philosophy. Instead they became eclectic Cartesians, resorting to mechanical explanations while maintaining the existence of substantial forms [End Page 50] in inanimate matter and rejecting the Cartesian view that animal bodies are machines.30 Despite its being widely discussed in France, Newtonian philosophy had very little influence on the curriculum of French colleges before 1740.31 It is, then, not surprising if the only pre-1737 work by Newton in the catalogue of the La Flèche library is a 1720 French translation of the Opticks. The edition of the Principia held by the College is only of 1760.32
The Jesuit plan of studies prescribed that instruction in mathematics be centered on a study of Euclid's Elements, with the addition of some notions of geography. However, the catalogue of the Royal College library shows that the Jesuits became increasingly interested in new developments in mathematics, such as the presence of important works on logarithms, infinitesimal calculus, and Cartesian analytic geometry witnesses.33
The third year of philosophy was devoted to metaphysics and ethics.34 The Ratio prescribes studying Aristotle's De Generatione, De Anima, and the Metaphysics. The Nicomachean Ethics was used for the ethics portion of the class.35 In these domains, too, the influence of Descartes and Malebranche was very important in the Royal College; and their doctrines were discussed, even if, at least officially, the Jesuits remained highly critical of the "new philosophy."
During his stay, Hume's attention was certainly caught by the ongoing quarrel between the Jansenists and the Jesuits, which he would have followed with wry amusement. In "Of Superstition and Enthusiasm," Hume recorded his impressions of that debate, and showed some sympathy for the party that opposed the Jesuits who were hosting him:
The molinists and jansenists in FRANCE have a thousand unintelligible disputes, which are not worthy the reflection of a man of sense: But what principally distinguishes these two sects, and alone merits attention, is the different spirit of their religion. The molinists conducted by the jesuits, are great friends to superstition, rigid observers of external forms and ceremonies, and devoted to the authority of the priests, and to tradition. The jansenists are enthusiasts, and zealous promoters of the passionate devotion, and of the inward life; little influenced by authority; and, in a word, but half catholics. . . . The jesuits are the tyrants of the people, and the slaves of the court: And the jansenists preserve alive the small sparks of the love of liberty, which are to be found in the FRENCH nation.(E 79) [End Page 51]
The "superstition" of the Jesuits must have become evident to Hume rather quickly. On July 3, 1735, not long after his arrival in the small town of Anjou, there was an important event that the curious foreigner must have attended: the translation of the (alleged) relics of St. Thomas to La Flèche's parochial church.36 This experience could have provided material for Hume's reflections on the influence that the relations of contiguity and resemblance have on belief-formation mechanisms. In the Treatise, Hume describes a "phenomenon" that shows how relations of causation play an important role in producing beliefs:
Superstitious people are fond of the relicts of saints and holy men, for the same reason that they seek after types and images, in order to enliven their devotion, and give them a more intimate and strong conception of those exemplary lives, which they desire to imitate. Now 'tis evident, one of the best relicts a devotee cou'd procure, wou'd be the handy-work of a saint; and if his cloaths and furniture are ever to be consider'd in this light, 'tis because they were once at his disposal, and were mov'd and affected by him.(T 188.8.131.52/SBN 101)
Philosophically, Hume had more natural affinities with leading Jansenists such as Pascal and Arnauld. For that reason, he could have been interested in reading some of the Jansenist works available in the library of the Royal College. The library possessed a copy of Arnauld and Nicole's La logique ou l'art de Penser (the Port Royal Logic), the first edition (1683) of Arnauld's Des vrayes et des fausses idées (Of true and false ideas), and his Nouveaux élémens de géométrie (1687).37
Although Hume had only a limited interest in the theological wars between Jesuits and Jansenists, their quarrel over the veracity of the miracles performed in the tomb of the Jansenist Abbé Pâris did attract his philosophical attention. In "Of Miracles," Hume displays detailed knowledge of the discussion over these miracles, referring to books, legal proceedings, and the main characters involved in that debate.38 Most of that information almost certainly came from readings and discussions during his stay in France.39
These debates were closely followed in the Journal de Trévoux, organ of the Jesuits and the Nouvelles Ecclésiastiques, the journal of the Jansenists. The Journal de Trévoux was an important part of the intellectual world in which Hume was immersed while in France. Being the organ of the Jesuits, its journalists had strong ties with La Flèche's Royal College. Hume might have been interested, at least, in an article that Chevalier Ramsay, who hosted him in Paris, published in the March 1735 issue. In that article, Ramsay attempted to depict different kinds of "philosophical characters." Philosophers like Descartes, Newton, Bayle, Shaftesbury, Malebranche, or Spinoza exemplify the ideal types he described.40 [End Page 52]
Spinoza's, Hobbes's, and Toland's views are discussed in some detail in another article published in June 1735. The Journal de Trévoux reviewed many important works like Leibniz's Theodicy (issue of January 1737), Marquis d'Argens's Lettres juives (issue of July 1736), and Bacon's Essais sur divers sujets de Politique & de Morale (issue of May 1735). Bayle and Newton are also discussed in several reviews and articles.
Alison Gopnik conjectures that the Jesuit of "parts and learning" with whom Hume had discussed miracles was Charles François Dolu, a former missionary who participated in the second French embassy to Siam (1687–1688) and was acquainted with a network of Jesuits related to La Flèche and Asia.41 She speculates that Hume might have been interested in the history, society, and religion of different cultures of Asia, and that he could have had first-hand knowledge of these topics thanks to his acquaintance with former missionaries at La Flèche, particularly Dolu. Orientalism and the travel literature were in vogue in France, particularly after Montesquieu's Lettres persanes (first published 1721), and Hume could also have been influenced by Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726, amended 1735). The holdings of the La Flèche library lend support to the claim that Hume could have learned about Asian cultures and Buddhism.42
In his interactions with Jesuits and students, Hume may have thus been exposed to Aristotelianism and Cartesianism, as well as to the main philosophical, political, and theological controversies that agitated scholars and members of the clergy in France. The college also offered him the opportunity to become acquainted with the geographical, historical, and cultural information brought back by the Jesuits from missions in Asia and North America.
2. the library
Probably two reasons motivated Hume to move from Reims to La Flèche. The first was that life in La Flèche was significantly cheaper than in Reims.43 The second was the Jesuit College's famous library, where Hume could undertake the readings [End Page 53] necessary for his Treatise. Although no extant registers prove that Hume used this library, there are compelling reasons to think he did. One reason is that the Royal College in the eighteenth century was the center of La Flèche's life (as the Prytanée militaire is nowadays). It is difficult to imagine any reason Hume went to that small town that was not related to the College. Further, given his Protestant background and critical attitude towards religion and religious orders, Hume is unlikely to have been interested in the College for reasons other than its library.
Hume enjoyed libraries. Very early on, in 1727, Hume wrote to Michael Ramsay that, when not with friends, being "confined" to himself in a library was his sole pleasure—a pleasure gained from reading poets and philosophers, and that he clearly distinguished from "task reading," which he hated.44 His correspondence shows that he sought the acquaintance of persons possessing large private libraries and that he lamented London's dearth of public libraries.45 In 1752, Hume accepted the position of librarian for the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, a job that came with "little or no emolument, but which gave [him] the command of a large library."46
Hume would have had access to the library of the Royal College. In eighteenth-century France, civil, Royal, ecclesiastical, and academic libraries were open to the public. The Jesuit colleges were no exception.47 The 1775 regulations of the library of the Royal College of La Flèche are consistent with that practice. They stipulate that the librarian is free to admit into the library churchmen secular or regular, lawyers, and magistrates, and, more generally, inhabitants of the town.48 Although written after the expulsion of the Jesuits, there is no reason to believe these rules changed in a significant manner the customs established by the Jesuits. Given that it was standard throughout the eighteenth century for some members of the public to be granted access to college libraries, it is fair to assume that Hume had access to the precious holdings of the Jesuit library.
Although the library's catalogue from the Jesuit period is not extant (or not yet discovered), it is now possible to reconstruct the library's holdings and, hence, to have a clearer view on which books were available to Hume while he was working on the Treatise. For this task, we have two important sources, hitherto unnoticed by both historians of philosophy and Hume scholars.
The first is Riboutet's catalogue. When, fourteen years after the expulsion of the Jesuits, the order of the Christian Doctrine Fathers took control of the College in [End Page 54] 1776, they asked Ignace-François Riboutet, a bookseller at La Flèche, to produce an inventory of all extant books in the College's library and an estimation of their price. The work was completed between December 2, 1776, and January 25, 1777. Riboutet's catalogue is a manuscript of 123 pages comprising 2,103 entries.49 Some of these entries refer to multi-volume editions. In some cases, entries refer to more than one edition of a given title. In other cases, an entry refers to more than one title. At the end of the manuscript, Riboutet counts 2,010 in-folio volumes, 1,682 in-quarto, 341 in-octavo, and 836 duodecimos, for a total of 4,869 volumes.50
The catalogue distributes the titles in 19 sections.51 The library had important holdings in historia profana and in theology. With its 155 entries, the philosophy section represented 7.4% of the catalogue.52 Among the books published before 1738—and leaving aside those I will discuss below—the philosophy holdings, unsurprisingly, display a great number of works by Aristotle and by medieval and early-modern authors in the Aristotelian tradition. Non-Aristotelian ancient philosophers are also well represented, with works by Plato, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, Lucian, Xenophon, Theophrastus, Seneca, and Cicero. There are also a good variety of works by Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus, Simplicius, Porphyry, and Maxymus of Tyre. Among the early moderns, we find works by Descartes, Gassendi, Malebranche, Locke, Regis, Arnauld, Grotius, and Pufendorf.
The catalogue is a precious source, providing a good approximation of the College's holdings when Hume visited. However, the catalogue was produced thirty-nine years after Hume left La Flèche, so some caution should be exercised before drawing strong conclusions about whether Hume had access to a specific text. In addition, there is evidence that some books that belonged to the Royal College library are not listed in the 1777 catalogue.53 Some books might have been given away or lost during the period the Jesuits ran the College, which could explain why they were not in the library when the catalogue was prepared. [End Page 55]
Fortunately, there is another important source. Despite a widespread belief among Hume scholars that the College was destroyed and the library dispersed after the French Revolution, the College still stands. It is currently a prestigious military school—the Prytanée national militaire—and its present-day library (hereafter Prytanée library) has at least 964 volumes that belonged to the original Jesuit library. These books display ex-libris from the Royal College, and these ex-libris come in different forms and handwritings. The ex-libris and other provenance information establish the date of acquisition of some books with varying degrees of precision. The easiest cases are a minority of ex-libris that include the date of inscription in the catalogue. Other volumes were donated by individuals, and, in some cases, it is possible to determine the year in which the books were donated.54 In other cases, the method for dating the acquisition of books is more approximate. A study of the different forms of the ex-libris and handwritings makes it possible to distinguish between "older" (almost surely seventeenth-century) and "newer" (probably eighteenth-century) versions of the ex-libris.55
In the Prytanée library, we find many books, the titles of which are listed in Riboutet's catalogue, but which lack the ex-libris of the Royal College. There are two explanations for these cases. One is that the extant books were duplicates and later librarians disposed of the original copies displaying the ex-libris of the Jesuits. The other is that the Jesuits did not add ex-libris to small-format books (for example duodecimos). Hence, many of the small-format volumes in the current Prytanée library likely belonged to the collection of the Jesuit College. In these cases, the books are also recognizable for their characteristic parchment bindings. So, in addition to the 964 books displaying the ex-libris of the Royal College, there are many other books in the Prytanée library that belonged to the original library or are duplicates of the original volumes.
The catalogue, together with a study of the current holdings of the Prytanée library, are valuable sources for making educated guesses about the library's holdings during Hume's stay in La Flèche. In what follows, I am going to present some results that are, I think, interesting for reconstructing the context in which Hume wrote the Treatise.
As is well known, one of the most fundamental questions any serious reader of the Treatise faces is that of understanding the nature, extent, and scope of Hume's appeal to skepticism. Hume's stance in the Treatise has been characterized in different ways by scholars as that of a destructive skeptic, a Pyrrhonian, an academic skeptic, a mitigated skeptic, and even as not being skeptical at all.56 Here a study of [End Page 56] the external evidence, such as that provided by the new evidence from La Flèche's library, might provide important guidance for a factually informed discussion of Hume's philosophical attitude towards skepticism.57
Although skepticism looms large in book 1 of the Treatise, there are no explicit references to Sextus Empiricus or, more generally, to Pyrrhonism in it. The first reference to Pyrrhonism occurs in the Abstract—a positive review of the Treatise that Hume anonymously published in 1740. There he writes:
Our author insists upon several other skeptical topics; and upon the whole concludes, that we assent to our faculties, and employ our reason only because we cannot help it. Philosophy would render us entirely Pyrrhonian, were not nature too strong for it.(A 27)
The first explicit references to Sextus's Outlines of Pyrrhonism and to Adversus Mathematicos do not appear until 1751, when Hume publishes the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals.58 This has led some scholars to deny that Hume had direct knowledge of Sextus or of any serious account of Pyrrhonian arguments while composing the Treatise. That line of thinking works well for those who stress Hume's naturalism and downplay his skepticism. But even defenders of a skeptical reading of the Treatise cannot do much more than offer conjectures about Hume's knowledge of Pyrrhonian skepticism.59 Peter Fosl, who went very far in trying to establish what kind of knowledge Hume could have had of Sextus, was forced to admit that
[Hume's] references to Pyrrhonism, of course, provide us with no assurance that Hume had by that time actually read Sextus. Hume's early understanding of Pyrrhonism . . . may have instead been generated through his reading of Cicero, Diogenes Laertius, or any among the host of early modern writers who had addressed the topic.60
David and Mary Norton, the editors of the critical edition of the Treatise, sum up well the state of the question:
There is no external evidence that, before writing the Treatise, Hume had read Sextus Empiricus, whose writings would have been available to him in Greek, Latin, French, and English.(Clarendon Edition of the Treatise, "Editor's Annotations," 773)
The study of the holdings of the La Flèche library, together with an assessment of some of the conjectures made in the secondary literature, now make it possible to establish with a reasonable degree of confidence that Hume did have access to Sextus's works and to the main sources of the early modern understanding of Pyrrhonism during his stay in La Flèche. [End Page 57]
The fourth entry of the philosophy section in the La Flèche catalogue reads as follows:
Sexti Empirici quæ extant, gr. et lat., Genev., 1621, 1 vol., in-4o, avec un 2e exempl., le tout estimé quatre livres.61
The Prytanée library currently possesses two editions of Sextus displaying the exlibris of the Jesuit College and matching the catalogue entry. The first is the 1621 edition by Pierre and Jacques Chouët:
|SEXTI EMPIRICI |OPERA QVÆ EXTANT| MAGNO INGENII ACVMINE SCRIPTI| . . . . |GENEVÆ,| Sumptibus Petri & Jacobi Chouët.| M. DC. XXI.|
This was the first printed edition of the Greek text and, for that reason, is considered the editio princeps. The title page of the book displays the ex-libris of the Royal College: "Collegii flexiensis societas Jesu cat. Inscriptus."
The second volume extant in the Prytanée library is a copy of the older 1569 edition, containing the Latin translation of Adversus Mathematicos by Hervet and that of the Outlines of Pyrrhonism by Estienne:
|SEXTI EMPIRICI VIRI | LONGE DOCTISSIMI ADVER-| SVS MATHEMATICOS, |Hoc est, adversvs eos qui profintentur disciplinas,| Opus eruditisimum, complectens vniversam Pyrrhoniorum acutisimorum Phi-|losophorum disputandi de quibuslibet disciplinis & artibus rationem,| Græcè nunquam, Latinè nunc primùm editum,| GENTIANO HERVETO AVRELIO INTERPRETE.| EIVSDEM SEXTI PRYRRHONOARVM| HYPOTYPOSEON LIBRI TRES:| . . . . |PARISIIS,| Martinum Iuunem, via S. Ioannis Latera-|nensis, ad sinsigne Serpentis.| M. D. LXIX.| CVM PRIVILEGIO REGIS|
This volume also has the ex-libris of the Royal College. We read, "Coll. Fixani" on the left side of the frontispiece and "Societ. Jesu Cat. Inscriptus" on the right side. The handwriting and the adjective "fixani" instead of "flexiensis" seem to correspond to "older" versions of the ex-libris. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Hervet edition is the book referred to as the "second copy" in the catalogue's entry.
Based on what we now know about the ex-libris and the history of La Flèche's library, I am confident that the Hervet edition was already in the library in the seventeenth century. As a great number of those editions were acquired in the seventeenth century, I think it highly probable that the Chouët edition was also there while Hume was writing the Treatise. There is no reason to believe that access to these editions was restricted (they were not classed as forbidden books in Riboutet's catalogue) and plenty of reasons to believe that Hume would have been interested in consulting these volumes while writing Treatise 1.4.
Further support for the claim that Hume might have read Sextus at La Flèche comes from Fosl's work on the sources of Hume's knowledge of Sextus. Since Hume quotes Sextus directly from the Greek text in the second Enquiry, Fosl claims that he must have had access to a Greek edition of the Outlines. Popkin and others speculate it must have been the popular Fabricius edition of 1718.62 Fosl convincingly argues that at least one of Hume's quotes of Adversus Mathematicos [End Page 58] cannot refer to the Fabricius edition, but perfectly matches the Chouët edition. Although Fosl was unable to determine how Hume could have had access to that edition, he establishes that it is the only edition that explains what would otherwise be inconsistent or erroneous references to Sextus's works.63 The fact that the Jesuit library had the Chouët edition and not the Fabricius one fits Fosl's conjecture and gives further force to the claim that Hume might have read Sextus at La Flèche and have adopted the Chouët edition for references to Sextus in his later works.
3.1. Bayle and Crousaz
Besides the works of Sextus, we also find in Riboutet's catalogue some of the books that scholars like Richard Popkin, Peter Fosl, and David Fate Norton think Hume must have read. Among them, a 1635 edition of Montaigne's Essais,64 two editions (1594, 1692) of Diogenes Laertius's Lives of eminent philosophers,65 and the influential Examen du pyrrhonisme ancien et moderne by Jean-Pierre de Crousaz.66 Hume could also have learned from Gassendi's mitigated skepticism, since an edition of his complete works was available in the College's library.67 Another important source of Hume's knowledge of Pyrrhonism is, of course, Bayle's Dictionaire historique et critique, of which the La Flèche library possessed the four volumes in-folio edition, printed in Rotterdam in 1720. Riboutet lists this edition among the Vetiti, or forbidden books.68
Hume knew Bayle well before travelling to France.69 He also had many opportunities to deepen his reading of Bayle's dictionary and become acquainted with the intellectual turmoil surrounding it while at La Flèche. Between 1735 and 1739, the Jesuits launched a campaign against Bayle.70 During Hume's stay in La Flèche, the Journal de Trévoux published no fewer than eleven dissertations criticizing Bayle's dictionary, all written by the Jesuit Charles Merlin.71 Hume may also have discussed Bayle with François Souciet, professor of theology and morals at La Flèche, who apparently wrote a Critique du dictionnaire de M. Bayle.72
Another important source is the Swiss philosopher and Protestant theologian, Jean-Pierre de Crousaz (1663–1750). He was the author of the Examen du pyrrhonisme ancien et moderne (1733), a monumental work devoted to criticizing [End Page 59] the arguments of Sextus, Huet, and Bayle. Crousaz also wrote La Logique ou Système de réflexions qui peuvent contribuer à la netteté et à l'étendue de nos connaissances (first published in 1712). Several scholars have speculated that Hume must have been acquainted with these two works.73 La Flèche's library had copies of the Examen du pyrrhonisme and of the 1720 corrected and enlarged edition of the Logique.74 Though Hume could have used Crousaz's larger work on Pyrrhonism, he might have realized, as others quickly did, that the arguments in that work were philosophically weak.75 However, there are reasons to believe that Hume did take Crousaz's Logique seriously, of which an English translation was available by 1724.76 Along with the Port-Royal Logic, Crousaz's work was one of the most influential logics of the period, and it presents some unique features that make it highly plausible Hume used this work while developing his own thoughts about logic and epistemology.
The first of these features is Crousaz's revision of the taxonomy proper to the theory of ideas. He, as Hume would do afterwards, decided to call 'perception,' rather than 'idea,' whatever is immediately present to the mind. He then distinguishes between a) perceptions that "have themselves as objects" and b) perceptions that "have an object different from themselves."77 He calls the first 'sensations' and the second, 'ideas.' Although Hume follows Crousaz in dividing mental contents into items of feeling and items of thought, his own distinction between vivacious perceptions—impressions—and the less vivacious copies thereof—ideas—is not exactly similar.78 While Crousaz understands that distinction to be one between non-representational and representational mental contents, Hume thinks that ideas and objects are the same kind of thing (i.e. perceptions) and that ideas represent impressions, not—or at least, not immediately—objects.
The second unique feature of Crousaz's Logique is that it contains an important section devoted to the passions. Crousaz believed that the passions tend to stain the objects of our thoughts with the colors of our personal interests, and so are potential sources of error in thinking. For that reason, he believed, "there is perhaps no subject more proper to a Logic and more in need of an explanation than [the passions]."79 Hume shared with Crousaz the belief that we cannot fully and properly understand the way ideas and beliefs are formed and how we reason with them—the typical topics of post-Cartesian logics—without taking into consideration the passions' role in our epistemic life. This is why he thought that there is in the Treatise a "natural division" between, on the one hand, books 1 (Of the Understanding) and 2 (Of the Passions) and, on the other hand, book 3 (Of Morals). In the Advertisement to books 1 and 2 of the Treatise, Hume wrote, "the [End Page 60] subjects of the Understanding and Passions make a compleat chain of reasoning by themselves."80
The third and most striking feature is what Crousaz says about Pyrrhonians in his Logique. First, Crousaz distinguishes 'academics' or 'skeptics' from 'Pyrrhonians.' The "skeptics," though doubtful of ever attaining certainty, are nevertheless satisfied with likelihood (vraisemblance) whereas the Pyrrhonians "would not acknowledge any proposition to be more likely (vraisemblable) than another."81 He then distinguishes between two kinds of Pyrrhonians. The first, the majority, are of the "obstinate" (entêtés) kind. These are people that, when caught off-guard, "believe in many things" and "admit many truths" but, when questioned or when in a more reflective mood, take it upon themselves to challenge everything.82 The other kind of Pyrrhonians are those suffering a pathology characterized by excessive timidity and weak temper. These individuals need to "be treated in the same way the mad and melancholic are treated."83
It is likely that Crousaz's remarks inspired Hume's own association between radical skepticism and melancholy. In the closing section of book 1 of the Treatise, Hume vividly depicts the melancholic state of mind resulting from radical skepticism. A new awareness of the "wretched condition, weakness, and disorder" of the cognitive faculties, and the consciousness of "the impossibility of amending or correcting these faculties," brings "despair," "desponding reflections," "melancholy," and the feeling of a "forlorn solitude."84 Rehearsing skeptical arguments leads the philosopher undergoing a skeptical crisis to adopt the view Crousaz described as Pyrrhonian:
The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another.(T 184.108.40.206/SBN 268–69)
Reason cannot persuade the suffering skeptic to give up doubting. Radical skepticism is not an epistemic state that can be corrected by evidence and rational arguments; it is a pathological state that needs to be cured. Crousaz claims that when "a person is seized with sadness," the right cure lies in offering "small recreations" that will progressively habituate the melancholic to enjoy small pleasures. Once that habit is installed, we can ask the Pyrrhonian whether she prefers to undergo the pain of uncertainty or to indulge in the pleasure of assenting to what is evident.85 Similarly, Hume believes that "reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds" and only a return to a more "natural" way of life can cure the melancholic skeptic:
I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hour's amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.(T 220.127.116.11/SBN 269) [End Page 61]
Hume believed that those motivated by curiosity and love of truth can still find pleasure in addressing deep philosophical questions, provided they are approached in a truly skeptical spirit—which Hume opposed to the mood of the splenetic radical skeptic. True skepticism requires being "diffident of his philosophical doubts, as well as of his philosophical conviction," and pursuing philosophy in "a careless manner."86
3.2. Levesque de Pouilly and Historical Pyrrhonism
Less noticed by scholars is the influence that historical Pyrrhonism had on Hume. Historical Pyrrhonism is a strand of early-modern skepticism focusing on challenges to the credibility of testimony-dependent historical reports.87 These issues were very important for the development of Hume's conception of belief in Treatise 1.3 and in "Of Miracles," the other piece he composed at La Flèche. In the Treatise, his first example of belief is the testimony-based report of the assassination of Caesar in the Ides of March (T 18.104.22.168; see also 22.214.171.124). Hume explicitly addresses historical Pyrrhonism in the section on Unphilosophical probability:
'Tis evident there is no point of antient history, of which we can have any assurance, but by passing thro' many millions of causes and effects, and thro' a chain of arguments of almost an immeasurable length. Before the knowledge of the fact cou'd come to the first historian, it must be convey'd thro' many mouths; and after it is committed to writing, each new copy is a new object, of which the connexion with the foregoing is known only by experience and observation. Perhaps, therefore, it may be concluded from the precedent reasoning, that the evidence of all antient history must now be lost; or at least, will be lost in time, as the chain of causes encreases, and runs on to a greater length.(T 126.96.36.199/SBN 144–45)
The most conspicuous representative of historical Pyrrhonism was François La Mothe le Vayer (1588–1672), who, in Du peu de certitude qu'il y a dans l'histoire (1688), raised radical doubts about all kinds of historical reports except those involving revealed truths.88 A 1662 edition of the works of La Mothe le Vayer is listed in the La Flèche catalogue.89 Many thought that Bayle's critical evaluation of historical testimonies in his Dictionary made him, too, a historical Pyrrhonist. But Hume must also have had in mind the heated war over the credibility of ancient history that raged between 1690 and 1730. In the last years of the seventeenth century, the Jesuit Jean Hardouin (1646–1729) conceived one of the most fascinating early-modern conspiracy theories. Finding inconsistency between his own antiquarian work on ancient medals and coins and the reports of ancient historians, Hardouin became convinced that the totality of ancient history and literature—apart from Herodotus, Homer, Pliny's Natural History, Cicero, and some works of Horace and Virgil—was a thirteenth-century forgery perpetrated by a group of Benedictine monks. Hardouin was obliged to recant in 1708. But some of his works are listed in the catalogue La Flèche's library, particularly his Chronologia [End Page 62] veteris testamenti (1687), where the conspiracy-theory is expounded.90 The quarrel over the certainty of history further developed among the members of the French Académie des inscriptions et des belles-lettres. The debate was ignited when Louis-Jean Levesque de Pouilly submitted his Dissertation sur l'incertitude de l'Histoire des quatre premiers siècles de Rome in 1722. Pouilly was a friend of Lord Bolingbroke—another well-known historical Pyrrhonist—and, most importantly, he is likely to have been the person who, in 1734, hosted the young Hume in Reims.91 In the Dissertation, Pouilly raises skeptical doubts about the reliability of historians of ancient Rome. To respond to criticism levelled against his Dissertation, Pouilly presented in 1724 another text to the Académie: his Nouveaux essais de critique sur la fidélité de l'histoire, where he discusses a rule for establishing the credibility of testimony-dependent beliefs that is strikingly similar to the one Hume would propose in "Of Miracles":
In order to be credible . . . , a fact ought not to be contrary to what we learn from our observations. Given that we do not want to deceive ourselves, and that others may have had the intention of doing it or were themselves deceived, we should rely on our own experience rather than trust the pretended experience of others.92
Pouilly admits that a blind application of this rule would lead to absurdities. For, if the only standard for credibility was conformity to personal experience, we would then be justified in rejecting any belief about something that we have not personally experienced.
But what! Are we going to doubt of all the facts that do not resemble those of which we have been witnesses? Certainly not. [For in that case] ignorance, which is the mother of the most superstitious credulity, would also be that of the most irrational incredulity. We would be doing like the King of Siam, which charged the ambassador of Holland of being a liar when he heard him saying that in his country water could become a solid body.93
To avoid absurdity, Pouilly offers a criterion that a belief about something that contradicts our experience must meet in order to be accepted:
Let us thus acknowledge that, for a fact, considered in itself, to be probable, it is not necessary to have [previously] seen similar cases. It suffices that we know that there are causes capable of producing it. And if we lack knowledge of such causes but cannot be certain that they do not exist; then the fact, considered in itself, is [End Page 63] improbable and can only become credible when the probability derived from the witness reporting it trumps its intrinsic improbability.94
Consider these passages from Pouilly's 1724 piece against what Hume says in "Of Miracles":
Though experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact; it must be acknowledged, that this guide is not altogether infallible, but in some cases is apt to lead us into errors.(EHU 10.3/SBN 110)
The INDIAN prince, who refused to believe the first relations concerning the effects of frost, reasoned justly; and it naturally required very strong testimony to engage his assent to facts, that arose from a state of nature, with which he was unacquainted.(EHU 10.10/SBN 113–14)
If the falsehood of [the witness'] testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.(EHU 10.13/SBN 115–16)
The similarity between these passages strongly suggests that Hume might have personally discussed these issues with Pouilly while in Reims and that he worked on that problem at La Flèche after his discussion over miracles with one of the Jesuits. The Mémoires de l'Académie des Inscriptions et belles lettres, where Pouilly's dissertations were published, were available in the library of the Jesuit College.95
The external evidence examined here shows that Hume had the opportunity to read and was interested in various sources on both ancient and early-modern skepticism. In some cases, the similarity between the views of some authors and Hume's is striking and makes it probable that he read these sources and was influenced by them. Some of these sources do not fit into a rigid distinction between academic or Pyrrhonian skepticism. For example, historical Pyrrhonism is a form of local—as opposed to global—skepticism concerning the specific set of historical beliefs. Pierre Bayle's relation to skepticism is almost as difficult to characterize as Hume's. Crousaz understood Pyrrhonism as a pathological disposition to be cured, rather than refuted. The difficulty many scholars have had in characterizing Hume's skepticism results perhaps from trying to fit Hume's stance into fixed historiographical categories, like academic or Pyrrhonian skepticism. The evidence provided here suggests Hume had an eclectic attitude towards skepticism. He seems to have been working with a complex range of skeptical arguments and stances that cannot be aligned with one specific strand of traditional skepticism. For that reason, his interest in skeptical arguments or problems could be characterized as "contextual." In each case, the use of skepticism seems to serve a different goal: here the old problem of discovering causal relations in objects, there the early-modern problem of historical beliefs; here, again, [End Page 64] skepticism about the Cartesian cogito, there the problem of the practical import and emotional impact of skeptical doubts.
4. the "french connection"
Riboutet's catalogue is also interesting for the books not listed therein. Apart from dictionaries, the only English title listed is an in-quarto edition of Locke's Essay (1694). This is important. We need only to think about how much we are influenced by the books currently available to us to see how significant the absence of books in English at the La Flèche library is for appreciating Hume's intellectual world while he composed the Treatise. I do not want to make the strong claim that Hume had no access to works in English. Hume may have brought some of his own books and notes or have had access to another less important library at La Flèche. We also do not know much about what sort of access to books Hume had in Reims. Still, the clear majority of the books available to him were books in Latin, French, and, to a lesser extent, Greek.
This "negative finding" lends credence to scholars like Peter Jones and John P. Wright who have argued in recent years that we should pay more attention to the influence of classical sources and especially to the "French connection" to better understand the context in which the Treatise was conceived.96 The "French connection" is already apparent in the 1737 letter Hume wrote to Michael Ramsay while he was returning to London from La Flèche. In that letter, Hume asked his friend to read Descartes's Meditations, Malebranche's Search after Truth, Berkeley's Principles, and some important articles in Bayle's Dictionary in order to understand the "metaphysical parts" of the Treatise.97
The library of the Royal College was a good place to read Descartes and to learn about Cartesianism. The catalogue has two entries referring to the library holdings of Descartes. The first reads "Meditationes &ca princip. math. lettres l'homme &ca = Descartes, 4 vol., in-4o," and probably refers to different editions of the Meditations, Principia matheseos universalis, Treatise of Man, and his correspondence.98 The second entry reads "Principia philosophiæ &ca = Descartes, 8 vol., in-4o"—it is unclear to which edition of the Principles this entry refers.99 The library also possessed two editions of Pierre-Sylvain Régis's Cours entier de philosophie, ou système général selon les principes de M. Descartes (1690 and 1691).100
For some scholars, however, the most important figure in this "French connection" has been Malebranche. After referring to him in the letter to Ramsay, Hume mentions Malebranche twice in the Treatise and once in the Abstract.101 The reason for the interest in Malebranche lies in the striking similarities between Malebranche's and Hume's discussions of causality and their respective accounts of the passions. [End Page 65]
Peter Jones suggests that Hume's encounter with Malebranche's philosophy must have occurred at La Flèche, for the Royal College was "the centre of Cartesian and Malebranchian studies."102 This is only partially true. La Flèche was indeed such a center at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Many of the College's professors were open defenders of Malebranche, and Father André—Malebranche's first biographer and devoted supporter—spent time in La Flèche (1706–1709) converting many to the cause of occasionalism. However, it all ended about ten years before Hume's arrival. The Jesuit order reacted and the Malebranchians were dispersed or obliged to recant. By 1725, there were no open defenders of Malebranche in the French province of the Jesuit order.103 That is not to say there were no former Malebranchians during Hume's stay, however. One of these was Robert Besnard, who was rector in 1734 and was still in the College when Hume left in 1737.104 During his stay in La Flèche, Father André writes to Malebranche informing him that "most of his works" were to be found in the College.105 That seems accurate. Riboutet's catalogue displays entries for Traité de morale (1707), Traité de la nature et de la grâce (1712), Méditations chrétiennes et métaphysiques (1707), Entretiens sur la métaphysique et la religion (1703), Recueil de toutes les réponses à Monsieur Arnauld (1709), and Traité de l'amour de Dieu (1707).106 However, the entry corresponding to La recherche de la vérité is to an edition published in 1762—twenty-five years after Hume left the small town in Anjou.
Malebranche is certainly important for understanding the "French connection." But other interesting "suspects" should not be disregarded. Hume cites some in the Treatise, and their books are listed in the La Flèche catalogue or extant in the Prytanée's library in editions prior to 1736. This is the case of La Rochefoucauld's Réflexions et maximes morales and Saint-Evremond's Works.107 There are also cited authors whose books are listed in the catalogue of the Royal College and in the catalogue of Hume's nephew's personal library (which contained a great number of books previously owned by Hume) in editions prior to 1737. This is the case, for instance, of the Jesuit Dominique Bouhours's Entretiens d'Ariste et d'Eugene (first published 1671), which contains a discussion of je ne sçai quoi, a French expression Hume uses twice in the Treatise.108 The Histoire de l'Academie Françoise by Paul Pellisson and the Jesuit Abbé Olivet is also listed in both catalogues. Finally, there are some pre-1737 works listed in the catalogue of the library of Hume's nephew, but not in the La Flèche catalogue. Among these, we find the Jesuit Jean-Baptiste [End Page 66] Bellegarde, Nicolas Boileau, Cardinal de Retz, Abbé Dubos, La Bruyère, Montesquieu, and Perreault.109
Claude Buffier (1661–1737) is another important though understudied figure whose likely influence on Hume has barely been noticed.110 Buffier was a leading Jesuit writer and philosopher, one of the editors of the Journal de Trévoux, the author of one of the most popular French grammars, and of various influential philosophical works on logic and metaphysics which offered an interesting synthesis between Cartesianism and Locke.111 Voltaire would say of him that he was "the only Jesuit that produced a reasonable philosophy in his works."112
In his philosophical work, and particularly in the influential Traité des premières vérités (1724), Buffier argues that, save for the knowledge of our own existence, all knowledge is ultimately founded in the verdicts of our "common sense," a sense that expresses a number of natural human epistemic dispositions.113 Buffier's Traité certainly influenced the work of Thomas Reid and the Scottish common sense philosophers, to the point that the English translator of Buffier's Traité accused Reid of plagiarism.114 In this book, Buffier presents his own philosophy of common sense as a synthesis of Descartes, who has introduced a new method of philosophizing, and Locke, who has introduced a new way of grounding metaphysical assertions in experience.115
There are several reasons to believe that Hume read Buffier and engaged with his philosophical arguments. First, he may have used used Buffier's Grammaire françoise (first published 1709) to perfect his French. A 1723 edition of this work is listed in Riboutet's catalogue, and a volume of the same edition is listed in the catalogue of the library of Hume's nephew.116
Second, Hume must have been interested in the idea, advanced by Buffier, that some fundamental beliefs are based in natural dispositions or instincts and cannot be justified by reason. Buffier claims, with the Cartesians, that the only self-evident truth is the cogito, but denies that the cogito is the only first principle upon which metaphysics can be founded. There are other first truths that, though not endowed with self-evidence, are nonetheless as certain as the cogito. These fundamental truths are based in "the common sentiment of nature," or "common sense."117 By 'common sense,' Buffier means a natural disposition uniformly present among human beings to judge in a uniform way concerning matters that can neither be inferred from previous principles, nor directly perceived through [End Page 67] intimate sentiment.118 There are, thus, a number of first truths that are instinctively accepted and for which no further justification can be given except that no one in her right mind would deny them.
Hume would not have agreed that common sense truths can provide metaphysics with a solid empirical foundation. But he notoriously claimed there are fundamental beliefs that "we embrace by a kind of instinct or natural impulse."119 Moreover, he thought these beliefs to be certain, even if not self-evident and incapable of purely rational justification in the form of demonstration.120 Buffier expounds his views about the certainty of these kinds of propositions in Élémens de métaphisique, à la portée de tout le monde (1725), a book that is extant in the Prytanée library and is listed in the philosophy section of Riboutet's catalogue.121 In this book, we can read the following passage:
Between us, Eugene said, I wonder whether my philosopher is not claiming that one has to take as true what, in fact, is not so true, and that it is suitable to do so as a kind of adjustment to commonly received human ideas. Indeed, it seems to me that he gave the following example: one must be crazy [il faut être fou] to refuse to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, it is not absolutely impossible that tomorrow it will not rise. The same happens—he added—with the certainty that men have that they will die.122
Buffier's two examples of indefeasible empirical knowledge are exactly those Hume employs in the Treatise, in the Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh (1745), and in the first Enquiry. In the first two cases, Hume contends, too, that whoever denies the certainty of these propositions based on their not being [End Page 68] demonstrative truths "would appear ridiculous" or "must have lost all common Sense."123
A further reason for believing that Hume engaged with Buffier's Traité is that Hume's arguments on object-identity are remarkably close to some of Buffier's insights on the issue.124 According to the Jesuit philosopher, the putative identity of material substances is not real, but merely a projected one. The imagination sees collections of qualities as being one material substance when we affix a term to a "total idea" that has this "heap" of qualities as its object. Thus, a house is taken to be one when we mean the collection of qualities itself, and is taken to be a multiplicity when we pay attention to the parts that compose it (the door, the windows, walls etc.). So, "the same part of matter can, under different perspectives be justly judged and named one as also hundredth." However, although parts of a material object can exhibit the kind of close connection that makes it possible to treat it as being "one," these parts "can never constitute a real unity."125 The language Buffier uses here is very close to that Hume employs when he says "we have . . . no idea of substance, distinct from that of a collection of particular qualities."126 It is, perhaps, with Buffier in mind that Hume writes:
'Tis confest by the most judicious philosophers, that our ideas of bodies are nothing but collections form'd by the mind of the ideas of the several distinct sensible qualities, of which objects are compos'd, and which we find to have a constant union with each other. But however these qualities may in themselves be entirely distinct, 'tis certain we commonly regard the compound, which they form, as ONE thing, and as continuing the SAME under very considerable alterations.(T 188.8.131.52/SBN 220)
Hume also explains the unity attributed to external objects as the result of a confusion between two perspectives. Under one perspective, we pay attention to the close connection between the sensible qualities of "a peach or melon" and we conceive them "to form one thing"; but, "in another light, . . . all these qualities are different, and distinguishable, and separable from each other."127
Buffier claims that 'identity' has the same meaning as 'unity,' namely, that something is the same with itself, except that the concept 'identity' additionally [End Page 69] encompasses the idea of preserving unity through changes in time and place.128 For that reason, Buffier invites us not to confound "true identity"—that is, numerical identity—with what is merely "identity of resemblance"—that is, qualitative identity—in which unity is not preserved through changes in time and place.129 He contends that only immaterial substances, "by virtue of their unity and indivisibility," exhibit "true identity." Material substances, being multiplicities and prone to change, are only capable of "identity of resemblance," although, because of the equivocal character of the word 'identity,' people mistakenly ascribe true identity to them.130 Thus, "the identity regarding bodies . . . is only relative to certain particularities, or manners of speaking, that makes us call one thing the same even if, in fact, the substance of the thing taken to be the same often changes while preserving this relative and nominal identity."131
The equivocation that makes us project numerical identity to what is merely qualitatively identical is the same confusion to which Hume refers in the Treatise:
[T]ho' we commonly be able to distinguish pretty exactly betwixt numerical and specific identity, yet it sometimes happens, that we confound them, and in our thinking and reasoning employ the one for the other. Thus a man, who hears a noise, that is frequently interrupted and renew'd, says, it is still the same noise; tho' 'tis evident the sounds have only a specific identity or resemblance, and there is nothing numerically the same, but the cause, which produc'd them.T 184.108.40.206/SBN 257–58, (emphasis added)
Hume, however, went a step further than Buffier, by applying the same kind of arguments to the idea of the identity of the self. Buffier claimed that immaterial substances, like the self, are not collections of qualities and hence display "true identity." Unlike him, Hume famously claimed that introspection shows that the putative identity of persons is of the same kind as the identity of objects, a mere projection, or a fiction of the imagination.132
This paper begins to fill an important gap in our understanding of the way Hume came to entertain the thoughts that led him to his early masterpiece. The external evidence provided here concerning Hume's stay at La Flèche is a first step toward reconstructing the intellectual world in which Hume wrote A Treatise of Human Nature during his early stay in France. More research is necessary to learn why Hume traveled to France and about Hume's stay in Reims, the individuals he met there, and the books he read during that period. But we can confidently assert that Hume's stay in La Flèche was not a solitary retreat. The Royal College offered an important intellectual milieu for extensive reading and discussions with philosophically minded Jesuit professors. Hume also had access to the best sources on skepticism, both ancient and modern, and we have good reasons to believe he consulted these sources while writing the Treatise. The variety of views [End Page 70] about the nature and scope of skepticism available to him in the La Flèche library may partly explain the eclectic nature of Hume's own use of skepticism and the difficulty scholars have in characterizing it. Another lesson to be drawn is that an adequate narrative of Hume's intellectual development cannot, as is still sometimes the case, focus exclusively on his influences in England and Scotland. The work presented here suggests the story is richer and more complex than usually thought, and gives us further reason to question an already tottering tradition of labelling Hume a "British Empiricist" opposed to continental "Rationalism."133
Dario Perinetti is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Université du Québec à Montréal
bibliography and abbreviations
1. I will adopt the following conventions to refer to Hume's works. References to the Treatise of Human Nature are to the Norton and Norton critical edition (T) and the Selby-Bigge edition revised by Nidditch (SBN) and are indicated parenthetically in the text as follows: T 220.127.116.11/SBN 123 (meaning book, part, section and paragraph number of T and page number of SBN). References to the Abstract and to the Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh are indicated A or LG and followed by the paragraph number of the Norton and Norton critical edition. References to the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and to the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals are to, respectively, EHU and EPM and are followed by the numbers of section and paragraph. In the case of Hume's Essays Moral, Political and Literary, references are indicated E and are followed by the page number of the edition listed in the bibliography. References to the 1875 edition of Essays Moral, Political and Literary, edited by Green and Grose are indicated EMPL and are followed by volume and page numbers. References to Hume's correspondence are to HL and are followed by volume and page numbers.
3. Letter of August 26, 1737 to Michael Ramsay. I am quoting from Norton and Norton, "Historical Account," 2:443. An earlier transcription of that letter is to be found in Kozanecki "Davida Hume'a nieznane listy w zbiorach Muzeum Czartoryskich," 127–41.
4. Michael Morrisroe claimed to have found a 1734 letter by Hume to Michael Ramsey, in which he reports to be working in Reims in the library of Abbé Pluche and re-reading Locke and Berkeley. See Morrisroe, "Did Hume Read Berkeley?" However, the letter has never been produced. The consensus among Hume scholars is to consider it spurious. See Harris, Hume: An Intellectual Biography, 490.
6. There is also a local tradition, to which Mossner alludes in his Life of David Hume, claiming that Hume lived at chateau Yvandeau—a manor located in Saint-Germain-du Val, about two kilometers from La Flèche. According to these sources, Hume went to the college every day and the Jesuits visited him often. There are reasons to treat these reports with circumspection, since they wrongly claim that Hume went to La Flèche on Rousseau's recommendation and in order to write a history of the Plantagenets. See Marchant de Burbure, Essais historiques, 25–26; and Montzey, Histoire de La Flèche et de ses seigneurs, 2:155. Mossner's reference to Yvandeau is in Mossner, The life of David Hume, 100.
11. Ignace-François Riboutet, "Catalogue dressé et mis en ordre par le sieur Riboulet, marchand libraire à La Flèche, de tous les livres composant la bibliothèque du collège, et annexe d'un arrêt du Conseil d'État, imprimé, contenant les articles numérotés du règlement de la bibliothèque," 1777, MSS D 14, Fonds Collège royal de La Flèche, Archives départementales de la Sarthe, Le Mans. I will refer to the diplomatic and normalized transcription of the manuscript that I have made with Aline Medeiros Ramos and Manuel Vásquez Villavicencio (Perinetti et al., Bibliothèque de La Flèche). I give references to items in the catalogue in the following form: Bibliothèque de La Flèche CL023–12, which refers to the twelfth entry in page 23 of the catalogue. In cases in which more than one copy is listed under the same title, the copies are indicated with lower case letters (e.g. Bibliothèque de La Flèche CL077–13a). While working on this paper, I have learned that another transcription of the manuscript has been published. See Beaudry, Bibliothèque.
12. This traditional view was formulated in the nineteenth century by T. H. Grose, who thought that the Treatise was the work of a "solitary Scotchman" exclusively interested in Locke and Berkley, and that Hume's visit to France "was an accident which has left no trace either in the tone or in the matter of his book" ("History of the Editions," in EMPL 1:40). Since then, scholars like Norman Kemp Smith, Mossner, Richard Popkin, David Fate Norton, M. A. Stewart, and John P. Wright have contributed to showing the importance of many other sources for understanding the path that led Hume to his first philosophical work. But with respect to Hume's stay in France, very little has been added. This lack of information continues to make possible interpretations of Hume's Treatise focusing almost exclusively on the British context. A recent case is Paul Russell's account of the intellectual context that influenced the young Hume, which is—save for the nowadays standardly accepted references to Descartes, Malebranche, or Bayle—almost exclusively centered on British figures (Russell, The Riddle of Hume's Treatise). For a criticism of the "British Empiricism" label, see Norton, "The Myth of 'British Empiricism.'"
13. See, e.g. Michael Barfoot, "Hume and the Culture of Science"; Reinhardt Brandt, "Beginnings of Hume's Philosophy"; Harris, Hume: An Intellectual Biography; Norton and Norton, "Historical Account"; Stewart, "Hume's Intellectual Development"; and Wright, "Letter to a Physician."
16. AT II.378, my translation.
17. AT II.378, my translation.
19. I am relying here on research notes that Professor Gopnik took at the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (ARSI) in Rome and that she has generously shared with me. The estimated number of Jesuits is close to Hume's own calculation in his 1735 letter from La Flèche, where he estimates the number of Jesuits at a hundred.
20. The policy of giving tuition free education for boarders was key to the educative project of the Jesuits. They thus offered the opportunity of upward social mobility to a significant number of members of the merchant, professional and artisan classes. See Loach, "Revolutionary Pedagogues?," 66.
24. Ratio Studiorum, 332. The catalogue of the La Flèche library includes a copy of an in-quarto edition of Toledo's Commentaria, vnà cum quaestionibus, in vniuersam Aristotelis logicam (1676–77), Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL080–2.
25. Ratio Studiorum, 332–34.
27. Jacques Challemoux, "Scientiarum." The existence of this manuscript is indicated in Carlos Sommervogel and Augustin de Backer, Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, 2:1045. See also Rochemontaix, Un collège de Jésuites, 4:31. For Girauld's course, see Jacob Schmutz, "L'invention jésuite du 'sentiment d'existence,'" 623. For details about the teaching of philosophy during the time Descartes was a student at La Flèche see Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes: An Intellectual Biography, 38–62; and Roger Ariew, "Descartes and Scholasticism," 58–90.
28. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL085–6, and CL085–11.
30. For the reception of Newton in France, see John Bennett Shank, The Newton Wars. For the place of Newton in the curriculum of French colleges, see Laurence Brockliss, French Higher Education, 350–52; Brockliss, "The Moment of No Return."
32. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL092–6, and CL091–13.
33. For example, editions of Arnauld's Nouveaux elemens de geometrie (1667); De l'Hôpital's Analyse des infiniment petits (1715); Fontenelle's Eléments de la géométrie de l'infini (1641); John Napier's Cursus mathematici practici (1619), Arithmetica logarithmica (1628), and Rabdologia (1617); or Van Schooten's lectures on Cartesian mathematics, Principia matheseos universalis (1651). See, respectively, Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL088–13, CL091–11, CL091–12, CL087–3, CL088–19, CL090–4, and CL080–6. Except for Van Schooten's lectures, the dates refer to the editions listed in the catalogue. See also François Dainville, "L'enseignement des mathématiques"; and Antonella Romano, "Formation de Descartes."
34. Rochemonteix claims that the order of the philosophy classes prescribed in the Ratio was modified in La Flèche in 1626. From then on, metaphysics was taught with physics in the second year and with mathematics in the third year. However, Rochemonteix cites no source backing this claim. See Rochemonteix, Un collège de Jésuites, 4:32.
35. Ratio Studiorum, 336–39, 344.
36. The event is reported in Nouvelles ecclésiastiques, 1735, 180.
37. The respective entries in the catalogue are to be found in Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL085–11, CL085–9, and CL088–13. The edition of the Port-Royal Logic listed in the catalogue does not have a date of publication, so it is hard to tell whether that book was in the library during Hume's stay.
38. See EHU 10.27/SBN 124–25, especially n25.
39. In "Of Miracles" (EHU 10.27n25/SBN 124–25), Hume mentions two books that are not listed in the La Flèche catalogue. These books are Montgeron, La vérité des miracles; and Recueil des Miracles de l'Abbé PARIS. Montgeron's book was published the year Hume left France and Recueil was a collection of records of miracles published in different years.
40. Ramsay, "Le psychometre." The article contains too a brief presentation of Spinoza's views, where Ramsay claims that, "those that see Spinozism as a kind of vulgar materialism misunderstand it. It is the purest form of idealism, a consummate Malebranchianism, a kind of extravagant or demented Jansenism." Malebranche is also praised as "the most subtle, consistent and systematic genius which any nation had produced," even if his subtlety sometimes "degenerates in stilted ideas" that turn an otherwise clear and precise style into something "obscure and loose" (Ramsay, "Le psychometre" 707–11). The same year, Ramsay published Histoire du vicompte de Turenne, a copy of which is listed in the catalogue of the La Flèche library. See Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL073–8.
41. Gopnik, "Could David Hume have known about Buddhism?" Dolu was not the only Jesuit with whom Hume could have had intellectual exchanges. Robert Besnard, a former Malebranchian, and François Souciet, who was a critic of Bayle, could also have been interesting interlocutors.
42. The library possessed two titles by Alexandre de Rhodes: a 1651 edition Histoire du royaume de Tunquin (History of the Kingdom of Tonkin), and a 1653 edition of the Divers voyages du P. Alexandre de Rhodes en la Chine & autres royaumes de l'Orient (Various Travels by Father Alexandre de Rhodes to China and Other Kingdoms). The library also possessed a Spanish edition of letters from Jesuit missionaries in Japan, Matteo Ricci's Christiana expeditio apud Sinas (1615) (The Christian Expedition among the Chinese); Guy Tachard's well-known Voyage de Siam (1686), and Second voyage de Siam (1689); Du Jarric's Histoire des choses les plus mémorables aduenues tant ez Indes qu'autres païs de la devouuerte des Portugais (1608), (History of the Most Memorable Events That Took Place in the Indies and Other Countries Discovered by the Portuguese); French editions of the Travels of Mendez Pinto (1645); and Gabriel de Magalhães's New History of China (French edition of 1688). In order, these titles are listed in the following entries of the catalogue of La Flèche's library: Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL057–10, CL057–13, CL057–11, CL057–12, CL106–17a and b, CL057–14, CL006–18, and CL057–15.
43. In the 1734 letter to Birch, Hume estimates that it takes 80 pounds per year to live in Reims, while we know that his own annual rent was a meager 40 pounds.
44. HL 1:9–10.
45. HL 1:251.
46. E xxxvi.
48. The Royal Council made these regulations official in 1775. The official publication differs from a manuscript version located in Archives départementales de la Sarthe (Le Mans, France) under call number 111AC 802/147 (along with a copy of the printed version of the ruling). Interestingly, the manuscript version stipulates that entrance to the library is permitted to inhabitants of the town "distinguished either by birth or rank" (distinguées ou par leur naissance ou par leur rang). Assuming the manuscript is an earlier version of the printed copy (the MS is undated), the official version published by the Royal Council seems to have crossed out that restriction and simply granted admission to the library to "inhabitants of the town" (personnes de la ville). The official decision of the Royal Council can be found too in Recueil des édits, dèclarations, ordonnances, arrêts et reglemens concernant l'Ecole Royale Militaire, 2:795–804.
49. For a complete reference to the MS, see n. 11. For a first bibliographical description of the catalogue, see Louis Desgraves, "La bibliothèque." That description is slightly inaccurate in counting the number of entries in the catalogue. It also counfounds catalogue entries with titles. As some entries refer to more than one title, the number of titles is clearly bigger than the number of entries.
50. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, 122.
51. The sections are, in order, Scriptura sacra, Interpretes sacri, Patres Graeci, Patres latini Concilia & Liturgia, Theologi Scholastici/Controvesiae Morales, Jus Canonicum et Civile, Historia Sacra, Historia Profana, Historia Naturalis, Philosophia, Academiae Regia, Mathesis, Oratores, Poetae, Chronologia/Geographia, Gram-matica, Vetiti, Politologi.
52. Based on my own study of the manuscript, I have corrected the numbers given in Desgraves, "La bibliothèque," 78. Hervé Beaudry's edition of the catalogue counts 2,096 entries and 155 for the philosophy section. It is also important to keep in mind that some titles we would now count as belonging to philosophy can be found in other sections. For example, Gassendi's Opera is listed in the section Historia profana, and some works by Malebranche are in the section Theologi Scholastici/Controversiæ Morales.
53. I have found some books displaying the ex-libris of the Royal College in some contemporary rare books sales catalogs. There is another instance of books that belonged to the La Flèche library but are neither in the extant catalog nor in the present-day Prytanée library holdings. The University of Toronto Library possesses a copy (call number smb 01927) of Sallust, C. Salustii Crispi Coniuratio Catilinæ ([Lugduni]: Apud Paulum Frellon et Abraham Cloquemin, 1597). This copy has the inscription "Collegii flexiensis Societatis Jesu." However, the La Flèche catalogue only lists a 1580 edition of the same title (Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL070–21)
54. To give an instance, Jacques Éveillon (1582–1651), canon of Angers, donated approximately ten thousand books to the La Flèche Jesuits. In addition to the college's ex-libris, these volumes also have a label indicating they were Éveillon's donation. See J. Tallon, "La bibliothèque du Prytanée," 167.
55. I am here indebted to the Curator of the Prytanée library, Madame Sylvie Tisserand.
56. For a reading of Hume as a Pyrrhonian skeptic, see e.g. Donald L. M. Baxter, Hume's Difficulty; Robert J. Fogelin, Hume's Skepticism ; Popkin, "Pyrrhonism." The view that Hume is a mitigated skeptic is defended in Fogelin, Hume's Skeptical Crisis, and Norton, "David Hume": Common-Sense Moralist, Sceptical Metaphysician. For interpretations that deny Hume was a skeptic or downplay his skepticism, see Annette Baier, Progress of Sentiments; and Kemp Smith, The Philosophy of David Hume. More recent interpretations take Hume's skepticism as being sui generis and not amenable to the old categories of academic or Pyrrhonian skepticism. See, e.g. Don Garrett, Hume, 213–46; and Donald C. Ainslie, Hume's True Scepticism, 218–46.
57. I do not pretend, of course, that the issue can be settled by a study of the external evidence.
58. EPM 2.15n6/SBN 179–80, and EPM 4.5n15/SBN 207. Further references to Sextus's works are to be found in "On the populousness of Ancient Nations" (1752) (E 399n58) and the Natural History of Religion (1757) (NHR 12.25n82).
60. Fosl, "Bibliographic Bases." Riboutet's Catalogue lists many editions of works by Cicero and two editions of Diogenes Laertius's Lives of Eminent Philosophers, a 1594 in-folio edition in Greek and Latin, and a 1692 Latin edition (see Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL077–14 and CL088–14).
61. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL077–13a–b.
63. "Indeed, in each case Hume's citations correspond precisely to the editorial divisions produced by the Chouët brothers edition of Sextus's work. It must, therefore, have been the then-outdated Chouët brothers edition of 1621, and not to the 1718 Fabricius edition, to which Hume refers, at least when citing Adversus Mathematicos" (Fosl, "Bibliographic Bases," 272). The same claim is to be found in Annas, "Ancient Scepticism," 271–85.
64. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL078–12.
65. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL077–14 and CL084–14.
66. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL014–8.
67. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL069–5 a and b.
68. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL116–1.
69. In a 1732 letter to his friend Michael Ramsay, Hume writes, "I thank you for the trouble about Baile. I hope it is a Book you will yourself find Diversion & Improvement in" (HL 1:12).
72. The work was announced as forthcoming in the Journal de Sçavans 76 (1725), 700. However, I have not been able to confirm that it was actually published. In the archives of the ARSI, the name "Franciscus Soucier" (or "Soucies") is listed in 1734 and 1737 as professor of morals and theology in La Flèche's college.
73. Charles Echelbarger, "Hume and the logicians"; Peter Jones, Hume's sentiments; Laird, Hume's philosophy of human nature; Popkin, "Scepticism." In the annotations to the critical edition of the Treatise, Norton and Norton also refer to Crousaz as a possible source. The best study on the influence that Crousaz had on Hume's views on skepticism is G. Paganini, "Dalla polemica alla storia."
78. T 18.104.22.168/SBN 1–2.
80. Hume, T 2.
86. T 22.214.171.124/SBN 273.
87. On historical Pyrrhonism, see Borghero, La certezza e la Storia; Chantal Grell, L'histoire entre érudition et philosophie; Perinetti, "Philosophical Reflection on History"; and Markus Völkel, Pyrrhonismus historicus.
89. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL078–11.
90. Hardouin, Chronologia veteris. Riboutet's catalogue lists two copies of that work: Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL004–1a and b. One of these copies is still extant in the Prytanée library (call number C2992).
91. On this conjecture, see Fernand Baldensperger, "Relation intellectuelle." It is interesting to note that, in 1735, Bolingbroke was living in Chateau Chanteloup near Amboise, about 120 km (70 miles) from La Flèche, and working on his Letters on the study and use of History (written 1735, first published 1752). It is not impossible that Hume knew, through Pouilly, of Bolingbroke's presence in the region.
92. "Un fait pour mériter nôtre créance . . . , doit n'être pas contraire à ce que nous apprennent nos observations: sûrs que nous ne voulons point nous tromper nous-mêmes, & que d'autres peuvent en avoir eu le dessein, ou avoir été eux-mêmes trompez, nous devons plutôt, nous en tenir à notre propre expérience, que de nous livrer à l'expérience prétenduë d'autruy" (Lévesque de Pouilly, "Fidélité de l'histoire," 72–73).
93. "Mais quoi! Douterons-nous de tous les faits, qui ne seront pas semblables à ceux dont nous aurons déjà été les témoins? non sans doute: l'ignorance la mère de la plus superstitieuse crédulité, le deviendroit alors de l'incrédulité la plus déraisonnable; nous imiterions le Roi de Siam, qui accusa de mensonge un Ambassadeur de Hollande, dès qu'il lui entendit dire, que dans son pays l'eau devenait pendant l'hyver un corps solide" (Levesque de Pouilly, "Fidelité de l'histoire," 73).
94. "Reconnoissons donc, qu'afin qu'un fait considéré en lui-même soit probable, il n'est pas nécessaire que nous en ayons vû des exemples, il suffit que nous connoissions des causes capables de le produire: si nous n'en connoissons point, mais que nous ne soyons pas assûrez qu'il n'en existe pas, le fait alors considéré en lui-même est improbable; & il ne peut devenir croyable, que quand il emprunte plus de probabilité du témoin qui le rapporte, qu'il n'a d'improbabilité par lui-même" (Levesque de Pouilly, "Fidelité de l'histoire," 73).
95. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL086–13, and CL086–14.
97. See n. 3.
98. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL080–6.
99. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL085–1.
100. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL079–5, and CL084–5.
101. T 126.96.36.199n29/SBN 158; T 188.8.131.52n49/SBN 249; and A 6.
106. Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL046–3a-c, CL084–17, CL084–18, and CL084–19
107. Hume cites La Rouchefoucauld in T 184.108.40.206/SBN 422. Réflexions et maximes morales is not listed in the La Flèche Catalogue, but a duodecimo copy of it with the typical parchment binding used by the Jesuits is extant in the Prytanée library. Saint-Evremond is cited in T 220.127.116.11/SBN 599, and a 1692 French edition of his works appears in Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL116–16. Hume owned an English translation of Saint-Evremond's Works. See Norton and Norton, The David Hume Library, entry 443.
108. Bouhours's work is listed in Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL095–12, and also in the catalogue of the library of Hume's nephew. See Norton and Norton, The David Hume Library, entry 168. Hume uses the expression "je ne sçai quoi" in T 18.104.22.168/SBN 106, and T 22.214.171.124/SBN 612.
113. Buffier, Traité. Citations from this work will be indicated Traité and followed by the numbers of the part, chapter and page of the 1724 edition. The Traité is not listed in the La Flèche catalogue.
115. Traité, "Dessein et division de l'ouvrage," 7.
117. Traité i.iv, 23.
118. "By common sense I mean here a disposition that nature has planted in all men, or manifestly in most of them, so that they all, when they reach the age and the usage of reason, pass a common and uniform judgment concerning objects that are different from the intimate sentiment of themselves [de leur propre perception], a judgment that is not the consequence of any previous principle" (Traité, i.v, 25, my translation).
119. T 126.96.36.199/SBN 214.
120. An anonymous referee objected that Hume's views on induction, causal inference, and experience would have prevented him from seeing any empirical belief as indefeasible or certain. But this is to presume that 'certainty' always meant 'absolute' or 'demonstrative certainty.' Peculiar to early-modern thinkers was the view that there are different kinds of certainty or evidence. Most early-modern authors also believed that different domains of knowledge require different kinds of certainty as their satisfaction condition. Hume's arguments on causal inference and experience are meant to show that empirical beliefs cannot be demonstratively certain, not that they cannot be certain. In the Treatise, he claimed that some empirical beliefs, those he called "proofs," though "deriv'd from the relation of cause and effect," are nonetheless "entirely free from doubt and uncertainty" (T 188.8.131.52/SBN 124). In a 1754 letter, Hume explains that in the Treatise or the Enquiry he only claimed that empirical propositions like "Caesar existed" or "that there is such an Island as Sicily" can never be proved by intuition or demonstration. But he complains that some critics wrongly infer that he denies "their Truth, or even their Certainty." For "there are many different kinds of Certainty; and some of them as satisfactory to the Mind, though perhaps not so regular, as the demonstrative kind" (HL 1:187; see also LG 26). I have discussed early-modern views on certainty at length in Perinetti, "Ways to Certainty."
122. "Entre nous dit Eugéne, je ne sçais si la pensée de mon Philosophe, ne seroit point qu'il faut admétre pour vrai, ce qui au fonds ne l'est pas trop; mais qu'il est à propos d'en user ainsi par une sorte d'acomodement avec les idées humaines comunément reçûes. En éfet, il me semble qu'il apportait l'exemple suivant: il faut être fou pour refuser de croire que le Soleil se lèvera demain; cependant, il n'est pas absolument impossible que le Soleil manque à se lever demain; il en est de même ajoûtoit-il de la certitude ou sont les hommes que chacun d'eux mourra" (Buffier, Élémens de métaphisique, 128–29).
123. Respectively, T 184.108.40.206/SBN 124, and LG 26. In the first Enquiry, the examples appear in EHU 6n10/SBN 56. An anonymous referee objected that these two examples were standard in the period and that, hence, Hume's use of them is not a clear indication Buffier's influence. It is true that tomorrow's sunrise was an example commonly used in the Aristotelian tradition to illustrate the certainty of propositions concerning the future. Many modern philosophers used this example as well (see Norton & Norton's annotation to T 220.127.116.11/SBN 124). However, the joint presence of these two particular examples ("the sun will rise tomorrow" and "all men must die") is not frequent. As far as I know, it appears in Pascal, Pensées, 56, Wollaston, and Buffier. Only Wollaston and Buffier stress too that a person that challenges these truths must have lost all "common sense" or be "crazy." See Wollaston, The Religion of Nature delineated, 57 (first published 1722). A 1726 French translation of Wollaston's book is listed in the catalogue of La Flèche library (Bibliothèque de La Flèche, CL014–11). Pascal's Pensées is also listed in the La Flèche catalogue but the edition recorded therein is posterior to Hume's stay in the College.
124. Thiel finds too that Hume's discussion of the identity of objects in T 1.4.2 is remarkably similar to some of what Buffier says in the section, Of Identity and Diversity, of his Traité. See Thiel, The early modern subject, 393.
126. T 18.104.22.168/SBN 16.
127. T 22.214.171.124/SBN 221.
132. See e.g. T 126.96.36.199/SBN 259.
133. I am particularly indebted to the precious collaboration of Madame Sylvie Tisserand, curator of the library of the Prytanée national militaire in La Flèche. Her knowledge of the history of the library, the books and provenance information were essential to my research, as was her sense of hospitality. I am also grateful to the librarians of the Archives départementales de La Sarthe, who provided me with access to their manuscript collection and digitized the MS containing the catalogue prepared by Riboutet. Professor Alison Gopnik generously shared useful information regarding the Jesuits of La Flèche. I am also indebted to the careful work done by Aline Medeiros Ramos and Manuel Vásquez Villavicencio, who edited the La Flèche manuscript with me. Geneviève Mathieu assisted in the transcription of the La Flèche catalogue. This paper was considerably improved thanks to very detailed comments and criticisms by three anonymous referees. I am also indebted to Richard Virr, Mark Spencer, Roger Emerson, Kyle Roberts, the audiences of the Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences (Ghent University), and the 42nd International Hume Society Conference (Stockholm), where earlier versions of this paper were presented. The research leading to this paper benefited from the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Department of Philosophy and Faculty of Human Sciences at Université du Québec à Montréal.