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David Hume (1711–76). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

. Introductory Note

THE MAIN facts of the life of David Hume will be found in the introductory note to his “Standard of Taste” in the volume of “English Essays” in the Harvard Classics.

Hume’s most elaborate philosophical work was his “Treatise of Human Nature,” published in three volumes in 1739–40. This work had been written between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five; and in the “Advertisement” prefixed to the edition of his “Collected Essays,” published the year after his death, he spoke slightingly of the “Treatise” as a juvenile work, marred by negligences both in reasoning and expression; and desired that the “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” and the “Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals” should “alone be regarded as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles.”

While it is possible to take this depreciation of the “Treatise” too seriously, since it contains much of great philosophic importance which does not appear in the “Enquiries,” yet the later works do represent his more mature thinking, and have the advantage of a much better style, at once more precise and more easily intelligible. To understand fully Hume’s place in the history of European philosophy, it is still necessary to study the “Treatise”; but from the “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” one can gather much of his general attitude and method of thinking; while in such sections as that on “Miracles” we have an explanation of the bitter animosity that he roused in orthodox circles.