David Hume, Adam Smith, James Buchan

Today, May 7th (1711) is the birthday of the philosopher David Hume, born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Edinburgh was a poor city in Europe at this time, but would undergo a transformation. (Glasgow at this time had the shipping industry and was booming. Scotland would remain in upheaval for the rest of the century with the ’45 rebellion, Highland Clearances and social reform). The religious climate of the 1700s was extremely strict. Then Hume became one of the leaders of the “Scottish Enlightenment.” His friends and colleagues were very gifted and influential people including Adam Smith (economics); Adam Ferguson (sociology); James Hutton amd Joseph Black both naturalists (but the former invented geology while the latter was also Chemist and Prof of Medicine); James Watt, who developed the steam engine; Sir Walter Scott, author and poet, who wrote what has been considered the first great “English” novel; Robert Adam (world famous Architect) and Hugh Blair, (critic, and the first university professor to teach a course in English literature). (see James Buchan, Crowded with Genius, Edinburgh’s Enlightenment).

One of David Hume’s great contribution to the Scottish Enlightenment was his philosophy, laid out in his first book, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), in which he argued that it may be impossible to know anything for certain about the world. We can experience the world, but we will never fully understand it. It should be noted that this book completely failed in publication! And then the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland tried to prosecute and excommunicate Hume for his skepticism about religion.

David Hume said, “Reading and sauntering and lounging and dosing, which I call thinking, is my supreme Happiness.”


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