David Hume has been rightfully called one of the greatest of the British speculative thinkers, a merciless skeptic, and the purest of the radical empiricists (Royce, 1955; Stumpf, 1966).
He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1711, "into a family of country gentlemen of ancient lineage and modest circumstances" (Jones, 1952, p. 297). At age 23, after attending but not graduating from the University of Edinburgh, he went off to France for three years: here he wrote what is arguably his most influential work, A Treatise of Human Nature which was published in 1739. Hume had hoped this book would make his fortune but, although it was mildly well-received on the Continent, it made almost no impression in England (Stumpf, 1966).
For the next ten years he acted variously as the paid companion of a mad marquis, as the private secretary to a general during an ill-fated assault on the French coast, and as a member of the suite of the same general, now-turned British Ambassador, in the courts of Vienna and Turin. During this time, Hume did not neglect his writing. He wrote and published his Essays Moral and Political (1741-1742) and two drastically revised versions of his Treatise now entitled An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) (Jones, 1952).
After this, he was appointed librarian of the Advocates Library at Edinburgh, but was soon forced to resign when the lawyers saw his choice of books. After all, this is the man who judged books on metaphysics and divinity by asking, "Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matters of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." (Hume, 1896)
Between 1752 and 1757, he wrote Political Discourse, History of England, and Four Dissertations. He then returned to France in the...