I want to read David Hume
August 1, 2010 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Greeting hive, I want to start in on reading David Hume. Where should I start? Which Hume books or collections should I begin with to ease into his works? And, perhaps more importantly, which editions (I like footnotes:) Thanks! :)
posted by DavidandConquer to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I and, I think, most people (at least of my age) began with the Dialogues (Concerning Natural Religion) , so to me that seems like that best place to start. (He's Philo (probably), btw).

Sorry, I can't help with editions and such -- mine was a yellow stapled (it's not long) paper back, as I remember (I had it for years and years but can't lay my hands on it)) -- I don't think, annotations would be good, however; it isn't difficult, and further reading after completion would help more than a lot of interruptions. I hope that's a start, but I've used up my parentheses quota and can't say more.
posted by Some1 at 6:30 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding is the classic work, a rework based on his earlier A Treatise of Human Nature. If I recall correctly, it doesn't really require any background knowledge because a priori and a posteriori knowledge is introduced by Hume. I'd recommend A Treatise of Human Nature as well though in either order in order to see how the two works compare. Though I have a slight bias for its value because of the presence of Hume's "bundle theory".

For these books I wouldn't suppose footnotes should be different between good editions.
posted by SollosQ at 6:38 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Now that I think about it, you should also look into An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Hume favored this piece of his works, and I've heard that virtue-ethics is becoming popular amongst academia today.
posted by SollosQ at 6:41 PM on August 1, 2010

Start with the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding! One of the best things I've ever read. You could argue it's the greatest philosophy ever written originally in English.

I'm sure some people would recommend his essays to "ease into" Hume. But the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding lays out his views on knowledge and causation. That's what revolutionized philosophy and what will change the way you think about the world. The Enquiry also includes his famous argument about miracles.

However, one excellent essay is "Of the Standard of Taste," which contains a lot of good common sense about appreciating art. (The wine allegory -- which you can find with a quick Google and text search -- is particularly brilliant.)

If you're interested in philosophy of religion, the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is magnificent.

Although the language in all his works is antiquated, Hume was actually a pretty good, clear writer for his time. Sure, it's needlessly ornate and long-winded, but it's not like reading Kant or Shakespeare. You really can start with the Enquiry without being primed by any lighter works.

(I don't know much about the editions. All of these are free online, but I assume you want a dead-tree version.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:41 PM on August 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would start with his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. I think the Hackett edition is pretty standard.

Hume's hard. Hard and nuanced. The more inadequate your understanding of him is, the simpler and less impressive he'll seem. Take your time, read slowly. Since you don't (I assume) have access to a college professor to explain it to you, I would make frequent use of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Wikipedia, of course, is also helpful in catching nuances you sometimes miss.

His essay Of Miracles (easily found online) is also excellent.
posted by resiny at 6:43 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend starting with the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Cambridge has a nice edition (also a good collection of his political essays) but really, it's in the public domain and you can read it all free online or buy cheap Hackett editions.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:46 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend the Oxford Philosophical Texts editions of Hume's work. They publish both the Enquiry and his Treatise. They are scholarly editions with annotations, indexes, the full works.

As others have said, the best introduction is the Enquiry. It is short and readable. However, the Treatise is not to be overlooked, and personally I've found it to be the more interesting work.
posted by fryman at 6:48 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree, the preview button is a waste of time.
posted by resiny at 6:48 PM on August 1, 2010

The Clarendon edition is the big modern wannabe-definitive scholarly edition; the OPT paperbacks don't have all the scholarly apparatus, but they're much cheaper and good student texts. The Cambridge or Hackett editions are fine, too, and Jonathan Bennett's annotated texts are also worth a look.

For easing in, I'd probably start with the Essays -- the Liberty Fund edition is cheap*, pretty good, and available online -- where you can see the fine line that Hume was treading with his readership. Don't feel obliged to read them all, but do get a taste for his literary voice, before heading to the either the Treatise or the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. (Me, I dived in with the Treatise.) The Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a short and brilliant text, but it's a late work, released posthumously, and probably better read once you know the work that preceded it.

* thanks to being subsidised by libertarians, bwahaha...
posted by holgate at 7:03 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks to everyone.

I went with a used, "dead tree" Oxford edition of the Enquiry.

All the help is greatly appreciate.

Thanks again!
posted by DavidandConquer at 7:14 PM on August 1, 2010

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