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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not An Ending, But A Beginning, October 14, 2007
This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
This review mostly concerns the Enquiry. The Letter is primarily a defense of Hume's earlier Treatise of Human Nature, while his Abstract is an anonymous review of the Treatise. It strikes me as very funny, though not surprising, that Hume would review his own work. Funny because any author would give his right arm to get at least one favorable review when all the other critics are completely missing its point. Unsurprising because Hume was probably one of the only people alive at that time who could truly grasp all the facets of his radical philosophical claims.

The Enquiry was written after the Treatise. Hume, though he claimed the opposite, seems never to have really recovered from the blow he took from seeing his Treatise "fall dead born from the press." As a result, his Enquiry is far more cautious in the steps it takes. (For those of you who have read both, yes, I swear, Hume IS more cautious. Compare the claims.) A more robust philosophical stance is taken in his Treatise, while a more focused stance is taken in his Enquiry.

The Enquiry is mainly a work of epistemology and as such, scrutinizes our methods of acquiring knowledge. Making perhaps the most radical (and poignant) claim in all of modern philosophy, it posits, and supports, that there is NO causation, only conjunction. That, for example, when we see a glass drop and break, we cannot say we know gravity caused this (in the way we know two plus two equals four). All we see is constant conjunction. The connection is lacking, i.e., it is not inconceivable that the glass wouldn't bounce, turn to ash, or dissolve into sand (the way it is inconceivable that two plus two equals five). This, in effect, nullifies all the so called "laws" of nature that are formed by science. (Note that this does not state that there are no laws of nature, just that we really can never make the claim that we ever really know there are laws of nature.)

This could be thought of as the philosophical shot heard round the world. Agree or disagree, Hume must be answered. Hume has historically been charged with creating an intellectual and philosophical cul-de-sac with his skepticism. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, Hume makes a claim which none can refute, but at the same time one which none can accept. In effect, Hume's philosophy seems to bind the human mind, stopping its journey of discovery and ultimately accomplishing what his predecessor, John Locke, set out to do, i.e., map the extent of human knowledge.

However, where one may see Hume's philosophy as shackles and fetters in the search for truth, one could also equally see his philosophy as liberation. Implicit in his philosophy is the idea that ANYTHING is possible. There are no shackles, no fetters, no limits; only those that we create for ourselves. Our limits are self-imposed, constructs of our observance (and inference) of connection. In this way Hume appears in the same light as the Eastern masters seeing that reality is not what we have (through experiential knowledge) believed it to be. It is something much more wondrous. In Zen, our causal thinking is the only barrier between the person and enlightenment. Hume could be seen as implying that when the idea of causality is removed, with only conjunction remaining in its place, the state of true knowledge and wisdom (true zen) is achieved.

This, of course, is only idle speculation. But it is stated so as to demonstrate the richness and immense possibility Hume's philosophy possesses when seen in the correct light. Instead of saying, "Nothing is certain," after reading Hume, one can say, with equal validity, "Anything is possible." The first statement approaches philosophy with despair. The second approaches it with a sense of childlike wonder and hope at the immense possibilities of reality. It approaches life as a beginning, not an ending. It approaches life as the philosopher approaches it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars THE FIRST VOLUME OF HUME'S REWORKING OF HIS "TREATISE" ALONG WITH THE "MIRACLES" ESSAY, ETC., September 19, 2014
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This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian [History of England], economist, and essayist; the companion volume to this book is An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, and his other writings include A Treatise of Human Nature Volume 1, A Treatise of Human Nature Volume 2,Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, The Natural History of Religion, etc. [NOTE: page numbers below refer to the 198-page Bobbs-Merrill paperback edition.]

This collection begins with his autobiographical reflection, "My Own Life," in which he says, "Never literary attempt was more unfortunate than my Treatise of Human Nature. It fell DEADBORN from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots. But being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I very soon recovered the blow and prosecuted with great ardor my studies in the country." (Pg. 4) [This is the reason why he later reworked the Treatise into this volume and its companion.] He adds, "In 1751, I removed from the country to the town, the true scene for a man of letters. In 1752 were published... my Political Discourses, the only work of mine that was successful on the first publication. It was well received abroad and at home. In the same year was published at London my Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, which in my own opinion ... is of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best. It came unnoticed and unobserved into the world." (Pg,. 6-7)

He famously argues, "The mind can never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause by the most accurate scrutiny and examination. For the effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it. Motion in the second billiard ball is a quite distinct event from motion in the first, nor is there anything in the one to suggest the smallest hint of the other. A stone of piece of metal raised into the air and left without any support immediately falls. But to consider the matter a priori, is there anything we discover in this situation which can beget the idea of a downward rather than an upward or any other motion in the stone or metal? ... so must we also esteem the supposed tie or connection between the cause and effect which binds them together and renders it impossible that any other effect could result from the operation of that cause... may I not conceive that a hundred different events might as well follow from cause?... All our reasonings a priori will never be able to show us any foundation for this preference. In a word, then, every effect is a distinct event from its cause. It could not, therefore, be discovered in the cause, and the first invention or conception of it, a priori, must be entirely arbitrary. And even after it is suggested, the conjunction of it with the cause must appear equally arbitrary, since there are always many other effects which, to reason, must seem fully as consistent and natural. In vain, therefore, should we pretend to determine any single event or infer any cause or effect without the assistance of observation and experience." (Sec. IV, Pt. I, pg. 43-44)

He observes, "Thus, according to these philosophers, everything is full of God. Not content with the principle that nothing exists but by his will... they rob nature and all created beings of every power in order to render their dependence on the Deity still more sensible and immediate. They consider not that by this theory they diminish, instead of magnifying, the grandeur of those attributes which they affect so much to celebrate. It argues, surely, more power in the Deity to delegate a certain degree of power to inferior creatures than to produce everything by his own immediate volition. It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that of itself, and by its proper operation, it may serve all the purposes of Providence than if the great Creator were obliged every moment to adjust its parts and animate by his breath the wheels of that stupendous machine." (Sec. VI, PT. I, pg. 82-83)

In his powerful and influential essay, "On Miracles," he states: "A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined... Nothing is esteemed a miracle if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden... But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life, because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof... against the existence of any miracle..." [NOTE to any Christians who think that C. S. Lewis's book Miracles "refuted Hume by proving that his argument was circular," this part ISN'T his argument---it's preliminary material. Read on...]

He continued, "... nor can such a proof be destroyed or the miracle rendered credible but by an opposite proof which is superior... no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish... When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other, and according to the superiority which I discover I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates, then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief of opinion." (Part I, pg. 122-124)

He further elucidates, "let us examine those miracles related in Scripture... let us confine ourselves to such as we find in the Pentateuch... Here, then, we are first to consider a book presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, written ... in all probability, long after the facts which it relates, corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts which every nation gives of its origin... It gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature entirely different from the present: Of our fall from that state; of the age of man extended to near a thousand years; of the arbitrary choice of one people as the favorites of heaven, and that people the countrymen of the author; of their deliverance from bondage by prodigies the most astonishing imaginable---I desire anyone to lay his hand upon his heart and, after a serious consideration, declare whether he thinks that the falsehood of such a book, supported by such a testimony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates..." (Pt. II, pg. 140)

He points out, "In vain would our limited understanding break through those boundaries which are too narrow for our fond imagination. While we argue from the course of nature and infer a particular intelligent cause which first bestowed and still preserves order in the universe, we embrace a principle which is both uncertain and useless. It is uncertain because the subject lies entirely beyond the reach of human experience. It is useless because our knowledge of this cause being derived entirely from the course of nature, we can never... return back from the cause with any new inference or... establish any principles of conduct or behavior." (Sec. XI, pg. 151)

In the final essay in the book, he advises, "Divinity or theology... has a foundation in reason so far as it is supported by experience. But its best and most solid foundation is faith and divine revelation. Morals and criticism are not so properly objects of the understanding as of taste and sentiment. Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt more properly than perceived... When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume---of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance----let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." (Sec. XII, Pt. III, pg. 173)

While Hume's main philosophical arguments are actually presented more effectively in the Treatise, the additional essays and chapters included in this "Inquiry" make this "must reading" for anyone seriously studying philosophy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hume is one of the clearest writers you can find ..., October 8, 2014
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This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
Hume is one of the clearest writers you can find in philosophy, which is something not always found in philosophical books. He was also a genius in his time.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars into Hume, December 31, 2010
By 
Stephen Pellerine (In a bookshelf somewhere) - See all my reviews
This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
What ideas considering the publication was written over 250 years ago - impressive how many coined ideas were born and represent themselves today simply with new vernacular of a modern era, not a lot of the fundamentals are new. To be frank - a lot of philosophy has been reworked and yes the neurosciences has come a long way, but the underpinnings of still largely remain unresolved.

I love the language of the day, some 250+ years ago:

It is certain,, that the most ignorant and stupid peasants, nay infants, nay even brute beasts, improve by experience, and learn the qualities of natural objects, by observing the effects, which result from them" (page 25).

If you are into Hume, or want to understand understanding -this is a must. If you are an educator and want to understand teaching for understanding in less philosophical oriented literature try Perkins, or literature on TfU (see links below).

Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education

The Teaching for Understanding Guide (Jossey Bass Education Series)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, November 23, 2014
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This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
Good conditions. Great book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Basic book for college class, July 23, 2014
This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
Basic book for college class
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good quality book., February 12, 2014
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This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
The service was prompt and satisfying. I will be using this book for many courses and this will be a welcome edition to my library.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Item, January 1, 2014
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This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
Used for school all day. The book was a great help. It also came in brand new and was a great help!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great, December 9, 2013
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This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
Perfect for class. Exactly what the instructor wanted. I liked how a few pages here and there had appropriate information highlighed and the main points explained.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, August 10, 2014
This review is from: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: with Hume's Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature and A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh (Hackett Classics) (Paperback)
Great
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