128 of 132 people found the following review helpful
Be aware that the reviews for a book are displayed not only for one edition, but for all editions under the same title. The Oxford Philosophical Texts edition of Hume's "Treatise" should be the standard student edition. The Prometheus Books edition is cheap, but it does not include a modern introduction or any study notes. I recommend the Oxford Philosophical Texts version if you want or need more than just the raw text.
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2004
Since Hume's Treatise first appeared in 1739-1740, several distinct editions have been published. While most of these are fine for casual use, the Oxford University Press edition, recently prepared by David and Mary Norton, stands alone as an outstanding scholarly achievement. Their edition, at present only available in the Oxford Philosophical Texts student edition, will within the next year or so also be available in a scholarly edition (Oxford's Clarendon Edition). These two versions have the same text of the Treatise. The difference between them lies in their introductions and annotations, which are suited to different sets of readers. Part of the value of both versions lies in these exceptional introductions and annotations. The other part, though, involves the Nortons' editing of the text of the Treatise itself, which, ironically, makes their edition more accurate than Hume's original. While the original edition of the Treatise was being printed, Hume instructed the printer to make changes to the text, and thus some first editions read differently than others. The Nortons have compared first-edition copies of the Treatise page by page to locate these changes. Pen in hand, Hume also scribbled other changes into several printed copies of the Treatise; the Nortons have accounted for those alterations as well. These are just two examples of many editorial tasks that have gone into making this the definitive edition of Hume's Treatise, the edition which will remain the standard for decades. Let me add a word regarding the critical comments that an anonymous amazon.com reviewer made about the Nortons' edition ("A reader", January 18, 2003). This reviewer's comments may be well-meaning, but I can say with confidence there is little substance to her/his objections. The edition has been widely hailed as a triumph by Hume scholars and scholarly reviewers, and the philosophy editors at Oxford University Press tell me they are completely delighted with the work.
106 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2004
Before he chose to diddle away his later years writing book after book of history, playing house with Rousseau, annoying the religious authorities, and forging a lasting reputation as an all-around good guy, Hume dedicated his youth to writing the this book, which is nothing less than the single greatest work of philosophy in the English language. Indeed, I don't think there are even any other close competitors for that title. Naturally, then, this work was largely ignored during Hume's lifetime.
Notwithstanding the widely told, and somewhat accurate, standard story of the history of modern philosophy according to which Kant's rearguard action in response to Hume is the culmination of the modern period, I think that this book rather than Kant's First Critique is where it's at. Certainly, no book of modern philosophy compares to this complex, intricately argued, inspiring, maddening, imaginative, iconoclastic, encyclopedic tome when it comes to influence on contemporary philosophers in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. And while it's true that Kant's system is almost unparalleled in the breadth of its influence, defenders of the traditional story of modern philosophy need to remember that 'almost'. For it seems to me that, among the moderns, Hume got there first. He, and not Kant, is the first modernist whose importance is manifest in all the main areas of philosophy: epistemology (skepticism and the problem of induction), metaphysics (causation, personal identity, etc.), philosophy of mind (action theory, rationality) meta-ethics (meta-ethical subjectivism, proto-noncognitivism, reason vs. emotions, moral psychology, etc.), normative ethics (importance of benevolence, justice as an artificial virtue, etc.).
Want some evidence of Hume's pervasive influence? It's not just that everyone working in this tradition has read Hume, though they have. Nor is it just that Hume's stamp is all over the concerns and positions of contemporary philosophers, though it is. Nor is it just that Hume's influence is celebrated (or bemoaned) by pretty much every philosopher you come across, though that's true as well. No, the true measure of his intellectual ascendancy is that there's a position dubbed "Humean" in pretty much every area of philosophy, and, depending on one's view of the topic, it's either the obviously correct view--it was Hume's position, after all!--or a pernicious heresy for which no good arguments have been provided and for which there isn't good reason to think it was even Hume's actual position. You know you've made it when both the defenders of the status quo and those who can't abide that status quo claim you as their own.
Why is Hume so important? I think there are two reasons, each corresponding to one of the influential interpretations of Hume's work as a whole. The first interpretation of Hume's corpus sees it as shot through with a radical skepticism about anything and everything, and corresponding to this interpretation is a conception of Hume's importance as consisting in his occupying the place of the philosopher opponent of common sense par excellence. Hume, according to this interpretation, takes the empiricism of Locke, which in his hands looks like nothing so much as self-conscious common sense, and wields it as a weapon against more or less everything we tend to believe. That is, we should see Hume as taking up the empiricism of Locke and Berkeley and pushes it to its logical conclusion: a thoroughgoing skepticism. Think you can know there is a mind-independent world of physical objects? Think you're a single person who persists through time? Think things stand in causal relationships to one another? Think you can know whether the sun will explode tomorrow? You should think again, Hume says, and he's happy to show you why empiricism leads to this conclusion. So, if this is right, the importance of Hume's project consists in its status as a for rationalists, for non-skeptics of all stripes, and for all ordinary, right-thinking folks.
Now, undoubtedly, there's some truth in the stereotypical view of Hume as the young radical who took empiricism to its implausible limits. But this isn't where his true importance lies--at least not among contemporary philosophers. What has been most influential among contemporary exponents of the Anglo-American analytic tradition is Hume's unrepentant and radical naturalism. This interpretation of his project downplays Hume's skepticism and emphasizes his professed intentions to provide a positive account of the operation of the human mind that appealed to nothing beyond the evidence of our senses. According to proponents of this interpretation, Hume is most interested in a description of the operation of the human mind. He's describing what human nature allows us to know and what it doesn't allow us to know. Here Hume's importance consists not in his providing a challenge to the views of philosophers and of the hoi polloi, but in his providing us with a model of how philosophy should be done.
I feel that I've strayed somewhat from the topic of the book here, but I suppose that was inevitable. It would, of course, have been pointless to attempt to summarize Hume's arguments, or even his conclusions, in a review of this length. The only summary of this book's content that the reader needs is this: Hume discusses nearly everything of importance in philosophy, and his discussions of nearly every issue reveal an unsurpassed (and rarely equaled) level of philosophical brilliance.
To whom do I recommend this book? The answer, in short, is everyone. If you're even slightly interested in philosophy, you simply can't get by without reading this. If you're at all interested in the history of ideas, you need to read this. If you're the slightest bit curious about our modern worldview and its origin, it would be a good idea for you to read this. If you're interested enough in Hume to have come across this review and read it to this point, you'll want to read this.
Concerning editions of this book. I wish Amazon would separate the various editions of this book so I could review them separately, but they haven't. I'd recommend either the edition jointly edited by the Nortons and published in the Oxford Philosophical Texts series or the Selby-Bigge edition, which was for some time the standard edition of the Treatise.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2003
That's an overstatement, certainly, but David Hume's 'Treatise of Human Nature' is unquestionably one of the most influential and important works of philosophy in the history of mankind. And considering current trends in academia, it is more timely than ever. As an undergraduate, I remember being stunned by Hume's seemingly irrefutable arguments on the nature of reason and reality. As a graduate student often disturbed by the uncritical acceptance of faddish theories, I was amazed to find that Hume is as relevant today as he was over two hundred and fifty years ago. Within the first few pages of the book, he manages to outline an intellectual framework that even today makes the arguments of the most highly-regarded theorists sound hollow and jargonistic.
Hume's ideas are now so widely accepted and taught that they affect the way we interact with the world on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not. Yet Hume was also groundbreaking in another sense-- he made profound philosophical ideas accessible, and even entertaining. Not only is the 'Treatise' notable for its clarity, but for a wit and charm that make it nearly as pleasant to read as Dumas' 'Three Musketeers.' No mean feat for a man recording ideas that would shape the course of Western civilization. Small wonder that even as philosophers acknowledge him as one of the greats of the discipline, so many have sought to emulate his clear prose, free as it is of jargon, neologisms, or esoteric concepts.
And as if that weren't enough, Hume was such a decent and well-liked individual in his own lifetime that he was referred to as 'le bon David' in France and 'St. David' in his native Scotland. It's a shame that not all of history's giants can be so appealing.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2000
The Oxford Philosophical Texts series bills itself as "complete editions for students," and the texts do live up to their promise. Hume's "A Treatise of Human Nature" is an excellent text and resource for the student. David Fate Norton's Introduction itself is worth the price of the book. In addition to the Introduction, this edition includes Hume's "An Abstract of . . . A Treatise of Human Nature," Editor's Annotations to both the "Treatise" and the "Abstract," a glossary, and references cited by Hume and by the Editor. This edition should be the standard student edition of the "Treatise."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2015
The worst feature of Amazon is their lumping together of multiple editions of a single title, which is usually the case with the classics. It's very important to know which version you're buying.
1. The best, most scholarly, most recent version is Oxford's Clarendon Edition, "Volume 1: Texts," edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton, published 14 June 2007. This has the portrait of Hume on the cover. There are no footnotes or much of an introduction, because all of that appears in the substantial Vol. 2, so you really need both volumes. This edition retains the original spelling, when contractions were more common than they are now, which can be trying sometimes (suppos'd for supposed, tho' for though, and so on).
2. The Oxford Philosophical Texts Edition, also edited by the Nortons, is an earlier (2000) version, more geared toward students. This has a text-only green cover. This is good if you just want a single volume without the excess and detail of the above.
3. The older, pre-Norton standard edition, edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge, also published by Oxford, dates from 1896, and was continually reprinted until the 1970s or '80s. Pay attention if buying a used version published by Oxford -- most copies on sale will be reprints of the Selby-Bigge (these are common), not the more recent Norton. Most dealers do not specify which one they are selling. (You can get a PDF of this edition from an online Archive site.)
4. The Penguin Classics edition is the best if you're looking for just the text with some clarifying footnotes.
5. The Prometheus Books (text only, light yellow cover with green border) edition is a straight 1992 reprint (with the same type) of the 1896 Oxford edition, which apparently was out of copyright at the time (or perhaps Prometheus just stole it). It is cheap but really useless, since there are no footnotes or editorial additions of any kind. Not recommended.
Or, you can always buy a copy of the first edition from 1739 for $ 22,911.81.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2001
I have had this book for about a year now and I would say it is still the most helpful I have found for reading Humes' Treatise. Everything is explained well and completely, but it is the depth that impresses me, not only are the concepts explained with clarity, but in places where a point relates to an earlier concept it is noted down to the paragraph of where it appeared. Also when another philosophers view is similar or conflicts with Humes own view it is noted. The annotations in the back of the book alone by their helpfulness would give this book 5 stars, but the introduction is about as close as I have seen to a complete summary of Humes book without having to buy another book entirely. Overall the author has a good understanding of the text and can relate it to the student.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2005
According to David Hume, the mind and body are integral units, with one unable to exist or operate without the other. There are no "innate" ideas, nor logically a priori knowledge, only sense impressions that arise out of direct experience of the five senses and concomitant sense ideas that arise in the imagination. The imagination (i.e., mind) then makes associations. From these various sense impressions and ideas, the imagination commingles the ideas with inferences from resemblance, contiguity, and causality. Examples: The imagination relates one sense impression and its concomitant sense idea with another when they share similar characteristics or resemble one another, such as in shape, height, weight, distance, proportion, color, etc. The imagination associates one sense impression and its concomitant sense idea with another when they are in close contiguity, such as proximity in time, place, situation, connection, succession, etc. Lastly, the imagination associates one sense impression and its concomitant sense idea with another when there appears to be some cause and effect, for example when one turns on a wall switch, and a light appears, or one turns a key in an ignition, and a car starts, or other causal inferences. Only from the sense ideas and impressions, commingled with the imagination's inferences of resemblance, contiguity, and causality, can any opinion or belief or knowledge be known. The difference between an opinion, belief, or knowledge is only one of degree, namely, how strong, convincingly, and lively (Hume uses the word "vivacity") the senses, their ideas, and the inferences work themselves out in the imagination. Generally, knowledge is reserved only for the strongest of degrees of inference, such as those verifiable and not refutable by inferential (cf., deductive) logic or experimentation; all else is either opinion or belief. But no knowledge, no matter how often repeated and examined inductively, is absolute; all knowledge, like opinion and belief, is contingent. For "absolute" knowledge once held the earth to be flat, to be the center of the universe, and non-rotating. Even Einstein's Theory of Relativity had to be revised by a Special Theory of Relativity. We still don't understand how the universe can be "full" and still "expanding," yet both are true (so far!). Only knowledge, belief, and opinion derived from the senses, their ideas, and imaginative inferences have merit; all other "imaginations," such as the deductive existence of a "God" or Supreme Being, absolute morals, or correct emotions, are merely speculative imaginations, and ultimately all such speculation leads to nothing more than myth or superstition, false dogmas, and irrational beliefs.
The passions, better known as either sensations or emotions, are derived from sense experience as well and are derived from the other sense impressions and sense ideas. Sensations are those experiences that arise within the imagination itself, based on something the body itself produces, such as hunger, pain, thirst, pleasure, and uneasiness. Emotions are those experiences that arise from the sensations and sense impressions and their concomitant sense ideas. The four principle emotions are: (1) Pride, and its opposite (2) Humility; (3) Love, and its opposite (4) Hatred. Pride and Love are desirable, whereas Humility and Hatred are undesirable. All other emotions are derived from, or are in one degree or another, always reducible to these four. Beauty, for example, is the love of something well-figured and loved for its own sake, while ugliness is something disfigured or ill-figured and hated. Anger is a form of hatred, while happiness is a form of either Pride or Love or both. Jealousy is a form of hatred (of another), while compassion is a form of Love. All emotions, when considered in their origins, have these four emotions as their foundation; it's all a matter of degree and kind.
There is no absolute morality; no moral principle can be deductively arrived at (except to be pure speculation). Morals can only be inferred from the two principles of (1) maximize pleasure and (2) avoid pain. These principles are natural inclinations of the body itself, not derived from logic or reason (i.e., speculation), but by verifiable experimentation, inferred from experience itself, especially the emotions of pride, humility, love, and hatred. We like to be loved, we despise to be hated, so we do those things that maximize these natural inclinations, because we want pleasure and to avoid pain, and they alone are what count as "moral." All virtue is that which brings us pleasure; all vice is that which brings us pain. For example, we are just to one another, not because we ought to be, but because we desire that being just toward others will merit other's affection, whereas being unjust will cause others to avoid us; the first is pleasurable, the latter is painful. We respect each other's property because it brings us mutual pleasure to enjoy the fruits of our own labor, whereas it causes us pain to have our property taken from us. The origin of government is from the experience where doing things socially imparts pleasure, whereas doing things in isolation causes pain. No one is an island, is true. Warding off an enemy as an individual forces the individual to bear all the weight, thus causing pain. Fighting the enemy together fosters our mutual interests (i.e., pleasure), and allows all to participate in the fruits of individual endeavors. We benefit from mutual cooperation, which good government ought to foster, whereas we lose and experience pain when we try to fight all battles by our own selves. There really is benefit in "numbers," to having more people in favor of the things we collectively sponsor and work hard for, and are opposed to those things that oppress. Showing how "each person benefits by collective effort" is how to operate good government; showing "how each person loses by individual effort alone" is another good reason for government. Government's sole function and purpose is to advance the collective cooperation, wherein each individual ultimately flourishes (and brings pleasure).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2008
The following comments pertain to the Oxford Philosophical Texts edition of David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature edited by David and Mary Norton. Thoughts are offered in three areas: the specific edition, additional resources and the Treatise itself.
First - the Oxford Philosophical Texts edition. This is the second installment of this series that I have used, and if they are reflective of the overall series, I can see it quickly becoming the standard. Strengths/weaknesses include:
* Excellent section by section Introduction/commentary (approx 100 pages)
* A Glossary of terms
* Detailed annotations providing clarification/context of specific points (approx. 150 pages)
* Hume's Abstract of the Treatise
* At over 600 pages it is a bit bulky and the font is rather small
Second - additional resources. Although Hume is often considered a relatively accessible author (especially for English speakers), his terminology and style can still be difficult and a bit discouraging for new comers. As a result, I have occasionally thought that translations/updates of early modern English philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke and Hume would be helpful. It has come to my attention that Jonathan Bennett has produced many such updates and made them available for free on the internet. Though I have not looked at these in detail, I have read parts of his rendition of the Treatise and found it to be well done - staying true to Hume while clarifying some of his language and syntax. They are worth a look, probably best used as a companion rather than a replacement.
Third - The Treatise. Hume's Treatise is widely recognized as an important early modern work. This is particularly so within the Anglo-American tradition. From my perspective the key to appreciating the Hume's argument hinges on understanding his rigid naturalistic epistemology. Put roughly, Hume believes that all knowledge is derived from impressions (i.e. sense data). That said, while interesting and important from a historic perspective, Hume's views will likely have little force for those who don't share his restrictive presuppositions. Even trying to take this approach, many of his conclusions strike me as overstated and speculative, e.g. his denial of an enduring self. May non-philosophers would likely contend that their strongest and most basic impression, contra Hume, is of being such a self.
Overall, this is an outstanding version of an important work. I recommend it for all students of early modern philosophy.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Hume's `Treatise on Human Nature', the book, which, in the report of the author "fell stillborn from the press", and yet remains of continuing interest to us four centuries hence, is, among all else, the primordial exposition of a systematic psychology in the West. Hume's elevation of "the passions" ("Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.") and centralization of intentionality in the study of ourselves, are as significant contributions to the modern turn, more specifically, the transition to late modernity, as are the fruits of his more notorious skeptical detachment and trenchant empiricism and naturalism. Of all the so-called classical empiricists, none prefigures those characteristically late modern naturalist, positivist, analytic, and, to an extent, pragmatist, and even (surprisingly) existentialist outlooks as clearly as Hume. Also, the profound impact of Hume, the social scientist, on social organization and social forms is indisputable. In this work, Hume fathers the concept of rule utilitarianism (he was the original modern occidental utilitarian), the most influential articulation of which is found in the U.S. Constitution, established little more than a decade after his death in 1776.
The celebrated Selby-Bigge/Nidditch edition is, for the general reader or undergraduate, at under $5, still a terrific value. Why? First and foremost, the Index: among the best ever! Hume is complex. While his initial presentation is often (intentionally, I'd say) disarmingly direct, the justifications for and commentary on the ramifications of his assertions often engender and weave into vast and subtle conceptual patterns, which meander over a 662 page corpus of text. The index locates and situates the basic concepts and allows the individual to structure the reading. Incredibly useful -- as one may not wish to read all of Hume or all of Hume at once! More likely, the prospective reader is searching for a very specific concept or issue, and the precise and comprehensive Index makes penetration of what is in many places a difficult and arcane text quite doable.