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Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary (Liberty Classics) Hardcover – April 1, 1985
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"The Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (a volume..., covering three decades of Hume's career as a philosopher) has been largely ignored. The volume has rarely been in print, and the last critical edition was published in 1874-75. With this splendid, but inexpensive, new critical edition by Eugene Miller, the door is open to a richer notion of Hume's conception of philosophy."
This edition contains the thirty-nine essays included in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary that made up Volume I of the 1777 posthumous Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. It also includes ten essays that were withdrawn or left unpublished by Hume for various reasons. The two most important were deemed too controversial for the religious climate of his time. This revised edition reflects changes based on further comparisons with eighteenth-century texts and an extensive reworking of the index.
From the Back Cover
As part of the tried and true model of informal essay writing, Hume began publishing his Essays: Moral, Political and Literary in 1741. The majority of these finely honed treatises fall into three distinct areas: political theory, economic theory and aesthetic theory.
Interestingly, Hume's was motivated to produce a collection of informal essays given the poor public reception of his more formally written Treatise of Human Nature in 1739. He hoped that his work would be interesting not only to the educated man, but to the common man as well. He passionately argues that essays provide a forum for discussing his philosophy of "common life."
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This review is of this specific edition, which clearly was intended for very young readers, perhaps high school students, with practically no background in philosophy, history, politics, or the arts, because the footnotes were OUT OF CONTROL. Hardly a page in the volume didn’t have at least 20 percent of its space taken up by them, and plenty of pages contained more footnote than Hume’s text, which is needless to say very distracting. These are the editor’s explanatory footnotes, by the way, not Hume’s elucidation of his own text—Miller took it upon himself to annotate the entire collection as if he were explaining it to someone who didn’t even know who David Hume was.
I can appreciate wanting to introduce British empiricism to newer audiences, but it would be nice if the publisher had specified that this was clearly a student’s edition—from the images online it looks much more like a collectors’/library edition, which is what I thought I was getting.
The binding, embossing, color plates, and overall design are lovely, by the way, which is the only reason I gave two stars instead of one—overall I was quite disappointed.
Do be careful and buy an edition from a quality publisher--Oxford, Cambridge, Hackett, or an American university press. Among these publishers Liberty Fund stands out as a producer of classic works that feature good-sized print, generous margins, permanent bindings, and low prices. And always carefully edited.
Hume's Essays is a typically excellent edition from Liberty Fund. It consists of three sets of essays, 49 total, on various subjects. Those of most interest to the economically inclined include Of Money, Of Interest, and Of the Balance of Trade. These are an excellent entry into classical-era economics and can be recommended to anyone interested in learning more about economic thought in the mid-18c. I have assigned this edition to students with great success.
These essays are more in the tradition of Montaigne, Marcus Arelius, and Emerson, to cite some exemplars of the tradition, meaning that these essays are not as logically rigorous as Hume's "Treatise on Human Nature," "Essays Concerning Human Understanding," "Principles of Morals," and "Natural Religion," but are more an astute and empirical observation of what causes pleasure and satisfaction versus what causes discomfort and uneasiness. This emprical motif permeates all the essays.
The "moral" essays are a continuation of Vol. III of his "Treatise on Human Nature," and "Principles of Morals," and contribute to how our "tastes" and "utility," rather than apriori logic, delimit and describe moral ideas and ideals. His "political" essays are the most prominent among the group and are often prescient of subsequent developments, clearly anticipating a more democratic society, but they often come across as antediluvian, despite Hume's analytical dexterity and his compassionate motivation. The "literary" essays are the least in number and the most impotent of his contributions. Not that they lack value or interest, they simply lack novelty or new understanding. All his essays have an empirical bent, which should not surprise anyone familiar with Hume's other works.
Many of these 48 essays have perennial value, while others are clearly cotemporaneous with his time and place (mid-18th century England). In either case, they contribute to our understanding of the period, while making perspicacious observations about subjects that are both endearing and enduring. The LibertyClassics' edition uses current locution and spellings in Caslon 540 typeface on durable, acid-free paper, making Hume's lucid and elegant prose an even more attractive presentation. Highly recommended.