Skepticism, Empiricism, and Enlightenment: an Introduction to David Hume

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

David Hume is often characterized as the principle thinker of the Scottish Enlightenment. While this does capture Hume’s towering philosophical influence and legacy, it is also somewhat confounding. Where many contemporary figures of the European Enlightenment assumed that human reason alone could piece together the workings of the natural world and even establish individual moral, social, and political orders, Hume was an ardent skeptic, antagonistic to such grand convictions and incredulous that the world is so easily and obviously understood. For Hume, “the most perfect philosophy only staves off our ignorance a little longer.” In the case of nature, its “ultimate springs and principles are totally shut up from human enquiry.” Rather, Hume encouraged investigations into causality and nature divested of such hubristic certainties. Where many of his contemporaries extolled reason as “conquering” emotions, Hume famously countered that “reason is and ought to be a slave to the passions,” even where morality was concerned. Yet Hume’s skeptical philosophy became hugely influential, serving as a catalyst for Kant’s Critical Philosophy, Adam Smith’s economic thought, even Darwinian biology, while also inspiring the 20th century Logical Empiricist tradition, its successor in philosophical naturalism and natural science more broadly. A famously convivial philosopher, Hume’s social thought turned to oft-ignored questions of pleasure, comfort, and material prosperity while simultaneously establishing the now well-known critical insight of the natural fallacy: namely, that what something empirically is tells us little of what it ought to be. How can we understand these and other Humean insights today? What can we garner from his skepticism, from his embrace of those aspects of experience neglected, if not undermined, by those he helped to inspire? 

In this course, we will take a broad survey of Hume’s philosophical views: epistemological, moral, aesthetic, and theological. By way of his two major Enquiries (Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals), as well as his classic essay “Of the Standard of Taste,” and his infamous posthumously-published atheistic manifesto “Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion,” we will ask: what is the basis of Hume’s skepticism? Is free will compatible with necessity and determinism? What lies at the basis of our moral principles, and what could motivate us to moral action? What, if anything, grounds common supernatural beliefs? What are the roles of custom, emotion, and sentiment in rational inquiry and life more broadly? And, moving beyond is to ought, what kinds of society should philosophy and the sciences help establish? 

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 14 — August 04, 2022
4 weeks

$315.00

Registration Open

SKU: JUL22-NY-HUME Categories: , Tag: