Essay notes: Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature

I had thought to write on Kant, but I haven’t the time and Kant is in large part trying to salvage something of that which Hume had previously destroyed. So then I thought to write on causality, but first I had to finish our Hume readings for class. He has a very curious conclusion: he’s tired of this metaphysics stuff, being lost in the mists of unknowing, and wants to go to a bar with his friends and walk beside the river. Perhaps after spending some time on that he will be able to come back and continue his philosophy. Or perhaps not — it doesn’t much matter, and is mostly a matter of personal proclivities and temperament. He supposes he’ll end up wanting to continue later, but doesn’t suppose it to be much use. That’s awful! I was thinking, then, about Descartes mentioning how he couldn’t long stay in his hyperbolic doubt, or not without much effort, for the cares and sensations of life kept pulling him out of it — Aristotle also thought that the cares of life pull a person out of meditative philosophy, but he saw that philosophy as a very different thing, about which I want to inquire. And then I was thinking about how Meno had been wondering if it might not be impossible that there is no possibility of having certain knowledge of anything we don’t already know, and, after going on about recollection, Socrates says:

I do not insist that my argument is right in all other respects, but I would contend at all costs both in word and deed as far as I could that we will be better men, braver and less idle, if we believe that one must search for the things one does not know, rather than if we believe that it is not possible to find out what we do not know and that we must not look for it (Meno, 86c).

That was the passage we began with for our introductory seminar before convocation last year, and we had it again for tutorial at the beginning of summer; it’s the dialogue that the college sends to all incoming graduate students when they’re accepted. I don’t know that Hume doesn’t believe that we can know anything, and he certainly seems interested in finding out, but I can’t help but find something like despair in his pursuit of truth.

I haven’t yet solidified what exactly I might say on this, but I think I want to write my essay on it if I can.


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