Social Diversity

  • Christopher J. Berry
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 103)


Hume recognises the ‘facts’ of social diversity. Crucially, however, this recognition is within a theory which holds that the causes of diversity “at the same time maintain such an uniformity in human life” (T, 402). Nevertheless, since different societies, across time and space, do enjoy different social customs and do exhibit different social institutions, the chief task to be undertaken in this Chapter is to see, given his theory of human nature, what explanation Hume provides for these differences.


Human Nature Eighteenth Century National Character Social Diversity Moral Sentiment 
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  1. 1.
    ‘Climate’ in the eighteenth century did not have its present meteorological connotation; instead, Johnson defines it as “A space upon the surface of the earth, measured from the equator to the polar circles in each of which spaces the longest day is half-an-hour longer”, Dictionary, 10th Edit. (1972); similarly for the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1771) climate is “a space upon the terrestrial globe”.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For climate as an ‘ordering principle’ see C. Berry ‘“Climate” in the eighteenth century’, Texas Studies in Literature and Language (1974) 281–292.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. Berry, TSLL; R. Shackleton, Montesquieu: A critical biography, Chap. 14.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For example, climate is only one cause amongst several in his summation of the esprit général in Esprit, Bk. 19, Chap. 4, and see also his Essai sur les causes (published 1892) (in Oeuvres, Nagel Vol. III, pp. 398–430) wherein he writes that moral causes do more to shape the general character and more to fix the quality of a nation’s esprit than physical causes (p. 421).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cf., inter alia, Rousseau, Discours sur L’origine de L’inégalité (1755);Google Scholar
  6. 5a.
    Turgot, Histoire Universelle (c. 1750);Google Scholar
  7. 5b.
    Montesquieu, Esprit (Bk. 18, Chap. 11);Google Scholar
  8. 5c.
    Herder, Ideen (1784) Bk. 8, Pt. 3.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Origin of the Distinction of Ranks (1779–1st edit. 1771), ed. W.C. Lehmann, John Millar of Glasgow, p. 176. This same four-fold progress (hunting, herding, farming, commerce) occurs in A. Smith, Wealth of Nations (Everyman Edit., Vol. 2, pp. 182–5) and also, in significantly since this appears to be the major source of the notion, in his early (1763) Lectures on Jurisprudence;Google Scholar
  10. 6a.
    in A. Ferguson, Institutes of Moral Philosophy (1769);Google Scholar
  11. 6b.
    in W. Robertson, History of America (1777);Google Scholar
  12. 6c.
    in G. Stuart’s Historical Dissertation on the Antiquity of the English Constitution (1768) Pt. 1, Sect. 3. For discussions see several writings by A. Skinner, e.g. in T. Wilson & A. Skinner eds., Essays on Adam Smith, pp. 154 – 178 and ‘Natural History in the Age of Adam Smith’, PS (1966) 32–48 and R. Meek, e.g. ‘Smith, Turgot and the “Four Stages” Theory’, History of Political Economy (1971) 9–27 and Social Science and the Ignoble Savage.Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    To outline this theory briefly; in the first stage there is no personal property (Millar, Ranks, p. 183), in the second there is a transition from common ownership of flocks to private herds (Millar, Ranks, p. 204). The agricultural stage sees the most significant stage when property in land, and ensuing permanency of possession, becomes established (Millar, Ranks, p. 252). The commercial stage witnesses a change in these property relations from land tenure to that based upon an exchange or market economy. These relations, in each stage of social development, determine to a large degree the ‘mode of life’ in that stage. Thus, when there is no property the only distinctions are personal, but once property becomes a private possession then “the ground of a permanent and palpable subordination is laid” (Ferguson, spivn Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), ed. D. Forbes, p. 98). The extent of this subordination determines for example, the form of government (Ferguson, Essay, p. 62). Finally, we might just note here that Hegel was ‘influenced’ to a noticeable extent by this analysis.Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    Cf. E.C. Mossner, ‘An apology for David Hume Historian’, PMLA (1941) 681;Google Scholar
  15. 8a.
    D. Forbes, Hume’s Philosophical Politics, p. 298f.Google Scholar
  16. 9.
    Cf. L.L. Bongie, David Hume: Prophet of the Counter Revolution, Chap. 1. Holbach (probably) translated Hume’s essays ‘on Suicide’ and ‘on Immortality of the Soul’.Google Scholar
  17. 10.
    Life of Adam Smith, prefixed to Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (Bohn Library edit.) p. xxv (Stewart’s emphases).Google Scholar
  18. 10a.
    Cf. also his Dissertation exhibiting the progress of Metaphysical, Ethical and Political Philosophy, in Works, ed. W. Hamilton, Vol. 1, p. 69–70.Google Scholar
  19. 11.
    Cf. Chapter 1 supra.Google Scholar
  20. 12.
    Cf. Machiavelli, II Principe (1513) Chap. 25. Machiavelli himself, as so often, is utilising a ‘pagan’ convention.Google Scholar
  21. 13.
    For example, J. Laird, Hume’s Philosophy of Human Nature, p. 270;Google Scholar
  22. 13a.
    F. Meinecke, Die Entstehung des Historismus, 2nd Edit., p. 205;Google Scholar
  23. 13b.
    J.B. Stewart, The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume, pp. 292–5;Google Scholar
  24. 13c.
    F. Manuel, The Eighteenth-Century confronts the Gods, p. 178.Google Scholar
  25. 14.
    Cf. J.D. Scheffer, ‘The Idea of Decline in Literature and Fine Arts in the Eighteenth Century’, MP (1937–8) 109 – 142;Google Scholar
  26. 14a.
    H. Vyverberg, Historical Pessimism in the French Enlightenment, Pt. III.Google Scholar
  27. 15.
    As seen, for example, in his comment that “the doctrine of obedience ought alone to be inculcated and that the exceptions, which are very rare, ought seldom or never to be mentioned in popular reasonings and discourses” (H, 686). For debate on this issue see E.C. Mossner, ‘Was Hume a Tory Historian?’, JHI (1941) 225–232;Google Scholar
  28. 15a.
    M. Grene, ‘Hume: Sceptic and Tory’, JHI (1943) 333 – 348;Google Scholar
  29. 15b.
    G. Giarrizzo, David Hume politico e storico. But see D. Forbes for a convincing argument that Hume’s History is to be understood as “establishment”, and as neither Tory nor crudely Whig Hume’s Phil. Pol., p. 263f. et passim.Google Scholar
  30. 16.
    Cf. M. Kallich, Association of Ideas and Critical Theory in the Eighteenth Century, p. 92. Hume’s “defense of neo-classic dogma rests solely on the new philosophy of human nature, that of the mechanism of association”.Google Scholar
  31. 17.
    Cf. J.W. Chapman, ‘Political Theory; Logical Structure and Enduring Types’, in L’Idée de Philosophie Politique (annales de philosophie politique no. 6) p. 86f.;Google Scholar
  32. 17a.
    L. Strauss, ‘Relativism’, in H. Schoeck & J.W. Wiggins eds., Relativism and the Study of Man, p. 158–9.Google Scholar
  33. 18.
    Hume’s Phil. Pol., Chap. 2, esp. p. 110, 117.Google Scholar
  34. 19.
    It is true that in another place Hume avers that “The difference of complexion is a sensible and real difference” (E (PG) 57) which is contrasted with absurd differences over articles of faith. For discussion of the influence of Hume’s racism, see R. Popkin, ‘Hume’s Racism’, Philosophical Forum (1977/8)211–226.Google Scholar
  35. 20.
    Hume’s use of the term ‘complexion’ here can justifiably be read as referring to skin-colour since, one, this meaning had become current by the eighteenth century, two, Hume uses the word in this connexion at E (PG) 57 and, three, his discussion of ‘Race’ is, in fact, in terms of colour. Human nature is thus basically unaffected by any factor seemingly superficial by definition. Incidentally, this aside by Hume was picked up by Beattie, in his general assault, for being nothing other than assertion and, as such, not proved; indeed, it is falsified by the example of the Peruvians. Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, 7th Edit. (1807) p. 424–5.Google Scholar
  36. 21.
    Cf. C.J. Berry, “Adam Smith’s “Considerations” on Language”, JHI (1974) 130–138.Google Scholar
  37. 22.
    Ed. E.C. Mossner & J.V. Price, p. 31. Contrast this with the opening sentence from Herder’s prize-winning Essay on language discussed in Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  38. 23.
    M. Mandelbaum, History, Man and Reason, p. 157.Google Scholar
  39. 23a.
    Cf. C.W. Hendel, Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume, p. 111;Google Scholar
  40. 23b.
    J. Chapman, Political Theory, p. 86.Google Scholar
  41. 24.
    Thus in Mandelbaum’s quotation from Locke (History, Man & Reason, p. 150 though with wrong reference) “He that will carefully peruse the history of mankind, and look abroad into the several tribes of men, and with indifference survey their actions, will be able to satisfy himself that there is scarce that principle of morality to be named, or rule to be thought on…which is not somewhere or other slighted and condemned by the general fashion of whole societies of men [governed by practical opinions and rules of living quite opposite to others]” (Essay I; 3: 10). The elision contains the important comment — “those only excepted that are absolutely necessary to hold society together”.Google Scholar
  42. 25.
    See Vol. 1, Bk. 1, Chap. 14; Bk. 2, Chaps. 8 & 9. He further discussed the point in his other major work Antient Metaphysics (1779–1799), Vol. 3, Bk. 2, Chap. 1 & Appendix; Vol. 4, Bk. 1, Chaps. 2, 5. The Origin and Progress of Language was partly translated by Herder.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague 1982

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  • Christopher J. Berry

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