Hume’s Scepticism

  • Graham Solomon
Part of the The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 65)


There are today two rather widely accepted but divergent ways of viewing Hume’s philosophy. The first sees Hume as having advanced a radical scepticism which devastated the very possibility of scientific knowledge. The other regards Hume as having introduced a healthy scepticism prompting philosophers and scientists to abandon the rash claims of modern rationalists and to embrace humbly the fact that non-trivial knowledge is after all only probable. The first of these views of Hume stems from Kant. The second appears to prevail amongst various kinds of contemporary philosophers, and stems from logical positivism or later logical empiricism.


Empirical Statement Logical Empiricist Actual Impression Logical Characterization Analytic Judgment 
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  1. 2.
    Immanuel Kant, Critique ofPure Reason [ 1781,1787], A 760, B 788; trans. Norman Kemp Smith (London, 1950), 607.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Ihid, 1 2 8Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics [1783], (Prussian Academy Edition, 1911), 272; Lewis W. Beck translation (New York, 1951).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Hans Reichenbach, The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1956),Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    This point is conclusively established in Edmund Husserl’s Erste Philosophie, Erster Teil, Kritische Ideengeschechte (The Hague, 1956); and Logische Untersuchengen, Vol. I, Prolegomena zur Reinen Logik (Halle A. D. S., 1928, 4th edition); and in Norman Kemp Smith’s The Philosophy of David Hume (London, 1941). Cf. Charles S. Peirce, “The Laws of Nature and Hume’s Argument against Miracles, ” Values in a Universe of Chance, Selected Writings of Charles S. Peirce, ed. Philip P. Weiner (Garden City, 1958), 289.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Husserl, Erste Philosophie, 350ff.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding [1748], ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford, 1955, 2nd ed.), 163.Google Scholar
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  11. 12.
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    Specifically, relations of resemblance, contrariety, degrees in quality, and proportions in quantity or number — the four philosophical relations which are for Hume “objects of knowledge and certainty. ” Ibid. Google Scholar
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  15. 16.
    Husserl argues this point in both works mentioned in note 5 above. He also re-makes the point in the posthumously published Erfahrung und Urteil, Untersuchungen zur Genealogie derLogik (Hamburg. 1954. 2nd ed.). 472–75.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    A word ought to be said about the reasons for Kant’s mistaken views on the nature of Hume’s sceptical conclusions. Kant missed the point I have argued above, and which Husserl was the first to suggest, because, as Husserl also points out (Erste Philsophie, 352), Kant’s knowledge of Hume was based almost entirely on a reading of the Essays. Thus he did not know enough about the general plan which Hume set for himself in the Treatise, nor did he see the fuller working out of Hume’s system, with its great reliance on the impression-idea distinction and on analysis of issues not related to the causality problem. Considering only the Enquiry, one might make out a case, as Kant thought that he had, for the equation of his statement-type distinction with Hume’s evidence-type distinction. Except that even here Kant was shortsighted, since the examples from mathematics which Hume gives in this work (25) as representing statements of relations of ideas Kant would himself have regarded as synthetic and a priori. The fact that the set of Kantian mathematical (synthetic a priori) statements and the set of Hume’s statements ofrelations of ideas have the same extension ought to have prompted Kant to consider the question discussed in this paper. For further evidence that Kant had only slight knowledge of the Treatise, if any at all, see Norman Kemp Smith, A Commentary on Kant’s Critique ofPure Reason (New York, 1950), xxv-xxix, 156, 161 ff., 592–601; and J. M. Keynes and P. Sraffa, An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature 1740 (Cambridge at the University Press, 1938), vii note.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Solomon
    • 1
  1. 1.Wilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

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