David Hume as a Neoclassical Historian
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A rich secondary literature has developed around Hume’s History of England. In the role of historian, Hume has been described as a reformer of British political culture,1 a Baconian natural historian of morals,2 a failed scientific historian,3 a reactionary struggling with the liberalism of his early career,4 a ‘scientific’ whig who transcended political parties,5 a student of the ‘science of man,’6 a ‘practical’ moralist.7 While most recent studies of Hume have focused on his central place in the history of modern philosophy and his History as somehow a part of that philosophy, they have tended to lose sight of Hume’s ties to classical historiography,8 ties Hume as well as his original readers readily acknowledged. It is the contention of this Chapter that Hume and his audience saw the History as a neoclassical work intended to solve the weakness in English historiography. Perhaps above all other ambitions, Hume’s most ardent wish was to construct such a work. It is the task of this Chapter to show how the various philosophical and political projects just mentioned could be subsumed in a neoclassical narrative that would earn a European reputation as a literary masterpiece.
KeywordsSeventeenth Century General History Ancient Historian Classical Historian English Culture
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- 1.Nicholas Phillipson, Hume (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989).Google Scholar
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