The Influence of Newton and of Locke

  • Norman Kemp Smith


WHILE Hutcheson set Hume his problems, he was only one of the influences determining the lines upon which Hume set himself to answer them. We have still to reckon with what, together with that of Locke, was another main influence upon Hume’s philosophical awakening — Newton’s teaching in regard to the methods proper to scientific enquiry. My reasons for considering together the influence of Newton and of Locke are twofold. First, that Locke was himself influenced by Newton’s teaching, and was doubtless a main channel through which this influence was handed on to Hume; 1 and secondly, that in carrying over Newton’s methods and point of view into the sphere of philosophy, Hume is in so many important respects in substantial agreement with Locke, that it is fruitless to attempt to determine in any detail how far this has been due to coincidence of views obtained directly from Newton and how far to Hume’s study of Locke’s Essay.


Human Nature Gravitational Attraction Experimental Philosophy Experimental Reasoning Ordinary Conception 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. E. A. Burt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (1925), p. 210 ; and L. T. More, Isaac Newton, A Biography (1934), pp. 56, 133–4.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Opticks (in E. T. Whittaker’s edition, Bell, London, 1931, Book III, Part I, 401–2). All this is in keeping with Hutcheson’s manner of stating the ethical problems. In the moral as in the physical sphere there are certain ultimate experiences ; and they are for us none the less ultimate that they rest on conditions in human nature which are withheld from our view. Cf. above, p. 26 ff. Cf. also the General Scholium at the end of the Principia: “Hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses, hypotheses non fingo ; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called an hypothesis ; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction”Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Treatise, I, ii, 2 (31–2). Hume and Johnson were to this extent atone. Cf. Boswell’s Life of Johnson (under year 1784): “Nay, Sir, argument is argument. You cannot help paying regard to their arguments, if they are good. If it were testimony, you might disregard it, if you knew that it were purchased. There is a beautiful image in Bacon upon this subject : testimony is ‘like an arrow shot from a long bow ; the force of it depends on the strength of the hand that draws it. Argument is like an arrow from a cross bow, which has equal force though shot by a child’ ” The definiteness of Hume’s teaching in this regard has been obscured by the misleading character of his argument in I, iv, 1. Cf. below, p. 357 ff.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Norman Kemp Smith 1941

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman Kemp Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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