Anatomist and Painter: Hume’s Struggles as a Sentimental Stylist

  • Michael L. Frazer
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)


When David Hume wrote to Baron de Montesquieu ‘J’ai consacré ma vie à la philosophie et aux belles-lettres’,1 he was not describing himself as having two separate callings. His was a single vocation — one involving the expression of deep thought through beautiful writing.2 This vocation did not come naturally or easily to Hume. He struggled continually to reshape his approach to prose, famously renouncing the Treatise of Human Nature as a literary failure and radically revising the presentation of his philosophy in the Essays and two Enquiries. This essay will focus on Hume’s struggle between two modes of moral-philosophical composition prevalent in his day: the cold, unemotional style associated with experimental science that Hume metaphorically labels anatomy’ and the warm, rhetorical style which he labels ‘painting’.


Human Nature Moral Philosophy Moral Theory Moral Sentiment Early Essay 
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© Michael L. Frazer 2016

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  • Michael L. Frazer

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