Reading Questions for 10/28: Hume’s Philosophical Methodology


Statue of Scottish Philosopher David Hume (1711 to 1776) by Alexander Stoddart at one of the prominent landmarks on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland. By Bandan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Statue of Scottish Philosopher David Hume (1711 to 1776) by Alexander Stoddart. Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Photo Credit: Bandan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In Sections II and III of the Enquiry, Hume introduces and justifies the particular approach to philosophical problems (and/or to the problems with philosophy) that he will take in the following sections, where he treats questions about the general operations of the human understanding, the application of this understanding in natural philosophy, the distinction between natural philosophy and moral philosophy, the basis for religious conviction, and the alleged threat to Christian society posed by skeptical naturalism. We need to have a relatively clear sense of the tools he brings to the table, if we are to decide how effectively he wields them in articulating and justifying his acceptance of the conclusions he draws. Accordingly, we need to read these sections carefully, with an eye towards isolating the relatively distinct parts out of which he builds his methodology and the particular relations in which these parts stand to one another within the whole he assembles out of them.

Here is a list of the most central parts:

  • Basic division of the perceptions of the mind into two classes
  • Account of the basis for distinguishing perceptions from one another and grouping them into classes
  • Thesis concerning the relation between each member of the one class and some member of the other class
  • Methodological rule for ridding metaphysical investigations of jargon
  • Suggestion concerning the principles of connection relating the members of one of these classes of perception¬†

Here are the questions we need to be able to address before moving forward to the other Sections of the Enquiry:

  1. What terms does Hume use to refer to the two classes of perceptions? (How does he justify his introduction of these terms?)
  2. What does he refer to as the basis for classifying particular perceptions? (How does he explicate what he means there?)
  3. What is his thesis concerning the relations between members of these classes? (How does he prove the thesis?)
  4. What methodological rule does he derive from these previous considerations? (What does it enable us to do?)
  5. What is his suggestion concerning principles of association? (What does he appear to mean by each?)

Come to class on Wednesday prepared to provide quick answers to the initial (unbracketed) questions and to work together from there to discuss the follow-up (bracketed) questions for each.


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