May 8th, 2011
|09:59 am - David Hume|
It is 300 years since the birth of David Hume, the Scottish philosopher. This is a big coincidence because - no word of a lie - when there is talk of England and Scotland dividing as there has been lately, Hume's face (and a few others') comes to my mind's eye, because I feel an affiliation with him, and I don't want that bond to be loosened. Not that I agree with everything he said, but I like him.
Hume was a radical sceptic; about as radical as it is possible to be, and all Western philosophy since Hume is (I think) an attempt to reconcile human need with the implications of his complete stripping down of ethics and metaphysics as it was conceived in those days, as a tissue of supposition which would not withstand scrutiny. For instance he argues that belief in causality itself is an irrational - albeit to date helpful - prejudice of mind (there's a longer account of Hume on causation here). Most people who call themselves sceptics haven't even started climbing that mountain. I should also say that his practical response to this uncertainty was that we should carry on living in a moderate calm way, not throw everything out into nihilism.
I'm quoting Crooked Timber a lot these days, but the comments in this thread have a lot of good quotes from Hume.
Here is Hume on economics, which I totally agree with, and stands up well after 300 years of intervening history:
“A too great disproportion among the citizens weakens any state. Every person, if possible, ought to enjoy the fruits of his labor, in a full possession of all the necessaries, and many of the conveniences, of life. No one can doubt that such an equality is most suitable to human nature and diminishes much less from the happiness of the rich than it adds to that of the poor. It also augments the power of the state, and makes any extraordinary taxes or impositions be paid with more cheerfulness. Where the riches are engrossed by a few, these must contribute very largely to the supplying of the public necessities. But when the riches are dispersed among multitudes, the burden feels light on every shoulder, and the taxes make a not very sensible difference on any one’s way of living.
“Add to this that, where riches are in few hands, these must enjoy all the power, and will readily conspire to lay the whole burden on the poor and oppress them still farther, to the discouragement of all industry.”
God's Teeth! That's depressingly prescient.
I know - it might have been written for us
|Date:||May 8th, 2011 12:08 pm (UTC)|| |
He's actually on the other side of the curve from us. He didn't need to see into the future to imagine a world of a tiny number of people owning capital, and employing the work of the great majority for a bare living. Where he was speculating was in imagining how much better it would be if it wasn't like that, and I wish we could tell him he turned out to be right.
But it looks like we're going back to Hume's world, and leaving his dream behind.
Yes, that's true, I suppose that's why they called it the Enlightenment