Maarten Maartensz

Text Philosophy - Hume - Enquiry concerning Human Understanding - intro S-B


These are my notes to Hume's Advertisement, that opens the printed text of Hume's Enquiries that I use. This printed text is P.H. Nidditch's so called 'Third Edition' of 1975 of L.A. Selby-Bigge's so called 'Second Edition' of 1902 that in turn was based on the 1777-edition of Hume's works.

According to Nidditch, originally the Advertisement was written ca. October 1775 i.e. not long before Hume died. It is not present in internet-editions of the Enquiries that I have seen, though it should be, because it does state Hume's published opinion about his own work.

In the edition of 1777 the Advertisement opens the volume of Hume's works in which are both Enquiries and some other texts.


Note 1: Most of the principles, and reasonings, contained in this volume, were published in a work in three volumes, called A Treatise of Human Nature: A work which the Author had projected before he left College, and which he wrote and published not long after.

The dating may be doubted somewhat, especially as regards 'projected before he left College' but it is true that the Treatise was a juvenile work, published in 1739 and 1740, and that it contains much more text than the Enquiries, and many more arguments, and that it is more difficult to follow than the Enquiries.

I have a paper edition of the Treatise by E.C. Mossner in Penguin Classics that was printed in 1969. It is well to quote and translate the complete title and the motto of the Treatise, since it brings out Hume's intentions and sentiments quite well:

Human Nature:
An Attempt to introduce the ex-
perimental Method of Reasoning
Moral Subjects

Rara tempora felicitas, ubi sentire, quae velis; & quae
 sentias, dicere licet.                             TACIT.     

The Latin means: 'Seldom are men blessed with times in which they may think what they like, and say what they think.' And indeed, mostly men live in times and circumstances in which they do not say what they think or may not think what they like.

The subtitle - An Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects - clearly indicates what Hume held to be his most important methodical innovation in philosophy, and his desire to do away with metaphysical and religious ideas, while the motto states the general conditions in which men have normally lived, and thought, and spoken, at least during the last 2000 years.

Note 2: But not finding it succesful, he was sensible of his error in going to the press too early, and he cast the whole anew in the following pieces, where some negligences in his former reasoning and more in the expression, are, he hopes, corrected.

According to Selby-Bigge, Hume was much interested in fame and success. Nidditch quotes a letter by Hume of 1751:

'I believe the philosophical Essays contain every thing of Consequence relating to the Understanding, which you woud meet in the Treatise; and I give you my Advice against reading the latter. By shortening and simplifying the Questions, I really render them much more complete. Addodum minuto [I add while I diminish]. The philosophical Principles are the same in both: But I was carry'd away by the Heat of Youth and Invention to publish too precipitately. So vast an Undertaking, plan'd before I was one and twenty, and compos'd before twenty five, must necessarily be very defective. I have repented my Haste a hundred, and a hundred times.'

For more on the relations between the Treatise and the Enquiries, see Selby-Bigge's introduction.

Note 3: Yet several writers, who have honoured the Author's Philosophy with answers, have taken care to direct all their batteries against that juvenile work, which the Author never acknowledged, and have affected to triumph in any advantages, which, they imagined, they had obtained over it: A practice very contrary to all rules of candour and fair-dealing, and a very strong instance of those polemical artefices, which a bigotted zeal thinks itself authorized to employ.

This does not sound very happy, and may reveal some of the emotional grounds for what follows:

Note 4:  Henceforth, the Author desires, that the following Pieces may alone be regarded as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles.

It is true that those who do not read Hume's Treatise will miss a considerable amount of Hume's most subtle arguments, but it is also true that the Treatise is both harder to follow and easier to fault because of inconsistencies than the Enquiries are.

And in so far as Hume is still read, it seems the Treatise is mostly read by academic philosophers and students of philosophy, who tend to consider it Hume's greatest work, whereas the Enquiries are also read by others. Of the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, especially Section VII: Of the idea of necessary connexion and Section X: Of miracles seem to be most widely read, quoted, or given as a reading task, e.g. for students of physics, history or theology.