David Hume was an 18th century Scottish philosopher, writer, economist, and historian. He was a contemporary to Adam Smith, as well as the famous Jean Jacques Rousseau. He rejected the idea of causality, and therefore most scientific laws as well. He also rejected the idea of the individual and believed that one must always do what was best for the community, and had novel ideas about history and economics.

Life and Works

David Hume was born on May 7, 1711 near Edinburgh, Scotland. He was educated at home, and then at the University of Edinburgh, where he was admitted at the age of 12. From 1737 to 1743 he was mainly interested in speculative philosophy. In 1739 he published A Treatise of Human Nature, his most well-known work. This work was unpopular at the time, probably because of its dry style - Hume himself said it was "Dead-born from the press."

He then returned to his family's estate in Berwickshire, and studied ethics, politics, and economics. He soon published Essays Moral and Political, which was very successful, and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, a condensed version of the Treatise. However, he was not offered the professorship he wanted because he was seen as a religious skeptic.

After he lost his bid for professorship, he moved back to Edinburgh and was appointed librarian of the Advocates Library. From 1754 to 1762 he published History of England in six volumes, a work still considered a classic. He became ambassador to France in 1762, where he was prominent among French philosophers, including Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau returned with Hume to England, but Rousseau's paranoia caused the friendship to dissolve.

Hume returned to Edinburgh, where he remained until his death in 1776. Several of his minor works were published posthumously.

His Ideas

Hume went along with other contemporary philosophers, differentiating between reason and sensation. He went further, however, claiming that reason and rational thought were "Merely habitual associations of direct sensation and experience..."

He rejected causality, saying that "reason can never show us the connexion of one object to another." This means that he also rejected scientific laws, which are based on causality. In fact, he rejected the idea of the individual, saying that each "individual" was nothing but a "bundle of different perceptions" However, he did admit that people must use causality in day to day life, and that relationships among ideas are possible.

Since he rejected the individual self, he believed that one must always try to do what is best for the entire community, and this is what he believed would benefit each "individual" the most as well.

Hume was one of the first not to record history mainly as a series of wars and actions of monarchs, instead focusing on political and intellectual forces. He believed that wealth did not depend on money, but on commodities, and saw how the social environment affected economics, ideas which later influenced Adam Smith.