Hume’s Treatise

Philosophy 25100, Winter 2005


The Notes were last updated at 03 PM on Tuesday, 12 March 2013.

  1. Mark and Robert hit me with news articles that I really should share.
    1. From Mark: a Wall Street Journal article on “how mirror neurons help us to empathize, really feel others’ pain.” Read the article. It’s spooky how many of Hume’s basic claims are in there, shorn of the theory of ideas, of course, but not much more.
    2. From Robert: a report from Nature on synaesthesia, a condition in which the brain links two or more of the senses such that one can “taste differences in the intervals between [musical] notes.” Compare Treatise On the other hand, there is some confirmation of Hume’s basic associative mechanisms: “our skills are improved if we associate the item we learn with many other items.”
  2. Holy moly, I was just looking over the notes while taking the exam myself (as you are doing now). And I found a bevy of typos. So almost all the pages have been updated, but the changes are all superficial, with the exception of one place where I said “demonstrative reasoning” when I think I meant just “reasoning” (demonstrative or probable). (15 Mar)
  3. If you missed our brief meeting today, be sure to look at the final exam preview. (10 March)
  4. We will meet on Thursday to talk about the exam. I’m sorry to intrude on reading week, but, as I think was evident, we didn’t have a minute to spare. I promise not to take too long. Please please please bring the evaluations with you. I have extras for those who didn’t get one. I really do read them and find them useful in making decisions about courses: it’s only a good course if you get something out of it and the main way I know how it was for you is if you tell me. Finally, the very last note of the term is up. (8 March)
  5. The notes are all up to date. I finished the natural virtues this afternoon and the motive of duty this evening. (7 March)
  6. I put entries from Bayle’s Dictionary on Diogenes and Bayle on reserve. If you don’t know why that might be relevant, you haven’t read “A Dialogue” yet. For Pascal, read sections G and H, pp. 487-8: you’ll understand what Hume is saying. Bonus points for anyone who can figure out what Hume means in saying that the people of ___ shut their children in jails (p. 482-3). (7 March)
  7. 22 February: reason and morality. I’m closing in on the current month! But it’s a really nice day. And I have laundry to do. I’ll get there … later. (6 March)
  8. OK, I’m up to the 17th of February on the Notes. (5 March)
  9. I really do intend to resume the notes. Hopefully tonight. (1 March)
  10. I put the essay by Anscombe referred to in the second paper topic on reserve. I don’t think you need to read it, but, on the off chance that you want to, it’s available. (25 Feb)
  11. Nathan wanted a question on Hume’s arguments for determinism, so I added it to the list. (25 Feb)
  12. David Woessner will not hold office hours this Friday (25 Feb). I will be around in my office, and would be happy to meet with anyone who wants to talk. Do get in touch first to let me know you’re coming, as I now have four appointments set and I have to set aside some time to finish grading. (24 Feb)
  13. OK, during the past couple of weeks, I have been beaten down … many things. So I’m still working on graduate midterms. Wednesday, I hope and pray. There’s no excuse except professorial exhaustion. But the paper topics are done. (21 Feb)
  14. The Committee on Social Thought is pleased to announce a colloquium by Eric Schliesser, Post-doctoral fellow of Philosophy and Social Thought at the Washington University in St Louis, and a recent PhD of the Chicago philosophy department. Schliesser will discuss “Hume’s Attack on Isaac Newton.” Date and place: Thursday, February 17, at 4:30 in Foster 305. (13 Feb)
  15. I’ve gotten a start on the paper topics. Several people have asked me about them and, in thinking about it, it didn’t make any sense to wait until the 22 of February. More are on their way, but first I have to grade the last assignment. (12 Feb)
  16. I think I’m going to try something new: rolling paper topics. That is, I’m going to start thinking of paper topics now and posting them here. Several of you have suggested that you’re interested in particular topics. If so, send me an email with your ideas and I’ll see if I can work it into a topic. (9 Feb)
  17. I realized that my attempt to distinguish the direct and indirect passions on the basis of the difference between cause and object was only partly successful and so updated the note on the passions. (9 Feb)
  18. This one is David’s fault: Hume action doll. And if you like that, you’ll love the Unemployed Philosophers Guild. (6 Feb)
  19. Notes on personal identity and skepticism. (5 Feb)
  20. Some minor alterations to the note on substances and the modern philosophy. (5 Feb)
  21. The Nicholson Center for British Studies is sponsoring a lecture and a workshop by John Robertson, a historian at Oxford University. Roberston will not be speaking about Hume per se, but he will be discussing Hume’s intellectural millieu.
    • Lecture: “The Argument over a British Enlightenment: Why it Matters.” Monday, February 14, 4:30 pm, Judd 115.
    • Workshop: “Vico’s Idolatrous Giants: The New Science as a Response to Bayle.” Tuesday, February 15, Pick 218, 5:00 - 6:30pm. Mr. Robertson will discuss a pre-circulated paper with the members of the Early Modern workshop.
    If you are interested in attending the workshop, or for more information on any Nicholson Center event, please e-mail or call 834-3403. (2 Feb)
  22. The Philosophy Department is sponsoring two talks by experts in early modern theories of causation: Helen Hattab and Sukjae Lee. Hattab will be here on 11 February and Lee on 18 February; both talks will be from 3:30-5:30 in 102 Stuart Hall. As a bonus, Professor Lee agreed to allow me to make his paper on Malebranche available to you via the reserve list. (31 Jan)
  23. Updated the note on primary and secondary qualities to include Locke, who drew the distinction. (29 Jan)
  24. Uh, 1.4.4 doesn’t make a lick of sense on its own. For that, you need to know something that Berkeley wrote. I sent out an email tonight with the relevant information. (26 Jan)
  25. About last Thursday … . First, my apologies for the photographer; if you don’t want your picture used in the Human Rights program brochure, please let me know. It didn’t help that the material was extremely difficult and I got a wee bit frustrated myself. Well, that’s what the internet is for. I took a second shot at it this morning. (24 Jan)
  26. Hume’s account of belief relies on customs or habits. What are those things? Megan asks, I answer. (19 Jan)
  27. Provoked by our discussion section earlier in the day, I have spent the evening trying to figure out the Uniformity Principle. (17 Jan)
  28. Reminder: first graduate discussion section tomorrow, Monday 17 Jan from 12-1 in 11 Rosenwald. (16 Jan)
  29. I have been fussing with the notes — going over them, making minor corrections. Nothing major has changed, though just about everything has been altered today. (15 Jan)
  30. I have citations for the readings in the syllabus other than the Treatise along with short descriptions of what to look for in doing the reading and the points I intend to make about it. You can find these linked to in the Notes section, in a single file in the reserve listing, or in the readings you get from the Classics Copy office. And if that isn’t good enough for you … I don’t know what to say. (5 Jan, updated 8 Jan)
  31. I will have to leave my office at 3:30 today - I won’t keep the full 2-4 office hour. (5 Jan)
  32. The additional reading should be available from Classics Copying (Classics 11) this afternoon. I had them make 15 copies, thinking that many of you will use the reserve list instead. They can make more, obviously. Also, I’m going to post the full citations for those readings here soonish — you can find them in the library or electronic databases with ease, if that’s the way you want to go. (Jan 5)
  33. I got the dates right on the syllabus - see link on the right. (4 Jan)
  34. I have heard from some shoppers recently who want to know what taking Hume’s Treatise will be like. There are two answers. One concerns the range of problems to be discussed (very broad) and the other concerns the style of writing (wonderful, but it takes some getting used to). You have to be prepared for both over ten weeks. But how do you know? The best thing I can suggest to do to see if this appeals is to read “A Letter from a Gentleman,” Hume’s anonymously composed defense of the Treatise. It will give you a sense of both content and style. (December)

Course Description

David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1738) is a modern masterpiece that features influential discussions of skepticism, metaphysics, causation, the self, psychology, and ethics. This course will cover these topics with the goal of gaining a sense of the book as a whole.

The course is open to both graduate and undergraduate students. There are no pre-requisites but some exposure to philosophy and especially early modern philosophy will make the experience significantly more enjoyable.


Th 3 Feb: midterm distributed.

Mon 7 Feb: midterm due.

Tu 22 Feb: paper topics distributed.

Mon 7 Mar: second paper due.

Tu 15 March: Final exam, 10:30-12:30.


10:30-12, Tu Th, 203 Cobb [map]


College students: Mondays 5-6, 104 Cobb [map]

Graduate students: Mondays 12-1, 011 Rosenwald [map]


Philosophy Department

Regenstein Reserve


Merely ridiculous, never dangerous.