20 August 2006

David Hume

When I graduated from High School at the age of 17, my present was a set of The Great Books of the Western World. On the presentation page was a quote by David Hume, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves: it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them." Until that day, even as a dedicated book worm, I had never heard his name or read anything he had ever written. This was probably a good thing. You can read Hume at 17 and you can read him at 70. Somewhere in between those two ages, you might be ready for him.

There are times when you have to make allowances for the 18th century language, but he is worth the effort. His extensive circle of friends included the greatest thinkers of his day. His elegy was delivered by his lifelong friend, Adam Smith who cared enough to write extensively of Hume's final days which closes with, " I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit".
Whether he was writing about economics, politics, religion or philosophy, he earned his reputation as one of the greatest writers in the English language; quite naturally he was a Scot.
Below is a taste of Hume. If you get the chance go pay him an extended visit.
When men are the most sure and arrogant, they commonly are the most mistaken.
Every movement of the theater by a skillful poet is communicated, as it were, by magic, to the spectators; who weep, tremble, resent, rejoice, and are inflamed with all the variety of passions that actuate the several personages of the drama.
The heights of popularity and patriotism are still the beaten road to power and tyranny.
He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper but he is more excellent who can suit his temper to any circumstances.
The sweetest and most inoffensive path of life leads through the avenues of science and learning; and whoever can either remove any obstruction in this way, or open up any new prospect, ought, so far, to be esteemed a benefactor to mankind.
Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the ease with which the many are governed by the few.

No comments: