- 1. General Comments
- 2. Notes on Individual Texts
- 2.1. A Treatise of Human Nature
- 2.2. Abstract of the Treatise
- 2.3. Essays, Moral and Political
- 2.4. A Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh
- 2.5. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
- 2.6. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
- 2.7. Political Discourses
- 2.8. Four Dissertations
- 2.9. Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects
- 2.10. My Own Life
- 2.11. Of Suicide and Of the Immortality of the Soul
- 2.12. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
1. General Comments
In the Hume Texts section of this site, we offer a complete set of everything that Hume published, including the handful of posthumous publications (but excluding the historical writings), in accurate editions that faithfully represent the original 18th century publications, but without neglecting the advantages of modern on-line texts. Hume scholars will find, we hope, everything that they would expect from a modern edition, such as standard footnote and paragraph numbers, page numbers for the most frequently cited editions, and some minimal editing in cases of clear error, or for changes sanctioned by Hume himself (in ERRATA sheets or modifications in his own hand on some original copies).
Thanks to the National Library of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, we are also able to reproduce here high-quality digital images of Hume’s manuscript of the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. These pages are made available alongside the text of the first posthumous 1779 edition.
It is important to emphasise that this is an on-line edition of Hume’s collected works, and as such is somewhat different from what you might expect from a familiarity with printed books. Please see the Read Me page for more detail. The main messages to take away from that are (i) that while our edited texts are shown by default, any departures from the copytexts can be highlighted in yellow a the touch of a button, and the original unadulterated copytext can be displayed instead at the touch of another; and (ii) while there is only one edition of each text here (or two, if you count the original copytext and our minimally edited versions separately), most texts appear more than once, in the context of a different collection, reflecting the fact that Hume varied the context of his works over time.
Regarding (i), the original versions available here are in fact very slightly different from the copytexts, in a small number of systematic and trivial ways (see section 1.4 below for details). Regarding (ii), we are eager to guard against a possible misunderstanding: the collections of Hume’s texts listed on the Home Page are modelled structurally on an original 18th collection, but not necessarily textually; the text only coincides with the original when the collection happens to be one of our copytexts, which is not always the case (see section 1.3 below for details of our copytexts). Again, please see the Read Me page for more detail.
1.2. Abbreviations for the Texts
It is standard practice to refer to Hume’s texts using abbreviations, though not everyone uses the same abbreviations. Commonly the Treatise of Human Nature, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, for example, are referred to using just the letters “T”, “E”, and “D” respectively, while other authors prefer “THN”, “EHU”, and “DNR”. But on a website such as this, long abbreviations can be cumbersome and awkward to place neatly, especially when they need to include section and paragraph details, for instance “THN 22.214.171.124” or “DNR Intro.6”. For this reason, we have adopted the convention of using single letter abbreviations for all of Hume’s major works (including the Abstract and the Letter from a Gentleman), and longer abbreviations for his essays (including My Own Life). These are as follows:
The copytexts for the Treatise of Human Nature and the Abstract of the Treatise are the only editions that Hume published (1739 for volumes 1 and 2 of the Treatise, 1740 for volume 3 and the Abstract).
The copytext for the two Enquiries, the Natural History of Religion, the Dissertation on the Passions, and all of the essays that appeared in this edition, is the posthumous 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects.
The copytexts for My Own Life and the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion are the (first) posthumous publications of 1777 and 1779 respectively.
The copytext for the two essays Of Suicide and Of the Immortality of the Soul is the proof copy of the Four Dissertations held in the National Library of Scotland (this collection was to include these scandalous essays, before Hume suppressed them and supplied the essay Of the Standard of Taste in their place). The posthumous 1777 publication departs from this proof in a handful of ways — notably in the absence of several paragraph breaks — and there is no evidence that these changes were ever sanctioned by Hume.
The copytext for the remaining essays — i.e. those published in earlier collections, but withdrawn from the 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises — is in each case the latest published version. Details for the individual essays are given in the notes on the individual texts below.
The only potentially controversial decision here is the selection, for all of the texts contained within it, of the 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises, rather than the 1772 edition of the same. Hume took great pains over correcting his texts, and there is no doubt that these last two editions are the most authoritative. The 1777 incorporates some corrections made shortly before his death in 1776 (e.g. a substantial deletion from section 3 of the first Enquiry, and a new paragraph added near the end of section 3 of the Dissertation on the Passions), and has traditionally been taken as the copytext of choice. The Green and Grose edition of Hume’s collected works follows this edition, as does Selby-Bigge’s edition (later re-edited by Nidditch) of the two Enquiries. Miller’s edition of the Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary does likewise.
Beauchamp, however, in his recent critical editions of the two Enquiries, the Natural History of Religion, and the Dissertation on the Passions, has preferred the 1772 edition, on the grounds that this was “the last edition to be seen through the press with Hume’s supervision”. While not disputing Beauchamp’s general editorial principles and practice (which included properly consulting the 1777 text “for evidence of late authorial changes”, p. cv), we have reverted here to the traditionally preferred 1777 edition, in accordance with Hume’s own expressed satisfaction with his final editorial changes. This also usefully remedies the lack hitherto of a genuinely reliable published text of the second volume of that edition. (Miller’s edition of the Essays is excellent, a considerable improvement on the Green and Grose. Selby-Bigge’s edition of the two Enquiries, however, contains numerous errors (running into thousands), as do the texts of the Natural History of Religion and the Dissertation on the Passions in the Green and Grose.)
1.4. Original Versions
By default, every text is displayed in its edited form (see section 1.5 below). By selecting “original version” from the drop-down menu in the box on the top right, however, you can switch to the original version. Original versions aim to be exact reproductions of the copytexts except for the following silent alterations.
1. Rather than preserve the pagination of the copytexts, we have paginated all the texts on this site according to the most standard modern reference edition; thus Selby-Bigge and Nidditch for the Treatise, Abstract, and two Enquiries, Miller for the essays and My Own Life, Beauchamp for the Natural History of Religion and the Dissertation on the Passions, and Kemp Smith for the Dialogues. This repagination has resulted in the removal of some hyphens, and the addition of some others. Similarly, hyphens when a line break interrupts a word have also been removed.
2. Footnotes have all been removed from the bottom of the pages and grouped together following the end of the main text, after the heading “NOTES”. Endnotes — in the case of texts from the Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects — then follow. In the 1777 copytext, endnotes appeared at the very end of each volume, after a heading “NOTES TO THE FIRST VOLUME” or “NOTES TO THE SECOND VOLUME”.
3. Where a footnote extends over a page break within the standard modern edition, the location of the page break is marked inside square brackets — for example “[SBN 96]” within Treatise note 20. (All footnotes begin, within the modern editions, on the same page that contains the footnote anchor.)
4. Footnote anchors and some other cross references appear in blue (as opposed to the original black), indicating a link that can be clicked on to move you to the part of the text being referred to. When a footnote serves only to refer to an endnote, the link from the text goes directly to the relevant endnote.
5. Decorative first letters at the beginning of some of Hume’s texts have been changed to large dropped capitals. Dropped capitals at the start of subsequent sections are as in the copytexts.
6. Quotation marks are used in the now-standard way, with one at the beginning and one at the end of each quotation. In some original texts, long quotations appear with a quotation mark at the beginning of every line.
7. The eighteenth century long “s” (which looks rather like an “f”) has been everywhere replaced with an ordinary “s”. Ligatures (joining letter combinations such as “ct” and “fi”) have been removed. The combinations “æ” and “œ” have, however, been preserved within the original versions of the texts.
8. Commas and semicolons do not appear italicised in Hume’s texts, even in the context of a quotation or statement that is otherwise all in italics; we treat this as indicating that italicised commas and semicolons are indistinguishable from non-italicised commas and semicolons in the font used by Hume’s publishers. Since our own fonts are able to distinguish them, however, we have italicised these punctuation marks when they occur within a phrase that is otherwise all italicised. (Note, by contrast, that colons are sometimes italicised in Hume’s texts, typically when they follow an italicised word. The formatting of colons here follows the copytexts.)
9. Tables of contents have been removed from the front of the text, and placed instead in a drop-down table of contents in the red box on the top right of the screen. Hume’s original editions do not always have subsections in their contents tables; where they do not, these have been added here for ease of navigation. Note that, in our copytexts, capitalisation and punctuation is not always the same in the table of contents and in the body of the text, and these inconsistencies have been preserved here.
There are two additional features of the original versions that might be departures from the copytexts, though it is difficult to tell. The first arises because an ordinary lower case (short) “s” is indistinguishable, in the font used by Hume’s publishers, from an “s” in small capitals. This raises the question, when a name appears in small capitals, followed by an apostrophe and an “s”, whether the trailing “s” should be in small capitals or not. We have here taken the view that the capitalisation should apply only to the name itself, since this seems most logical and is also supported by Hume’s texts in the parallel case when names appear in italics, followed by an apostrophe and an “s”: in such cases, the “s” is not italicised (see, for example, footnotes 11 and 47 of the Treatise).
The second additional feature concerns the placing of footnote anchors in the text. Sometimes these appear between two words, and at a roughly equal distance between the two. It is therefore unclear whether the anchor is meant to be placed at the end of the first word, the start of the second, or in the middle (with a space on either side). To avoid difficult decisions of this kind, and because the issue involves only a typographical convention with no significance for the understanding of the text, in every case we have simply placed the anchor at the end of the first word, in accordance with modern practice.
1.5. Edited Versions
The edited versions available on this site differ from the copytexts in various ways particular to each text; for details of these particular departures, see the sections on the individual texts below.
Alongside these particular differences, the edited versions all differ from the copytexts in the following systematic ways.
1. Ways in which the original editions also differ (see section 1.4 above).
2. Footnote symbols are all converted to numbers, for ease of reference.
3. The combinations “æ” and “œ” have been separated into “ae” and “oe”, in order to make searching for words easier (it is presumed that most users will not have keyboards that enable them to enter these characters easily).
Any differences between the edited version and the original version can be highlighted in yellow by selecting “edited version (mark changes)” from the drop-down menu in the red box on the top right of the screen. Hovering over any such change with the mouse will then bring up a box (top left) describing and justifying the change.
1.6. Footnotes and Endnotes
As explained in section 1.4 above, we have placed all notes at the end of the relevant text, with active links in both directions. However, in respect of those texts that were included within the 1777 Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, we continue to draw a distinction between notes that appeared as footnotes in the copytext and those that appeared as endnotes. Since no other modern edition draws any such distinction, and even Beauchamp’s (otherwise excellent) critical editions fail to indicate which notes took each form, our policy is perhaps worth discussing in a bit more detail.
In editions of the Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects prior to 1770, all Hume’s notes appeared as footnotes, but in his three last editions (1770, 1772 and 1777), he moved most of the larger notes to a separate section at the end of each volume. That he took an interest in such matters is clear from his letters, in particular to his printer William Strahan on 8th April 1776:
I am very much taken with Mr Gibbon’s Roman History which came from your press ... I intended to have given him my Advice with regard to the manner of printing it ... One is ... plagued with his Notes, according to the present Method of printing the Book: When a note is announced, you turn to the End of the Volume; and there you often find nothing but the Reference to an Authority. All these Authorities ought only to be printed at the Margin on the Bottom of the Page. I desire, that a Copy of my new Edition [i.e. the posthumous edition then in preparation] should be sent to Mr Gibbon, as wishing that a Gentleman, whom I so highly value, shoud peruse me in the form the least imperfect, to which I can bring my work. (HL ii 313)
In another letter to Strahan of 8th June, Hume reports the seriousness of his illness, and makes some last requests concerning the printing of My Own Life in his forthcoming edition, and the future publication of the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Here again he expresses enthusiasm for the quality of what would become the 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises, and the 1778 edition of the History of England:
I am glad to find, that you have been able to set about this New Edition in earnest. I have made it extremely correct; at least I believe that, if I were to live twenty Years longer, I shoud never be able to give it any further Improvements.
Hence the policy followed here, of carefully following that 1777 edition for all the relevant texts, including its distinction between footnotes and endnotes, with footnotes being used for references to “Authorities” and other relatively short comments, and endnotes generally containing the longer material. Whether the distinction has any deeper significance is now open for the reader to judge, but since some footnotes are longer than many of the endnotes, this at least suggests that length was not Hume’s only criterion.
2. Notes on Individual Texts
2.1. A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40)
edited by Amyas Merivale and Peter Millican
Though relatively unsuccessful in its own time, Hume’s first publication, the Treatise of Human Nature, is now widely considered to be a philosophical masterpiece, and it is this work more than any other that has earned Hume his well-deserved reputation as the greatest English-speaking philosopher.
The text here is taken from a scanned copy of the original edition held at Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). Departures from this copytext are of three kinds:
2. Changes sanctioned by Hume. These include (i) changes noted in the ERRATA sheets, (ii) changes (to Volume 1) made in the Appendix to Volume 3, including several substantial additions, and (iii) written changes in Hume’s hand (the scan of Volume 3 on ECCO is of the copy held at the British Library, which contains several such changes; where these are illegible, owing to the quality of the scan, Nidditch’s textual notes to the revised Selby-Bigge edition have been consulted).
3. Changes not sanctioned by Hume. These have been kept to a minimum, but have been felt necessary in a few places. In the case of Volume 2, we have consulted the first edition of the Dissertation on the Passions; if something looked like an error, and was changed in the first edition of the Dissertation, we have generally gone with the Dissertation change. Of course all of these departures are a matter of judgement, and the reader may not agree with our judgement in every case. Since, however, all the departures are clearly documented within the text, and the unadulterated text can be reverted to at the touch of a button (see section 1.4 above or the Help page for details), we hope there is little room for complaint.
It is thought that it will be helpful, when viewing the original version of the text, to see at a glance where Hume added new paragraphs to Book 1 (in the Appendix to Book 3). Therefore, gaps are left in the text in these places, and the paragraph number remains to the left of the page. Needless to say these gaps are not in the original text.
There are two anomalies to be noted regarding the footnotes of the Treatise. Hume’s footnote markers have all been converted to numbers, for ease of reference, and the numbers here correspond to those in the Oxford Philosophical Texts edition (edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton, OUP, 2000), which leads to the first of the two complications. Norton and Norton delete a note at T 126.96.36.199. Hume instructed that this note be replaced by note 22 (at T 188.8.131.52) while the first two volumes of the Treatise were in press. We have retained both notes, but so as not to upset the numbering, the note at T 184.108.40.206 has not been given a number; its marker remains an asterisk, as in the original. Since it is the only footnote in the Treatise with this marker (in the edited version of the text), there is no risk of ambiguity.
Secondly, footnote 30 (at T 220.127.116.11) is an addition from the Appendix to Book 3 — indeed, this whole paragraph is an addition. Since the Appendix is reproduced here in full, this note appears in Book 3 as well as in Book 1. In Book 1 it is simply labelled “30”; in Book 3, it is labelled “30a”.
There is also one anomaly to be noted regarding the paragraphs of Book 1. The Appendix adds three paragraphs to the end of part 3, section 10 (T 18.104.22.168-12). Although Hume does not specify, it seems clear from the sense that these were intended to replace the original final paragraph of this section, rather than supplement it. Norton and Norton agree, and therefore do not reprint this original paragraph. We have included it here (in the original, but not in the edited version), and numbered it T 22.214.171.124*.
Page breaks are from the standard Selby-Bigge edition (OUP). It should be noted that Selby-Bigge did not incorporate Hume’s Appendix additions into Book 1, as we have done here. These additions, in the body of Book 1, are therefore not found at the Selby-Bigge page given. For the correct Selby-Bigge page reference, readers should consult the Appendix itself, which is reproduced in full at the end of Book 3, with the Selby-Bigge pagination.
2.2. Abstract of the Treatise (1740)
edited by Peter Millican
The Abstract, now generally agreed to have been composed by Hume himself, was published anonymously in March 1740 in an attempt to promote and explicate Books 1 and 2 of the Treatise of Human Nature, which had been published in January 1739. A valuable resource with elegant and concise presentations of some of Hume’s principal arguments, it also indicates which of them he took to be most central and important to his philosophical project. It is striking and significant that the structure, focus, and ordering of the Abstract, though ostensibly following the “Chief Argument” of the Treatise, actually bears much closer resemblance to a quite different work, the first Enquiry, which was still eight years away. For detailed discussion of this matter, setting it in a wider context, see my essay “The Context, Aims, and Structure of Hume’s First Enquiry” (chapter 1 of Peter Millican, ed., Reading Hume on Human Understanding, OUP, 2002).
The text here is taken from the original 1740 edition. Some alterations have been made to the copytext, in line with some comments in Hume’s hand made on a copy held at the British Library.
2.3. Essays, Moral and Political (1741-42, 1777)
edited by Amyas Merivale
Disappointed with the poor reception of his Treatise, Hume turned to the essay style of writing, and published the first volume of his Essays, Moral and Political in 1741, with a second volume following in 1742. Following the success of this collection, Hume published three additional essays in 1748 (Of National Characters, Of the Original Contract, and Of Passive Obedience), and then a third edition of the set, also in 1748, that incorporated these three. The collection here mimics the 1742 edition (the first volume of which contains the same essays as in the first 1741 edition). The three essays not published until 1748 are therefore not included; these can be found instead in the editions of the Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects reproduced on this site.
The texts of all of the essays in this collection are taken from the 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, with the following exceptions: Of Essay-Writing, Of Moral Prejudices, and Of the Middle Station of Life only ever appeared in this 1742 edition, and the texts of these are therefore taken from that edition. Of Impudence and Modesty, Of Love and Marriage, and Of the Study of History last appeared in the 1760 edition of the Essays and Treatises, and the texts of these are therefore taken from that edition. Of Avarice and A Character of Sir Robert Walpole last appeared in the 1768 edition of the Essays and Treatises, and the texts of these are therefore taken from that edition. A Character of Sir Robert Walpole first appeared as an essay by itself, but in editions of Hume’s essays from 1748 to 1768, it appeared as a footnote at the end of the essay That Politics may be Reduced to a Science; from 1770 onwards this note was dropped. The text here is a reproduction of the footnote in the 1768 edition of That Politics may be Reduced to a Science (though the text of that essay, note, is taken from the 1777 edition, and therefore does not contain the footnote).
Departures from these copytexts not common to all of the editions on this site are all marked in the text.
2.4. A Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh (1745)
edited by Peter Millican
[Notes to be added.]
2.5. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748 / 1777)
edited by Peter Millican
What is now known as Hume’s first Enquiry was first published in 1748, by Andrew Millar of the Strand, London, under the title Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding. It is described in My Own Life as a recasting of the “first part” of the Treatise, though it is not confined to topics from Treatise Book 1: the long Section 8 “Of Liberty and Necessity” reworks Treatise 2.3.1-2 (and incorporates T 126.96.36.199 as E 8.13), while Sections 11 and 12, on Miracles and the Design Argument, have no precedent. Perhaps it is best thought of as a presentation of the core — and some of the more striking applications — of Hume’s inductive epistemology and causal metaphysics: the heart of his theoretical philosophy. It thus elaborates what the Abstract described as the “Chief Argument” of the Treatise, while adding an explicit focus on religious topics (which Hume had deleted from the Treatise for reasons of prudence). Although much shorter than the Treatise, and omitting most of the detailed associationist psychology (e.g. from the discussions of belief, probability, and the external world), the Enquiry expands the central philosophical discussions on induction (Section 4), free-will (Section 8), and scepticism (Section 12) while also polishing significantly the treatment of causation (Section 7). It is therefore an indispensable source for Hume’s epistemology and metaphysics, although most scholars have tended to ignore Hume’s own request — expressed in the “Advertisement” of 1775 — that the Enquiry should be taken (together with the other works in his final edition of Essays and Treatises Volume 2) as the authoritative statement of his mature “philosophical sentiments and principles”, thus supplanting the Treatise.
A second edition of the Philosophical Essays appeared in 1750, and this was reprinted in 1751 and 1753, the latter in the form of volume II of Hume’s four-volume Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. This arrangement was retained in the third edition of 1756, at which point volume II was the only one of the four to be reissued. The next edition of the Essays and Treatises, in 1758, combined the constituent works into a single volume, and here Hume permanently changed the title of his Philosophical Essays to An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, thus recognising its systematic nature alongside the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. In the four-volume 1760 and 1770 editions of the Essays and Treatises, the Enquiry appeared in volume III followed by A Dissertation on the Passions. In the two-volume editions of 1764, 1767, 1768, 1772, and 1777, it appeared at the beginning of volume II, followed in order by A Dissertation on the Passions, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, and The Natural History of Religion.
Only in three cases have substantive changes been made to the copytext here, where typographical changes were clearly required and could be identified by reference to other editions: these involve the insertion of “[is]” within 3.3 n. 6, “[and]” within endnote [B], and the substitution of “reasoning” for “reasonings” in the first line of endnote [H].
Footnotes have all been numbered, as with all of the editions on this site. This leads to one small complication: Beauchamp’s note 5 from the 1772 edition is absent from the 1777 text followed here, but for ease of cross reference I have numbered the notes as Beauchamp does. Thus note 5 only appears only in the Textual Variants section of this site.
The title page and table of contents are structurally similar to the original 1748 edition, but have been updated to match Hume’s later changes. Thus the title itself is changed from “Philosophical Essays” to “An Enquiry”, and the titles of the sections in the contents are as in the 1777 edition. Note also that “SECTION” appears in the titles of what we now know as the sections of this work, although in the 1748 edition they were titled “ESSAY”. Page references have also been removed from the table of contents.
2.6. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751 / 1777)
edited by Peter Millican
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals — commonly known as Hume’s second Enquiry — was originally published in 1751, by Andrew Millar of the Strand, London. A companion work to the first Enquiry, it is a recasting of the moral theory of Treatise Book 3, which preserves most of the spirit of the original while differing significantly in detail. Some of Hume’s most influential and controversial arguments against (what we now call) moral realism and rationalism are removed: a change traditionally considered to be a symptom of shortening and simplifying rather than any change of mind (though this traditional assumption has more recently been questioned). Likewise the associationist psychology of the Treatise — such as the explanation of sympathy — fades into the background, and instead Hume focuses on the attempt to find systematic principles for ordering our everyday judgements of virtues and vices, as manifested in common language. This results in a view with strong elements of both utilitarianism and of virtue ethics, characterising the virtues as “mental qualities, useful or agreeable to the person himself, or to others” (M 9.1).
The second edition of An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals was in the form of volume III of Hume’s four-volume Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects in 1753. Its third edition (though not explicitly labelled as such) was in the 1758 Essays and Treatises, which combined the constituent works into a single volume. In the four-volume 1760 and 1770 editions of the Essays and Treatises, the second Enquiry appeared in volume IV before The Natural History of Religion. In the two-volume editions of 1764, 1767, 1768, 1772, and 1777, it appeared within volume II, after An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and A Dissertation on the Passions, and before The Natural History of Religion.
Here a fair number of substantive changes been made to the original copytext, which gives the impression of having been checked far less carefully than that of the first Enquiry. (This text is still subject to editorial checking, and more detail will be added here once that process of checking has been fully completed. Feedback from readers who notice any issues with the text will be particularly welcome.)
2.7. Political Discourses (1752 / 1777)
edited by Amyas Merivale
At the start of the 1750s, Hume’s reputation as an essay writer was well-established, and his new set of Political Discourses, published in 1752, was so successful that a second edition was brought out in the very same year. A third edition was printed in 1754.
The set of essays included in each of these three editions was the same, and Hume didn’t withdraw any of them from subsequent collections of his essays. Consequently the text of each essay here follows the 1777 edition. Departures from this text not common to all of the editions on this site are marked in the text.
2.8. Four Dissertations (1757 / 1777)
edited by Amyas Merivale
The Natural History of Religion, the Dissertation on the Passions, and Of Tragedy were originally intended for a set of four dissertations alongside an essay on the metaphysical principles of geometry. Shortly before publication, however, Hume was persuaded by Lord Stanhope “that either there was some Defect in the Argument [of this fourth dissertation] or in its perspicuity” (HL 2, p. 253), and he removed it from the set. Being advised by his publisher that the other three alone were not long enough for publication, Hume sent the two scandalous essays Of Suicide and Of the Immortality of the Soul to fill the gap (see section 2.11 below). “They were printed;” continued Hume in the letter to William Strahan already quoted, “but it was no sooner done than I repented; and Mr Millar and I agreed to suppress them at common charges, and I wrote a new Essay on the Standard of Taste to supply their place.” (ibid.)
The text here follows the 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises, in which Of Tragedy and Of the Standard of Taste were included in volume 1, with the other essays, and the Dissertation on the Passions and Natural History of Religion were included in volume 2, following the first and second Enquiries respectively. Departures from this text not common to all of the editions on this site are marked in the text; there are only a few, and mostly minor matters of punctuation. There is one substantial alteration to the Dissertation on the Passions: it seems clear to me from the context that the word “compassion” in section 3, paragraph 12 should be “dislike”. Obviously this changes the sense considerably, and unfortunately, since this is a new paragraph first added in the 1777 edition, there are no other editions to compare. Thus forewarned, readers may judge for themselves.
The title page for the whole set is as in the original 1757 edition. I have added title pages for the Natural History of Religion and the Dissertation on the Passions, however, which are as they are found in the 1777 edition. Also, the sections of the Natural History were untitled in the original edition; the titles added later have been included here.
2.9. Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1758, 1777)
edited by Amyas Merivale and Peter Millican
Hume first published a set of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects in 1753. It was a four-volume set containing (in this order) the Essays, Moral and Political, the first Enquiry, the second Enquiry, and the Political Discourses. In 1754 he published another edition of volume 4 (the Political Discourses), and in 1756 another edition of volume 2 (the first Enquiry). It is the next edition, in 1758, that is particularly interesting, however, since it is here that Hume renames and reorders his philosophical writings for the last time. A large single-volume set, this collection contained the Essays, Moral and Political and the Political Discourses, now renamed Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary parts 1 and 2, the first Enquiry (now called an enquiry, rather than philosophical essays), the Dissertation on the Passions, the second Enquiry, and the Natural History of Religion. Though subsequent editions of these Essays and Treatises were sometimes in two volumes, sometimes in four, the structure from this point onwards remained the same — right up to the posthumous 1777 edition, which Hume was working on until his death in 1776.
We have chosen to reproduce here the 1758 and the 1777 editions of this collection. Since the 1777 edition is also our copytext for all of the texts contained within it, the edition here is as faithful a reproduction of its ancestor as you will find on this site. Our version of the 1758 edition is identical in structure and similar in spirit to its model, but the texts themselves have been updated to agree with the 1777 edition. Also, four essays in the earlier edition were removed from the later: Of Impudence and Modesty, Of Love and Marriage, Of the Study of History, and Of Avarice. The texts of the first three of these are taken from the 1760 edition of the Essays and Treatises, the latest edition in which they appear; the text of the last is taken from the 1768 edition, the latest one in which that appears.
2.10. My Own Life (1777)
edited by Peter Millican
Written in the year of his death, when Hume was aware of the seriousness of his terminal illness, this was sent to his printer William Strahan for inclusion in the forthcoming final edition of Hume’s works, but in the event was published separately in 1777. This text is taken from the original publication, with a few small corrections made by comparison with Hume’s handwritten manuscript in the National Library of Scotland. Hume’s story of his life is certainly selective (for example it contains no mention of the distasteful quarrel with Rousseau), and his aim seems to be to leave to posterity an appropriate impression of calm philosophical detachment. For a sensitive discussion of the nuances of the piece, see Donald Siebert, The Moral Animus of David Hume (Associated University Presses, 1990), chapter 5.
2.11. Of Suicide and Of the Immortality of the Soul
Of Suicide edited by Amyas Merivale
Of the Immortality of the Soul edited by Peter Millican
The two essays Of Suicide and Of the Immortality of the Soul were originally planned for publication in a projected 1755 collection called Five Dissertations, but Hume decided to withdraw them prior to publication. They were replaced with Of the Standard of Taste, and the collection appeared in 1757 under the name Four Dissertations. The suppressed essays were eventually published posthumously and anonymously in 1777, but the text here — like the standard edition of Miller (1987) — follows instead the 1755 version, of which a proof-copy exists in the National Library of Scotland with some corrections in Hume’s handwriting. The only departures from that copy, aside from those common to all the texts on this site, are precisely these handwritten alterations, all of which are marked in the text.
2.12. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779)
edited by Peter Millican
Hume’s final masterpiece was mostly written in 1751-2, apparently revised around 1757 and again in 1761, with the last revision taking place only in 1776 when he was very close to death (the timing of these revisions is carefully discussed by M. A. Stewart, “The Dating of Hume’s Manuscripts”, in Paul B. Wood, The Scottish Enlightenment: Essays in Reinterpretation, University of Rochester Press, 2000, chapter 9). Dissuaded by friends from publishing such a controversial work in his lifetime, Hume planned to leave the manuscript to one of his closest, Adam Smith. But Smith was clearly reluctant to publish, so the dying Hume decided instead to entrust it to William Strahan, his printer, through a codicil to his will dated 7th August 1776 (he died on 25th August): “I ... leave my Manuscripts to the Care of Mr William Strahan ... I desire, that my Dialogues concerning Natural Religion may be printed and published any time within two Years after my Death; ... I also ordain, that if my Dialogues from whatever Cause, be not published within two Years and a half after my Death ... the Property shall return to my Nephew, David, whose Duty, in publishing them as the last Request of his Uncle, must be approved of by all the World.” Meanwhile he ordered two copies to be made, one of them to remain with his nephew, who in the event kept the original manuscript from which he ultimately brought the work to publication in 1779. The text here follows that first 1779 edition, with a minimal number of editorial changes where clear mistakes can be identified (consulting the manuscript in appropriate cases).
Uniquely amongst Hume’s major philosophical works, we still possess the entire original manuscript, preserved by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and housed in the National Library of Scotland (to both of which we are very grateful for providing such excellent images). It is made public for the first time on this website, and provides intriguing clues to both the composition and interpretation of a work whose very dialogue form serves to camouflage Hume’s intentions. It is divided into 12 parts (after a short introduction), involving three main characters, and mostly consists of an analysis and critical discussion of the popular Design Argument for God’s existence, at the time widely considered the decisive proof of theism. Just as in Section 11 of the first Enquiry, this dialogue form allows Hume to canvass “dangerous” opinions without committing himself to them, resulting in much debate as to which of the characters — or what combination of their views — best reflects his own position.
After a few preliminaries, Part 1 provides a discussion of scepticism that gives valuable insights into the “mitigated scepticism” which Hume had reached as the concluding position of his first Enquiry (E 12.24-34). The Design Argument is presented in Part 2 by Cleanthes, the advocate for “experimental Theism” (D 5.2), who appeals to the analogy between the intricately ordered universe and a complex machine. Philo — the “careless sceptic” (D Intro.6) who is generally thought to be Hume’s main spokesman — goes on to attack this argument, objecting that the supposed analogy is too distant to sustain any reliable inference (D 2.17-24). The third main character Demea — introduced as a believer of “rigid orthodoxy” (D Intro.6) — joins with Philo in attacking Cleanthes’ “anthropomorphism”, but is himself taken to task by Cleanthes for the opposite vice of “mysticism”, which by insisting that God is entirely incomprehensible in human terms, becomes indistinguishable from atheism (D 4.1-3).
Parts 5 to 8 are mostly taken up with Philo’s inventive proferring of numerous alternative analogies, by which he effectively ridicules Cleathes’ Design Argument. Rather than a machine, the universe might more properly be compared to a ship or city, produced not by a single perfect designer, but by a succession of many fallible workers who slowly learn their craft by trial and error (D 5.7-12). Its intricate order, so far from being like that of “a watch or a knitting-loom” (D 7.3), is more like that of an animal or plant, which derive from generation or vegetation rather than design (D 6-7). Philo even suggests reviving “the old Epicurean hypothesis” (D 8.2), accounting for the universe’s apparent order in terms of stable patterns that arise purely by chance — many of Hume’s readers have seen here a possible foreshadowing of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
In Part 9, Demea recommends abandoning Cleathes’ “argument a posteriori” in favour of “the simple and sublime argument a priori” which is strongly reminiscent of Samuel Clarke. Now it is Cleanthes’ turn to attack, efficiently dismissing Demea’s argument in an entirely Humean spirit (compare D 9.5 with E 12.28). Demea’s reaction is to admit that his belief in God is based not on reasoning but on “a consciousness of his imbecility and misery ... Wretched creatures that we are! what resource for us amidst the innumerable ills of life, did not Religion ... appease those terrors ...” (D 10.1). Philo now joins with Demea in emphasising the horrors of the world (Parts 11 and 12 together constituting one of the classic discussions of the Problem of Evil), but he ultimately presses the argument well beyond the boundaries that Demea has in mind, towards the conclusion that any creator is likely to be morally indifferent (D 11.15) or even immoral (D 11.16-17). Demea, clearly upset by this turn of events, “took occasion soon after, on some pretence or other, to leave the company” (D 11.21), leaving Cleanthes and Philo to finish the discussion in the famously perplexing Part 12.
The notorious puzzle of the Dialogues is how to make sense of Philo’s apparent volte-face in which, having criticised the Design Argument so heavily in the earlier parts, he ends up advocating the argument himself (e.g. D 12.2-4), and ultimately accepting on this basis “That the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence” (D 12.33), a passage commonly known as “Philo’s confession”. There are several themes running through Part 12 that might help to explain (or explain away) this apparent inconsistency, for example Philo’s suggestion at D 12.6-7 that the level of analogy between the human mind and the supposed divine mind is a matter of degree, making the debate between theists and atheists largely verbal. If this is really the ultimate upshot of the debate — as might seem to be confirmed by the authorial footnote 11 (although that concerns “the dispute between the Sceptics and Dogmatists”, and makes no mention of religion) — then Philo’s apparent confession of faith amounts to virtually nothing at all. Nevertheless his overt expression of “veneration for true religion” (D 12.9) has a point within the dialogue, by giving him licence to launch a fierce attack on the contrasting moral corruptions of “vulgar superstition” (D 12.11-21). “True religion, I allow, has no such pernicious consequences” (D 12.23), he says, but one has to wonder whether his appeal to “true religion” here is mere window-dressing, a way of avoiding universal censure and rejection of the views that he is expressing, by purporting to stand up for a virtuous form of religion which supposedly encapsulates “genuine Theism” (D 12.24), but which is in fact conspicuous by its absence in the real world of religious practice. Philo’s unflattering picture of popular religion portrays it as corrupting morality by “raising up a new and frivolous species of merit”, tending to “weaken ... men’s attachment to the natural motives of justice and humanity”, and promoting hypocrisy (D 12.16-17). So far from being founded on reason, its psychological basis lies in fear and misery (D 12.25-30), and Philo again emphasises the contrast between such vulgar superstition and the minimal abstract true religion of “philosophical Theists” (D 12.32) before delivering his somewhat surprising confession. He ends on an even more surprising note, remarking that because reason is unable to establish more than a minimal theism, “A person, seasoned with a just sense of the imperfections of natural reason, will fly to revealed truth with the greatest avidity ... To be a philosophical Sceptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian” (D 12.33).
Those familiar with Hume’s rejection of “revealed truth” (e.g. E 10.40) and his penchant for “theological lying” (as perhaps exemplified most clearly in the first and last paragraphs of his essay Of the Immortality of the Soul) might well consider that Philo is being patently insincere in his final flourish of devout fideism. But Philo is not Hume, and it is therefore possible that his intended role is to portray a genuine sceptical fideist on the model of Pierre Bayle. Hume’s message must then be read not directly from what Philo says, but from the artfully constructed Dialogues as a whole. And this is where the value of his physical manuscript becomes most apparent, enabling us to see some of the stages by which that artful construction took place. Those wanting to follow this up in detail are advised to consult Stewart’s article mentioned above, and one illustration must suffice here.
If you go to Page 79 of the manuscript, on the right-hand side of the sreen you will see the printed text of the Dialogues (as in the first 1779 edition), and on the left-hand side, Hume’s handwritten page. Many traces of revision and deletion are evident, and about halfway down a sign “BB” indicating a place for insertion (just after the line “he is justly suppos’d to bear a considerable Resemblance?”). Looking back now to the text at the left of the screen, scroll down until you come to the corresponding point in the printed version, where “BB” is highlighted in blue to show that it is an active link. Clicking on this blue text will now bring up manuscript page 87 on the left of the screen, showing the “BB” insertion as written by Hume. The “AA” insertion (containing footnote 11 mentioned above) is also on this page, but notice how different the two passages look. This is because the “BB” insertion, which extends over to the last page of the manuscript (click on the “next page” button at the top right) was added as Hume was dying, and the deterioration in his handwriting is very evident. The text around the page break here is highly significant: “... I ask [the Atheist], whether, from the coherence and apparent Sympathy in all the parts of this world, there be not a certain degree of analogy among all the operations of Nature, in every situation and in every age; whether the rotting of a Turnip, the generation of an animal, and the structure of human thought be not energies that probably bear some remote analogy to each other: It is impossible he can deny it ... Having obtain’d this Concession, I push him still farther in his retreat; and I ask him, if it be not probable, that the Principle which first arrang’d, and still maintains order in this universe, bears not also some remote inconceivable analogy to the other operations of Nature, and among the rest to the Oeconomy of human Mind and Thought. However reluctant, he must give his Assent. ...” Note how this passage (which Stewart calls Hume’s “dying testament to posterity”), while purporting to put pressure on the atheist, in fact serves to undermine completely the force of Philo’s celebrated “confession”: the cause or causes of order in the universe might indeed bear some remote analogy to human intelligence, but no more than to the rotting of a turnip, and this clearly does not amount to any theism worthy of the name! Moreover these are the only two passages in all of Hume’s writings to use the phrase “remote analogy” — and they share the entire phrase “probably bear some remote analogy” — so it seems overwhelmingly likely that they are intended to be read together. Here we have a wonderful example of Hume’s clever composition, hiding a message within the very last paragraph that he ever wrote for publication, so that it might later be discovered and appropriately understood by his discerning readers. That message is Hume’s, but not apparently Philo’s, for Philo remains a Baylean fideist, but this evidence strongly suggests that Hume was far closer to what we would call atheism.