Hume Texts Online


In selecting the copytexts for the editions on this site, our general rule is to go with the latest edition that Hume worked on, which in some cases means a posthumous edition that he was preparing shortly before his death. The full list for individual works is given below. Unless otherwise stated below, the particular copy is the scan held at Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

Note that some of Hume’s works (his essays and dissertations) are presented here more than once, in the context of different editions. This is to give a sense of when his works were first published, and how they were differently arranged at different times. The content of each work, however, is always the same, reflecting Hume’s final polished version.

1. List of Editions

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 copytext for the History of England is the posthumous 1778 edition. Hume was working on these two editions until his death in 1776.

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The copytext for the remaining essays—i.e. those published in earlier collections, but withdrawn from the 1777 edition of the Essays and Treatises—is in each case the latest published version.

2. Explanation of this Selection

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.)

3. Volume Breaks

Hume’s larger works (the Treatise and the History) and his collection of Essays and Treatises were printed in multi-volume editions. In the case of the Treatise and the History, this was partly because they were published in stages, but in any case practical printing constraints favoured smaller volumes. Since we have no such constraints, and since the volume breaks are of no intrinsic interest, they are for the most part not reflected in the editions on this site.

The exception to this rule is the History of England, which—with its 71 chapters and four appendices—is rather unwieldy as a continuous block, and has therefore been divided up here into six volumes. The 1778 copytext was printed in eight volumes, but this was an economic necessity and does not reflect the structure of the work. Structurally, the work divides into three parts, each further divided here into two volumes. These volume breaks correspond to those that appeared in the first editions that Hume published of each part; it was only when the work was completed that its chapters needed to be redistributed awkwardly among eight volumes.