Hume Texts Online

Abstract of the Treatise (1740)

prepared 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.