Hume Texts Online

An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748, 1777)

prepared 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 1.3.12.5 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 in the Textual Variants tab in section 3.

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