Hume Texts Online

A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40)

prepared 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, aside from those common to all texts on this site, are as follows:

1. ERRATA changes

The original edition came with two ERRATA sheets, one for volumes 1 and 2, and another for volume three. All the changes listed here have been incorporated into our edited text. In a few cases, the page numbers for these changes are wrong, but it is never difficult to find the intended page. For example, one instruction for volume 1 is to delete the word “with” at line 17 of page 24, where that word does not occur. Instead, we have deleted the word “with” at line 17 of page 34, which looks like an obvious candidate for deletion.

2. Appendix changes and additions

Volume 3 included an Appendix with instructions for some changes and additions to volume 1. The changes are small (much like those in the ERRATA sheets), while the additions consist of some extra footnotes and paragraphs. Both the changes and the additions have been incorporated into the edited text of volume 1, and removed from the Appendix itself. It is debatable whether the additions, which are quite substantial, should be included in the text of volume 1. Selby-Bigge did not include them; Norton and Norton did, but clearly marked them inline as such. We have elected to include them in our edited version, so as to give the reader as many options as possible: in the original text, they are not present; in the edited text, they are incorporated as Hume instructed; in the edited text with changes shown, they can be clearly seen for what they are.

3. Handwritten changes

The scan of volume 3 on ECCO is of the copy held at the British Library, which contains several written changes in Hume’s hand. We have incorporated these into our edited text. Where they are illegible, owing to the quality of the scan, Nidditch’s textual notes to the revised Selby-Bigge edition have been consulted.

4. Cross references

For the reader’s convenience, Hume’s cross references to other parts of the Treatise have been embellished with paragraph numbers or section titles in square brackets.

5. Footnotes

There is one anomaly to be noted regarding the footnotes of the Treatise. As with all the texts on this site, Hume’s footnote markers have been converted to numbers. For ease, the numbers for the Treatise footnotes here correspond to those in the Oxford Philosophical Texts edition (edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton, OUP, 2000). Norton and Norton delete a note at T Hume instructed that this note be replaced by note 22 (at T 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 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, there is no risk of ambiguity.

6. Other editorial changes

Unlike his later works, for which there are several editions that were carefully polished over time, the single edition of Hume’s Treatise contains a number of errors, even after the ERRATA sheet, Appendix, and handwritten changes are taken into account. These include misplaced or incorrect punctuation, spelling mistakes (that look like typographical errors rather than standard variant or old-fashioned spellings), noun and verb pairs that do not agree in number, and also some more substantial errors that change the sense. In many of these cases (especially those of the last kind), it is of course a matter of judgement whether it is indeed an error, and whenever in doubt we have erred on the side of conservatism. Where we have made a change, we have looked for similar phrasing elsewhere in the Treatise and, in the case of Book 2, in the Dissertation on the Passions, matching these things where possible.