Liberty, Necessity and the Foundations of Hume's 'Science of Man'

History of the Human Sciences 25 (1):15-31 (2012)
In this article I suggest that section VIII of Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding could be read as a contribution to the foundational issues of a characteristic 18th-century enterprise, namely the ‘science of man’. More specifically, it can be read as a summary of his attempt to place this science on an experimental footing, with an awareness of the lessons he has drawn in the previous sections of the Enquiry. This interpretation fits with an overall reading of the work as responding to the epistemological problems that arise in the context of then-contemporary ways of knowledge production. As I argue, this section is relevant for the methodology of a science of human nature. The main problems it addresses are the following. What kind of knowledge can we hope for about human beings, and how should we pursue it? What are the meaningful questions that can be asked, and what is beyond the reach of this kind of inquiry? Answering these questions sets the scope and limits of this science.
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