Hume's Diffident Skepticism

Hume Studies 25 (1-2):43-65 (1999)
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One of the chief problems facing interpreters of Hume's philosophy is what I shall call the integration problem. It is a global problem inasmuch as it casts a shadow on every component of his philosophy, but does not directly affect how we interpret their details. The integration problem arises at the end of Book I of A Treatise of Human Nature, where Hume seemed to acknowledge that his account of human understanding, his logic, leads directly to total skepticism regarding both everyday beliefs and abstruse thought. Nonetheless, he neither reconsidered and repudiated this virulent skepticism nor aborted and disowned his investigation of human nature, the project announced in the Introduction to the Treatise. Instead, he continues with Books II and III, neither of which dwells on or even acknowledges the skepticism with which Book I concludes. The resulting puzzle is not just about his decision to publish the three books as one work, since Hume appears paradoxically to endorse the triumph of skepticism and, yet, continue his pursuit of just the kind of knowledge the triumph of skepticism would entirely preclude. How, one is led to ask, can Hume consistently integrate the destructive skepticism of Book I with the constructive project of explaining and understanding human nature? It is not surprising that a wide range of proposals have been put forward by Hume scholars in response to this question. The crux of every such proposal is specifying how the skepticism of Book I is to be regarded. Is it genuine, a mere facade, or something in between?



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Citations of this work

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