James Buchan

Prudential Man

Hume: An Intellectual Biography

By James A Harris

Cambridge University Press 575pp £35 order from our bookshop

For years, David Hume was seen as a traitor to philosophy. When his masterpiece of 1739, A Treatise of Human Nature, merely boggled or terrified its readers, he is said to have retreated into mercenary journalism and history writing. The brief autobiography Hume wrote a few months before his death in 1776, My Own Life, is principally about how much money he had made from writing and public service.

In the 20th century, as Hume’s reputation as a thinker revived, opinion altered. In the modern view, Hume remained forever true to the comprehensive scepticism of the Treatise and devoted the rest of his life to chipping off bits and carrying them into the fields of politics, trade, finance, religion and taste.

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