Monday, April 26, 2010

The Leading Light of the Scottish Enlightenment

David Hume has been described by some as the most important philosopher in the English language.  It is probable that most people today have never even heard of him.  Born April 26, 1711, as David Home (changed in 1734 so that the English could better understand how to pronounce his name), the "uncommonly wake-minded" Hume attended Edinburgh University by age 11. 

Hume has been labeled a British empiricist as a philosopher; i.e. (roughly that) knowledge derives from experience of the senses.  This school of thought was founded by John Locke.  Hume's major productions include "A Treatise of Human Nature" (1739-1740), the "Enquiries concerning Human Understanding" (1748) and "concerning the Principles of Morals" (1751).  Hume also contributed substantially to history and economics, publishing a 6 volume "History of England", and influencing the viewpoint of his friend Adam Smith.  More famous in his own day than in current times, Hume participated in political endeavors of the day, including accompanying his cousin, Lieutenant-General James St. Clair on a diplomatic mission to Vienna and Turin (1748).

Walter Scott would have been too young to meet Hume, who died in 1776; five years after Scott's birth.  Hume's influence on the Scottish Enlightenment and on the thinking of those like Walter Scott who lived during and after is inescapable.  From Scott's Journal:
April 3 (1828)   ...Come, I'll write down the whole stanza, which is all that was known to exist of David Hume's poetry, as it was written on a pane of glass in the inn:—

"Here chicks in eggs for breakfast sprawl,
Here godless boys God's glories squall,
Here Scotsmen's heads do guard the wall,
But Corby's walks atone for all."

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