Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism.
Hume’s empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour and argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is ultimately founded solely in experience; Hume thus held that genuine knowledge must either be directly traceable to objects perceived in experience, or result from abstract reasoning about relations between ideas which are derived from experience, calling the rest “nothing but sophistry and illusion”, a dichotomy later given the name Hume’s fork.
In what is sometimes referred to as Hume’s problem of induction, he argued that inductive reasoning, and belief in causality, cannot, ultimately, be justified rationally; our trust in causality and induction instead results from custom and mental habit, and are attributable to only the experience of “constant conjunction” rather than logic: for we can never, in experience, perceive that one event causes another, but only that the two are always conjoined, and to draw any inductive causal inferences from past experience first requires the presupposition that the future will be like the past, a presupposition which cannot be grounded in prior experience without already being presupposed. Hume’s anti-teleological opposition to the argument for God’s existence from design is generally regarded as the most intellectually significant such attempt to rebut the teleological argument prior to Darwin.