Dr. Ari Santas Notes on

Humes Enquiry I: Of the Different Species of Philosophy


A.     Two Kinds of Moral Philosophy

Hue notes two approaches to moral philosophy in his day

Moral here, is opposed to natural

Moral philosophy human nature (psychology

Natural philosophy physics, mechanics

1)      There was a practical approach, focusing on action and virtue, which was based on common sense and intuition (in the lay sense) - like an advice column

2)       There was an abstract (abstruse) approach, focusing on thinking and contemplation, which was based on metaphysical principles and logically demonstrated proofs - like Descartes, Anselm


B.     Their Relative Merits

Both approaches have their merits, and both have their drawbacks

As for the Practical:

Since it recognizes the importance of action in our lives, it is capable of giving us concrete advice on what to do

But since it lacks and real method other than appeal to common sense, it can only solve problems with obvious solutions

As for the Abstract:

Since it focuses on intelligence, and recognizes the need for method, it can tackle problems without ridiculously easy solutions

But its lack of concern with practical affairs renders this approach inapplicable to real problems


C.     A Needed Middle Ground

The failure of the two approaches is due to the fact that both of them have too narrow of a conception of the complete human being

Man is a rational animal, but he is also a social animal that acts in the world

To live well, we must recognize our complete nature, not getting too caught up in any one aspect of it

Similarly, to do well, moral philosophy must be able to capture the manifold nature of man

So, we do not want to be eggheads, but we do not want to be ignorant, and we do not want to be workaholics

Similarly, moral philosophy cannot assume humans are born only to:





D.     The Importance of Theory

Of the two approaches, the abstract is the most hated

People do not like to take the trouble to reflect on things

They prefer sticking to common sense

So why is it that theorizing and thinking is important, anyway;

Because it is careful inquiry that makes all else possible

In medicine: care inquiry beings safe cures

In art: anatomists make depictions of bodies better

In industry: scientists provide underpinning for needed technology

In the home: scientists make technology for home appliances possible

In short, abstract inquisitions have a way of trickling down into every aspect of life, whether or not we are aware of it


E.      Where the Abstract Runs Afoul

This is not to say all abstract inquisitions bring with them good things

Some of them are not only tiresome, but pernicious as well

When abstract thinkers get really carried away into the netherworlds, they present idle speculation to the unsuspecting in the guise of absolute certainty

Superstition is often passed off as hard science (see pg. 5)

In this respect, the abstract approach has been harmful

But it need not be this way!

One of Hume-s overall goals is to take philosophy out of the netherworlds, finding the proper province of human reason, and then use it to solve real problems


F.      Hume-s Psychology

Hume believed that f you really want to know what humans can know, (if you really want to do epistemology) you must understand human nature

Specifically, we must understand the human mind

That is, to do epistemology, we must do psychology

Descartes had done this to a certain degree, but got lost in the metaphysics along the way

Hume goes much further

Hume-s ambition was to do for psychology what Newton had done for physics

To map out the laws of thought

The Treatise

His method is introspection and his goals are:

Better understand human nature

Find the boundaries (limits) of human reason

Clear philosophy (science) of dogma and superstition




A.     The Science of Human Nature

Hume-s goal in this work is to find the proper province of human reason

That is, he wants to know where reasoning can help us, and where it cannot

To do this, he will embark on a study of human nature

He hopes to synthesize the two approaches to human nature into one with the virtues of both and the vices of neither

He aims to be accurate and applicable, to avoid sloppiness and obscurity

To proceed, he will being by classifying and ordering the contents of the mind


B.     Cleaning Up Philosophy

Hume believed that philosophers up to his time had been guilty of speculating about things they could not possibly know anything about

Reason had been used to prove and justify all kinds of outrageous things

Hume thought this was vain and dishonest

Many so-called philosophical questions were only pseudo problems

Particularly, metaphysical problems like who created the universe were matters that no philosopher had any business talking about

He hoped that by investigating the workings of the human intellect, he could determine the boundaries of inquiry, thereby putting such matters to rest