David Hume (1711-1776)
David Hume, the great philosopher and historian, was born in Edinburgh. He is recognised not only as a key figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, but as one of the foremost philosophers writing in English. He produced a number of important philosophical works on topics including human nature, religion, British history and politics.
Controversial theories on human nature
Hume’s first work, ‘A treatise of human nature’ (1739) presented his claim that the study of the science of man or of human nature based upon observation and experience should be the basis of all other fields of study, including religion, moral philosophy and politics.
This was a radical and hugely controversial proposition, since experience cannot be used to discuss the nature of God. Hume’s theories were challenged by a number of contemporary thinkers, including James Beattie.
Edinburgh’s intellectual élite
Hume was one of the Edinburgh ‘literati’, or intellectual elite, and counted the philosopher Adam Smith, the painter Allan Ramsay, and the clergymen Hugh Blair and Adam Ferguson among his close friends.
Hume was also one of the founding members of the Select Society, although he does not appear to have spoken at their debates.