Maarten Maartensz

Notes Philosophy - Hume - Enquiry concerning Human Understanding - intro S-B


















What follows in this section is the introductory text to both Enquiries (concerning Human Understanding and concerning the Principles of Morals) by Hume’s 1893-editor L.A. Selby-Bigge, M.A.

It is included because it is useful, especially in the comparisons Selby-Bigge makes between Hume's Enquiries and Hume's Treatise - and as the reader may know, and is supposed to know in what follows, the Treatise on Human Nature was Hume's first philosophical work, whereas the Enquiries are his later revision and abbreviation of this.


1    Hume’s philosophic writings are to be read with great caution. His pages, especially those of the Treatise, are so full of matter, he says so many different things in so many different ways and different connexions, and with so much indifference to what he has said before, that it is very hard to say positively that he taught, or did not teach, this or that particular doctrine. He applies the same principles to such a great variety of subjects that it is not surprising that many verbal, and some real inconsistencies can be found in his statements. [N1] He is ambitious rather than shy of saying the same thing in different ways, and at the same time he is often slovenly and indifferent about his words and formulae. This makes it easy to find all philosophies in Hume, or, by setting up one statement against another, none at all. Of Professor Green’s criticism of Hume it is impossible to speak, here in Oxford, without the greatest respect. Apart from its philosophic importance, it is always serious and legitimate; but it is also impossible not to feel that it would have been quite as important and a good deal shorter, if it had contained fewer of the verbal victories which are so easily won over Hume. [N2]

2    The question whether Hume’s philosophy is to be judged by his Treatise or his Enquiries is of some interest, and this Introduction aims chiefly at making clear the relation between them.

Hume composed his Treatise between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five, finishing it in the year 1736. The first two books were published in 1739, and the third book in 1740. The first edition of the Enquiry into the Human Understanding appeared in 1748; the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals appeared in 1751, and the Dissertation on the Passions (corresponding to Bk. II of the Treatise) in 1757[1].

Hume says himself that the Treatise ‘fell dead-born from the press without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots.’ That distinction was, to the end of his life, particularly dear to Hume, and it will be seen that in the Enquiries he made a bold bid for it in his quite superfluous section on Miracles and a Particular Providence. He entertained the notion, however, that his want of success in publishing the Treatise ‘had proceeded more from the manner than the matter,’ and that he had been ‘guilty of a very usual indiscretion in going to the press too early.’ He therefore ‘cast the first part of that work anew in the Enquiry concerning the Human Understanding,’ and afterwards continued the same process in his Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, which, he says, ‘in my own opinion is of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best.’ In the posthumous edition of his Collected Essays of 1777, the Advertisement, on which so much stress has been laid, first appeared. It is printed at the beginning of this reprint, and declares the author’s desire that ‘the following pieces may alone be regarded as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles.’ [N3]

This declaration has not only been taken seriously by some writers, but they have even complied with it and duly ignored the Treatise. By others it has been treated as an interesting indication of the character of a man who had long ago given up philosophy, who always had a passion for applause, and little respect or generosity for his own failures. By Mr. Grose the Advertisement is regarded as ‘the posthumous utterance of a splenetic invalid,’ and Mr. Green’s elaborate criticism is directed almost entirely against the Treatise. [N4]

3     To discuss a question of literary justice would be out of place in an Introduction which aims at estimating philosophic importance. Two remarks, however, may be made before passing on.

The first is, that even in Hume’s philosophical writings the author’s personal character continually excites our interest. The Treatise, as was noticed at the time of its publication, is full of egoisms. Even in this severe work, together with a genuine ardour and enthusiasm, there is an occasional note of insincerity, arrogance or wantonness which strikes the serious student painfully. The following pages will perhaps show that Hume, in re-casting the Treatise into its new form, displayed the less admirable sides of his temper rather freely. [N5]

In the second place, it is undeniable that Hume’s own judgement on the style of his earlier work was quite correct. The Treatise was ill-proportioned, incoherent, ill-expressed. There are ambiguities and obscurities of expression in important passages which are most exasperating. Instead of the easy language, familiar and yet precise, of the Enquiries, we have an amount of verbal vagueness and slovenliness for which it is hard to excuse even ‘a solitary Scotchman.’ How far the difference between the two works is merely one of style is considered below, but whether it be due to matter or manner, it remains that the Enquiries are an easy book and the Treatise a very hard one. In the Treatise he revels in minutiae, in difficulties, in paradoxes: he heaps questions upon himself, and complicates argument by argument: he is pedantic and captious. In the Enquiry he ignores much with which he had formerly vexed his own and his readers’ souls, and like a man of the world takes the line of least resistance (except as touching the ‘zealots’). He gives us elegance, lucidity and proportion. [N6]

4     Perhaps it may be allowed the writer here to record his own adherence to those who judge Hume’s philosophy by his Treatise. Bk. I of the Treatise is beyond doubt a work of first-rate philosophic importance, and in some ways the most important work of philosophy in the English language. It would be impossible to say the same of the Enquiries, and although in one sense the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals is the best thing Hume ever wrote, to ignore the Treatise is to deprive him of his place among the great thinkers of Europe.

At the same time it is perhaps well worth while to examine rather closely the actual relations between the contents of the earlier and later works. The comparative tables of contents which are printed at the end of this Introduction may perhaps save the student some ungrateful labour, and show, in a graphic form, at all events the relative amount of space assigned to various subjects in the two works. The difference in the method of treatment, conclusions, and general tone can of course only be gathered by reading the different passages side by side. The results of such a reading are presented in the following pages.

5     Taking the Enquiry concerning the Human Understanding separately, we are at once struck by the entire omission of Bk. I, part ii of the Treatise. Space and time are not treated of at all in the Enquiry as independent subjects interesting in themselves; they are only introduced incidentally in §§ 124–5 of the Enquiry, as illustrating the absurdity of the abstract sciences and in support of a sceptical position.

We are also struck by the introduction of the two theological sections (x-xi) of the Enquiry, and by the very small space given to the general questions concerning knowledge and the relation of subject and object.

Sections 116–132, covering only seventeen pages in all, do duty in the Enquiry for the whole of Bk. I, part iv of the Treatise, where ninety-four pages are devoted to the same topics.

This wholesale omission and insertion cannot well be due to philosophical discontent with the positions or arguments, or to a general desire to fill up a gap in the system, but must be ascribed rather to a general desire to make the Enquiry readable. Parts ii and iv are certainly the hardest in the Treatise, and the least generally interesting to the habitués of coffee-houses, especially at a period when ‘the greatest part of men have agreed to convert reading into an amusement;’ whereas a lively and sceptical discussion of miracles and providence could hardly fail to find readers, attract attention, and excite that ‘murmur among the zealots’ by which the author desired to be distinguished.

Taking the two works rather more in detail, we find these notable differences:—

6     Psychology. Even in the Treatise we feel that the introductory psychology is rather meagre and short to serve as a foundation for so large a system, but in the Enquiry it is still more cut down.

Thus the Enquiry omits the distinction between simple and complex ideas; between impressions of sensation and reflexion, which is of importance afterwards for the explanation of the idea of necessary connexion; between ideas of memory and imagination: in the treatment of association little is said about causation as a principle of association, and the account of the products of association, the three classes of complex ideas, relations, modes and substances, and abstract ideas, disappears.

Thus the list of philosophic relations and the distinction between philosophic and natural relation are omitted, and do not appear at all in the Enquiry. The question of abstraction is only alluded to incidentally near the end of the Enquiry (§§ 122 and 125 n). Substance is passed over, as it is also in § xii of the Enquiry, probably both from the difficulty of the subject, and because in the Enquiry Hume is not nearly so anxious to show that the fundamental popular conceptions are fictitious. There is something solid to which the popular conception of causation can be reduced, but when substance and body are analyzed, as they are in the Treatise, the importance of the materials out of which they are said to be formed is out of all proportion to the place which the finished products occupy in thought and language.

The slight treatment of association again is quite characteristic of the temper of the Enquiry. The details of psychical mechanism, which are rather tiresomely paraded in the Treatise, are consistently passed over in the Enquiry, notably so in the case of sympathy.

7     Space and Time. It must be admitted that the subject of space and time, as treated in the Treatise, is not very attractive. There is nothing in the Enquiry corresponding to the forty-two pages of the Treatise, in which space and time are treated, except two pages in § xii.

Of the philosophical importance of Hume’s treatment of them in the Treatise it is unnecessary to speak; it is apparent from the large amount of criticism which Professor Green thought fit to bestow on it. It is to be noted, however, that the account of causation which Hume gives afterwards in the Enquiry, is left hanging in the air when the support of the theory of succession has been withdrawn. The omission of the section on the ideas of existence and external existence is, like the omission of the various accounts of substance, only a part of Hume’s avoidance of the general question of the relation of knowledge and reality.

8     Causation. In the account of causation Hume passes over the very interesting and fundamental question raised in the Treatise of the position of cause in the fabric of our knowledge. On p. 78 of the Treatise (Bk. I, iii, § 3; cf. p. 157), he asks why a cause is always necessary, and concludes that there is no reason for the presumption that everything must have a cause. [N7] This conclusion he supports by his analysis of the idea of a particular cause, and asserts again (p. 172) that there is ‘no absolute metaphysical necessity’ that one object should have another associated with it in such a way that its idea shall determine the mind to form the idea of the other. This conclusion is of the gravest importance for Hume’s theory of causation in general, and is difficult to reconcile with his negation of the reality of chance and his assumption of secret causes (Treatise, pp. 130, 132). His failure in the Enquiry to take the opportunity of treating this question over again is significant of the lower philosophic standard of the later work, especially as he does take the opportunity to add a good deal to his previous discussion of the origin of the idea of power (Enquiry, §§ 51–3, 60 n; cf. Treatise, p. 632, Appendix). In the same spirit the distinction between essential and accidental circumstances, and the question of the employment of general rules (Treatise, pp. 145f, 173f), subjects of great speculative as well as practical interest, are ignored in the Enquiry.

9     A good deal of psychological detail is omitted in the Enquiry. Thus §§ v, ix, x and xiii of Bk. I, part iii, of the Treatise are omitted bodily, partly no doubt to shorten the discussion, and partly on Hume’s new principle of not trying to penetrate beneath the obvious explanations of phenomena. He adds, however, a detailed discussion (Enquiry, §§ 51–3) of the possibility of deriving the idea of power from an internal impression, such as the feeling of initiative or effort accompanying a bodily or mental movement. These sections would appear to be occasioned by contemporary discussions, and are excellently expressed. On the same footing stands the discussion of the theory of occasional causes, which is very well done in §§ 54–7 of the Enquiry (cf. Treatise, p. 171). The omission of the practical § xv of the Treatise, on the rules by which to judge of causes and effects, appears rather strange, unless we regard it as raising a difficult general question which Hume has already shown his anxiety to avoid in his omission of § iii. With regard to the account of the origin, in particular cases, of the idea of cause and effect, there is little difference between the Treatise and Enquiry, except that in the Enquiry ‘contiguity’ practically drops out altogether. A good deal was said about contiguity in § ix of the Treatise, which disappears in the Enquiry; and again in the final definitions of cause given in § xiv, pp. 170–172 of the Treatise, contiguity appears on the same level as resemblance, whereas in the definitions given in the Enquiry, § 60, no mention is made of it at all.

10     A comparison of the definitions given on pp. 170–2 of the Treatise and § 60 of the Enquiry, shows that in the Enquiry the distinction between causation as a philosophical and a natural relation is altogether dropped. In the Treatise this distinction is very hard to follow, and there is little doubt that the sacrifice of it in the Enquiry is deliberate. In the Enquiry Hume asserts more clearly than in the Treatise (though with some of the old inconsistencies) that there is nothing at the bottom of causation except a mental habit of transition or expectation, or, in other words, a ‘natural relation.’ Thus the omission of the chapter on the rules by which to judge of cause and effect and the sacrifice of contiguity are both part of the same policy: succession cannot be got rid of altogether, and this, it is true, is a philosophical relation (Treatise, p. 14), but it is one which is a matter of perception rather than reasoning (Treatise, p. 73), and is not one which raises much discussion—we seldom have much difficulty in discovering whether A or B came first, and you cannot strictly say that B was more consequent on A than C was, or vice versa. [N8] But men of science are very curious about contiguity, and the examination of it as a philosophical relation would often run counter to the connexions established by contiguity as a natural relation. Contiguity therefore drops out of the Enquiry as a philosophical relation, though it must be supposed to exert its influence as a natural relation (cf. Treatise, p. 92).

Resemblance was not treated in the Treatise as a philosophical relation, in connexion with causation, but rather as a natural relation, i. e. not as a relation between A and B which men of science would take into consideration, but as the relation between a1 b1, a2 b2, a3 b3, &c., which was the foundation of the unconscious habit of proceeding to assert a4 b4 or A B. This position is still more clearly given to resemblance in the Enquiry, where Hume asserts roundly that one instance is as good philosophically (or as we should say, ‘scientifically’) as a thousand (cf. Enquiry, § 31). The only effect of resemblance or repetition is to produce a habit.

Philosophical relations are those which a man of science perceives or establishes when he consciously compares one object with another. Natural relations are those which unconsciously join one idea to another in his mind. In the case of causation, therefore, a philosophical relation must be between A and B, a1 and b1, a2 and b2: natural relation must be between one particular case of A B and another, e. g. between a1 b1 and a2 b2, a3 b3, &c. The philosophical relation of causation is what a man of science sees in one case of A B taken by itself, and that is nothing but succession and contiguity. Hume feeling the difficulty of maintaining philosophical relations at all, wisely says nothing in the Enquiry about their difference from natural relations, and says as little as possible about those elements of causation which he cannot spare, and which in the Treatise appeared as philosophical relations. The distinction in the Treatise is indeed most bewildering, but, with its disappearance in the Enquiry, the relation of causation becomes more completely subjective, and it becomes even more hard than in the Treatise to see how there can be any difference between real and apparent causes, or any room for concealed causes. On the other hand, it may be said that, so long as natural was opposed to philosophical relation, there was still possible an invidious contrast between the subjectivity of the one and the objectivity of the other, while in the Enquiry some credit is restored to causation, because nothing is said about its seven philosophical rivals. Both in the Enquiry and Treatise the operations of resemblance, contiguity and succession, are described in language which is far from precise and clear, and which justifies many of the lively strictures passed on the association theory by Mr. Bradley in his Principles of Logic; but it is certainly easier to grasp Hume’s meaning in the Enquiry than in the Treatise, and a comparison of the passages containing the definitions is decidedly instructive.

11     It will be noted that in the Enquiry, § 60, Hume interjects a curious little explanation of his first definition: ‘We may define a cause to be an object followed by another, and when all the objects similar to the first are followed by objects similar to the second, or, in other words, where if the first object had not been, the second never had existed.’ The words in italics can hardly be regarded as a paraphrase or equivalent of the main definition, and must be added to the rather large collection of unassimilated dicta which so much occupied Professor Green. [N9]

     Liberty and necessity.—Hume has certainly effected an improvement in the Enquiry by bringing this subject into closer connexion with his theory of causation. In the Treatise he deals with it under the general heading of the ‘will and direct passions,’ and with an interval of more than 200 pages from the main treatment of cause. The only important differences between the two discussions of the freedom of the will are (a) the omission in the Enquiry of the preliminary definition of the will (Treatise, p. 399), (b) the insertion in the Enquiry of the definition of ‘liberty,’ § 73, (c) the more emphatic assertion in the Enquiry that the whole dispute is one of words, and that all men have really been always agreed on the matter. (Cf. Enquiry, §§ 62–3, 71, 73, and Treatise, pp. 399, 407, 409.) (d) The development of the religious aspect of the question, Enquiry, §§ 76–81. To this nothing corresponds in the Treatise, and like the following sections in the Enquiry it may be ascribed to Hume’s ambition to disturb ‘the zealots’ at all costs.

The discussion has been carefully re-written in the Enquiry, many of the illustrations used are different and more elegant, and the whole section in the Enquiry is an excellent instance of the general improvement in style and construction which appears in the later work.

Miracles, providence, and a future state. §§ x and xi of the Enquiry, in which these subjects are treated, belong to Hume’s applied philosophy, and, important and interesting as they are in themselves, they do not add anything to his general speculative position. Their insertion in the Enquiry is due doubtless rather to other considerations than to a simple desire to illustrate or draw corollaries from the philosophical principles laid down in the original work. [N10]

13     Knowledge and reality. § 12 of the Enquiry very inadequately represents the whole of Book I, part iv of the Treatise, occupying as it does only seventeen pages as against ninety-four in the earlier work. In details the correspondence is necessarily very imperfect.

Brevity is, it is true, legitimately attained in some cases by compression. Thus the rather rambling general discussions of Scepticism in the Treatise contained in § i and § vii (some eighteen pages) are fairly represented by § 116 and §§ 126–132 of the Enquiry (some nine pages). So also there is not much reason to complain of the abbreviation to one page of the criticism of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities (Treatise, § iv, pp. 225–231; Enquiry, § 122, pp. 154–5), this part of the Treatise being undeniably cumbrous. Two pages more in the Enquiry are occupied with an illustration of the absurdity of the abstract sciences, drawn from their doctrine of infinite divisibility, this having originally appeared in Book I, p. ii, § ii of the Treatise.

This leaves only §§ 117–121 and 123 of the Enquiry (about four pages) to do duty for the whole of §§ ii, iii, v, vi of the Treatise (some sixty-nine pages).

In the Enquiry Hume merely confines himself to asserting the opposition between the vulgar belief, based on instinct and natural propensity, in external objects on the one side, and the conclusions of philosophy, that we know nothing but perceptions in the mind, on the other side. [N11] He does not attempt any further investigation beyond rejecting an appeal to the veracity of God which was not mentioned in the Treatise (Enquiry, § 120), but simply falls back on the position that sceptical arguments, if they admit of no answer, at all events produce no conviction. Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole Treatise is that in which Hume tried to explain (§ ii, pp. 187–218) our belief in the existence of body, which he reduced to the continued and distinct existence of perceptions, by the influence of their constancy and coherence on our imagination. This is entirely dropped in the Enquiry, together with the account of our idea of substance (Treatise, § iii, ‘Of the antient philosophy’), and of our idea of mind (Treatise, § vi, ‘Of personal identity’). A considerable part of the discussion on the immateriality of the soul (Treatise, § v), may appear to us antiquated, just as it may fairly have appeared to Hume too dry for a popular work, and not absolutely necessary to his system. But it is not too much to say on the whole, that the omissions in § 12 of the Enquiry are alone amply sufficient to render it quite impossible to comply with Hume’s wish and treat the Enquiry as representing the whole of his philosophic system. [N12]

14     The Dissertation on the Passions, first published in 1757, together with the Natural History of Religion and two essays on tragedy and taste, and printed in the edition of 1777 between the two Enquiries, is not reprinted in this volume.

It consists largely, as Mr. Grose says, of verbatim extracts from Bk. II of the Treatise, with some trifling verbal alterations.

As it stands, the Dissertation is a very uninteresting and unsatisfactory work. The portion of Bk. II of the Treatise which was perhaps of most general interest, namely the discussion of Liberty and Necessity, had been previously transferred to the Enquiry into Human Understanding, and so was no longer available for the Dissertation. But the Dissertation suffers, not only by this transference of matter, but also by omissions of other really important matters.

(1) In the Treatise an elaborate account was given of pride and humility, love and hatred, and an attempt was made to explain the mechanism of the passions, by the relation of impressions and ideas, which was at all events a serious essay towards something less superficial than the prevalent psychology. Its bearing on Hume’s general system is, it is true, not very great and not at all clear, and it is easy to understand how, as a matter of literary policy, it was omitted by Hume. But in connexion with other omissions it has a decided philosophical significance.

(2) The psychology of sympathy, which occupies so much space in Bk. II, and on which so much depends in Bk. III of the Treatise, is almost entirely ignored in the Enquiry. How it is possible to find room for sympathy in so atomistic or individualistic a psychology as Hume’s, is one of the most interesting questions which are raised by his system. How I can not only know but enter into the feelings of another person, when I can only know my own feelings, is indeed a problem worthy of grave consideration. [N13] When we come to consider the treatment of sympathy in the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals by the side of its treatment in the Treatise, we shall see reason to think that Hume has very considerably modified his views, not only as to the functions of sympathy, but also as to the proper limits of psychological analysis.

(3) The discussion in the Treatise, Bk. II, § iii, of the relation of passion to reason is of great importance for the subsequent question of the source of moral distinctions, as also are the distinction between calm and violent passions and the identification of reason with the former; but the Dissertation is contented with the barest mention of them.

In general, we may say that, whereas Bk. II of the Treatise was not only valuable as an independent essay in psychology, and interesting from its wealth of observation and illustration, but also important from its preliminary treatment of questions which were going to be of vital importance in Bk. III, the Dissertation is neither interesting in itself nor of any assistance for the interpretation or criticism of the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. The extent of its correspondence with Bk. II of the Treatise is shown in the accompanying comparative Table of Contents.

15     Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. Hume has recorded his own opinion that the Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals was, of all his writings, ‘historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best.’ [N14] It was first published in 1751, the corresponding book in the Treatise having been published in 1740. Hume himself considered that the failure of the Treatise ‘had proceeded more from the manner than the matter,’ and in this Enquiry it is evident that he has given the greatest attention to the style, and with such success as to justify Mr. Grose’s estimate of him as ‘the one master of philosophic English.’

It is far less easy to compare the matter of this Enquiry with that of Bk. III of the Treatise, because the earlier work has, in this case, been really re-written. The comparative Table of Contents will show in a graphic form the difficulty of making out a correspondence between them. The arrangement is largely different. The omissions are not in this case so important as the additions, and there is a great change in the proportions and emphasis with which various subjects are treated. There is also, the writer ventures to believe, a very remarkable change of tone or temper, which, even more than particular statements, leads him to suppose that the system of Morals in the Enquiry is really and essentially different from that in the Treatise.

16     In the Treatise nothing is more clear than his intention to reduce the various principles of human nature, which appear distinct to ordinary men, to some more general and underlying principle, and indeed his philosophy differed from that of the moral sense school, represented by Hutcheson, in precisely that particular. In other words, he attempted a philosophical explanation of human nature, and was not content to accept the ordinary distinctions of ‘faculties’ and ‘senses’ as final. Thus the temper of the Treatise is well expressed by his emphatic declaration (Bk. III, part iii, § i, p. 578), that it is ‘an inviolable maxim in philosophy, that where any particular cause is sufficient for an effect, we ought to rest satisfied with it, and ought not to multiply causes without necessity’; and again (Bk. II, part i, § iii, p. 282), ‘we find in the course of nature that though the effects be many, the principles from which they arise are commonly but few and simple, and that it is the sign of an unskilful naturalist to have recourse to a different quality in order to explain every different operation. How much more must this be true with regard to the human mind?’ (Cf. also Treatise, Bk. III, part iii, § ii, p. 473.)

With these passages we may compare, observing the caution inculcated at the beginning of this Introduction, § 250 of the Enquiry, where speaking of self-love, he says, ‘The obvious appearance of things . . . must be admitted till some hypothesis be discovered which, by penetrating deeper into human nature, may prove the former affections to be nothing but modifications of the latter. All attempts of this kind have hitherto proved fruitless, and seem to have proceeded entirely from that love of simplicity which has been the source of so much false reasoning in philosophy.’ (Cf. § 9, ‘Philosophers have sometimes carried the matter too far by their passion for some one general principle.’) [N15]

Without laying undue stress on these express statements (which go for less in Hume than in most authors), we can hardly help feeling that Hume is approximating to the position of Hutcheson, as expressed in his Preface to the Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions (p. ix, ed. 3, Lond. 1742): ‘Some strange love of simplicity in the structure of human nature . . . has engaged many writers to pass over a great many simple Perceptions which we may find in ourselves: . . . had they . . . considered our affections without a previous notion that they were all from self-love, they might have felt an ultimate desire of the happiness of others as easily conceivable and as certainly implanted in the human breast, though perhaps not so strong as self-love.’ (Cf. ib. p. xiv: ‘This difficulty probably arises from our previous notions of a small number of senses, so that we are unwilling to have recourse in our theories to any more; and rather strain out some explication of Moral Ideas, with relation to some of the natural Powers of Perception universally acknowledged.’)

17     This change of attitude is, I think, seen in several points, some of which have been already pointed out in dealing with the Dissertation on the Passions, and which are here only distinguished for convenience of reference.

Benevolence. In the Treatise there are passages, it is true, which seem to admit an original unaccountable instinct of benevolence (Treatise, Bk. II, part iii, § iii, p. 417; ib. § ix, p. 439; Bk. II, part ii, § vi, p. 368; cf. Bk. III, part ii, § i, p. 478). There are also passages which sternly limit its extent and influence. Thus he says (Treatise, Bk. III, part ii, § i, p. 481), ‘In general it may be affirmed that there is no such passion in human minds as the love of mankind merely as such, independent of personal qualities, of services, or of relation to oneself. It is true there is no human and indeed no sensible creature whose happiness does not, in some measure, affect us, when brought near to us and represented in lively colours. But this proceeds merely from sympathy, and is no proof of such an universal affection to mankind, since this concern extends itself beyond our own species.’ (Cf. Bk. III, part ii, § ii, p. 496.) With this we may compare the Enquiry, § 184, where he speaks of ‘our natural philanthropy’; § 135, ‘a feeling for the happiness of mankind and a resentment of their misery’; § 252, ‘these and a thousand other instances are marks of a general benevolence in human nature.’ (Cf. § 178 n; § 250 n.)

The fact that in the Enquiry Hume inserts a section on Benevolence (§ 2) before the treatment of Justice is in itself significant. In the Treatise benevolence is treated among the natural virtues and vices (Treatise, Bk. III, part iii, § iii, p. 602) immediately before ‘natural abilities.’ In the Enquiry it is treated as the chief of the social virtues, and though a main object of its treatment is to show its ‘utility,’ its independence is fully recognized.

18     But the impression produced by the comparison of such passages as the above is very much strengthened when we consider the functions and position of Sympathy in the Treatise and Enquiry respectively. It has been already noticed that in the Dissertation on the Passions sympathy was almost ignored, though it was perhaps the most important subject of Bk. II of the Treatise.

Speaking broadly, we may say that in the Treatise nothing more is clear than that sympathy is used as a solvent to reduce complex feelings to simpler elements. In the Enquiry sympathy is another name for social feeling, humanity, benevolence, natural philanthropy, rather than the name of the process by which the social feeling has been constructed out of non-social or individual feeling (§§ 180, 182, 186, 199, 203, 210, 221–3). Hume may have felt that the machinery assigned to sympathy in Bk. II of the Treatise did not work very well, and so have decided to get rid of it, but in so doing he may be said to have abandoned perhaps the most distinctive feature of his moral system as expounded in the Treatise, so that in the Enquiry there is little to distinguish his theory from the ordinary moralsense theory, except perhaps a more destructive use of ‘utility.’ In the Treatise his difference from the moralsense school lay precisely in his attempt to resolve social feeling into a simple sensitivity to pleasure and pain, which has become complicated and transformed by sympathy. In reading Hutcheson we feel that he makes out a good case for his ‘benevolence’ against Hobbes and Mandeville and the more insidious selfishness of Shaftesbury, but that it would fall an easy prey to the ‘sympathy’ of Hume’s Treatise.

19     Self-love is much more fully and fairly dealt with by Hume in the Enquiry than in the Treatise. He had declined, even in the Treatise, with excellent good sense, to accept the popular reduction of benevolence as given by the selfish school, but he certainly tried to reduce benevolence to something which was neither selfish nor unselfish, but rather physical.

In the Enquiry (Bk. V, §§ 173–8, and App. ii, §§ 247–254) he carries the war into the enemy’s camp, and introduces the conception of self-love which we find in Hutcheson’s later works, and especially in Butler. Section 253 is especially remarkable, insisting as it does on the necessity of appetites antecedent to self-love. The germ of the same thought is perhaps to be found in an obscure passage in the Treatise (Bk. III, part ii, § i, p. 478), though it is used for a significantly different purpose.

Benevolence is suggested in the Enquiry as the primary, and self-love as the secondary passion, and the suggestion is supported by the appeal to accept ‘the simplest and most obvious cause which can be assigned’ for any passion or operation of the human mind.

It is true that he makes even freer use of Utility in the Enquiry than in the Treatise, and that it would be easy to draw consequences from this principle which would neutralize the concessions made to benevolence, but he is content himself to leave it without developement, and to say in effect that utility pleases simply because it does please.

20     His tenderness towards benevolence is also seen in his treatment of Justice. In the Treatise he insisted vigorously, though not very intelligibly, that justice was not a natural but only an artificial virtue, and it is pretty plain that he meant to be offensive in doing so. His argument in the Treatise was, to say the least, awkward, and he may have been glad to get rid of an ungainly and unnecessary discussion. In the Enquiry he dismisses the question in a few words as a vain one (§ 258), and contents himself with pointing out the superior sociality of justice as compared with benevolence (§§ 255–6).

21     Reason. He devotes much less space in the Enquiry to proving that moral distinctions are not derived from reason, than to showing that they are derived from a sentiment of humanity. He is more tolerant to the claims of reason, and shows some approach to the indifference of Butler. ‘These arguments on each side are so plausible that I am apt to suspect they may, the one as well as the other, be solid and satisfactory, and that reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions’ (§ 137). In the same place he gives reason an important function in the correction of our sentiments of moral and natural beauty, a point which is of great importance in the moral philosophy of that time, and indeed was not ignored in the Treatise. Similarly in the Treatise he laid some stress on the identity of what was usually called ‘reason’ with the calm passions (Bk. II, part iii, § iii, p. 417; ib. § viii, p. 437), whereas he only mentions it incidentally in the Enquiry in connexion with strength of mind (§ 196).

22     The old difficulty about ‘general rules,’ ‘the general and unalterable point of view,’ re-appears in the Enquiry, though I think it is dealt with in a manner quite foreign to the Treatise. In the Treatise the universality of our moral judgements and their detachment from private interest was accounted for by sympathy (Treatise, Bk. III, part ii, § ii, p. 500; Bk. III, part iii, § i, p. 577; § vi, p. 618). But sympathy itself varies with time, place and person, and consequently requires correction, which is supplied by the use of general rules (Bk. III, part iii, § i, pp. 581–5). How these corrective rules are obtained he does not explain in the Treatise, and indeed they seem to work in a circle with sympathy. In the Enquiry they again appear, and are in the first place ascribed to the ‘intercourse of sentiments in society and conversation’ (§ 186), arising apparently in the same way as ‘general ideas,’ which are really only particular ideas with their particularity rubbed off by wear and tear. But in §§ 221–2 of the Enquiry he asserts the universality of moral judgements in quite a new style. ‘The notion of morals implies some sentiment common to all mankind which recommends the same object to general approbation and makes every man, or most men, agree in the same opinion or decision concerning it. It also implies some sentiment, so universal and comprehensive as to extend to all mankind, and render the actions and conduct even of persons the most remote, an object of applause and censure. . . . These two requisites belong alone to the sentiment of Humanity.’ This sentiment is the only ‘universal principle of the human frame,’ and ‘can alone be the foundation of morals or of any general system of blame or praise.’ ‘One man’s ambition is not another’s ambition, nor will the same event or object satisfy both: but the humanity of one man is the humanity of every one, and the same object touches the passion in all human creatures.’ This may not be the ‘moral sense,’ but it certainly is not the doctrine of the Treatise.

23     There does not seem to be any trace in the Enquiry of the appeal to the ‘natural and usual force of the passions,’ as the standard of morals, of which considerable use is made in the Treatise, and which has been considered to brand Hume’s moral system as one of sheer respectability (Treatise, Bk. III, part ii, § i, pp. 483–4; § ii, p. 488; § v, p. 518; § vi, p. 532).

24     The interest of Hume’s philosophical writings must not be judged by the dryness of the foregoing discussion of them. The question of the relation of the two versions with which Hume himself has endowed and puzzled us, appears of sufficient general interest to warrant a serious examination. But such questions cannot be decided by general impressions, and this Introduction aims at supplying, or rather indicating, the material for a more exact determination of Hume’s relations to himself, than has been previously attempted. The writer has also had the temerity to relieve the rather mechanical toil of tabulating differences and correspondences by attempts to distinguish the purely philosophical from the non-philosophical and personal considerations which influenced a philosopher who was often both more and less than a philosopher. How much in the matter and manner of Hume’s work is due to peculiarities of his character is hard to say, but the personal element continually challenges, even if it eludes, our appreciation.

The Introduction undoubtedly supposes that the reader has some acquaintance with the Treatise, and may serve as a guide to those students who wish to see for themselves what Hume’s last word on philosophy was. The present Edition also is intended rather as a recognition of that wish than as a concession to those who would substitute the Enquiries for the Treatise as the authoritative exposition of Hume’s system. It would be a considerable misfortune for our native philosophy if the Treatise were left unread. But the Treatise is hard, and many of us are weak, and it is better to read Hume in the Enquiries than not to read him at all. By those who begin on the Enquiries the Introduction may be read, as it were, backwards, and it may, perhaps, serve to point out the road to a fuller knowledge of a philosopher, who, at his greatest, is very great indeed.

Selby-Bigge's footnote

[1] At the time when the Treatise was published, Locke, Berkeley, Clarke, Shaftesbury, and Mandeville were already classics. Hutcheson had published his Enquiry in 1725, and his Essay and Illustrations in 1728. Butler’s sermons were published in 1726, and his Analogy and Dissertations in 1736. Wollaston’s Religions of Nature Delineated was first printed in 1722, and Cudworth’s Eternal and Immutable Morality did not appear till 1731, more than forty years after the author’s death. The first edition of H. Home’s (Lord Kames) Essays appeared in 1751, and that of Price’s Review in 1758. There is not much direct criticism of other philosophers in Hume’s books. Locke’s distinction of primary and secondary qualities, and Wollaston’s theory of ‘truth’ in morals, are directly handled in the Treatise; but whereas Hume’s contemporaries were much stronger in criticism of one another’s principles than in the establishment of their own, Hume’s writings are from the first distinguished by a great detachment from particular controversies. The close internal relation of the Treatise to Locke’s essay as the philosopher’s bible of the time has been pointed out by Mr. Grose. Hume’s Philosophical Works, iii. 36. London: Longmans, 1875.