The Pursuits of Philosophy: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of David Hume

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Marking the tercentenary of David Hume's birth, Annette Baier has created an engaging guide to the philosophy of one of the greatest thinkers of Enlightenment Britain. Drawing deeply on a lifetime of scholarship and incisive commentary, she deftly weaves Hume’s autobiography together with his writings and correspondence, finding in these personal experiences new ways to illuminate his ideas about religion, human nature, and the social order.

Excerpts from Hume’s autobiography at the beginning of each chapter open a window onto the eighteenth-century context in which Hume’s philosophy developed. Famous in Christian Britain as a polymath and a nonbeliever, Hume recounts how his early encounters with clerical authority laid the foundation for his lifelong skepticism toward religion. In Scotland, where he grew up, he had been forced to study lists of sins in order to spot his own childish flaws, he reports. Later, as a young man, he witnessed the clergy’s punishment of a pregnant unmarried servant, and this led him to question the violent consequences of the Church’s emphasis on the doctrine of original sin. Baier’s clear interpretation of Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature explains the link between Hume’s growing disillusionment and his belief that ethics should be based on investigations of human nature, not on religious dogma.

Four months before he died, Hume concluded his autobiography with a eulogy he wrote for his own funeral. It makes no mention of his flaws, critics, or disappointments. Baier’s more realistic account rivets our attention on connections between the way Hume lived and the way he thought—insights unavailable to Hume himself, perhaps, despite his lifelong introspection.

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Editorial Reviews

Glasgow Herald

Packed full of details and thought, and serves as a perfect primer to anyone who wants to try to understand [Hume's] work.
— Lesley McDowell

Ray Monk
This short guide to Hume's philosophy contains authoritative explanations by the philosopher widely acknowledged to be the greatest Hume scholar alive today.
Don Garrett
Annette Baier's elegant reflections on Hume's life and philosophy capture the wisdom of the man as well as the brilliance of the ideas. This is a worthy and engaging introduction to one of the most admirable of all great philosophers.
Glasgow Herald - Lesley McDowell
Packed full of details and thought, and serves as a perfect primer to anyone who wants to try to understand [Hume's] work.
Library Journal
Shortly before he died, David Hume (1711–76) wrote his autobiography, and Baier (Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy Emerita, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Death and Character: Further Reflections on Hume) wisely incorporates pertinent parts of it at the start of each of the seven chapters here. Baier's small volume successfully introduces readers to Hume and the phases of his life, from childhood and youth to his final years and death in Edinburgh. She is less successful as a guide to Hume's philosophy, as presented in his crucial works, such as A Treatise of Human Nature, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and others. VERDICT In this, Hume's 300th birthday year, he remains one of the most important and studied philosophers of his age. General readers seeking insight into his philosophy of mind, epistemology, metaphysics, and thoughts on Christian belief may be disappointed. They should turn instead to Paul Strathern's Hume in 90 Minutes. An optional purchase for particular readers, but public and undergraduate libraries should add it to their subject collections.—Leon H Brody, Falls Church, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674061682
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/3/2011
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 494,039
  • Product dimensions: 4.37 (w) x 7.12 (h) x 1.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Annette C. Baier was Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy, Emerita, at the University of Pittsburgh. She also taught at the philosophy department of the University of Otago in New Zealand.
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