Hume is one of the greatest of all British philosophers, and even in his own lifetime was celebrated as one of the pivotal figures of the Enlightenment. A central theme of his philosophy is the conviction that questions traditionally thought of as completely independent of the scientific realmDSquestions about the mind, about morality, and about God, for exampleDSare actually best explained using the experimental methods characteristic of the natural sciences.
Hume's 'naturalist' approach to a wide variety of philosophical topics resulted in highly original theories about perception, self-identity, causation, morality, politics, and religion, all of which are
discussed in this stimulating introduction by A J Ayer, himself one of the twentieth century's most important philosophers. Ayer also gives an account of Hume's fascinating life and character, and includes generous quotations from Hume's lucid and often witty writings. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a
new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
One of the first six volumes in the "Past Masters" series, originally put out by Oxford University Press in England, dealing with various major figures in Western culture (see reviews in this issue of Aquinas, Dante, Jesus, Marx, and Pascal). The idea is to sketch out the major features of their life and work in a brief, handy format for the intelligent layman; and, judging from this first batch, the books will maintain a high scholarly standard but will vary sharply in usefulness and accessibility. Sir Alfred Ayer's treatment of Hume, for example, is liable to give the beginner headaches. Ayer, of course, is both a distinguished philosopher and a good writer, but this book reproduces the text of the four Gilbert Ryle lectures which he gave at Trent University (Ontario) - where neither he nor his audience was interested in a mere summary presentation of the great Scottish empiricist. And so Ayer contradicts Hume, corrects him, defends him against his critics, extrapolates his thought to areas he barely touched in his writings, etc. Thus, not satisfied with going over Hume's celebrated assault on the logical foundations of causality, Ayer proceeds to argue that Hume failed to do justice to his own case. Hume had said that a "constant conjunction" of phenomena (one billiard ball striking and propelling another forward) does not permit the inference of a necessary causal pattern. We may speak of force or power with regard to physical events, but we do not actually perceive them. Then, while the novice tries to grasp this paradoxical claim, Ayer rushes on to point out that it would hold up even if force or power were concretely perceptible, because once again a "merely phenomenal relation" can never establish necessity. Ayer is consistently clear and stimulating, but he might have spent more time on Hume's theories - more, for instance, on the origins and implications of empiricism - and less on his own. A strong performance, but likely to overpower the amateur. (Kirkus Reviews)
Preface; 1. Life and character; 2. Aims and methods; 3. Bodies and selves; 4. Cause and effect; 5. Morals, politics and religion; Bibliographical note; Index.