New Book: Hume’s True Scepticism

Donald C. Ainslie’s new book, Hume’s True Scepticism has been released by Oxford University Press. The book’s official description and table of contents can be found below. Donald Ainslie is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.


David Hume is famous as a skeptical philosopher but the nature of his skepticism is difficult to pin down. Hume’s True Scepticism provides the first sustained interpretation of Part 4 of Book 1 of Hume’s Treatise, his deepest engagement with skeptical arguments. Hume notes there that, while reason shows that we ought not to believe the verdicts of reason or the senses, we do so nonetheless. Donald C. Ainslie argues that Hume uses our reactions to the sceptical arguments as evidence in favour of his model of the mind. If we were self-conscious subjects, superintending our rational and sensory beliefs, nothing should stop us from embracing the sceptical conclusions. But instead our minds are bundles of perceptions with our beliefs being generated, not by reflective assent, but by the imagination’s association of ideas. We are not forced into the skeptical quagmire. Nonetheless, we can reflect and philosophy uses this capacity to question whether we should believe our instinctive rational and sensory verdicts. It turns out that we cannot answer this question because the reflective investigation of the mind interferes with the associative processes involved in reason and sensation. We thus must accept our rational and sensory capacities without being able to vindicate or undermine them philosophically.
Hume’s True Scepticism addresses Hume’s theory of representation; his criticisms of Locke, Descartes, and other predecessors; his account of the imagination; his understanding of perceptions and sensory belief; and his bundle theory of the mind and his later rejection of it.

Table of Contents:

1. Total Scepticism and the Challenge to Reason
2. The Phenomenology of Sensory Experience
3. Coherence, Constancy, and the Belief in Continuing Objects
4. Philosophical Reflections on Sensory Experience
5. Ancient Philosophy: Substances and Souls
6. Modern Philosophy: Persons and Perceptions
7. True Scepticism
8. Second Thoughts


Book Review: Jacqueline Taylor, Reflecting Subjects: Passion, Sympathy, and Society in Hume’s Philosophy

The first review of Jacqueline Taylor’s “Reflecting Subjects”, by Christopher Williams, was published by Notre Dame Review of Books this week.


New Book: “Hume: An Intellectual Biography”, James A. Harris

Coming out this September!

Available at Hume: an Intellectual Biography – Cambridge University Press

This is the first book to provide a comprehensive overview of the entire career of one of Britain’s greatest men of letters. It sets in biographical and historical context all of Hume’s works, from A Treatise of Human Nature to The History of England, bringing to light the major influences on the course of Hume’s intellectual development and paying careful attention to the differences between the wide variety of literary genres with which Hume experimented. The major events in Hume’s life are fully described, but the main focus is on Hume’s intentions as a philosophical analyst of human nature, politics, commerce, English history and religion. Careful attention is paid to Hume’s intellectual relations with his contemporaries. The goal is to reveal Hume as a man intensely concerned with the realization of an ideal of open-minded, objective, rigorous, dispassionate dialogue about all the principal questions faced by his age.

Book: Jacqueline Taylor, “Reflecting Subjects: Passion, Sympathy, and Society in Hume’s Philosophy

This is the new book by Jacqueline Taylor (University of San Francisco), published by Oxford University Press. You can buy it at OUP (£35.00) or Amazon (US$60.00).

Below is the description of the book from Amazon. I will post an academic review as soon as I find one.

Jacqueline Taylor offers an original reconstruction of Hume’s social theory, which examines the passions and imagination in relation to institutions such as government and the economy. Reflecting Subjects begins with a close examination of Hume’s use of an experimental method to explain the origin, nature and effects of pride, an indirect passion that reflects a person’s sense of self-worth in virtue of her valuable qualities, for example, her character or wealth. In explaining the origin of pride in terms of efficient causes, Hume displaces the traditional appeal to final causes, and is positioned to give an account of the significance for us of the passions in terms of a social theory. Subsequent chapters reconstruct this social theory, looking in particular at how the principle of sympathy functions to transmit cultural meanings and values, before examining Hume’s account of social power–especially with regard to rank and sex. Turning to Hume’s system of ethics, Taylor argues for the importance of Hume’s more sophisticated moral philosophy in hisEnquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, since it emphasizes certain virtues of good moral evaluation. She demonstrates that the principle of humanity stands as the central concept of Hume’s Enlightenment philosophy.

Book: Chirstopher J. Berry, “The Idea of Commercial Society in the Scottish Enlightenment

Christopher Berry (University of Glasgow) released the paperback version of his latest book, “The Idea of Commercial Society in the Scottish Enlightenment”.

It shows convincingly, in impressive range and detail, how Scottish Enlightenment thinkers developed a conception of emerging commercial or capitalist society as a qualitatively new social formation, distinct from all previous ones, with new potentials for human enrichment and liberation, but also with its own troubles and concerns. (Marx & Philosophy Review of Books)

More generally Berry utilises a synthetic approach to his sources that accords with his stated view that the Scottish enlightenment was an extended debate amongst contemporaries about the changes they were witnessing.Hume’s views, for instance, are read in the light of statements made by Smith or Kames, and a single integrated Scottish perspective is ultimately proposed. Where differences of kind existed these are noted, but the effect is to provide a holistic argument – a Scottish school of thought. (Michael Brown, The Scottish Historical Review)

The book, published by Edinburgh University Press, is available at Amazon.