History, Moral Philosophy, and Social Theory in David Hume’s Intellectual Development, 1739-1752
This thesis shows how David Hume developed his historical thought between the Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740) and the Political Discourses (1752). It approaches Hume’s historical thought from two perspectives: historical method and historical structure. On the methodological side, the thesis investigates how Hume gradually developed the notion of historical ‘general causes’ and their role in assessing historical evidence. On the structural side, the thesis investigates how Hume transposed his initial philosophical narrative of the development of societies from rude to civilized into ‘real history’, particularly how he dealt with the status of classical antiquity. The thesis concludes that Hume’s history of general causes dislocated classical antiquity towards the ‘rude’ pole of the developmental account: modern European commercial societies had almost entirely modern (that is, post-ancient) origins. The thesis places Hume’s development within the context of the Quarrel between the Ancients and Moderns and the change in historical methods in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. On the methodological side, the thesis contrasts the critical method of Pierre Bayle’s Dicionnaire Historique et Critique with the attempt to develop a new ‘philosophical’ approach to historical criticism at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, which paved the way for philosophical history as practised by Hume. On the structural/narrative side, the thesis shows how the debates between Ancients and Moderns in turn-of-the-century France brought to the fore questions about the meaning of ‘modern’ and its relation to classical antiquity, opening the gates to new narratives of the modern. In connecting the development of Hume’s historical thought to developments in early eighteenth-century France, the thesis opens an original approach to the history of philosophical history that explains the original contributions of early philosophical historians such as Hume and Montesquieu. Further, it identifies historical rather than merely philosophical questions at the origins of philosophical history.