Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary
By David Hume
DAVID HUME’S greatness was recognized in his own time, as it is today, but the writings that made Hume famous are not, by and large, the same ones that support his reputation now. Leaving aside his Enquiries, which were widely read then as now, Hume is known today chiefly through his Treatise of Human Nature and his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. The Treatise was scarcely read at all during Hume’s lifetime, however, and the Dialogues was not published until after his death. Conversely, most readers today pay little attention to Hume’s various books of essays and to his History of England, but these are the works that were read avidly by his contemporaries. If one is to get a balanced view of Hume’s thought, it is necessary to study both groups of writings. If we should neglect the essays or the History, then our view of Hume’s aims and achievements is likely to be as incomplete as that of his contemporaries who failed to read the Treatise or the Dialogues.… [From the Foreword by Eugene F. Miller]
Eugene F. Miller, ed.
First Pub. Date
Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc. Liberty Fund, Inc.
Publication date details: Part I: 1742. Part II ( Political Discourses): 1752. Combined: 1777. Includes Political Discourses (1752), "My Own Life," by David Hume, and a letter by Adam Smith.
Portions of this edited edition are under copyright. Picture of David Hume courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Foreword, by Eugene F. Miller
- Editors Note, by Eugene F. Miller
- Note to the Revised Edition
- My Own Life, by David Hume
- Letter from Adam Smith, L.L.D. to William Strahan, Esq.
- Part I, Essay I, OF THE DELICACY OF TASTE AND PASSION
- Part I, Essay II, OF THE LIBERTY OF THE PRESS
- Part I, Essay III, THAT POLITICS MAY BE REDUCED TO A SCIENCE
- Part I, Essay IV, OF THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT
- Part I, Essay V, OF THE ORIGIN OF GOVERNMENT
- Part I, Essay VI, OF THE INDEPENDENCY OF PARLIAMENT
- Part I, Essay VII, WHETHER THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT INCLINES MORE TO ABSOLUTE MONARCHY, OR TO A REPUBLIC
- Part I, Essay VIII, OF PARTIES IN GENERAL
- Part I, Essay IX, OF THE PARTIES OF GREAT BRITAIN
- Part I, Essay X, OF SUPERSTITION AND ENTHUSIASM
- Part I, Essay XI, OF THE DIGNITY OR MEANNESS OF HUMAN NATURE
- Part I, Essay XII, OF CIVIL LIBERTY
- Part I, Essay XIII, OF ELOQUENCE
- Part I, Essay XIV, OF THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE ARTS AND SCIENCES
- Part I, Essay XV, THE EPICUREAN
- Part I, Essay XVI, THE STOIC
- Part I, Essay XVII, THE PLATONIST
- Part I, Essay XVIII, THE SCEPTIC
- Part I, Essay XIX, OF POLYGAMY AND DIVORCES
- Part I, Essay XX, OF SIMPLICITY AND REFINEMENT IN WRITING
- Part I, Essay XXI, OF NATIONAL CHARACTERS
- Part I, Essay XXII, OF TRAGEDY
- Part I, Essay XXIII, OF THE STANDARD OF TASTE
- Part II, Essay I, OF COMMERCE
- Part II, Essay II, OF REFINEMENT IN THE ARTS
- Part II, Essay III, OF MONEY
- Part II, Essay IV, OF INTEREST
- Part II, Essay V, OF THE BALANCE OF TRADE
- Part II, Essay VI, OF THE JEALOUSY OF TRADE
- Part II, Essay VII, OF THE BALANCE OF POWER
- Part II, Essay VIII, OF TAXES
- Part II, Essay IX, OF PUBLIC CREDIT
- Part II, Essay X, OF SOME REMARKABLE CUSTOMS
- Part II, Essay XI, OF THE POPULOUSNESS OF ANCIENT NATIONS
- Part II, Essay XII, OF THE ORIGINAL CONTRACT
- Part II, Essay XIII, OF PASSIVE OBEDIENCE
- Part II, Essay XIV, OF THE COALITION OF PARTIES
- Part II, Essay XV, OF THE PROTESTANT SUCCESSION
- Part II, Essay XVI, IDEA OF A PERFECT COMMONWEALTH
- Part III, Essay I, OF ESSAY-WRITING
- Part III, Essay II, OF MORAL PREJUDICES
- Part III, Essay III, OF THE MIDDLE STATION OF LIFE
- Part III, Essay IV, OF IMPUDENCE AND MODESTY
- Part III, Essay V, OF LOVE AND MARRIAGE
- Part III, Essay VI, OF THE STUDY OF HISTORY
- Part III, Essay VII, OF AVARICE
- Part III, Essay VIII, A CHARACTER OF SIR ROBERT WALPOLE
- Part III, Essay IX, OF SUICIDE
- Part III, Essay X, OF THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL
- Variant Readings
by Eugene F. Miller
DAVID HUME’S greatness was recognized in his own time, as it is today, but the writings that made Hume famous are not, by and large, the same ones that support his reputation now. Leaving aside his
Enquiries,*1 which were widely read then as now, Hume is known today chiefly through his
Treatise of Human Nature*2 and his
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.*3 The
Treatise was scarcely read at all during Hume’s lifetime, however, and the
Dialogues was not published until after his death. Conversely, most readers today pay little attention to Hume’s various books of essays and to his
History of England,*4 but these are the works that were read avidly by his contemporaries. If one is to get a balanced view of Hume’s thought, it is necessary to study both groups of writings. If we should neglect the essays or the
History, then our view of Hume’s aims and achievements is likely to be as incomplete as that of his contemporaries who failed to read the
Treatise or the
The preparation and revision of his essays occupied Hume throughout his adult life. In his late twenties, after completing three books of the
Treatise, Hume began to publish essays on moral and political themes. His
Essays, Moral and Political was brought out late in 1741 by Alexander Kincaid, Edinburgh’s leading publisher.
*5 A second volume of essays appeared under the same title early in 1742,
*6 and later that year, a “Second Edition, Corrected” of the first volume was issued. In 1748, three additional essays appeared in a small volume published in Edinburgh and London.
*7 That volume is noteworthy as the first of Hume’s works to bear his name and also as the beginning of his association with Andrew Millar as his chief London publisher. These three essays were incorporated into the “Third Edition, Corrected” of
Essays, Moral and Political, which Millar and Kincaid published in the same year. In 1752, Hume issued a large number of new essays under the title
Political Discourses, a work so successful that a second edition was published before the year was out, and a third in 1754.
Early in the 1750s, Hume drew together his various essays, along with other of his writings, in a collection entitled
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. Volume 1 (1753) of this collection contains the
Essays, Moral and Political and Volume 4 (1753-54) contains the
Political Discourses. The two
Enquiries are reprinted in Volumes 2 and 3. Hume retained the title
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects for subsequent editions of his collected works, but he varied the format and contents somewhat. A new, one-volume edition appeared under this title in 1758, and other four-volume editions in 1760 and 1770. Two-volume editions appeared in 1764, 1767, 1768, 1772, and 1777. The 1758 edition, for the first time, grouped the essays under the heading “Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary” and divided them into Parts I and II. Several new essays, as well as other writings, were added to this collection along the way.
As we see, the essays were by no means of casual interest to Hume. He worked on them continually from about 1740 until his death, in 1776. There are thirty-nine essays in the posthumous, 1777, edition of
Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (Volume 1 of
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects). Nineteen of these date back to the two original volumes of
Essays, Moral and Political (1741-42). By 1777, these essays from the original volumes would have gone through eleven editions. Twenty essays were added along the way, eight were deleted, and two would await posthumous publication. Hume’s practice throughout his life was to supervise carefully the publication of his writings and to correct them for new editions. Though gravely ill in 1776, Hume made arrangements for the posthumous publication of his manuscripts, including the suppressed essays “Of Suicide” and “Of the Immortality of the Soul,” and he prepared for his publisher, William Strahan, the corrections for new editions of both his
History of England and his
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. When Adam Smith visited Hume on August 8, 1776, a little more than two weeks before the philosopher’s death on August 25, he found Hume still at work on corrections to the
Essays and Treatises. Hume had earlier been reading Lucian’s
Dialogues of the Dead, and he speculated in jocular fashion with Smith on excuses that he might give to Charon for not entering his boat. One possibility was to say to him: “Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time, that I may see how the Public receives the alterations.”
Hume’s essays were received warmly in Britain, on the Continent, where numerous translations into French, German, and Italian appeared, and in America. In his brief autobiography,
My own Life,*11 Hume speaks of his great satisfaction with the public’s reception of the essays. The favorable response to the first volume of
Essays, Moral and Political made him forget entirely his earlier disappointment over the public’s indifference to his
Treatise of Human Nature, and he was pleased that
Political Discourses was received well from the outset both at home and abroad. When Hume accompanied the Earl of Hertford to Paris in 1763 for a stay of twenty-six months as Secretary of the British Embassy and finally as Chargé d’Affaires, he discovered that his fame there surpassed anything he might have expected. He was loaded with civilities “from men and women of all ranks and stations.” Fame was not the only benefit that Hume enjoyed from his publications. By the 1760s, “the copy-money given me by the booksellers, much exceeded any thing formerly known in England; I was become not only independent, but opulent.”
Hume’s essays continued to be read widely for more than a century after his death. Jessop lists sixteen editions or reprintings of
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects that appeared between 1777 and 1894.
*12 (More than fifty editions or reprintings of the
History are listed for the same period.) The
Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary were included as Volume 3 of
The Philosophical Works of David Hume (Edinburgh, 1825; reprinted in 1826 and 1854) and again as Volume 3 of a later edition by T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, also entitled
The Philosophical Works of David Hume (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1874-75; vol. 3, reprinted in 1882, 1889, 1898, 1907, and 1912). Some separate editions of the
Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary were published as well, including the one by “The World’s Classics” (London, 1903; reprinted in 1904).
These bibliographical details are important because they show how highly the essays were regarded by Hume himself and by many others up to the present century. Over the past seventy years, however, the essays have been overshadowed, just as the
History has been, by other of Hume’s writings. Although some recent studies have drawn attention once again to the importance of Hume’s
Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary,*13 the work itself has long been difficult to locate in a convenient edition. Some of the essays have been included in various collections,
*14 but, leaving aside the present edition, no complete edition of the
Essays has appeared since the early part of the century, save for a reprinting of the 1903 World’s Classics edition
*15 and expensive reproductions of Green and Grose’s four-volume set of the
Philosophical Works. In publishing this new edition of the
Essays—along with its publication, in six volumes, of the
History of England*16—Liberty Fund has made a neglected side of Hume’s thought accessible once again to the modern reader.
Many years after Hume’s death, his close friend John Home wrote a sketch of Hume’s character, in the course of which he observed: “His Essays are at once popular and philosophical, and contain a rare and happy union of profound Science and fine writing.”
*17 This observation indicates why Hume’s essays were held in such high esteem by his contemporaries and why they continue to deserve our attention today. The essays are elegant and entertaining in style, but thoroughly philosophical in temper and content. They elaborate those sciences—morals, politics, and criticism—for which the
Treatise of Human Nature lays a foundation. It was not simply a desire for fame that led Hume to abandon the
Treatise and seek a wider audience for his thought. He acted in the belief that commerce between men of letters and men of the world worked to the benefit of both. Hume thought that philosophy itself was a great loser when it remained shut up in colleges and cells and secluded from the world and good company. Hume’s essays do not mark an abandonment of philosophy, as some have maintained,
*18 but rather an attempt to improve it by having it address the concerns of common life.
1 October 1984
Eugene F. Miller is Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. Earlier it had been published several times, beginning in 1748, under the title
Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals was first published in 1751. I have drawn this and other information about the various editions of Hume’s writings from two sources: T. E. Jessop,
A Bibliography of David Hume and of Scottish Philosophy (New York: Russell and Russell, 1966), and William B. Todd, “David Hume. A Preliminary Bibliography,” in Todd, ed.,
Hume and the Enlightenment (Edinburgh and Austin: Edinburgh University Press and the Humanities Research Center, Austin, Texas, 1974), pp. 189-205.
Treatise were published in 1739; Book III, in 1740.
Dialogues about 1750 but decided to withhold publication during his lifetime. When Adam Smith proved unwilling to take responsibility for the posthumous publication of the
Dialogues, Hume entrusted it to his own publisher, William Strahan, with the provision that the work would be committed to Hume’s nephew David if Strahan failed to publish it within two and one-half years of Hume’s death. When Strahan declined to act, the nephew made arrangements for the publication of the
Dialogues in 1779.
History was published between 1754 and 1762 in six volumes, beginning with the Stuart reigns, then working back to the Tudor and pre-Tudor epochs. A “New Edition, Corrected,” with the six volumes arranged in chronological order, appeared in 1762 under the title
The History of England, From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to The Revolution in 1688.
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. The title of essay 15 was changed to “Of Civil Liberty” in the 1758 edition of
Essays and Treatises.
Three Essays, Moral and Political, contained: (1) “Of National Characters”; (2) “Of the Original Contract”; and (3) “Of Passive Obedience.”
Essays and Treatises incorporated, from a 1757 work entitled
Four Dissertations, the essays “Of Tragedy” and “Of the Standard of Taste” as well as two other works,
The Natural History of Religion and
A Dissertation on the Passions. Two new essays, “Of the Jealousy of Trade” and “Of the Coalition of Parties,” were added late to some copies of the 1758 edition of
Essays and Treatises, then incorporated into the edition of 1760. Finally, Hume prepared still another essay, “Of the Origin of Government,” for the edition that would be published posthumously in 1777.
A Bibliography of David Hume and of Scottish Philosophy, pp. 7-8.
The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963); F. A. Hayek, “The Legal and Political Philosophy of David Hume,” in V. C. Chappell, ed.,
Hume: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 335-60; Duncan Forbes,
Hume’s Philosophical Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); David Miller,
Philosophy and Ideology in Hume’s Political Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981); and Donald W. Livingston,
Hume’s Philosophy of Common Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).
Essential Works of David Hume, ed. Ralph Cohen (New York: Bantam Books, 1965);
Of the Standard of Taste, And Other Essays, ed. John W. Lenz (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965);
Writings on Economics, ed. Eugene Rotwein (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955);
Political Essays, ed. Charles W. Hendel (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953);
Theory of Politics, ed. Frederick M. Watkins (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1951); and
Hume’s Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. Henry D. Aiken (New York: Hafner, 1948).
A Sketch of the character of Mr. Hume and Diary of a Journey from Morpeth to Bath, 23 April-1 May 1776, ed. David Fate Norton (Edinburgh: Tragara Press, 1976), p. 8.
Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, admits to being struck by “the suddenness with which his labours in philosophy came to an end” with the publication of the
Treatise (see “History of the Editions,” in
The Philosophical Works of David Hume, ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose [New Edition; London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889], 3.75). Grose maintains that Hume “certainly lacked the disposition, and probably the ability,” for constructive philosophy, once the critical or negative task of the
Treatise was completed (ibid., p. 76). Though contrary to what Hume himself says about his mature writings as well as to what other interpreters have said about his abilities, this view was a rather common one at the turn of the century. It helped gain for Hume’s
Treatise the attention that it deserves, but at the same time it discouraged the study of Hume’s other writings, particularly the
Essays, as proper sources for his philosophy.
Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary have not been properly edited, and the best text may still be that in the Green and Grose
Philosophical Works.” See
Fifty Years of Hume Scholarship: A Bibliographical Guide (Edinburgh: University Press, 1978), p. 5.
The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke (Oxford, 1975, in progress).” See
An Apparatus of Variant Readings for Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield, 1976), p. 34.
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, proper names and adjectives derived therefrom (e.g., “BRITISH,” “FRENCH”) are printed entirely in capital letters, with the first letter being larger than the rest. Abstract nouns are sometimes printed the same way for emphasis or to indicate divisions in the argument (e.g., “FORCE,” “POWER,” and “PROPERTY” in “Of the First Principles of Government”; “AUTHORITY” and “LIBERTY” in “Of the Origin of Government”). Occasionally, however, words are printed entirely in large capital letters (“GOD”) or entirely in small capitals (e.g., “INTEREST” and “IIGHT” in “Of the First Principles of Government”). It is uncertain to what extent this reflects Hume’s manuscript practice, as distinguished from contemporary book trade convention, but in any event, Hume did have the opportunity to correct what finally went into print. Since these peculiarities of capitalization may be relevant to the interpretation of the text, they have been preserved in the present edition.
Essay provide a very helpful discussion of the techniques and terminology of critical-text editing. Nidditch’s editorial work on some of Hume’s most important writings is also noteworthy. He has revised the texts and added notes to the standard Selby-Bigge editions of the
Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, and Concerning the Principles of Morals, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), and the
Treatise of Human Nature, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978). Nidditch discusses the problems of editing Hume as well as the merits of various editions of Hume’s writings in the aforementioned texts as well as in
An Apparatus of Variant Readings for Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature.
Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, and Concerning the Principles of Morals, p. 348.
My Own Life, by David Hume
The Life of David Hume, Esq. Written by Himself (London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, in the Strand). At the time the autobiography was written, the disorder that would take Hume’s life on August 25, 1776, was already well advanced. To Adam Smith, who had been entrusted with his manuscripts, Hume wrote on May 3: “You will find among my Papers a very inoffensive Piece, called
My own Life, which I composed a few days before I left Edinburgh, when I thought, as did all my Friends, that my life was despaired of. There can be no Objection, that this small piece should be sent to Messrs Strahan and Cadell and the Proprietors of my other Works to be prefixed to any future Edition of them” (in J. Y. T. Greig,
The Letters of David Hume [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932], 2:318). Concerned lest Smith delay the publication of this and other manuscripts, Hume added a codicil to his will, dated August 7, leaving all of his manuscripts to Strahan and giving specific directions as to their publication. Regarding
My own Life, he wrote: “My Account of my own Life, I desire may be prefixed to the first Edition of my Works, printed after my Death, which will probably be the one at present in the Press” (in Greig, 2:453). The 1777 edition of
Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects did not contain the autobiography, but it was added to the first, 1778, posthumous edition of the
History of England. In writing his autobiography, Hume anticipated the keen desire on the public’s part to know, in view of his scepticism about the claims of revealed religion, if he would face death with philosophical tranquillity. It was in the context of the lively public debate following Hume’s death that Adam Smith composed his letter to William Strahan, describing Hume’s tranquil state of mind during his final months and testifying to his strength of character. With the publication of his letter to Strahan, Smith himself now became the target of widespread indignation for his approval of Hume’s manner of death. A decade later he would write: “A single, and as I thought, a very harmless Sheet of paper which I happened to write concerning the death of our late friend, Mr. Hume, brought upon me ten times more abuse than the very violent attack I had made upon the whole commercial system of Great Britain” (quoted in Ernest Campbell Mossner,
The Life of David Hume [Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1954], p. 605.) The attacks on Hume’s
Life and Smith’s
Letter are discussed by Mossner,
The Life of David Hume, pp. 604-607, 620-622, and by T. H. Grose in the “History of the Editions” that begins the Green and Grose edition of Hume’s
Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889), 1:80-84. Almost all printings of Hume’s
Life and Smith’s
Letter, including that of Green and Grose, have followed the edition of 1777. A reliable version of the 1777 edition can be found in Norman Kemp Smith’s “Second Edition” of Hume’s
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1947; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, n.d.), pp. 231-48. I have compared the Green and Grose version with that of 1777 and corrected a few errors of wording and punctuation. In the case of Hume’s
Life, the manuscript has been preserved; and it is reprinted in Greig,
Letters, 1:1-7, and in Mossner,
Life of David Hume, pp. 611-15. The first printed version of
My own Life and subsequent printings based upon it differ markedly from Hume’s manuscript version in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling; and there are also some important differences in wording. Hume did not, of course, have the opportunity to correct the printed version. I have noted these differences in wording at appropriate places in the present text.]
Part I, Essay I