An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

  • by David Hume
  • Narrated by Gildart Jackson
  • 6 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Published in 1748, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is Scottish empiricist philosopher David Hume's distillation of his mature philosophy. Addressing themes including the limits of human understanding, the compatibility of free will with determinism, weaknesses in the foundations of religion, and the appeal of skepticism, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is Hume's attempt to revise and clarify the ideas of his earlier A Treatise of Human Nature. A major work in the empiricist school of thought that included John Locke and George Berkeley, Hume's work influenced such later authors as Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, and Jeremy Bentham. Controversial and widely debated since its publication, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a classic of empiricist philosophy whose questions remain as relevant today as ever.

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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

This is the most valuable of Hume's works to listen to because he offers a mature summary of his sceptical views on the limits of human knowledge. He covers all the main issues starting with his empiricist view that all simple 'ideas' are based on 'impressions' and complex ideas can be constructed from combinations of other ideas. He fails, however, to fully address the possibility of combining 'a priori' mathematical concepts with ideas drawn from experience.

His formulation of a compatiblist position on free will and determinism improves on the thinking of Locke and Hobbes but appears quaint today in the light of modern studies in neuroscience, consciousness and volition, reflected in the thinking of Libet, Haggart and Honderich.

His attack on miracles reveals a deeply prejudiced and conceited attitude to what he terms 'barbarous nations' and appears closed to new empirical evidence. Hume has too rigid a conception of 'laws' of nature, which appears old-fashioned as modern science now prefers to understand observed patterns as 'models' of interpretation. Swinburne, who views miracles as 'counter-instances' to the predictions of such models, has offered a thorough critique of Hume's vague musings on the credibility of witness statements on miracles.

This book is a must-listen for anyone interested in philosophy because of its powerful impact on the course of philosophical thinking, both on the continent, through Kant, and on the analytic approach in Britain. Hume's reflections on the common ground between human and animal understanding anticipate Darwin, and illustrate the courage and ground-breaking originality of Hume's thinking.

The narration is superb because of its clarity, but it does not fully capture the sceptical tone of Hume's writing. Careful inflection helps bring out the sense, even when Hume's style is a little elaborate to the modern ear.
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- Peter

Book Details

  • Release Date: 30-06-2011
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio