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

I doubt it gets much better than this

Hume skewers the majority of his contemporaries by offering his clear and concise doctrine of skeptical empiricism. His hand is steady and calm, and his words are like steadfast arrows that he aims at the hithertofore impenetrable core of the rationalist fortress.

The book consists of largely two intervowen themes: anti-inductivistic empiricism and religious skepticism. While capable of being treated in isolation, they emerge from the same motivation: to encourage recognition of the limits of human understanding.

The brilliance of Hume's criticism of causal inferences requires no exposition. It remains one of the great achievements of epistemology.

Even if Kant and later thinkers improved upon it - without exactly refuting it - the skeptical logic retains an undeniable, raw, powerful immediacy.

Whether Hume was a full-blown atheist or not (my guess is that he was), the text leaves very little wiggle room for "the religious hypothesis."

The skeptical treatment of vulgar superstitions and educated follies is equally valuable, since human hubris, maleducation and gullibility remain the true masters of modern societies.

Hume's essayistic style is constantly verbose and not exactly scintillating on every page, but it is consistently lucid, analytical, honest, well-argued - and passionate where it counts.

The essay doesn't drag on either. It makes its case, clarifies it, expands it, and doesn't get bogged down in anecdotes. The book finishes strong, with a powerful appeal to a revolution in thought.

Surreptitiously, the reader is left in a state of doubt. The coup de grace was swift and fierce, and all is different. The invitation to a quiet contemplation by a gentleman was a kiss of death to our most cherished assumptions. And we are all better off for the death and rebirth.
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- Amazon Customer

Book Details

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