chapter  2
9 Pages

Aims and methods in the Treatise

In his introduction to the Treatise, Hume deals with the nature of philosophy, its disorders and their cure. What he says is greatly influenced by the work of Newton. Indeed he argues that it is by following the method of Newton and by developing a science of human nature that the disorders of philosophy are to be cured. Unfortunately this view has been very widely misunderstood. It has been taken to mean that philosophy, when properly understood, is subservient to science and will flourish only when it adopts its method. In short, it has been seen as a commitment to positivism. But that is not at all what Hume meant. To appreciate this, one must realize that neither ‘science’ nor ‘philosophy’ meant for Hume what they mean for us. For us, ‘science’ means an activity which employs the categories and follows the procedures of the physical sciences, and especially mathematical physics. For Hume, ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ were roughly interchangeable and meant any general form of study or learning. Thus physics was called natural philosophy, by which was meant the form of study which has as its object the natural or physical world. The terms, being used in so wide a sense, carry no commitment to any specific set of categories or type of procedure. Thus when Hume speaks in his introduction about a science of human nature, or of man, he in no way implies that this study will be committed to the categories or procedures of physical science. Indeed, as we shall see in a moment, he makes clear that this is impossible.