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David Hume

WithJoyce Appleby, Elizabeth Covington, David Hoyt, Michael Latham, Allison Sneider

Newton’s principal achievements in the realm of astronomical reckoning, when generalized to the level of assumptions about the orderliness of the natural world based on a modest experimental philosophy, were readily exportable and enthusiastically transported into other fields of inquiry, among them the philosophical writings of David Hume (1711-1776). That “all would be light” following Newton, however, was perhaps more a testament to the optimism of the Enlightenment than a true gauge of the immediate effects on fields other than astrophysics. Much work remained to be done at the opening of the eighteenth century, and not all of it seemed certain. How, for example, to explain in Newtonian terms the growth of a plant, or the existence of laws based on private property? When taken up in relation to these subjects, few of Newton’s ideas remained other than his general insistence upon a systematic empiricism. This was enough, however, to fuel certain Enlightenment philosophies of the social world with revolutionary potential for criticizing an older order of society. Yet how the Newtonian revolution would transform the study of the thought itself, the traditional domain of philosophy, was uncertain.