chapter  1
20 Pages

The Soft Science

ByConstantine Sandis

Through his soft revisionist lens, Hume presents us with a study of ‘mankind’ that is scientifically valid without lapsing into crude scientism. His observations are empirical, not metaphysical, yet he takes great care to clarify the precise nature and meaning of every concept he appeals to, rejecting any for which a sense cannot be found. We thus find in Hume a rare combination of conceptual clarity and empirical alertness, which is absent from much of the history of philosophy, as well as our own times of academic overspecialisation. His philosophical exploration of humanity is not, however, an interdisciplinary one. While he will often appeal to what he takes to be general truths about human nature, Hume is not in the business of collecting statistical data to justify metaphysical hypotheses, or vice versa (cf. Brun 2009: 55ff.). Rather, he presents us with an overarching human science in its own right. While by no means complete, it would be unfair to call this skeletal. We would do better to call it impressionistic, thereby also acknowledging the Copy Principle upon which it is built. In what follows, I re-present Hume’s ‘cautious observation of human life’ as one that is centred around ‘men’s behaviour in company, in affairs, and in their pleasures’ (T Int. 10/xix; cf. Harris 2015: 81–85).