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Publisher's Summary

A Treatise of Human Nature is the first work ever published by David Hume, a man who revolutionized our understanding of philosophy. Hume was an advocate of the skeptical school of philosophy and a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. He looks at the nature of human experience and cognition, showing that philosophy and reason can only be reflections of our nature. The naturalistic science of man that Hume expresses in this work forms the foundation for all later philosophical inquiry. Kant gave Hume credit for "awakening [him] from his dogmatic slumber". With this influence alone, Hume initiated the clearest critique of reason that Western civilization has produced in the history of philosophy.

Hume's work formed the psychological foundation for modern psychology. He showed the limits and proper application of reason in human life. He also examined the passions and morality, showing how they arise in human experience and how they are connected to both reason and action. In essence, A Treatise of Human Nature is a thorough, well-considered, and inspired examination of human psychology and the implications that the structure of our thought and experience has on our knowledge.

The full narration of Hume's text is preceded by a summary, which includes a biography, background information on the work, and an overview of the material covered.

The summary also includes a synopsis and analysis of the text as well as an examination of its historical context, its social impact, and the criticisms it evoked. This work is suitable for students of philosophy or psychology or for anyone interested in coming to a deeper understanding of the nature of the mind.

Public Domain (P)2015 AudioLearn

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What Formed The Foundation of Modern Philosophy!

Any additional comments?

I was drawn to this work for a few reasons. The first is that it is credited with being the foundation of modern psychology. Behaviorist psychology in particular examines humanity from the point of view of pain and pleasure, showing how the things we are drawn to and those we shy away from form our behavior. Hume set the stage for this perspective by demonstrating the influence of the passions upon motivation, exploring how we are drawn to things we desire and averse to the things that cause us pain. The second reason came from Kant. Immanuel Kant is one of the most revolutionary philosophers in the Western tradition, and he credited Hume with putting him on the track of his philosophy: recognizing the qualities of mind that shape our perception of the universe. Finally, a fair portion of the book is dedicated to our understanding of space and time, and the quantum view of these subjects, like that of Robert Lanza in Biocentrism, is fascinating to me.

The first thing that stood out to me was the language. Hume’s work may be brilliant, but it bears the hallmarks of his era. The language of the 18th Century seems a bit unwieldy to me, a bit drawn out and cumbersome. Despite this, it is colorful, showing a number of issues with science and certainty in metaphors and demonstrations. I especially like that Hume shows the relation of all of the sciences to the understanding of humanity. It is human beings who engage in these sciences, after all. Whatever conditions and shapes human understanding will be reflected in all sciences and all branches of learning. This seems like a pretty solid approach, and I’m surprised it took so many centuries for philosophy to reach this conclusion. I’m actually thankful for the summary, which lays out a number of these concepts in simple language, making it easier to follow Hume’s later expression.

Hume begins with an in-depth examination of the nature of ideas, showing them to be an internal representation of impressions we receive through the senses. He also makes a division between simple and complex ideas, showing simple ideas to be a representation of simple impressions. He believes complex ideas to be compounds of simple ideas. This basically means that all our ideas arise from initial impressions, from experience. This was one of the features that ran contrary to idealism, the perspective that the mind is the source of all ideas and that experience itself was not to be trusted when seeking certain knowledge.

Hume makes a number of other divisions in this exploration: memory and imagination, the ways in which ideas are associated, and the means by which ideas are related in our understanding. He also explores the nature of modes and substances, and of abstract ideas. This part is a bit abstract, but in essence points out that any concept we have of the substance of things around us is a complex concept, a collection of specific sense impressions that are associated within our experience. He then shows that all abstract ideas are extensions of particular ideas, like the specific idea of a triangle that can be extended to different sizes and circumstances.

This leads then to the portion on space and time. Once again, I was thrown off a bit by Hume’s language, and once again, I was glad of the summary to clarify the intention of his argument. Hume begins with a discussion of infinite divisibility, the capacity to divide a line or any specific thing infinitely. In essence, he claims that this is a complex idea based in our capacity to divide anything a number of times, and our extension of this concept to the infinitely large and small. However, there comes a point where something is too small to be perceived and experienced. Similarly, once something becomes large enough, we can no longer directly perceive further enlargement.

This is then applied to time, showing that while we have a notion that we can divide time infinitely, our experience is more like a collection of finite moments. Past a certain point, these moments become too small to be accessible to experience. Furthermore, we can perceive a succession of impressions, like a series of notes on a flute. This can give us an idea and impression of time, but time is not an additional impression to the experience of each note. Time is also suggested by change, which is an experience of successive impressions in which what we experience is different each time. The takeaway from this is that time isn’t something we experience. We experience a succession of impressions, and some character of consciousness turns this into a perception of time. Time is a condition of perception, a quality of thought rather than any solid experience of the world.

One key implication of this perspective of time is in the realm of causality. Causality is based in the relation between cause and effect. But since all we observe are a series of impressions, nothing in our experience can establish a causal effect with certainty. In fact, nothing experiential can be proven with any certainty. It may be probably true that the sun will rise, as we have an impression of so many sunrises following the night, but although this probability approaches certainty, it is not certain. Nothing in previous experience can determine anything of our future experience with true certainty. It’s a bit of a mind-bender, but it follows from his logic pretty clearly.

Although this has covered a fair bit of ground, Hume is just beginning. He explores the nature of identity, finding it to be a collection of impressions, another quality of consciousness. This is really cool, as it reflects some of the more Eastern concepts on the nature of self. He also thoroughly explores the nature of passion and emotions. This part is very interesting as well, as he comes to the conclusion that the proper place of reason is as a servant to the passions, a conclusion that few philosophers before him had taken into account. All in all, I found it a profound work, and it’s shifted the way I look at quite a few aspects of thought and experience.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Strong Second Half

I like how Bouseman gives a short biography and summary to start.

The first half of the book was of little interest to me, but the second half made up for it. The final 6 hours or so (political philosophy and morals) is very strong.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Extensive Treatise on Humanistic Rationalism

David Hume presents his rationalism as regards human behavior. It was of course incumbent on him (he held no religious beliefs) to stay to the path of a "humanist". This to his credit, was done without any open animosity toward those who held to a Christian view of human behavior. It is also unavoidably clear, that he was a citizen living under a monarchical form of government; he nevertheless communicates freely with the reader/listener.

Philippe Duquanoy's reading of this audiobook, suggested to me that he embraced its entire content. This in and of itself, is not a good or bad thing; I mention this due to my belief that David Hume, was attempting to present this material in the context of a theoretical disquisition. I would hasten to add that Philippe's voice was clear and easy to understand.

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 01-08-18

Challenging enough while being a fun listen

The real ‘scandal’ is not what Kant referred to in his 800 page rebuttal to Hume’s belief of skepticism about the real world, or the ‘scandal’ that Heidegger referred to that we were still debating the phenomenal world as such, the real scandal is that more people don’t read books like this one. Hume and this book offer more insights about today’s world and almost everything I see around me seems to want to make me stupid and accept ‘alternative facts’ as real, undermine science and its understanding of itself, and to undermine the distinction between true and false, fact and fiction, thus enabling totalitarianism to replace fairness and equality through appealing to our feelings not our reason. Books like this one are necessary in order for democracy to thrive. Regretfully, I seldom come across recent books that challenge the reader and help awake them from their ‘dogmatic slumber’ or expect the reader to actually think or learn what knowledge is and about the nature of reality.

Hume makes the foundation of all knowledge (in matter of facts, psychology or morality) as arising from our experiences from our impressions. Hume says all ideas come from our senses; all knowledge gets mediated through our senses and must come before concepts; cause is only a label arising from continuity, regularity, custom and habit for which we mentally construct a relationship; and our sympathy arising from sensibilities create what we label morality.

Hume will define reason as that which discovers truth from falsity through our relational experiences and non-contradictory ideas based on those experiences. Yes, Hume makes reason the slave to the passions, but he realizes we live in a world with other people and we have to function in the world with a set of rules so that we must act as if justice and injustice have meaning because it is functional to believe that. Reason is an ultimate good for Hume and it comes from experiences.

I read Kant before I read this book. That was sort of a mistake because Kant’s first Critique is a reaction to Hume’s skepticism and denial that all beginning things must have a cause, and Hume’s denial of cause and effect, and empiricism as the sole determiner of knowledge. Kant will famously say, ‘thought without content is empty, and intuitions without concepts are blind’. Meaning, it takes experiences and our concepts together to give us knowledge about the real world, ourselves and the moral as opposed to Hume’s argument that all knowledge comes about through experience alone.

Hume will say that our morality comes from our sympathies arising from our sentiments. He’ll say, our passions are a result of how we perceive our pains and pleasures and their expectations. ‘The World at War’ TV show from the 1970s taught me that ‘sympathy is in the dictionary between shit and syphilis’ and in my opinion that’s where it belongs and therefore I tend to think of morality differently than Hume. Hume is big on ‘character’ that which makes us who we are that comes from outside of us as opposed to an individual’s personality as authentically acquired from the self. (Matter of fact, I would say that most readers will ignore his chastity and other statements about ‘the fairer sex’ because they are just silly and ring false to all but the sexist or misogynist among us).

Hume understands how we are trapped in a Bayesian universe through our experiences. Yesterday’s experiences are determined by the priors weighted by the expectation times the weight of the experience itself. Hume explicitly speaks about the nearer in time the event is to us the more weight we give things. He doesn’t mention Thomas Bayes but he does understand how our feelings come from our experiences get affected through our perceptions weighted by our expectations.

Going from the particular to the general (the inductive to the deductive) creates science and sometimes ‘all swans are white’ will not be true and will need a correction since science can never know itself as certain. Hume actually gives a shout out to Rev. Berkerley in this book because of the problems of induction. That surprised me because Berkerley is the ultimate idealist and Hume is essentially the opposite, an empiricist. After having read this book, I understand how the two mesh together.

I found Hume a fun read. He’s abstract but not abstruse like Hegel. He has big ideas and doesn’t get bogged down in the particulars like Kant. He’s also more coherent than Schopenhauer (who incidentally, an idealist like Rev. Berkerley, seemed to fully appreciate Hume). Hume is probably today’s most favorite philosopher among philosophers because he writes clearly and everybody is able to find something they like within him (or as I sometimes think: ‘we’re all logical empiricist on first blush’ and love to quote Bertrand Russell or Karl Popper when appropriate!). I don’t mean this as an insult, but Hume writes clearly and understandably and can be equally understood by non-philosophers of which I am.

I loved the harp music between (betwixt) sections. These reprints with the synopsis are one of the best deals here on audible. I always make the mistake and listen to the synopsis before reading the book. I get overwhelmed and think I won't be able to follow the rest of the book. I shouldn't. I should skip the synopsis and read them after having read the book, but I always go back and re-listen to the synopsis and am grateful for the added insights they bring me.

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Annoying harp sound

I listened to the audio sample prior to purchasing this audiobook and I didn't hear it bean narrated from a third person perspective. I was hoping it was narrated from hume's own words. Other than that the subject matter is by all means informative and interesting

I give the narrator a 5 star rating. His voice and cadence is superb. It is non distraction and and pleasant to the ear

There is however one particular reason I'm giving this audiobook a 1 star rating and that's because of this annoying harp sound in

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-21-18

A cumbersome masterpiece

Not an easy listen. The Treatise is NOT my first choice as an introduction to Hume. This book contains some of the greatest philosophical insights ever put on paper, but unfortunately in a cumbersome and overlong format. Hume corrected this mistake in his later and more concise books - the two Enquiries - which together are a better place to start.

But despite its frustrations and shortcomings, most notably its lack of editorial oversight (which translates into reader-unfriendliness), the Treatise is a multifaceted masterpiece that revolutionised epistemology, psychology and moral philosophy - not bad for a single work.

Whether you think he was right or not (and I happen to think he was 90%* of the time), no serious scholar of philosophy should overlook this book. For even though the two Enquiries are overall better summaries of his position, the messy sprawl of the Treatise's labyrinthine thicket contains rough diamonds of ideas, many of them quite radical, that were ironed out or downplayed by the more "mature" Hume.

The deep jungle of Hume's unfiltered mind is a daunting place that is worth investigating, but only if you have read the Enquiries already.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • cow1rh
  • 08-30-16

Good audiobook, but some minor niggles.

I have the hardcopy Oxford edition with revised text by P.H. Nidditch. The first few chapters of the audiobook did not match my physical book at all. I was going to ask for a refund but after a few chapters things seemed to match. Overall a ver helpful reading and clear. Shane the chapters don't have titles though. Would buy again.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful