David Hume, a name that might not be as eminent as Aristotle or Plato but a mind that’s just as significant and astute in the world of philosophy, is known as one of the most influential thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Born on May 7th, 1711 into a relatively wealthy Scottish family in Edinburgh, Scotland, Hume was raised and educated by his widowed mother in a religious household up until the age of eleven. He studied at The University of Edinburgh for a couple of years until he decided to leave and pursue his education privately at the age of fifteen, which lead to the commencement of his calling as a philosopher. Throughout his 65 years, Hume was not only a philosopher, but also a historian and an economist, maintaining the work of predecessor philosophers like John Locke and Bishop George Berkeley, and inspiring his younger philosopher friends Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson (“David Hume”, n.d.). In Hume’s final years up until his death in 1776, he acted as a mentor to Adam Smith before deceasing; thereafter many of his unpublished dissertations were released, leaving mixed reviews to his name due to his already known “boldly skeptical approach to a range of philosophical subjects” (Fieser, n.d.).
In his first published piece at twenty-eight years old, “A Treatise of Human Nature”, Hume explores empiricism, which is a theory relating to everything we do is based upon experience. He argues, “The idea of free will was a myth. While we have strong motivations as rational agents to argue that our capacity for reason rules our passionate and emotional selves…it’s the other way around—that desire or repulsion, not reason, drive our conduct” (Plaisance, 2014).
He also argued and “offered compelling criticisms” on other notions, many of which dealing with religion and that “it is unreasonable to believe testimonies of alleged miraculous events” and epistemological issues of “space and time, cause-effect, external objects, personal identity, and free will” (Fieser, n.d.). Although Hume faithfully attended Church as a child growing up, his ideas on religion were considered to be controversial at the time.
Hume’s skepticism on certain values and beliefs is what makes him the influential philosopher we abide by today. Relating back to the world of ethics, Hume’s “primary project was to develop a science of human nature, a science stripped of dogma and based on observable fact and careful argument”, basically constructing what we know today as cognitive science. The other main thing he preached was that our morality as humans in the actions we do, are based off of our own custom or habit. “In particular his moral theory, grounded on empathy and the emotions rather than theology or logic, continues to exert a profound influence” (“David Hume”, n.d.). That basically “All human actions flow naturally from human feelings, without any interference from human reason” (Kemerling, 2011). Hume’s “argument was that knowledge could only be gained through experience”, thus why we act out of personal feelings and justifications from prior occurrences. This is extremely crucial in the world of media ethics, especially today.
For example, in the field of media ethics, there are many different perceptions of bias—especially when it comes to journalism and reporting news with subjective wording supporting a certain political view. As Hume stated what we know is from experience, it correlates to being our own personal bias towards a subject of issue. It also relates back to cognitive dissonance, and how as human beings we do not like to fit the reality of the world to ourselves, but instead we make the world seem right from our own perspectives.
David Hume (1711 – 1776). (n.d.) In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/hume/#H3
Famous Economists . (2015). David Hume. Retrieved from Famous Economists : http://www.famouseconomists.net/david-hume
Libertarianism.org. (n.d. ). David Hume. Retrieved from Libertarianism.org: http://www.libertarianism.org/people/david-hume
Plaisance, P.L. (2014). Media ethics: Key principles for responsible practice. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publication, Inc.
The European Graduate School . (2012). David Hume-Biography . Retrieved from The European Graduate School: http://www.egs.edu/library/david-hume/biography/
The University of Edinburgh. (n.d.). David Hume. Retrieved from The University of Edinburgh: http://www.philosophy.ed.ac.uk/phil_history/david_hume.php