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In defence of Hume's historical method

By A. Cohen


A tradition among certain Hume scholars, best known as the ‘New Humeans’, proposes a novel reading of Hume’s work, and in particular of his conception of causality.2 The purpose of this paper is to conduct a similar move regarding Hume’s historical method. It is similar for two reasons: firstly, it is intended to reintegrate Hume’s theory into present-day debates on the nature of history; and secondly, the reading I propose is directed against the standard interpretation of Hume’s history. This interpretation claims that in spite of being a historian, Hume misunderstands the nature of both historical knowledge and the historical enterprise. In other words, the Humean methodology would be incompatible with a genuine historical practice. This censure is based upon three particular criticisms:\ud \ud (1)\ud The criticism of ahistoricalism: Hume believes human nature is an unchangeable substratum, and thus cannot account for historical change.\ud \ud (2)\ud The criticism of parochialism: Hume is trapped in his own historical province3, and thus understands other times in the light of his own.\ud \ud (3)\ud The criticism of moral condescension: Hume presumes the same standard is applicable throughout history, and thus judges the past according to his own moral standard.\ud \ud I shall argue that these criticisms are the result of a misunderstanding of what Hume means to accomplish through his investigation of history and that moreover, he is aware of these pitfalls

Publisher: Taylor and Francis
Year: 2005
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