The Ancients, the Vulgar, and Hume's Skepticism

In Patricia Hanna (ed.), Anthology of Philosophical Studies. ATINER. pp. 5-15 (2014)
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Section III of part IV of Book I of Hume's Treatise entitled “Of the ancient philosophy” has been virtually ignored by most Hume scholars. Although philosophers seem to concentrate on sections II and VI of part IV and pay little or no attention to section III, the latter section is paramount in showing how serious Hume's skepticism is, and how Hume's philosophy, contrary to his intention, is far removed from "the sentiments of the vulgar". In this paper I shall first explore Hume's view on ancient philosophy as it is presented in section III, and I shall particularly focus on his discussion of identity and simplicity of bodies. Second, I shall argue that Hume's account of identity and simplicity in terms of qualities is at best unsatisfactory. Finally, I shall try to show that Hume's advice to hold a "moderate" skepticism cannot be taken seriously. On the contrary, Hume seems to hold an "extravagant" skepticism, since he claims that there is a contradiction between our most fundamental natural beliefs, as well as between our natural beliefs and philosophical reasoning.

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Maria Adamos
Georgia Southern University


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