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In defence of Hume's historical method

Cohen, A. (2005) In defence of Hume's historical method. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 13 (3). pp. 489-502. ISSN 1469-3526

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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:

(1) The criticism of ahistoricalism: Hume believes human nature is an unchangeable substratum, and thus cannot account for historical change.

(2) The criticism of parochialism: Hume is trapped in his own historical province3, and thus understands other times in the light of his own.

(3) 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.

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.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: © 2005 Taylor and Francis. This is an author produced version of a paper published in British Journal for the History of Philosophy. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Institution: The University of Leeds
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of Humanities (Leeds) > School of Philosophy (Leeds)
The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of Humanities (Leeds) > School of Philosophy (Leeds) > Division of the History and Philosophy of Science (Leeds)
Depositing User: Leeds Philosophy Department
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2007 18:17
Last Modified: 21 May 2015 06:04
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09608780500157221
Status: Published
Publisher: Taylor and Francis
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1080/09608780500157221
Related URLs:
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/3223

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