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An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding David Hume Oxford University Press USA New Ed. edition

31st May 2012 History Books 26 Comments

`These new Oxford University Press editions have been meticulously collated from various exatant versions. Each text has an excellent introduction including an overview of Hume’s thought and an account of his life and times. Even the difficult, and rarely commented-on, chapters on space and time are elucidated. There are also useful notes on the text and glossary. These scholarly new editions are ideally adapted for a whole range of readers, from beginners to experts.’ Jane O’Grady, Catholic Herald, 4/8/00. –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Library of Liberal Arts title. –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

David Hume’s Enquiry concerning Human Understanding is the definitive statement of the greatest philosopher in the English language. His arguments in support of reasoning from experience, and against the “sophistry and illusion”of religiously inspired philosophical fantasies, caused controversy in the eighteenth century and are strikingly relevant today, when faith and science continue to clash.
The Enquiry considers the origin and processes of human thought, reaching the stark conclusion that we can have no ultimate understanding of the physical world, or indeed our own minds. In either sphere we must depend on instinctive learning from experience, recognizing our animal nature and the limits of reason. Hume’s calm and open-minded skepticism thus aims to provide a new basis for science, liberating us from the “superstition” of false metaphysics and religion. His Enquiry remains one of the best introductions to the study of philosophy, and his edition places it in its historical and philosophical context.

About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

`These new Oxford University Press editions have been meticulously collated from various exatant versions. Each text has an excellent introduction including an overview of Hume’s thought and an account of his life and times. Even the difficult, and rarely commented-on, chapters on space and time are elucidated. There are also useful notes on the text and glossary. These scholarly new editions are ideally adapted for a whole range of readers, from beginners to experts.’ Jane O’Grady, Catholic Herald, 4/8/00. –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Oxford World’s Classics)

Meditations on First Philosophy: In Which the Existence of God and the Distinction of the Soul from the Body Are Demonstrated

“The new version of Cress’s translation of Descartes’s Meditations has attained an unusually high degree of readability . . . and at the same time, of fidelity to the original.” Roger Ariew, University of South Florida, and Marjorie Grene (1910-2009), Virginia Polytechnic Institute –This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.

Many other matters respecting the attributes of God and my own nature or mind remain for consideration; but I shall possibly on another occasion resume the investigation of these. Now my principal task is to endeavour to emerge from the state of doubt into which I have these last days fallen, and to see whether nothing certain can be known regarding material things.

Meditations on First Philosophy: In Which the Existence of God and the Distinction of the Soul from the Body Are Demonstrated

  • 26 responses to "An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding David Hume Oxford University Press USA New Ed. edition"

  • Zijian
    4:21 on May 31st, 2012
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    This is a good edition of the first but fundamental book published by Hume in 3 volumes (1 and 2 in 1739; 3 in 1740) dedicated to the methodical study of knowledge, passions and moral, through experience and practical observation. It is with Hume that empiricism (following Locke and Berkeley) reaches its complete expression as a “modern” classical system, against previous dogmatic visions of philosophy. According to Kant, Hume awoke him from the dogmatic dream……
    With Hume, english illustration comes to a definitive expression. Through his opus, empiricism is systematized and acquires a new dimension that expands its influence on all fields of philosophy. Previous conceptions about the theory of knowledge, ethics, politics, esthetics, and the philosophy of religion, all are transformed or renovated by Hume. In spite of his critics, Hume’s system dwelled with different topics of modern interest: positivism, psychology, nominalism, critical skepticism, determinism, agnosticism, moral philosophy, political economy, etc.
    No serious philosopher after Hume, has been able to avoid a careful look at his system. So if you are a student or scholar of the subject matter, I highly recommend this edition of Hume’s seminal work.

  • snowstorm
    6:29 on May 31st, 2012
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    This book will make you question many things; indeed Hume makes our quest for knowledge look like the struggle of Sisyphus rolling his rock up a hill, only to have it fall down again and again as he fruitlessly makes his repeated efforts. Hume argues to the logical conclusion of the empiricist tradition that began with John Locke.

    According to the empiricist thesis, sensory experience is the foundation for all knowledge about the world. This knowledge is what Hume calls Matters of Fact. Matters of Fact include such statements as “The sun will rise tomorrow” or “The cat is on the mat.” Deductive knowledge, such as mathematics and logic, is termed “Relations of Ideas” by Hume. These are necessary truths, or true in all possible worlds, thus they are not truths about the actual world, according to Hume. However, Hume thinks that Relations of ideas are useless to us because they contain an empty sort of knowledge that tells us nothing about the world. Hume says Relations of Ideas are CREATED meanings, unlike Plato and Aristotle who would say that mathematical and logical truths are facts about the world as well, not merely our creation. The relation of ideas/matters of fact dichotomy is the same as the analytic/sythetic distinction of contemporary philosophy. Hume does not doubt the truth of relations of ideas, he just thinks they are useless. For a skeptical attack on even the analytic/synthetic distinction, and hence analytical truth, see “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” by W.V. Quine.

    To gain useful knowledge, i.e., knowledge of matters of fact, we can rely off inductive reasoning (reasoning from singular instances to a universal generalization) and sense observation. Now Hume never uses the term “induction,” for his attack is explicitly on our knowledge of causation in nature, but his argument would apply to all forms of induction, not just causation, thus it is often called “Hume’s attack on induction.” To this day, no one has solved the problem of induction. This alone makes Hume a worthwhile read.

    The argument basically goes like this: Induction involves a generalization to the unobserved on the basis of observed phenomena. To have a good reason for making such a generalization, we have to presuppose that the whole of nature exibits uniformity in its behavior (If nature were not uniform, then it would be unwise to try and infer future experience on the basis of past experience). However, to make a statement about the uniformity of the whole of nature is to make a statement about unobserved phenomena (since we can never observe the whole of nature). Since this is about the unobseved, sense observation is out of the question to cite as evidence for a uniformity maxim about nature. Thus, the only available evidence for such a maxim would have to come from induction, but we need the maxim to justify induction in the first place! Thus, inductive reasoning is essentially circular. However, please note that this is only true if all reasoning must be based on the framework of deductive logic.

    Hume also attacks religion and belief in the external world. To believe in the external world is to use inductive reasoning because we generalize from the observed (the sense impressions in our mind) to the unobserved (a mind independent reality). We can have no knowledge of a mind-independent reality because all the reality that we can ever experience must be contained somehow in our minds. If it wasn’t in our minds, we could never experience it. There is a large similarity between this view and the view of Protagoras the sophist, 2400 years ago. He said “As things appear to a man, so they are for him.” In other words, the only reality for each individual is that which is contained (appears) in his mind. Plato set out to defeat this view in his dialogue, the Theaetetus. If Plato is successful, then Hume is defeated as well.

    In numerous places, Hume anticipates Postmodern theses. And he suffers from the same problem that any skeptical or relativist position suffers: The Humean skeptic says “Knowledge is impossible,” but if that was true, how could he know that? The relativist says either: a) reality is relative to each individual’s construal of his appearances (Protagoras, existentialism). b) reality is relative to each socio-cultural or linguistic community’s construal of its appearances (Postmodernism). c) reality is relative to the a priori categories and intuitions of space and time, which are innate in all rational beings to allow them to construe their appearances (Kant’s answer to skepticism). However, if any of these 3 relativist theses are true, then some knowledge of reality must be non-relative. How could you state “Reality is relative to x” unless you were able to see the way reality worked from a standpoint that is outside the constraints of x? If you are making that statement from inside the constraints of some perspective, then anyone with a different perspective need not listen to you because your statement about relativism is not part of their reality since it is not within their framework/perspective. Basically, if Hume, or any skeptic/relativist were right, then we should be equally skeptical about whatever they are trying to convince us.

    Still, Hume is very much worth the read, and he will make you think outside the box if you are going to understand and get past his arguments. Though the skeptical position seems contradictory for reasons stated above, this refutation of skepticism is only possible by first admitting that the skeptic is right! Thus, we still have a lot of work to do to find an alternative to skepticism/relativism, and Hume’s book cuts out our work for us. He raises the problems that we need to solve if we are ever going to escape the hopelessness of relativism and skepticism. And even if the skeptic is unanswerable in the end, we are better off at least knowing that, and thus we will be freed from dogmatic and unfounded beliefs. Hume does us a great service by freeing us from dogmatic faith in both religion AND science — a critical, skeptical eye in this age of empty ready-made certainties is both healthy and necessary if we are ever to get on the path to real knowledge.

  • Dan Milner
    7:45 on May 31st, 2012
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    This book was written in 1748 and I must say it certainly humbled me to realize that modern philosophical concerns are neither new nor unique. Terminology may have changed since the time when this book was written, but the underlying deliberations and contemplations remain unchanged. Hume’s first 100 pages discuss the experiential foundation of knowledge. His arguments are compelling, but too enduring. The final 45 pages are superb. In these pages, Hume presents his treatises on miracles and academic skepticism and I must admit that it is one of the best discussions on practical skepticism that I have had the pleasure of reading.

  • jamesa
    8:57 on May 31st, 2012
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    This is a superb edition of one of the basic works in Western philosophy. Designed to be used by both casual and serious students of philosophy, this edition contains the text of Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (EHU) and a series of other sections that provide background and further directions for studying Hume. Included are an excellent precis of the EHU, a first rate annotated bibliography concerning works by and about Hume, considerable background material on Hume, and excellent notes to the text of the EHU.

    The EHU is a concise and charmingly written presentation of Hume’s views of the nature and particularly the limitations of human knowledge. The EHU presents Humes basic concepts of human thought, human pattern recognition, and then proceeds to Hume’s revolutionary analysis of the problem of induction. Hume exposes our limitations in establishing certain cause and effect relations. Hume’s analysis of this problem and its corollaries leads to ultimate skepticism about our ability to know the external world with certainty and undermines much of the basis for religion. Hume presents his ideas in an attractive style that owes much to famous 18th century essayists like Addison.

    A fundamental work and very readable work.

  • John Stanton
    12:08 on May 31st, 2012
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    This work, is a good translation of the meditations. The meditations allow people to get a taste of how man can get a deeper sense of who one is.

  • Michelle Dunn
    14:10 on May 31st, 2012
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    this book it’s a must even if you don’t believe in god. descartes tried to prove the existence of god using the proofs of existing of everything else that’s around us. well, i don’t believe that god shuld or can be proved by pure logic…cause in a world of pure logic the concept of god wouldn’t make any sense. none the less we should get to that conclusion yourself by reading this one !

  • Miscue
    18:20 on May 31st, 2012
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    When I was in the midst of my educational pursuits, I took my first course in philosophy. One day my professor stumped the class with the question: “What do humans have that is distinct from non-human animals? Is there anything unique about humans?” The professor then contended that when one surveys all animal species there isn’t anything fully unique about mankind. Although the class tried, no one was able to mount an effective argument that refuted his premise.

    Nevertheless, one thing that human beings do that no other species attempts is epistemology: asking how we know what we know. The whole mass of the animal world lacks the ability to build an epistemic view.

    And Rene Descartes was one of the chief thinkers who helped birth modern epistemology. Descartes aspired to set in motion human knowledge afresh through finding a place to ground indubitable knowledge. He sought to thrust aside the collected mass of rational predispositions, preconceptions, prejudices, partialities, and biases of the past and construct form the epistemic ground up, constructing one logical certainty upon another.

    Descartes was mathematician; philosopher and a true mastermind in the early epistemological pursuits as he embraced dualism. Additionally he’s the author of the controversial: “I think therefore I am” formulation; since I am thinking, I must exist. His aim was to find an immovable impossibility of the contrary foundation as the starting point within a fuller epistemic scheme. Most, from all epistemic schools, believe that Descartes failed and at best made a case for solipsism. Nonetheless his work helped launch countless valuable epistemological pursuits.

    Furthermore many admire his ontological argument for the existence of God, although Plantinga has recently devised a much more potent OAFEG.

    Descartes was a central and essential pioneer of modern epistemology and mathematics; the world would be much inferior without his exceptional, yet dated, work.

    * Epistemology: The study of how we know what we know, the nature and basis of knowledge, the accounting and justifying of knowledge claims, and the sources and scope of knowledge. Epistemology explores the question: What do men ordinarily denote when they say that they `know’ something?

    * Laws of Logic: Abstract, non-concrete laws of thought and reason that are nonmaterial, universal, obligatory, and absolute. All rational communication and thinking assume the laws of logic. The most well known law is the law of non-contradiction: A cannot be A and not-A at the same time in the same way. A man cannot be his own father. The laws of logic reflect the nature and mind of God; thus, they have ontological grounding–that is, they are grounded in the very nature of truth itself and cannot be reduced to human convention, opinion, or psychology. Reject the laws of logic, including the law of non-contradiction, and rational thinking is impossible. To deny the law, one must use the law in attempting to deny it. Those who deny logic are participating in a self-refuting effort.

    Buy this, ruminate over Descartes’ assertions, and expand your own epistemic method.

    The Necessary Existence of God: The Proof of Christianity Through Presuppositional Apologetics

  • EmmEff
    19:57 on May 31st, 2012
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    Hume is underappreciated, as even the casual reader of the Enquiry will see. Kant credited Hume with “awakening me from my dogmatic slumbers,” but Kant’s thought owes more to the structuralism (if one may call it that) of Rousseau than the ernest and tentative scepticism of Hume. Unlike Kant, Hume does not try to rescue Platonic dualism by positing an ‘idealistic’ connection between the consciousness of man and what lies beyond our sensory awareness. Unlike Wittgenstein, Hume does not say we should remain silent about that for which words may fail us. In contrast to some of his famous successors, Hume does not attempt to rationalize religion to justify the power of the state; nor does he sacralize philosophy with a neo-mystical faith in analysis. Hume exemplifies honesty in critical thinking in a way that one seldom sees in any sort of writing. The ideas are as fresh now as they were 250 years ago, and the clarity of writing is extraordinary given the genuine newness of the ideas expressed.

  • Larissa Glos
    21:26 on May 31st, 2012
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    While I tend to be a fan of mostly Plato’s philosophy, Hume holds a special place in my mind. I was required to purchase this book for a Philosophy class, and read it immediately after reading Descartes’ Meditations. That alone may be enough to influence my feelings towards the book, but upon reading it a second time I have decided that it was everything that I had cracked it up to be the first time.

    The best part of Hume’s philosophy, while it is hard to swallow, is that it is easy to read and understand. This text gives his reasons on why he is able to doubt and toss out everything that DesCartes was able to prove to himself. Useful analogies and well chosen words are the benchmark of this timeless piece of literature. A must for anyone interested in Philosophy.

  • Ben Morris
    23:48 on May 31st, 2012
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    I had to write a school term paper. I chose Mediation. After researching it a bit, I changed the paper’s subject. I only looked through this book I have not read it.

  • Elmira Tena
    1:27 on June 1st, 2012
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    Descartes shows us:

    What we must do is find the truth by doubting all we can, and finding the only undoubtable thing then build knowledge based off that foundation.

    “I doubt therefore I think… therefore I am, the very fact that I doubt my existence, confirms my existence is a thinking thing.”

    This leads to truth that leads to knowledge as our knowledge of the external world can only be true if God exists. God is not a deceiver.

    Not knowing the “true nature” of things is not knowing anything at all. The objects of ones perception may not exist but your experience does.

    How does one truly know they are not a brain in a vat being transmitted experiences? How does one empirically verify that? This is why positivism fails as the world could just be a clever illusion, and one cannot use the verification principle on the verification principle. The mind is also something that cannot be empirically verified, as is the external world.

    How do you know your senses are not lying, after all everything that your senses collect must be processed in your mind, how do you know that your mind isn’t deceiving you?

    Descartes is a mastermind and shows us why we can only trust God.

  • Setco-ish
    3:03 on June 1st, 2012
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    This book was translated from old French. It was in English but I could barely make sense of it and i’m into these kinds of books. I don’t know whether it was his style that I didn’t like or it was just plain hard to read. Could be because it was written so long ago.

    This book has words from the 1500′s that no one uses anymore. The book discusses the soul and the body. Physics, Astronomy , Medicine and Science. This is 100 pages of heavy stuff. If you are very patient, interested in Philosophy and very smart you may like this book..

  • mark zuck
    3:33 on June 1st, 2012
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    After his three-volume Treatise of Human Nature dropped like a rock to the bottom of the pool of British philosophic writing, Hume set out to write a briefer, more accessible version — the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. One of the early points it makes is that most endeavors to write about the nature of thought are hopeless and nearly impossible to understand. With that disclaimer, Hume sets out to contradict himself by writing lucidly about, while candidly acknowledging the severe limits of, this topic. He uses logic to show that most human understanding falls into two categories: a very small group of innate truths deducible by logic, like every triangle has three sides, and a much larger group — nearly everything we “know” — which is based on reality-based observation. This latter group always has, at a fundamental level, an element of probabilistic assumption: Things customarily happened this way before, so they probably will again. Thus almost everything we (think we) know about the world is based on empirical experience, not pure logic. So . . .how did he figure this all out?

  • Doug Fisher
    4:43 on June 1st, 2012
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    A great book to help you ask questions about life. I used this for my Philosophy 101 class and enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

  • jill cue
    6:47 on June 1st, 2012
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    David Hume was perhaps the leading light in the Empiricist movement in philosophy. Empiricism is seen in distinction from Rationalism, in that it doubts the viability of universal principles (rational or otherwise), and uses sense data as the basis of all knowledge – experience is the source of knowledge. Hume was a skeptic as well as empiricist, and had radical (for the time) atheist ideas that often got in the way of his professional advancement, but given his reliance on experience (and the kinds of experiences he had), his problem with much that was considered conventional was understandable.

    Hume’s major work, ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’, was not well received intially – according to Hume, ‘it fell dead-born from the press’. Hume reworked the first part of this work in a more popular way for this text, which has become a standard, and perhaps the best introduction to Empiricism.

    In a nutshell, the idea of empiricism is that experience teaches, and rules and understanding are derived from this. However, for Hume this wasn’t sufficient. Just because billiard balls when striking always behave in a certain manner, or just because the sun always rose in the morning, there was no direct causal connection that could be automatically affirmed – we assume a necessary connection, but how can this be proved?

    Hume’s ideas impact not only metaphysics, but also epistemology and psychology. Hume develops empiricism to a point that empiricism is practically unsupportable (and it is in this regard that Kant sees this text as a very important piece, and works toward his synthesis of Empiricism and Rationalism). For Hume, empirical thought requires skepticism, but leaves it unresolved as far as what one then needs to accept with regard to reason and understanding. According to scholar Eric Steinberg, ‘A view that pervades nearly all of Hume’s philosophical writings is that both ancient and modern philosophers have been guilty of optimistic and exaggerated claims for the power of human reason.’

    Some have seen Hume as presenting a fundamental mistrust of daily belief while recognising that we cannot escape from some sort of framework; others have seen Hume as working toward a more naturalist paradigm of human understanding. In fact, Hume is open to a number of different interpretations, and these different interpretations have been taken up by subsequent philosophers to develop areas of synthetic philosophical ideas, as well as further developments more directly out of Empiricism (such as Phenomenology).

    This is in fact a rather short book, a mere 100 pages or so in many editions. As a primer for understanding Hume, the British Empiricists (who include Hobbes, Locke, and Berkeley), as well as the major philosphical concerns of the eighteenth century, this is a great text with which to start.

  • Klaatu
    8:33 on June 1st, 2012
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    Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy is arguably the starting point for much of modern western philosophy. This short work comprises approximately 60 pages. Potential buyers should note that it does not include the “Objections and Replies” portion that is available in some other editions.

    Although there are many important and helpful philosophical works, Meditations is probably one of the few must read for students of philosophy. Cress’ translation does a commendable job of allowing readers to interact with this significant historic text. In Meditations Descartes touches on many key philosophical questions, the role of scepticism, the existence of God and mind-body dualism. This short 17th Century text is by no means an exhaustive examination of these issues – its value is largely the historical context it provides. Its arguements have, however, held up remarkably well over time.

    Overall a true classic – I highly recommend it. This short book is a handy reference and good value. Some readers, however, may wish to consider purchasing Meditations as part of a broader collection.

  • BAMinvestor
    11:13 on June 1st, 2012
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    This review mostly concerns the Enquiry. The Letter is primarily a defense of Hume’s earlier Treatise of Human Nature, while his Abstract is an anonymous review of the Treatise. It strikes me as very funny, though not surprising, that Hume would review his own work. Funny because any author would give his right arm to get at least one favorable review when all the other critics are completely missing its point. Unsurprising because Hume was probably one of the only people alive at that time who could truly grasp all the facets of his radical philosophical claims.

    The Enquiry was written after the Treatise. Hume, though he claimed the opposite, seems never to have really recovered from the blow he took from seeing his Treatise “fall dead born from the press.” As a result, his Enquiry is far more cautious in the steps it takes. (For those of you who have read both, yes, I swear, Hume IS more cautious. Compare the claims.) A more robust philosophical stance is taken in his Treatise, while a more focused stance is taken in his Enquiry.

    The Enquiry is mainly a work of epistemology and as such, scrutinizes our methods of acquiring knowledge. Making perhaps the most radical (and poignant) claim in all of modern philosophy, it posits, and supports, that there is NO causation, only conjunction. That, for example, when we see a glass drop and break, we cannot say we know gravity caused this (in the way we know two plus two equals four). All we see is constant conjunction. The connection is lacking, i.e., it is not inconceivable that the glass wouldn’t bounce, turn to ash, or dissolve into sand (the way it is inconceivable that two plus two equals five). This, in effect, nullifies all the so called “laws” of nature that are formed by science. (Note that this does not state that there are no laws of nature, just that we really can never make the claim that we ever really know there are laws of nature.)

    This could be thought of as the philosophical shot heard round the world. Agree or disagree, Hume must be answered. Hume has historically been charged with creating an intellectual and philosophical cul-de-sac with his skepticism. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, Hume makes a claim which none can refute, but at the same time one which none can accept. In effect, Hume’s philosophy seems to bind the human mind, stopping its journey of discovery and ultimately accomplishing what his predecessor, John Locke, set out to do, i.e., map the extent of human knowledge.

    However, where one may see Hume’s philosophy as shackles and fetters in the search for truth, one could also equally see his philosophy as liberation. Implicit in his philosophy is the idea that ANYTHING is possible. There are no shackles, no fetters, no limits; only those that we create for ourselves. Our limits are self-imposed, constructs of our observance (and inference) of connection. In this way Hume appears in the same light as the Eastern masters seeing that reality is not what we have (through experiential knowledge) believed it to be. It is something much more wondrous. In Zen, our causal thinking is the only barrier between the person and enlightenment. Hume could be seen as implying that when the idea of causality is removed, with only conjunction remaining in its place, the state of true knowledge and wisdom (true zen) is achieved.

    This, of course, is only idle speculation. But it is stated so as to demonstrate the richness and immense possibility Hume’s philosophy possesses when seen in the correct light. Instead of saying, “Nothing is certain,” after reading Hume, one can say, with equal validity, “Anything is possible.” The first statement approaches philosophy with despair. The second approaches it with a sense of childlike wonder and hope at the immense possibilities of reality. It approaches life as a beginning, not an ending. It approaches life as the philosopher approaches it.

  • Loose Nut
    14:47 on June 1st, 2012
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    The back of this book calls Meditations “the fundamental and originating work of the modern era in Western philosophy.” It was undoubtedly influential. Descartes is credited for the notion that the mind and body are separate entities, that man is a machine, and the phrase “cogito ergo sum.” For these reasons, this book is worth reading. However, Descartes makes many strange and incoherent arguments (especially concerning the existence of God), and I question the contemporary value of his philosophy.

    One way of reading the Meditations is to see it as an argument showing that God and science are not at odds. Instead they are compatible, and he argues even that one cannot act rightly without proper understanding. Apparently, Descartes had been so horrified by Catholic Church forcing Galileo to recant his views that he stopped the publication of one of his papers.

    As an attempt to make sense of what we can know, Descartes failed, and failed in some parts quite obviously. But as in all the other philosophical writings, an argument with holes does not make it worthless as philosophy. Its value lies in the influence it had on changing how we perceive the world.

  • Awesome
    20:39 on June 1st, 2012
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    For years I have passed over Hume’s work, but after reading An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, I would like to urge all philosophically minded readers to not make the same mistake as I did.
    Hume’s writing is as poetic as it is profound. His ideas are forceful, yet expressed with such gentle eloquence. I cannot stress enough how impressed I was with this book.
    Furthermore, the clarity and insight of Peter Millican’s introduction and end notes did much to enhance my comprehension and fit this work into a larger context.

  • bejamin lazaro
    21:14 on June 1st, 2012
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    Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy is one of the few works of philosophy that absolutely every educated person needs to read at least once. This is required reading for anyone interested in philosophy or its history, and honestly I don’t see how this work can be ignored by anyone interested in the history of ideas. It’s also a work that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to be introduced to philosophy by reading the work of a great philosopher. And don’t worry: it shouldn’t take you more than an afternoon to read through it. But you can, of course, spend the remainder of your life thinking about the ideas contained in this work.

    The Meditations has had an incalculable influence on the history of subsequent philosophical thinking. Indeed, according to nearly every history of philosophy you’re likely to come across, this work is where modern philosophy begins. It’s not that any of Descartes’s arguments are startlingly original–many of them have historical precedents–but that Descartes’s work was compelling enough to initiate two research programs in philosophy, namely British empiricism and continental rationalism, and to place certain issues (e.g. the mind-body problem, the plausibility of and responses to skepticism, the ontological argument for the existence of God, etc.) on the philosophical agenda for a long time to come. Moreover, Descartes was capable of posing questions of great intrinsic interest in prose accessible to everyone. So the Meditations is a work of value to both newcomers to philosophy and to those with a great deal of philosophical background.

    The First Meditation is Descartes’s implementation of his method of doubt. Descartes’s aim here is to systematically doubt everything he believes that seems dubitable in any way and thereby to arrive at something that is absolutely certain and indubitable. Here Descartes formulates two very famous skeptical arguments: the dreaming argument and the evil demon argument. The dreaming arguments calls into question my current beliefs about the world by drawing attention to the possibility that I might be dreaming now. Can I know right now that I’m not dreaming? If not, doesn’t it seem that I don’t know much of anything? The evil demon argument is even more radical in that it focuses my attention on the possibility that almost my entire conception of reality is based on a very general delusion. What if my every experience and all my reasoning results from constant deception by some being with God-like powers? What, if anything, would I know if this were the case? These worries, Descartes thinks, allow him to doubt nearly all his beliefs, and it indeed they may preclude his having any certain knowledge at all.

    The rest of the Meditations is Descartes’s attempt to find something he can know for certain. Famously, he begins by claiming that he can be certain of his own existence. Even if he’s dreaming or being deceived by an all-powerful evil demon, he can be sure that he exists. For he couldn’t dream or be deceived unless he existed.

    But even if he can be certain of his own existence, how can Descartes move beyond this to knowledge of a world outside his own mind? By appealing to the existence of God. He provides two distinct proofs for the existence of God: one a variant of the ontological argument, which attempts to prove God’s existence from an appeal to the very concept of God, and one a type of cosmological argument, which attempts to prove God’s existence by appealing to something whose only possible cause is God. Both these arguments, Descartes claims, prove that the world includes an absolutely perfect God. And it is the perfection of God that Descartes to be confident that he can know things beyond his own mind. For God, as a wholly perfect being, wouldn’t provide Descartes with intellectual faculties that allow him to go wrong. Consequently, Descartes can be sure that his beliefs are generally correct, provided that he has used his intellectual faculties in the way God intended.

    This work also includes a statement of the sort of mind-body dualism with which Descartes is widely associated. Although his arguments for dualism are obscure here, it is fairly easy to explain the central idea. According to Descartes, mind and body are wholly distinct kinds of substance that interact with one another. Mental states aren’t a part of the natural world revealed by the sciences, and so, for instance, they are not reducible to certain things going on in a brain. Instead, they’re a wholly different type of thing–though a type of thing that is somehow causally connected to a brain.

    All of this is material, and a lot more, is covered in roughly sixty pages of text, and it is presented in some of the clearest, most straightforward philosophical prose ever written. Plus, the reader needn’t have mastered any arcane jargon or previous work in philosophy to understand Descartes’s views. And because it is written as a series of meditations in which Descartes leads us through something like his own process of through about these issues, it makes for relatively easy reading.

    This is a serviceable edition of the Meditations and the Discourse for students, and I’m sure it’s perfect for the average reader. The translation is readable, and it doesn’t seem significantly different from other translations of Descartes that I’ve read. While there aren’t a lot of frills here, there’s a very brief account of Descartes’s life and a short bibliography. (For more serious students, I’d recommend Cottingham’s edition of the Meditations that is published by Cambridge University Press. And Descartes enthusiasts should check out the second volume of the Cambridge Edition of the Philosophical Writings of Descartes, which includes Cottingham’s translation of the Meditations along with the entire text of the objections and replies.)

  • Far Fetched?
    1:32 on June 2nd, 2012
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    First I would like to commend the excellent review of this book by CT Dreyer in which he correctly shows how Hume extended the empiricism of Locke and Berkeley to the point where skepticism seemed our only honest way of thinking about our knowledge of the world. Hume’s questioning of induction, of how we can be sure tomorrow will be like today , his questioning of how we can trust our senses to know the outside world, his questioning of how we can hold our world logically together when analysis reveals that there is no necessary connection between ‘ cause’ and ‘effect’ in everyday life action means he wakened not only Kant from his dogmatic slumber but Philosophy itself from the sense that it will provide absolute understanding.
    Hume is a very clear writer. I remember reading the famous billiard ball account of causality in which our common sense view of ‘ before’ and ‘ after’ is questioned and taken apart. I believe Hume says after this account, something to the effect and ‘ still when we leave the room we leave by the door and not by the window’. A friend of mine in this class when the class ended opened the window ( on the ground floor ) and went out that way.
    This is difficult and great philosophy. I do not pretend to understand it or its implications fully. A test of the mind and a necessary read for anyone who would know Western Philosophy.

  • asshat
    4:32 on June 2nd, 2012
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    Rene Descartes, a great mathematician, surely a creative genius in the field, used his prodigious intellect to answer some of the great questions like how do we know, what can we know, what is the difference between thinking and sensing, and many other questions following from these basic ones. However, in doing so, he painted himself and generations of philosophers into a philosophical corner from which he and others have been trying to extricate themselves for hundreds of years. This philosophical cul-de-sac, this “corner,” is known as Dualism.

    Using the “method of doubt,” Descartes concluded that there were two worlds, the world of mind and the world of the senses. The world of senses could be deceived, nay, easily deceived, whereas the world of mind could not be deceived because it was based on indubitable truths and understandings. These truths and understandings are indubitable because they are “clear and distinct” such as the fact that “I think.” The thought “I think” is clear and distinct because it cannot be doubted as such. Whether I am deceived or not about what I perceive or think, there is always an “I” thinking. So even when in error there is an I…thinking.

    For Descartes, other ideas are clear and distinct in our minds because God puts them there. For example, the idea of a perfect, immutable, eternally existent God is clear and distinct because God Himself places the idea of him into our minds. Our own finite minds could not even conceive of this God, let alone conceive of Him in a clear and distinct way just because our minds are finite; thus we must have a clear and distinct understanding of Him because He places that thought in our minds.

    In sum, there are two worlds: an outside world which cannot be known clearly and distinctly, which is relegated to the realm of imperfection and confusion by the method of doubt, and an inside world (non-material) which can be known clearly and distinctly in two ways:
    (1)the thinking I is known by eliminating everything except the I through the method of doubt; and (2) God is known because He put the idea of Himself into my mind. Thus, “Dualism”arises.

    To write a full exposition of the problem of Dualism would, I think, require a lengthy treatise or monograph so I shall briefly list some of the problems with this theory at this point.
    A.The mind is often telling us to move towards or away from various experiences and places; likewise various bodily sensations will effect our thinking. Dualism thus does not account for the influence or interaction of mind on the body or vice-versa.
    B.Dualism does not really satisfactorily rule out that a body cannot think or that bodily motions are not thought. May it not be that body is implicated in some way in our thinking even though when I think or say “I think” I am not aware of that bodily involvement? Does the “I think” necessarily exclude the idea of extension? It’s never demonstrated.
    C.Has the idea of God really come from God? Has He put it in our minds? Does not our conception of Him also depend upon our books, our friends, our institutions, etc.?
    Though an angel is more perfect than we, we might have an idea of an angel without the angel having caused it in us.
    D.If the idea of God comes into our minds from God, why is it that many peoples in the world do not have the idea of the Christian Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in their minds when they “think” of God?
    E.Why does an atheist agree about the existence of a triangle (which is understood for Descartes in an a priori sense just like the way we experience God), but not about the existence of God?
    F.Why cannot that which we perceive clearly and distinctly also be doubted? What can we ever embrace if clarity and distinctness are our criteria for knowing?
    G.Since the mind according to Descartes can only comprehend God in a manner that is “utterly inadequate,” how can one “investigate with sufficient clarity and distinctness” what or who God is as Descartes proposes to do?”
    H.Why is it better to know of God’s existence by a purely inferential criterion (He put the idea in my mind) rather than by the scholastic method of going back to a Cause of all existent things, the basic Prime Mover? Does not the scholastic method have the advantage of not being self-referent nor depending on a mere inference to justify God’s existence?
    I.How does it follow from the fact that one is unaware that anything else belongs to one’s essence that nothing else really belongs to one’s essence?
    J.The mind is affirmed in Descartes by a process of negation of bodily knowledge. However, there is no real exposition of the mind’s operations.
    K.Why is there no discussion of morals in the dualistic scheme proposed by Descartes? Is this not a serious omission?
    L.Why does the idea of an immutable, eternal God need a cause? The idea of a triangle is immutable and eternal, but does not need a cause.
    M.Descartes has described an insecure universe. Rationalism is king. In his version of the universe, mathe-matics is king, but empirical understandings are built on shifting sand, and are always untrustworthy. Descartes’ God has created an almost unintelligible material world. Yet, this goes against both our observations and against the dependability of scientific conclusions.
    We observe a regularity of seasons and of day and night following each other, and many other regularities besides. Science observes and defines law-like operations in the material world that cannot be observed by the unaided eye; yet that knowledge produces remarkable and consistent results. Does not this suggest more certainty in empirical knowledge than Descartes would be prone to accept?

    N. Descartes’ rationalism verges on solipsism because of the unreliability of shared, “outer” experience.

    With so many areas for possible objections, I think it would be fair to say that Descartes’ Dualism is more problematic than helpful.

  • Sarin Carlson F
    5:23 on June 2nd, 2012
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    Descartes’ meditations really is the place to start for thinking through the philosophical obsessions of the modern era — the value of skepticism, the nature and extent of knowledge, the relation between mind and body, the role of theology in a rational account of the universe, subjectivity vs. objectivity, the primacy of the subject, freedom, etc.

    This is a book that can be read for these themes even by those who are encountering it for the first time without guidance. At the same time this is a book that rewards reading and rereading, not only in the sense that you should read it more than once but that you should come back to it again and again after you have read the other classical works of philosophy that both preceeded it and that it paved the way for. After a serious study of Kant, for example, you may find that you can come back to Descartes and see that much of the work of Kant’s critical project was already prepared for in this little treatise. That is not to say that Kant is not original, but that part of Kant’s genius is in thinking through and making explicit the scope of the philosophical landscape that was first mapped out in the Meditations.

  • Frank User
    8:38 on June 2nd, 2012
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    If you are a fan of Descartes, you’ll definitely enjoy this book. It contains six meditations which bring reality and existance into question. The first meditation is excellent and will seriously make you question everything you know. However his arguments drop off from there. The big problem is that Descartes’ arguments are cyclical (The Cartesian Circle) which not only negates his opinions but also makes it difficult to understand. I’d definitely recommend this book if you are interested in the history of philosophy or if you enjoy the rationalists.

  • diffirent
    10:18 on June 2nd, 2012
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    Hume, I and many others think, was the greatest philosopher to have written in English, and this is the book to pick up if you want to introduce yourself to Saint David’s distinctive brand of classical empiricism. This is a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in philosophy, and it’s hard for me to see how anyone interested in the history of modern thought can avoid reading this book or the corresponding sections of Hume’s Treatise.

    As is well-known, the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding was intended as an encapsulation and popularization of the views Hume defended in Book I of his magnum opus, A Treatise of Human Nature. Hume assumed that book’s commercial failure could be accounted for by its length, difficulty, and lack of accessibility, and so, being a man who desired literary fame, he hoped to acquire commercial success by presenting the same ideas in a more appealing and accessible manner. Unfortunately, it seems Hume misunderstood what the literati of his day were looking for in a philosophical treatise. For the Enquiry, like the Treatise before it, didn’t bring him the fame he sought. Still, Hume did understand what goes into writing excellent philosophical prose, and consequently this book is a much easier read than Book I of the Treatise. Indeed, this book constitutes an excellent introduction to Hume’s thought, and, except for maybe Berkeley’s Three Dialogues, I can’t think of another primary source that would serve as a better introduction to classical British empiricism.

    Now, let’s get to the ideas here. Hume, like the other classical empiricists, was primarily concerned with the psychological question of the origin of our concepts. About the answer to this question, the empiricists were all agreed–our concepts are furnished by experience, which includes both sensory experience and introspection (i.e., the experience of our own mental states). And the empiricists also agreed about the way we can justify our beliefs. Some beliefs are true (or false) in virtue of the ideas they contained, and we can know their truth (or falsity) simply by thinking about them; other beliefs are true (or false) in virtue of how the external world is, and we can know their truth (or falsity) only by drawing on our experiences of the world. According to Hume, all substantial conclusions about the world fall into this second category. That is, the truth (or falsity) of all substantial claims about the existence and nature of things in the external world can be discovered only by checking those claims against the evidence of our senses.

    The traditional way of placing Hume within the story of empiricism goes something like this. Hume takes up the empiricism of Locke and Berkeley and pushes it to its logical conclusion. Whereas Locke and Berkeley hadn’t been wholly consistent empiricists, Hume, the true believer, demonstrates that classical empiricism leads to a pretty thoroughgoing skepticism. Since he’s wholly convinced of the truth of his empiricist premises, Hume is willing to accept the skepticism that goes along with them. However, those who aren’t convinced of that his empiricism is obviously correct think that Hume has actually demonstrated the implausibility of his empiricism. If this is where empiricism leads, they think, then it’s clear that we need to reject empiricism. Indeed, some, like Thomas Reid, view Hume’s arguments as constituting a reductio ad absurdum of his sort of empiricism. On this interpretation, Hume’s philosophy essentially presents a dilemma for all future thinkers: abandon empiricism, or accept empiricism along with Humean skepticism.

    But a different view of Hume, one of Hume as proposing a wholly naturalistic account of the human mind, has recently emerged as a competitor to the general conception of Hume’s place within philosophy sketched in the previous paragraph. This interpretation downplays Hume’s skepticism and emphasizes his professed intentions to provide a positive account of the operation of the human mind that appealed to nothing beyond the evidence of our senses. According to proponents of this interpretation, Hume is most interested in a description of the operation of the human mind. He’s describing what human nature allows us to know and what it doesn’t allow us to know. Furthermore, he argues that our nature is such that, where it fails to provide us with the resources to acquire the knowledge we might want, it provides us with a natural habit of forming the right conclusions anyway. Even though our nature limits our knowledge of the world, it ensures that we possess the habits of mind needed to make our way in the world. Hume dubs all these habits of mind “custom.”

    If this view is correct, then Hume has abjured many of the normative aims of traditional epistemological inquiry. He isn’t attempting to show how we can answer a skeptic or why we have good reason to believe what we think we know. Instead, he wants us to stand back from our everyday beliefs and think about the natural processes that result in them. How, exactly, do our minds operate? How do we come to think what we do about the world? Hume thinks that this sort of inquiry will lead us see that, at some point, the explanation of why we think what we think reaches certain brute facts about the operation of the human mind. When we reach these points, there is nothing more to be said. We simply can’t help thinking in these ways, and we lack the resources to demonstrate that these ways of thinking constitute an accurate way to represent the operation of the external world. And, Hume claims, it turns out that many of the fundamental elements of our conception of the world–the belief that things stand in causal relations to one another, the belief that we can know that there is a world outside our minds, the belief the future will resemble the past–end up not being open to ratification by experience. With respect to beliefs of these sorts, we ultimately have to appeal to custom in order to explain their existence and popularity. Hume, then, can be seen as demolishing the pretensions of reason in order to make room for a wholly naturalistic account of human thinking.

  • Henry Buttal
    18:27 on June 2nd, 2012
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    The book was shipped immediately after placing the order. As promised, the book arrived in “like new” condition. Great service! Thanks!

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