David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and an important scientific figure in the Age of Enlightenment. The philosophical stance of David Hume was based on his opposition of Spinoza’s, Descartes’, and Leibniz’s rationalism; he also was a devout skeptic and atheist. In his interpretations of human nature, Hume distinguished natural causes, such as environmental and climate conditions, and moral, such as economic development, education, and customs. In his essay “Of National Characters,” the philosopher suggested that a nation’s character was impacted predominantly by moral and not physical causes.
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He aligned this impact with the same level of influence in which individuals that make up a nation are affected by traditions, their education, and economic developments. It is essential to mention Hume’s criticism of theories supporting the influence of physical causes, which is indirectly linked to the philosopher’s intention to explain the rise and progress of the arts (Philosophical Works 189). In discussing the qualities that a nation has, Hume described it as a group of individuals whose manners were directly associated with moral causes, such as sharpness of mind, generosity, gaiety, and many others. This exploration was in no way related to the ideas of imagination or Christian ideology; instead, his work was grounded on intellectual revelation.
Beattie opposed both Hume’s epistemology and ethics. The philosopher argued that Hume’s denial of all truths, except for those that could be verified by sensual experiences, contributed to the undermining of the accepted principles of truth. These principles were affirmed not only in common sense but also in the Christian religion, in Beattie’s opinion, which Hume opposed significantly. While Hume denied the possibility of the power of imagination, Beattie, in contrast to the former, said that imagination could be a powerful tool to create ideal representations of the truth. It is essential to understand that most of Beattie’s assertions gave immense importance to the role of Christian ideologies and the powers the latter offered to the imagination.
According to Hume’s “Philosophy of Human Nature,” any dogmatic interpretations of nature that had been given by religions were not entirely satisfactory in their essence (A Treatise of Human Nature 112). In his “Essay on Truth,” Beattie identified truth as the constitution of nature that determines people to believe, while falsehood was referred to as the constitution of nature that defines people to disbelieve (34).
In the opposition between Beattie and Hume, the issue of racism appeared. While such a revelation is surprising, it should be mentioned that in his “Of National Characters,” Hume was caught saying that he suspected “the negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor any individual, eminent in action or speculation” (Philosophical Works 228).
To counter this point, in his “Essay on Truth,” Beattie wrote that Hume’s assertions were strong but had no basis in reality (146). For one, little was known about the lack of achievements of non-European societies, and those achievements that were known, such as the art of indigenous Americans, could not be imitated by Europeans. Therefore, Beattie disagreed with most of Hume’s assertions on the nature of nations and proposed an unbiased view on populations. However, some of his reasoning was flawed by the appeal to the Christian morale, which was categorically rejected by Hume.
Beattie, James. An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to Sophistry and Skepticism. A. Kincaid & J. Bell, 1772.
Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Pronoun, 2016.
—. Philosophical Works. Part I. Little, Brown and Company, 1854.