Friday, August 18, 2017


Jacob Heilbrunn post a review of a new Princeton University Press book (17 August) in The National Interest HERE
Dennis C. Rasmussen, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 336 pp., $29.95. 
No one went to greater lengths to defend David Hume’s posthumous reputation than Smith. Always more prudent than Hume—who was known as “the Great Infidel” and deemed unfit for tutoring the young—Smith, a venerated professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow, was guarded in conversation about his religious skepticism. But after Hume’s death, Smith shed his habitual caution and composed a highly controversial supplement to Hume’s brief memoir My Own Life. It was called a Letter to Strahan. In it, Smith described Hume’s final months, emphasizing his affability and serenity in the face of illness and impending death. He observed,Though Mr. Hume always talked of his approaching dissolution with great cheerfulness, he never affected to make any parade of his magnanimity. He never mentioned the subject but when the conversation naturally led to it, and never dwelt longer upon it than the course of the conversation happened to require…
…Boswell, who visited Hume on his deathbed and wrote a famous account of it, was astounded by Hume’s phlegmatic acceptance of his demise. Dr. Johnson was not.
…In The Infidel and the Professor, Dennis C. Rasmussen explores the bromance between David Hume and Adam Smith. They bolstered each other’s careers, belonged to the Select Society club in Edinburgh and corresponded regularly on a variety of topics, ranging from moral philosophy to history to economics. Both also lived for a time in France, where they were celebrities and where Hume briefly became friends with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rasmussen, a professor of political science at Tufts University, deftly examines not only Hume and Smith’s personal relationship, but also the indispensable part that they played in shaping the Scottish Enlightenment. The result is a valuable study of the rise of the liberal tradition.
On the face of it, Scotland was an unlikely candidate to spawn such intellectual titans. Hume himself said that Scotland had been “the rudest, perhaps, of all European Nations; the most necessitous, the most turbulent, and the most unsettled.” But Hume’s and Smith’s lifetimes coincided with a new era of economic prosperity and cultural glories. Edward Gibbon remarked in 1776—the year the first volume of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire appeared, along with Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, not to mention Thomas Paine’s Common Sense—that he had “always looked up with the most sincere respect towards the northern part of our island, whither taste and philosophy seemed to have retired from the smoke and hurry of this immense capital.” Some of the leading luminaries included Adam Ferguson, William Robertson and Dugald Stewart. Most were employed by the university, the law, church or medicine. According to Rasmussen, this helps to explain why their “outlooks generally lacked the subversive edge that was so conspicuous among the Parisian philosophes, causing the more radical side of Smith’s and especially Hume’s thought to stand out in starker relief.”
Hume, who was born in 1711, entered Edinburgh University at the age of ten, where he studied Latin, Greek, logic, metaphysics and the natural sciences. Religious precepts infused his courses. Hume was unimpressed. He instructed a friend in 1735 that “there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books.” Upon graduation, he devoted eight years to private study, then spent three years in France, where he wrote the first two volumes of A Treatise of Human Nature… 
…Hume’s luminous essays quickly earned him both applause and notoriety, not least his sallies against miracles. “A skeptic to the end,” writes Rasmussen,
Hume never claims that miracles are impossible; to insist on their impossibility would be nearly as dogmatic as to insist on their reality. Rather, he “merely” argues that it is never reasonable to believe a report of a miracle having occurred.

Looks worthy of reading. I  have ordered my copy, which I shall read and comment upon, if able, on LOST LEGACY


Blogger billoo said...

Look forward to those comments. Thought Ignatieff's small chapter on Boswell and Hume in his The Needs of Strangers was fascinating.

11:23 am  

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