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David Hume

1711-1776. Scottish philosopher, historian, and man of letters. His philosophical program, first outlined in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), involved the application of Newtonian scientific method to human nature. The ultimate data of investigation are “impressions,” those sensations directly presented to the mind of which “ideas” are the copies. The philosopher must discover from what impression or impressions ideas are derived. This amounts, in essence, to an early application, in a psychological idiom, of the logical positivists' verification principle. Hume's analyses of memory, personal identity, and (most famously and successfully) causation are attempts to fulfill this program. In morals, Hume argued that moral judgments were the product of the passions, not of the reason.

In religion, Hume is chiefly noteworthy for his skeptical attacks on miracles and on the argument from design. Miracles are denied on a posteriori grounds; it is always more reasonable to reject someone's testimony about a miracle than to accept it. This view has implications for historiography. His attack on the argument from design involved showing the ambiguity of the evidence. Hume was a skeptic about metaphysical claims and theories, in religion and elsewhere, though not about the “natural beliefs” men have about, for instance, the external world. He set many of the problems currently discussed by analytic philosophers. His work in religion can be regarded as one of the most fundamental attacks on natural theology in modern times.