10.01.18 | David Hume

Maybe there's just too much motion these days. We're all getting a little seasick. We could use a timeout. Eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume might just be what we now need (link: Hume is the amiable, modest, generous philosopher we need ... - Aeon). He reminds us of a more solid and real three-dimensional world.  

Hume saw human beings as creatures of flesh and blood and, stripped of philosophical pretensions, guided primarily by custom and habit. Yet, at the same time, he would have enjoyed our Get Over Thyself discussion (MM, 8/27/18) with his view of the "self" as but a collection of perceptions in perpetual flux, the "I" little more than a transitory thought. We're simply animals with a neocortex, plain and simple, not immortal souls temporarily encased in flesh.

He himself led a life in which the so-called "higher" pursuits were mixed with play and pleasure and the company of other humans -- ingredients of what we at the club sometimes refer to as multi-dimensional wealth. "Be a philosopher," he advised, "but still be a man." And, may each of us endeavor to face the end of our own respective (long) lives as he did (living to age 65), "quite free from anxiety, impatience, or low spirits, and pass(ing) his time very well with the assistance of amusing books." His life was one of evidence-based common sense, empathy, feelings over pure reason, healthy skepticism and, above all, an emphasis on human needs over dogma. 

We might then recall and compare Hume's view to the two-dimensional dogmatic certainty of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (MM, 5/22/17) i.e. "I swear – by my life and my love of it -- that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine" and then wonder about the differing times, differing needs, differing motivations, and the differing sources of meanings and of happiness. Hume and Rand inhabit totally different universes, are aliens to one another.

So what universe do we inhabit today? In this world of staggering growth, sometimes wretched excess, compounding complexity, and a touch of hubris, Hume's moderating and very human influence would seem more compelling and more welcome than ever.

Steve SmithComment