Hume's scepticism and the science of human nature
The difficulty of reconciling Hume's use and endorsement of sceptical arguments and conclusions with his constructive project of founding 'a science of man' is perhaps the central interpretive puzzle of A Treatise of Human Nature. Hume has been interpreted as an entirely unmitigated sceptic about induction, causation, personal identity and the external world. His sceptical arguments emerge as apart of a naturalistic programme to explain fundamental human beliefs, but seem to call into serious question the viability of this programme. This work is an attempt to understand the relationship between Hume's sceptical arguments and his Newtonian ambition of founding a science of human nature. It defends two main theses: that Hume's sceptical arguments appear as steps in a more general and systematic argument the conclusion of which involves a causal explanation of scepticism itself; and that the scepticism of Book One of the Treatise is to be seen not as unmitigatedly destructive but as a part of the necessary preparation for the more robustly Newtonian investigations of Books Two and Three. Hume's sceptical arguments support the general conception he has of philosophy, and of its role and value, which emerges in the conclusion to the first book. I show that Hume's exposition of this conception is the conclusion of a complex and systematic dialectic. The work is divided into four chapters. In Chapter One, I examine Hume's commitment to the experimental method of reasoning and formulate a number of general theoretical principles which, I argue, guide the Newtonian investigations of the Treatise. I also assess Hume's understanding of what constitutes a good or adequate explanation in science. Chapter Two considers Part III of Book One. Here I emphasise the reflexiveness of Hume's extended account of the causal relation, acknowledging the constructive programme which leads Hume to formulate a set of normative rules for telling what is the cause of what. The remaining two chapters deal with Hume's main sceptical arguments concerning the attribution of identity over time to bodies and persons.