David Hume’s 1748 Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a modern philosophical classic that helped reshape epistemology – the philosophy of knowledge. It is also a classic of the critical thinking skills of analysis and reasoning.
Analysis is all about understanding how arguments work and fit together. Having strong analytical skills helps to break down arguments, pull out the evidence on which they rely, and understand the kinds of implicit assumptions and reasons on which they work. Reasoning, meanwhile, means building and presenting arguments, forming well-structured, evidenced, and organised cases for a particular point of view. Hume applied his analytical skills to arguments about how humans know and understand the world, and how our minds work. At base, he was trying to analyse human reason itself – to show the workings and limitations of the human mind, and show the origins of our beliefs.
Hume went on to apply his reasoning skills, creating an enduring argument about the nature of human knowledge. The result was one of the most striking and famous works in the history of philosophy.
Table of Contents
Ways in to the text
Who was David Hume?
What does The Enquiry for Human Understanding Say?
Why does The Enquiry for Human Understanding Matter?
Section 1: Influences
Module 1: The Author and the Historical Context
Module 2: Academic Context
Module 3: The Problem
Module 4: The Author's Contribution
Section 2: Ideas
Module 5: Main Ideas
Module 6: Secondary Ideas
Module 7: Achievement
Module 8: Place in the Author's Work
Section 3: Impact
Module 9: The First Responses
Module 10: The Evolving Debate
Module 11: Impact and Influence Today
Module 12: Where Next?
Glossary of Terms
People Mentioned in the Text
Dr Michael O’Sullivan is a tutor in the Department of Philosophy, King’s College London. He is the editor of Wittgenstein and Perception.