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Hume's Sceptical Enlightenment$
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Ryu Susato

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748699803

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748699803.001.0001

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Human Society ‘in Perpetual Flux’: Hume’s Pendulum Theory of Civilisation

Human Society ‘in Perpetual Flux’: Hume’s Pendulum Theory of Civilisation

(p.214) 7 Human Society ‘in Perpetual Flux’: Hume’s Pendulum Theory of Civilisation
Hume's Sceptical Enlightenment

Ryu Susato

Edinburgh University Press

Hume’s avowed endorsement of a cyclical view of civilisation has been considered one of his most significant differences from the French philosophes’ upholding of ‘Progress’ and ‘Reason’. Some have used his divergent position to paint the image of Hume as the alleged forefather of ‘Counter-Enlightenment’ thinkers. As a result, Hume’s endorsement of a cyclical view has not been considered compatible with his vindication of civilisation, causing a dilemma for commentators. Through close examinations of Hume’s texts and comparisons with those of his predecessors and contemporaries (such as William Temple, Fontenelle, and Turgot), this chapter makes it clear that Hume’s cyclical view of civilisation is not limited to the issue of fine arts, but extends to commerce and manufactures. Hume’s vindication of a cyclical view of human history is also closely related to his criticism of the notion of providence, which Josiah Tucker evokes for his defence of perpetual progress in the so-called ‘rich country-poor country debate’. Nevertheless, Hume’s support of a cyclical view of civilisation does not contradict, but rather buttresses, his robust commitment to the values of refinement, liberty, and humanity. Hume is peculiar in keeping a cool head with regards to the possibility of continued progress, while believing in and supporting modern values.

Keywords:   Enlightenment, Counter-Enlightenment, cyclical view, progress, civilisation, Tucker, Temple, Turgot, rich country-poor country debate

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