The best David Hume books

Who picked these books? Meet our 11 experts.

11 authors created a book list connected to David Hume, and here are their favorite David Hume books.
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Book cover of Fact, Fiction, and Forecast

Harry Collins Author Of Gravity's Kiss: The Detection of Gravitational Waves

From the list on making reality.

Who am I?

The big question that was the basis of my career was ‘When someone says “hello” to you, how do you know you should say “hello” back?’ Ever since I heard that question as a young student, I have been trying to understand the answer. The question has taken me through philosophy, sociology, and the most exciting, detailed studies of scientific research. What more could one want in terms of an interesting life?  I hope that if you read Gravity’s Kiss, you’ll see that it is answering a philosophical question as well as a scientific question.

Harry's book list on making reality

Discover why each book is one of Harry's favorite books.

Why did Harry love this book?

The philosophical key to getting yourself estranged from the everyday is the famous ‘problem of induction’, which goes back to the philosopher David Hume, and asks why we expect things to carry on in the same way: might my garden be a fiery pit next time I open the front door? 

Nelson Goodman invented a new version of the problem – ‘the new riddle of induction’. This book might come across as a bit technical, but the general drift of the new riddle is that every bit of evidence and experience we have for the grass being green is also a bit of evidence and experience for it being ‘grue’ – roughly ‘green every time I’ve seen it but blue tomorrow;’ think about it!  You can extend this argument as much as you like, and Goodman takes us through the counterpart colour ‘bleen’. Goodman thinks our expectations of stability are…

By Nelson Goodman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fact, Fiction, and Forecast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here, in a new edition, is Nelson Goodman's provocative philosophical classic-a book that, according to Science, "raised a storm of controversy" when it was first published in 1954, and one that remains on the front lines of philosophical debate.

How is it that we feel confident in generalizing from experience in some ways but not in others? How are generalizations that are warranted to be distinguished from those that are not? Goodman shows that these questions resist formal solution and his demonstration has been taken by nativists like Chomsky and Fodor as proof that neither scientific induction nor ordinary learning…

Natural Goodness

By Philippa Foot,

Book cover of Natural Goodness

Alan E. Johnson Author Of Reason and Human Ethics

From the list on a rational approach to ethics.

Who am I?

Since I was a teenager, I have thought about the connection between reason and ethics. This preoccupation was present during my formal education (A.B. and A.M., University of Chicago; J.D., Cleveland State University), during my three decades as a practicing lawyer, and, finally, as an independent philosopher during more than a decade of retirement from law practice. My book Reason and Human Ethics is the culmination of my reflection about this philosophical issue. The books I have recommended have been among those references that have been most helpful to me in formulating my own conclusions, though my own views are not identical with those of any other writing.

Alan's book list on a rational approach to ethics

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Why did Alan love this book?

Phillipa Foot (1920–2010) was one of the founders of the neo-Aristotelian school called “virtue ethics.” In her book Natural Goodness, Foot argues that the is-ought (fact-value) dichotomy of modern philosophy is inapplicable to biological entities, because the “is” of living beings necessarily involves the “ought” of goal-directed (teleological) behavior. This is especially true of human beings, who possess reason as a guide to moral action. Foot rejects the view of many modern thinkers that ethics is only about one’s duties to others. She reinstates the Aristotelian concept that ethics also involves such self-regarding virtues as moderation and wisdom. I agree with Foot’s basic principles, though not necessarily with all the details of her applications.

By Philippa Foot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Natural Goodness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Philippa Foot has for many years been one of the most distinctive and influential thinkers in moral philosophy. Long dissatisfied with the moral theories of her contemporaries, she has gradually evolved a theory of her own that is radically opposed not only to emotivism and prescriptivism but also to the whole subjectivist, anti-naturalist movement deriving from David Hume. Dissatisfied also with both Kantian and utilitarian ethics, she claims to have isolated a
special form of evaluation that predicates goodness and defect only to living things considered as such: she finds this form of evaluation in moral judgements. Her vivid discussion…

Capital of the Mind

By James Buchan,

Book cover of Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed the World

Ritchie Robertson Author Of The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

From the list on the Enlightenment.

Who am I?

In 2021 I retired as Schwarz-Taylor Professor of German at Oxford. For many years I had been interested not only in German literature but in European literature and culture more broadly, particularly in the eighteenth century. Oxford is a centre of Enlightenment research, being the site of the Voltaire Foundation, where a team of scholars has just finished editing the complete works of Voltaire. When in 2013 I was asked to write a book on the Enlightenment, I realized that I had ideal resources to hand – though I also benefited from a year’s leave spent at Göttingen, the best place in Germany to study the eighteenth century. 

Ritchie's book list on the Enlightenment

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Why did Ritchie love this book?

Edinburgh, the principal centre of the Scottish Enlightenment (though flanked by Glasgow and Aberdeen), saw an extraordinary concentration of creative intellectuals who met to debate the principles of society, history, economics, and philosophy. They included David Hume, who made epoch-making contributions to all these subjects, and Adam Smith, who after giving up his chair at Glasgow lived nearby at Kirkcaldy writing The Wealth of Nations. Buchan not only recreates the intellectual atmosphere but shows how the failure of the 1745 Rebellion prompted Scotland to become a rapidly modernizing society.

By James Buchan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Capital of the Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the early 18th century, Edinburgh was a filthy backwater town synonymous with poverty and disease. Yet by century's end, it had become the marvel of modern Europe, home to the finest minds of the day and their breathtaking innovations in architecture, politics, science, the arts, and economies - all of which continues to echo loudly today. Adam Smith penned "The Wealth of Nations". James Boswell produced "The Life of Samuel Johnson". Alongside them, pioneers such as David Hume, Robert Burns, James Hutton, and Sir Walter Scott transformed the way we understand our perceptions and feelings, sickness and health, relations…

Book cover of A Treatise of Human Nature

Steven Pinker Author Of Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

From the list on rationality and why it matters.

Who am I?

I’m a Harvard professor of psychology and a cognitive scientist who’s interested in all aspects of language, mind, and human nature. I grew up in Montreal, but have lived most of my adult life in the Boston area, bouncing back and forth between Harvard and MIT except for stints in California as a professor at Stanford and sabbatical visitor in Santa Barbara and now, Berkeley. I alternate between books on language (how it works, what it reveals about human nature, what makes for clear and stylish writing) and books on the human mind and human condition (how the mind works, why violence has declined, how progress can take place).

Steven's book list on rationality and why it matters

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Why did Steven love this book?

When I wrote Rationality, I mentioned Hume 32 times. He didn’t think of everything, but he explained an astonishing range of topics related to rationality, including causation versus correlation, is versus ought, and individual versus collective self-interest.

His follow-up, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, explained why we shouldn’t believe in miracles. He explored all of these topics with clarity and wit, putting modern academic writing to shame.

By David Hume,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Treatise of Human Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"One of the greatest of all philosophical works, covering knowledge, imagination, emotion, morality, and justice." — Baroness Warnock, The List
Published in the mid-18th century and received with indifference (it "fell dead-born from the press," noted the author), David Hume's comprehensive three-volume A Treatise of Human Nature has withstood the test of time and has had enormous impact on subsequent philosophical thought. Hume — whom Kant famously credited with having "interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a quite new direction" — intended this work as an observationally grounded study of human nature.…

Book cover of The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Doug White Author Of Wounded Charity: Lessons Learned from the Wounded Warrior Project Crisis

From the list on the complex worlds of philanthropy and nonprofits.

Who am I?

The nonprofit sector is important to society and I often marvel at how many of us – which is to say all of us – have been touched by the generosity of others. With few exceptions, anyone who has graduated from college, who has been admitted to a hospital, who has attended a faith-based service, who has examined art at a gallery, who – literally, and there are no exceptions here – breathes air has benefited from the work of nonprofit organizations and the philanthropists who support them. It is therefore important to me to understand how the system works and how important charities are to society and a functioning democracy. 

Doug's book list on the complex worlds of philanthropy and nonprofits

Discover why each book is one of Doug's favorite books.

Why did Doug love this book?

Our love for humanity – which is how “philanthropy” is defined – is rooted in our sense of morality. 

Adam Smith explains that morality is not driven only by reason, but is built into us because we are social beings. To understand philanthropy, therefore, I think we need a grounding in how and why we want to help others.  This book explores that desire, or need, to empathize. 

Smith says that when we see people happy or sad, we feel happy or sad too, that we derive pleasure when people do things we approve of. Even though The Theory of Moral Sentiments is almost three centuries old, it teaches us much about why nonprofits can be successful in the modern world.

By Adam Smith,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Theory of Moral Sentiments as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of the human cost, he was also interested in the human capacity for benevolence — as The Theory of Moral Sentiments amply demonstrates.
The greatest prudence, Smith suggests, may lie in following economic self-interest in order to secure the basic necessities.…

Administrative Behavior

By Herbert A. Simon,

Book cover of Administrative Behavior

Ananish Chaudhuri Author Of Experiments in Economics: Playing Fair with Money

From the list on emotions and economic decisions.

Who am I?

I am Professor of Experimental Economics at the University of Auckland where my work lies at the interface of economics and psychology. In a discipline (and a world) that tends to emphasize human self-interest, I have always been interested in our willingness to engage in unselfish behavior. Incentivized decision-making experiments with human participants where payments depend on the nature of their decisions are a powerful way of analyzing behavior. Are people willing to put their money where their mouth is? My background running experiments made me well-positioned to study some of these questions; a lot of them in collaboration with other social scientists including psychologists and political scientists. 

Ananish's book list on emotions and economic decisions

Discover why each book is one of Ananish's favorite books.

Why did Ananish love this book?

To a large extent, the research agenda that is subsumed under the rubric of “behavioral economics” started with the idea of bounded rationality and the departures from the utility maximizing model of economics.

Many of the ideas pursued in this line of work owe their origin to the work of Herbert Simon, whose doctorate was in political science from Chicago in 1943 but who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 for combining ideas from mathematics, psychology, economics, and computer science to understand decision making in large organizations. This is not to suggest that none of this was known before.

In fact, some people consider Adam Smith to be the first behavioral economist for his work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which incorporates ideas from David Hume that it is passion (or emotions) that drive human behavior rather than deliberative reasoning. But, by and large, Simon’s work provided…

By Herbert A. Simon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Administrative Behavior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this fourth edition of his ground-breaking work, Herbert A. Simon applies his pioneering theory of human choice and administrative decision-making to concrete organizational problems. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the book's original publication, Professor Simon enhances his timeless observations on the human decision-making process with commentaries examining new facets of organizational behavior. Investigating the impact of changing social values and modem technology on the operation of organizations, the new ideas featured in this revised edition update a book that has become a worldwide classic.
Named by Public Administration Review as "Book of the Half Century," Administrative Behavior is…

The Scottish Enlightenment

By Alexander Broadie,

Book cover of The Scottish Enlightenment: The Historical Age of the Historical Nation

Elizabeth Ford Author Of The Flute in Scotland from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century

From the list on eighteenth-century Scotland.

Who am I?

I dropped out of law school to pursue a PhD in music at the University of Glasgow and to write the history of the flute in Scotland. Essentially, I wanted to know that if Scotland was a leader in Enlightenment thought, and if there were hundreds of publications with flute on the title page, and since the flute was the most popular amateur instrument in the eighteenth century, why was nothing written about the flute. I obsessively read Scottish mythology as a child, and was always drawn to the stereotypical wild misty landscapes of Scotland without knowing much about it. 

Elizabeth's book list on eighteenth-century Scotland

Discover why each book is one of Elizabeth's favorite books.

Why did Elizabeth love this book?

I think understanding the intellectual background to a historical period is always important, and I was introduced to the Scottish Enlightenment at West Virginia Wesleyan College through this book. I have since had the pleasure to meet and work with Alexander Broadie while at Glasgow, and he is a kind, generous, and supportive scholar.

The Scottish Enlightenment covers the significant breakthroughs in the thought of the movement, and the contributions of the characters behind it such as David Hume and Adam Smith. The importance of studying history, morality in civil society, religion, and art. The Enlightenment laid the groundwork for our modern society, so how could anyone not study it?

By Alexander Broadie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Scottish Enlightenment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Scottish Enlightenment was one of the greatest intellectual and cultural movements that the world has ever seen. Its legacy in philosophy, history, science, music, art, architecture, economics, and many other disciplines cannot be overstated. This book considers the totality of achievements from this most astonishing period of Scottish history and how they still animate and inspire the world today.

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

By David Hume, Richard H. Popkin (editor),

Book cover of Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Gordon Barnes Author Of How Do You Know? A Dialogue

From the list on philosophy written as engaging dialogues.

Who am I?

I am Associate Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Brockport. I have been teaching and writing philosophy for over 20 years. I have published articles in professional journals on a wide range of subjects, from epistemology to philosophy of religion and political philosophy. I think that philosophy, at its best, is a good conversation, in which people give reasons for their views, and listen to others give reasons for theirs. That’s the best way for human beings to think about philosophical questions. That’s why I love philosophical dialogues—they do philosophy in a way that embodies what philosophy is, at its very best.

Gordon's book list on philosophy written as engaging dialogues

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Why did Gordon love this book?

This book is a classic in the philosophy of religion. The great Scottish philosopher, and noted skeptic, David Hume, did not dare publish this book during his lifetime. He gave careful instructions to have it published after his death, and so it was first published in 1779. More than two centuries later, philosophers are still debating the merits of Hume’s arguments. What makes this book so great is that Hume does not straw man his opponents’ arguments. Instead, the characters in Hume’s dialogue state the traditional arguments for the existence of God extremely well. Only then, after they have stated the arguments so well, does Hume’s protagonist, Philo, proceed to attack those arguments with the objections for which he is now legendary.  

By David Hume, Richard H. Popkin (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hume's brilliant and dispassionate essay Of Miracles has been added in this expanded edition of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion , which also includes Of the Immortality of the Soul,Of Suicide, and Richard Popkin's illuminating Introduction.