David Hume: The Limits of Reason

Instructor:  Sara Shute

  • Thursday morning
  • 9:30 – 11:30 am
  • No text required
  • Download available

David Hume, 1711-1776, was a major figure in the Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason. And yet, as a “skeptic,” Hume answered ‘no’ to the following sorts of questions: Can reason give us knowledge? Can science give us knowledge? Can we know the material world exists? Can we know either that God does, or does not exist? Is there a foundation for moral judgments? Is there a best form of government? Are there any natural rights people have by virtue of being human?

The main purpose of the course will be to understand both the arguments for Hume’s skepticism, and what he thought it was legitimate to believe (about science, God, morality, and rights). A secondary purpose will be to understand Hume’s powerful influence on another major Enlightenment figure (and close friend), Adam Smith, the “father of free market capitalism.” We will discuss how closely they concurred in their beliefs about God, morality, and natural rights, and what connection, if any, Smith’s “invisible hand” had to any of these. The idea for this course was inspired by two recent books by political scientist Dennis Rasmussen, “The Infidel and The Professor” (2017) and “The Pragmatic Enlightenment” (2014).

No text required

Download Class Outline

Sara Shute received her Ph.D. in philosophy in 1977 from Washington University in St. Louis. She taught philosophy at Marietta College, in Ohio, for 26 years. Since retiring to Maine, she has been an adjunct professor of philosophy at four of the University of Maine campuses, and Colby College. This will be the tenth philosophy course she has taught at Senior College.