DAVID HUME WAS born in Edinburgh in 1711 and attended its university, where it seems he read classics. His attraction to philosophy and writing was marked from boyhood, and a brief attempt at law repelled him as a barren waste of technical jargon. He completed A Treatise of Human Nature at the age of 26 (although it “fell dead-born from the press”).

Though he was the leading philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment, allegations of atheism caused him to be turned down for chairs of philosophy in Edinburgh and Glasgow universities. His contemporary fame stemmed mostly from his contributions as an essayist and a historian, with his History of England (1754–62) serving as the principal such work.

Placid and phlegmatic by temperament, Hume was guided in his life ...

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