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Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment$
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Laurence Brockliss and Ritchie Robertson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198783930

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198783930.001.0001

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Berlin and Hume

Berlin and Hume

Chapter:
(p.69) 4 Berlin and Hume
Source:
Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment
Author(s):

P. J. E. Kail

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198783930.003.0005

Hume is an interesting figure in Berlin’s thought. In one sense the Scot is emblematic of the ‘Enlightenment’ and at the same time someone whose scepticism figured in the so-called ‘Counter-Enlightenment’. Some see Berlin’s philosophy as Humean (Stuart Hampshire, for example), whereas others stress the differences between Berlin’s views and Hume’s naturalism (in particular John Gray). Gray’s resistance stems from his assumption that Hume conceives of human nature as fixed and ahistorical in character, which, according to Gray, constitutes a categorical difference between Hume and Berlin. However, the idea that Humean human nature is fixed is a myth, a myth that fails to distinguish between principles of human nature and the circumstances and contingencies which leads to various and, in principle, different, expressions of those principles. The present chapter discusses how Hume allows for a historically conditioned and diverse human nature.

Keywords:   Hume, human nature, psychology, John Gray, cultural variation

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