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Hume's Reason. (Book reviews: summaries and comments).

OWEN, David. Hume's Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. x + 234 pp. Cloth, $45.00--David Owen wants to understand what Hume means by "reason," given its pivotal importance in the wide range of issues that Hume discusses in his philosophical works. In order to achieve that understanding, Owen places Hume in the historical context of writers such as Descartes and Locke, what was later referred to as the "way of ideas." Owen objects to stating Hume's views in terms of contemporary semantic frameworks. After a careful review of the many contexts in which Hume discusses reason in book I of the Treatise, Owen concludes that Hume rejected the notion of reason as an independent faculty and offered instead an account of reason as based on the imagination. Owen's scholarship is meticulous and his attempt to understand Hume's historical context commendable. The difficulties are that (1) he tells us nothing new and (2) his context is much too narrow. Hume was neither a scholastic nor a contemporary professional responding only to the works of other professional philosophers on some technical point. At the very least, Hume's discussion of causal reasoning was very much influenced by the transition from Aristotelian physics and its attendant conception of causality to Newton's physics and its attendant conception of causality. The details of Hume's mechanistic account of belief are not mentioned.

The other part of Owen's endeavor is to respond to a new generation of Humean critics of the 1980s and 1990s who insist upon seeing him as still in some sense negative. Owen insists that Hume does have a positive account of reason as reasoning. Finally in the last brief chapter, Owen confronts the major issue: why should we accept Hume's account of reasoning? Claiming to find the answer at the beginning of the first Enquiry, Owen proclaims that reasoning is useful with regard to morality (p. 222). In short, theoretical reason is subservient to practical reason.

This answer is not new either in Hume scholarship or in the larger philosophical context, nor is it defended. Nor will it satisfy the critics, who, of course, want to know if it is true about the world as opposed to being a truth about humanity. In the 1960s and 1970s the critics would have said that this substitutes psychology for logic. As Yogi Berra would say, this book is deja vu all over again.--Nicholas Capaldi, University of Tulsa.
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Author:Capaldi, Nicholas
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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