Hume's oscillating civilization theory

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Abstract

Hume's repeated mentions of the vicissitudes of civilization have thus far been neglected, overlooked, or misinterpreted by Hume scholars. Although his references to the "death" or "ruin" of a nation are somewhat hyperbolic, his cyclical view of history was neither mere rhetoric nor necessarily pessimistic. This paper aims to show that Hume's notion of historical fluctuations was deeply connected with his understanding of the universality of human nature. It also placed Hume in a strategic position from which he could criticize both those who believed in the possibility of perpetual progress and those who forecast the successive decline of the human world. To explore Hume's position in more detail, we must first examine the reasons his argument was often misunderstood, especially in the context of the "rich country-poor country" debate. We also need to examine how Hume's view of the cyclical nature of history, consistently held, can be reconciled with his status as one of the champions of modern civilization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-277
Number of pages15
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Volume32
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2006 Sep 1

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Keywords

  • Civilization
  • David Hume
  • Josiah Tucker
  • Progress and decline
  • Rich country-poor country debate
  • Scottish Enlightenment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy

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