Ward's Book of Days.
Pages of interesting anniversaries.
What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1711, was born David Hume.
Hume was a prominent individual in the Scottish Enlightenment. It would be fair to say that he was the principal figure, one who led the movement and inspired the others.
The Enlightenment was a revival of philosophical thought in which principles of learning, which had previously been taken for granted, were questioned and often discarded, to be replaced by scientific methods and innovative attitudes.
But why did The Enlightenment take place in Edinburgh of all places? Scotland, before The Act of Union, had been underdeveloped economically. It had no overseas trade, had a feudal agricultural system and was grinding towards bankruptcy. It was governed by a king absent in England and an unrepresentative Parliament dominated by a clique of noblemen. The only real government was the Kirk with its uncanny Calvanistic belief system and outdated theology. Scotland had four major universities, while England had two, but these institutions were deprived of sponsorship and investment.
All this changed with the Union. Scotland gradually became more prosperous and Edinburgh changed from being the centre of government to the centre of learning. Radical thinkers were able to develop new ideas, particularly in the field of economic growth. Francis Hutcheson wrote of moral philosophy and developed the utilitarian method of evaluation of morality. Adam Ferguson wrote The History of Civil Society and developed the notion of common sense as a philosophical principal. Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations and created the science of economics.
Hume wrote, amongst other things, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Essays Moral and Political and The History of England. This latter work was the first history in the narrative form. The style and concept were copied by Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire and later by McCauley who is credited as being the first modern historian.
Hume wrote his own epitaph ‘Born 1711, Died…. Leaving it to posterity to add the rest.’ He asked to this to be inscribed on ‘a simple Roman tomb’. This epitaph was indeed written on a Roman tomb, inside a crypt, which was far from simple. Hume’s mausoleum may be found at the Old Calton Burial Ground, Waterloo Place, Edinburgh EH1 3BH.
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