Topics in the History of Philosophy: Hume

Course Description

We will spend most of the course reading our way through one of the greatest books in philosophy, Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature.  Additional readings may include: excerpts from the works of Hume’s precursors (including Locke and Berkeley); excerpts from some of Hume’s other works; contemporary and recent commentary on Hume; and articles by twentieth-century philosophers engaged in projects related to Hume’s. 


Course Code: V83.0101-001
Instructor: Cian Dorr
Office Hours: TBA or by appointment.
503H Main Building.
Lecture Times: 11 - 12.15, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Place TBA


As noted in the CAS Bulletin, the prerequisite for this course is two previous courses in philosophy, including one in the history of philosophy.


This course will be run as a seminar. This means that most of each class will be devoted to discussion of that week's reading. My primary role will not be that of a lecturer, or an authority for you to ask questions of, but that of a moderator. Therefore, your participation is of essential importance to the success of the course. What does this mean? Well, first, before every class you should have done the assigned reading carefully and thoughtfully, preparing for discussion by trying to come up with a worked-out idea of what's going on in the text; deciding whether you agree with Hume's views, and whether the arguments are good, and why; and formulating questions about issues that seem unclear to you. Second, you should come to class. And third, during the class, you should take an active and constructive part in the discussion: don’t wait to be called on! A substantial fraction of your final grade will depend on your participation.

After a few weeks have gone by, once I know how many people are taking the class and have a sense of how the discussions are going, I'll probably institute a system whereby a few people every week have to do a very short presentation. If this happens, it will be part of your participation grade.

There will be two in-class exams: one in the third week of the semester, and one in the third last week. These exams will be based around lists of passages from the text: you will have to identify the parts of the text in which the passages occur, explain their role in Hume's argument, and in some cases comment more fully on the interpretative and/or philosophical issues raised by the passages.

There will also be two papers: one due halfway through the semester, and one due at the end.


Your final grade will be determined as follows:

10% First in-class exam
15% First paper
25% Second in-class exam
30% Second paper
20% Participation grade (see above)


There are two books that you must buy: these are available in the NYU bookstore. They are:

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature. Second edition edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

David Hume, Principal Writings on Religion, including Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and the Natural History of Religion. Edited by J. C. A. Gaskin. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, 1998.

I have also asked the bookstore to order a few copies each of the following two supplementary readings:

David Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. Third edition edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Don Garrett, Cognition and Commitment in Hume's Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

I will have the library put all of these books on reserve.

Evolving Schedule

As the semester goes on, I will fill this schedule in in more detail.

Date Topic and readings Presenters Handouts
Jan 22


This syllabus

Handout 1

Jan 24

Dialogues concerning Natural Religion

Parts 1-2

Jan 29

Parts 2-3

Jan 31

Parts 4-5

Feb 5

Parts 5-9

Feb 7

Parts 9-12

Feb 12 In class exam
Feb 14

Treatise Book I

Questions on Part 1
Feb 19
Feb 21

Part 1

Jonathan Barnes
Justin Bonus
Questions on Part 2
Feb 26
Feb 28

Part 2

Jana Budagov
Erfan Puthawala
Questions on Part 3
Mar 5
Mar 7

Part 3, sections 1-6

Lou Casillas
Chris Hatgipetros
More questions on Part 3
First paper topics
Mar 19
Mar 21

Part 3, sections 7-16

Joseph Azam
Ben Heiss
Questions on `Of Miracles'
Mar 26 `Of Miracles' (from Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding) Ryan Mullally
Stephanie Rovera
Mar 28

Treatise Book I

Part 4

Questions on Part 4
Apr 2
Apr 4

Part 4, continued

Henry Till
Anthony Volastro
Questions on Book 2
Apr 9
Apr 11

Treatise Book II

Sections i.1-i.6, i.11, ii.1-ii.2, ii.9, iii.1-iii.3.

Stephen Abeyta
Mike Bruno
Apr 16 In-class exam Questions on III.i (handwritten)
Apr 18

Treatise Book III

Chiara Russo
Sanjeev Polsani
Questions on III.ii
Apr 23
Apr 25

Book III, continued.

Michael Aguilo
Ali Young
Second paper topics
Apr 30

Book III, continued.

Christina Ritter
Stephen Wu
May 2


Web resources

The Hume Archives are really excellent: they have many of Hume's works in searchable form, as well as an interesting list of early reviews of Hume's works.

The Routledge Encyclopeda of Philosophy and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are both worth consulting from time to time.

If you're searching for secondary literature, JSTOR is the best place to start: they have the full text of some of the best philosophy journals. Use the Philosopher's Index if you want to do a more exhaustive search.

If you have a few hours to spare, I can think of few activities more delightful than immersing yourself in the eighteenth century by leafing through eighteeenth-century journals like the Gentleman's Magazine, available in the Bobst “special collections” or online. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society are also a lot of fun.

Finally, every time I make a course web page I include links to three excellent resources maintained by Jim Pryor: a glossary of philosophical terms and methods, a set of guidelines on writing philosophy papers, and a set of guidelines on reading philosophy papers.