An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (World's Classics) - David Hume, Peter Millican Hume is about as level-headed as they come. He is not interested in proving things, he just wants to be honest about what we can even attempt to understand. Some things can be understood intuitively or demonstratively. Like geometry, algebra or anything else discoverable by thought alone. Then there are some things that are matters of fact. The sun rises in the morning. It rained yesterday. Hume cares mostly about how we can know these matters of fact. Because it is these matters of fact which affect us on a daily basis.

Through our senses we experience the world. As we gain experience, we learn to expect certain things. Therefore, we use induction to come to tentative conclusions. For example, the sun has risen every morning which I can remember, therefore it will rise tomorrow. There is no mental process which makes it so. We know this solely from cataloguing our experience with the world. It is a rational process, but one not based in any a priori truth. It is based on experience.

Hume accepts, without trying to explain why, that we can only make rational inferences based on our experiences. We don’t even know for sure if our experiences are accurate, but it’s the best we can do. He’s applying the scientific method to human nature. We work from a hypothesis on what we should do and how we should behave and wait until it’s disproven. Hume is not promoting metaphysics, he’s just looking for a clear understanding of how we can operate within the world we experience. He’s probably one of the first documented agnostics.

Widely held to be the last in the triumvirate of British empiricists (along with Locke and Berkeley), he synthesizes their position in clear and precise language. Though in many ways the Enlightenment philosophers broke with the Aristotelian scientific and metaphysical tradition, I can’t help seeing some parallels between Hume’s Enquiry and the underlying purpose of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Neither really try to explain the world, they just help us fumble along within it. Sometimes it’s nice to hear someone else say that nobody really knows anything, so let’s stop pretending.