Thursday, June 29, 2006

Brown on Hume's Philosophical Style

That Mr. Hume was an acute thinker in metaphysics, there are probably none, even of his most daring antagonists, who will venture to deny. That he was also a perspicuous metaphysical writer, has been generally admitted; but it has been admitted, chiefly as a consequence of the former praise, or from the remembrance of that power of style, which, in other respects, he unquestionably possessed. In his shorter details of historical reasoning, no defect is perceived; because these afford room for the display of acute conjecture, and of a happy combination of those loose circumstances, which to common observers appear altogether unconnected, rather than for regular consecutive demonstration. But, as a metaphysical writer, Mr. Hume is in no degree supereminent in those qualities, which the developement of an abstruse and complicated science peculiarly requires. He seizes a first principle, indeed, with singular rapidity; but, to us, he rather exhibits it gracefully at different distances, than brings it regularly and directly to the best point of vision: and though, in the separate views which he gives us of a subject, we are always struck with the acuteness of his discernment, and are often charmed with an ease of language and a pointedness of remark, which, without the levity of humour, have all its playful graces, still, when we consider him as the expositor of a theory, we are sensible of a want of strict methodical arrangmeent, for which subtlety of thought, and grace of composition, are not able fully to atone. We almost discover, that his mind had not been conversant with the close and continuous investigations of mathematical science; and we feel, that iti s the genius of his style, to illustrate, rather than to establish.

Thomas Brown, Observations on the Nature and Tendency of the Doctrine of Mr. Hume, Concerning the Relation of Cause and Effect. 2nd ed. Mundell and Son (Edinburgh: 1806) 37-38.

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