09 mei David Hume and the Ratio of Passions
Last Saturday we celebrated the 300th birthday of David Hume, the British philosopher who had such a big impact on epistemology, aesthetics, historiography, political theory and religion. His was the world of books, study, morality and causality. We know little about the man Hume, who seems to have been rather shy and not all too good looking. But he had an appetite for women as he proved with his long lasting and complicated relation with Parisian Hyppolite de Saujon, the estranged wife of the Comte de Boufflers and mistress of the Prince de Conti. All this during the second half of the eighteenth century. But already in those days women were merciless: Madame de Saujon called men “servile souls” who “llike to be mistreated; they are avid for severity, all the while indifferent for kindness”. But this did not concern Hume, who turned out to be very sensitive and…reasonable. Despite the fact that he proclaimed that reason is passion’s slave, Hume also added that “reason is most useful, for it helps us guide our competing passions”. In these days of competing theories about free will, independent lives of hormones (that control man’s life) and -indeed- passion (a word mostly used by communication professionals) Hume’s contribution may be very useful. Hume and the art of living is a field that has yet to be ploughed, although Robert Zaretsky’s book on Hume, Rousseau and the limits of human understanding can be called a good start.