Hume's Foundational Project in the Treatise



In the Introduction to the Treatise Hume very enthusiastically announces his project to provide a secure and solid foundation for the sciences by grounding them on his science of man. And Hume indicates in the Abstract that he carries out this project in the Treatise. But most interpreters do not believe that Hume's project comes to fruition. In this paper, I offer a general reading of what I call Hume's ‘foundational project’ in the Treatise, but I focus especially on Book 1. I argue that in Book 1 much of Hume's logic is put in the service of the other sciences, in particular, mathematics and natural philosophy. I concentrate on Hume's negative thesis that many of the ideas central to the sciences are ideas that we cannot form. For Hume, this negative thesis has implications for the sciences, as many of the texts I discuss make evident. I consider and criticize different proposals for understanding these implications: the Criterion of Meaning and the ‘Inconceivability Principle’. I introduce what I call Hume's ‘No Reason to Believe’ Principle, which I argue captures more adequately the link Hume envisions between his logic, in particular his examination of ideas, and the other sciences.