In my undergraduate days, I remember reading someone occupying roughly a mental and historical space as David Hume (originally my thought was between Hume and Kuhn), and have a vaguely recalled passage that I would like to source. Though on first asking this question I thought it may even be Hume or Kuhn, I am fairly convinced after more searching that the topic and metaphor came from the Hume end of the spectrum (if not he himself);

[They are hiding in their woods without seeking the truth of knowledge]

I wish I knew if he advocated science or something that might flag the general school of thought, but what sticks out is the "hiding in the woods" part (as some kind of metaphor), and that this was perhaps the introductory salvo (probably written within the first few pages of the reading). I am hoping to find the author and where the passage is from as it was in something I recall enjoy reading (though I believe the reading itself was in some Modern Philosophy reader).

  • I believe this was a primary source, not likely a secondary source
  • I believe it was Empiricist (I think that was why Hume sticks, but it may have been a similar philosopher or school or a response); calling out those espousing non-objective metaphysics from their "[hiding places to shine light on their claims]", or something like that.
  • The more I look for it the more I recall some anti-clergy tone going in the text, as it related to their mysticism covering up or obscuring the search for truth.

Does "hiding in the woods" ring a bell for you?

  • Hmm, metaphorically speaking, this sounds like Kant's claim that Hume is the one who "first around [him] from [his] dogmatic slumber". But he certainly doesn't use the actual metaphor of hiding in the woods. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 13:40
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    Between Hume and Kuhn or Hume and Kant? Because the span between Hume and Kuhn spans pretty much the whole of modern philosophy
    – Chuck
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 14:20
  • @Chuck I do mean Kuhn, but particularly around the 1960s. I believe this was a primary source, not likely a secondary source. I believe it was basically an Empiricist (I think that was why Hume sticks), calling people espousing metaphysics out of their hiding places to shine light on their claims.
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 15:15
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    OK let me get this straight: Primary source, maybe 1960's, maybe Hume/early empiricist? You're pretty sure it's nothing in between?
    – Chuck
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 21:05
  • We've had some discussion on meta regarding this tag -- let's work it out there, if we could.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 20:53

3 Answers 3


I've definitely never heard this phrase before, nor do I remember having read it anywhere, but empiricism isn't really my area so it's possible that I'm just missing something.

However, I did some research, and I turned up the following quotation (emphasis not original):

. . . It is, of course, a big 'if. By denying the antecedent Reid hope to turn the tables on his countryman. It was Hume who was hiding in the woods, ready to spring upon the unwary intellectual traveller with his 'profound' reasoning. It was Hume, not the traditional metaphysicians of old, who delighted in the strange and obscure beguile ments of the human mind. And what could constitute a greater beguilement of innocent minds than to uncritically accept unfounded hypotheses as if such a procedure were merely the usual and ordinary practice of philosophy? This is precisely what followers of Descartes had done. Following his master, Hume uncritically decides that all our mental notions are 'either ideas of sensation, or ideas of reflection' and that this beginning is the proper philosophical procedure.

That comes from an article entitled "Hume, Reid and Skepticism", written by Floyd Centore. The full cite, as best I can tell, is as follows:

Centore, F. Floyd. "Hume, Reid and Skepticism", Philosophical Studies (Ireland), Vol. 28, National University of Ireland: 1981, pp 212–220.

Only a snippet view is available from Google Books, so you'll probably have to be pretty lucky or have access to the right resources to get your hands on an actual copy and read the whole thing in context.

From what little I can find online, I'd say that the author is relatively obscure, at least as far as these things go. At some point, at least, he was Professor of Philosophy at University of St. Jerome's College (which was renamed in 1998 to St. Jerome's University) in Waterloo, Ontario. But I suppose it's possible that you could have gotten your hands on this in a philosophy course? Or perhaps I'm completely off-base here.

  • Good find, this was not a secondary source though.
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 15:06
  • @mfg: Hmm, weird. My research skills don't fail me very often, so it's puzzling that I was unable to find any reference to the term in primary literature. And Centore doesn't appear (at least in the part of the article I can see) to cite any sources for the above account. Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 10:15
  • I'm starting to distrust the "woods" as part of that phrase, perhaps I'm smashing two phrases together. I'm going to start looking for hiding and places and woods separately ...
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 10:40
  • I don't know how to do this gracefully, but if you feel like hide and seek, it's "hiding places"
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 20:52

While I'm not sure about this, here is one other guess.

This phrase may very well be part of a criticism of the apparent political apathy of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote a treatise on civil disobedience and then indeed retreated from public life into "the woods" (house at Walden pond) to "seek truth" (compose his masterpiece Walden.)

I have been unable to find anything else on this at all.

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    @Joe: Indeed, there's a play called "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail", that uses the phrase "hiding in the woods" verbatim with respect to Thoreau. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_Thoreau_Spent_in_Jail Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 18:52
  • @Ben Sorry if the summary I just grabbed mis-characterizes the scene, but it appears that 'hiding in the woods' and coming out is a call to arms for social justice, not a non-metaphysical clarity. I got hung up on the woods part too, but it is "hiding places" :(
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 20:50
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    @Joe , I don't know how to do this gracefully, but if you feel like hide and seek, it's "hiding places"
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 20:52
  • @mfg, thanks -- I will run another search; I might update the question to reflect this? (Does this mean you may have turned up any more leads?)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 20:59
  • I found the half-remembered quote but I'm not going to take the bounty, seems off since these are both answers that helped me find it
    – mfg
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 23:01

Thanks to both answers and the prods and clarifications offered I wwas able to dredge up some resources on where this quote, if the paraphrase above can be called that, came from.

It was hiding in plain sight, it was David Hume who said it. A good run down of the work can be found in this breakdown of his work An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: "we need to root the enemy out of their hiding places" (as the author's summary put it). This helped me to find the actual passage, where the "secret word" as it were, was "retreat" (as opposed to hiding places, and I am unsure where woods came from):

But is this sufficient reason, why philosophers should desist from such researches, and leave superstition still in possession of her retreat? Is it not proper to draw an opposite conclusion, and perceive the necessity of carrying the war into the most secret recesses of the enemy? (Hume, Section I.7)

The above passage exhorts the will to "cultivate true metaphysics with some care, in order to destroy the false and adulterate."

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