Source: p 231 Bottom, Introducing Philosophy for Canadians: A Text with Integrated Readings (2011 1 ed).

How did Hume remain 'jovial', 'merry' and 'unperturbed', despite the difficult perennial problems of philosophy? Would his brain not have hurt? I wish to learn from him to stay mentally healthful too.

The following excerpt does not convince, because Hume's asserted abandonment of these philosophical problems is false (or else he would not written this book!), and Hume's reference to his pastimes does not explain his motivation to return to the problems (because even after his amusement, still true was the sentence that I coloured grey below.)

  In other words. there is no 'solution to these skeptical doubts'. but, at most. what Hume calls 'a skeptical solution'. It means an end, not only to philosophy, but to all rational inquiry and all claims that we can know anything (even that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that you are reading this text.) You might think that such conclusions would have driven Hume mad or caused him such confusion that he would have been incapable of coping with the most everyday chores Yet we know that he was a most jovial and practical sort of fellow. As a philosopher, he has been driven right up against the wall of Plato's cave. But he remains unperturbed In a famous passage at the end of the Treatise, he simply remarks:

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds. nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras I dine, I play a game of backgammon. I converse. and am merry with my friends; and when alter three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any further.9 [on p 553 Top:]

9. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1888).

  • 3
    Some people are glass-half-full types, that's all there is to it. So what if you can't know for sure that the sun will rise? You can still play backgammon with your friends. It seems Hume himself answered your question in the passage you quoted.
    – user4894
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 19:24
  • 3
    Some of this does seem a bit like an answer -- maybe consider narrowing to just the primary question and then adding the remainder as an answer below? Or at least unpack a little further maybe what specifically is unpersuasive to you about the passage?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 21:19
  • Just off-the-cuff, I'd imagine Hume "remain[ed] 'jovial', 'merry' and 'unperturbed'" by reading Candide, and following Pangloss' (by way of Voltaire) philosophical teachings. Need more info? Try watching learner.org/courses/worldlit/candide/watch I can pretty much guarantee you'll come away 'jovial' and 'merry', if perhaps a little 'perturbed':)
    – user19423
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 8:23
  • You answer the question yourself: through 'avocations', 'conversations' and 'amusement'; it seems Hume was quite the sociable man, he even welcomed Rousseau who did end up 'perturbing' him. Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 0:57
  • He described a period of youthful depression, for which his doctor recommended a liter of claret each night. Perhaps that was his secret--the glass was always half full! Commented May 25, 2021 at 0:50

1 Answer 1


"He seemed to be placid and even cheerful. He said he was just approaching to his end….

I know not how I contrived to get the subject of immortality introduced. He said he never had entertained any belief in religion since he began to read [John] Locke and [Samuel] Clarke. I asked him if he was not religious when he was young. He said he was….

He then said flatly that the morality of every religion was bad, and, I really thought, was not jocular when he said that when he heard a man was religious, he concluded he was a rascal, though he had known some instances of very good men being religious. This was just an extravagant reverse of the common remark as to infidels.

I had a strong curiosity to be satisfied if he persisted in disbelieving a future state even when he had death before his eyes. I was persuaded from what he now said, and from his manner of saying it, that he did persist. I asked him if it was not possible that there might be a future state. He answered it was possible that a piece of coal put upon the fire would not burn; and he added that it was a most unreasonable fancy that we should exist for ever…"

-Boswell's account of Hume's deathbed

He was and still is, considered to have been the death of an atheist par excellence, in an era when many had deathbed doubts.

He lived in a lucky place & time, in the Scottish enlightenment. Social & intellectual community were available, & in many ways a greater freedom of expression than in other European cities, although he came very close to a trial for heresy.

As we see above he certainly had a degree of stoicism, exemplified by his approach to his own death - he described himself as having "a cheerful and sanguine temper". But in his late teens he had a mental breakdown, thought to have been brought on by his intensity of studying. He described love of literary fame as the ruling passion of his life, and despite early setbacks in philosophy he assured this in his lifetime through his work on history, and essay writing.

I can't help but think that in Scotland, intellectually he was a very big fish in a small pond, able to succeed academically despite not graduating and having little money or patronage. Paris was more intellectually and politically turbulent, with many threats to the lives of the contributers and compilers of the 'encyclopedie', for instance, and fairly vicious disputes.

My intuition though is that for him, being able to develop a pretty much complete 'cosmology' that progressed from core principles to wide applications, and that greatly increased personal and intellectual freedom by those who absorbed it, was key. I see this as like Wittgenstein after he 'climbed his ladder', able to manouvre intellectually in a space free of what had cramped the minds and lives of previous thinkers. I feel this article makes a good case that this is a key motivation and practice of the most influential thinkers. And I suggest using Hofstadter's terms, that these new cosmologies of thought are tangled-hierarchies of strange-loops, which have pragmatic coherent use in liberating minds, comparable to a 'ladder' or a 'raft'. Discussed further here What causes problems? Such a tangled-hierarchy cosmology allows us to 'return to where our journey started, and know it for the first time'. And that shift, to someone who understands can operate and even edit, the psychotechnologies composing their world, is the real therapy of philosophy. Sadly we aren't all as smart as Hume, but still I think, this is what we should be trying for.

Edited to add:

Wittgenstein said

"I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves"

His final words are said to have been

"Tell them I've had a wonderful life"

You must log in to answer this question.