3

What does Hume mean by "genius"? I take it to be quite different from modern usage, rather more like "effort" or "application of one's intellect", without implying some particular measure of mental capacity.

Example: A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II, Section X:

"The first and most considerable circumstance requisite to render truth agreeable, is the genius and capacity, which is employ'd in its invention and discovery."

  • This ^ is precisely the reading that troubles me. Does this not imply that persons of ordinary intelligence are precluded from finding the truth agreeable, or at least unlikely to find it so? – PartialOrder Oct 19 '17 at 16:09
  • That makes no sense in context. Here's more: "The first and most considerable circumstance requisite to render truth agreeable, is the genius and capacity, which is employ'd in its invention and discovery. What is easy and obvious is never valu'd; even what is in itself difficult, if we come to the knowledge of it without difficulty, and without any stretch of thought or judgment, is but little regarded." Suggesting that it is application of one's own faculties in gaining knowledge -- the effort applied -- which is most important. – PartialOrder Oct 19 '17 at 21:29
  • It seems clear to me that Hume is speaking of one's own effort in acquiring knowledge, not the effort of others. In fact, I believe that is precisely his point. Also, in trying to ascertain Hume's meaning, what you or I might appreciate is irrelevant. – PartialOrder Oct 20 '17 at 18:59
  • Your interpretation doesn't seem clear to me at all. Not only does the text not necessitate it, it also suggests that, upon learning of the considerable effort and intelligence of someone else's discovery, we might give it little regard because it was easy for us to learn. That would seem to portray Hume in a rather ungenerous light since most of us so easily appreciate the works of others. Perhaps Hume was miserly in that way (I doubt it), but that would require further justification beyond just a narrow reading of the text. – user3017 Oct 21 '17 at 12:23
  • Elsewhere, Hume's words suggest a more favorable interpretation: "’Tis difficult for us to withold our assent from what is painted out to us in all the colours of eloquence [...] We are hurried away by the lively imagination our author or companion; and even he himself is often a victim to his own fire and genius." – user3017 Oct 21 '17 at 12:45
4

See the etymology of genius:

Sense of "characteristic disposition" of a person is from 1580s. Meaning "person of natural intelligence or talent" and that of "exalted natural mental ability" are first recorded 1640s.

Thus, Hume means: talent, disposition, inclination.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.