Reviewing Annette Baier’s 1995 work Moral Prejudices in the London Review of Books, Richard Rorty predicted that her work would be read hundreds of years hence; Baier’s subsequent work has borne out such expectations, and this new book further extends her reach. Here she goes beyond her earlier work on David Hume to reflect on a topic that links his philosophy to questions of immediate relevance—in particular, questions about what character is and how it shapes our lives.
Ranging widely in Hume’s works, Baier considers his views on character, desirable character traits, his treatment of historical characters, and his own character as shown not just by his cheerful death—and what he chose to read shortly before it—but also by changes in his writings, especially his repudiation of the celebrated A Treatise on Human Nature. She offers new insight into the Treatise and its relation to the works in which Hume “cast anew” the material in its three books. Her reading radically revises the received interpretation of Hume’s epistemology and, in particular, philosophy of mind.
These essays are idiosyncratic and highly personal, yet at the same time genuinely infused with the spirit of Humean philosophy. One of the things that the essays collected here make clear is the value of a grasp of all of Hume's writings, including the History of England, for a properly nuanced understanding of Hume's moral philosophy. Another is that Baier's deep admiration for Hume's writings does not preclude a keen and illuminating sense of the problems Hume set for himself but failed to solve.
In Death and Character, Annette Baier develops a remarkable synthesis of Hume's philosophy of the person, drawn from all his major writings. These include The History of England, which provides the inspiration for her title. Her novel interpretation of the problem Hume encountered in his account of the person in Book 1 of the Treatise and how it is played out in his later writings will inspire much debate among scholars. The book is loaded with insight into Hume's philosophy; it sparkles with wit, imagination and exasperated love of its subject.
This collection of 13 essays provides readers with a rare opportunity to share the thoughts of someone who has been reading Hume and meditating on his thoughts and life for over 60 years… Baier maintains that Hume's early views of personal identity and causation lead to an inadequate conception of death, and that this is why Hume eventually distanced himself from the Treatise and advised readers to direct their attention toward his Enquiries. Baier, a first-rate Hume scholar, effortlessly weaves together personal reflection, discussion of Hume the man, and scholarly argument, with the result that this book is engaging and highly readable. It deserves higher praise than is possible in this short review.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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