Chalking It Up To Experience: Eric Steinberg On David Hume’s Immense Influence on Modern Philosophy

Eric Steinberg
Eric Steinberg

A major force in the fields of empiricism and skepticism, David Hume (1711–1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist. He was a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, a movement characterized by intellectual and scientific accomplishments.

Eric Steinberg is a professor emeritus at Brooklyn College, where he served as chairperson of the philosophy department and associate provost. His edition of Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding has been adopted in many college courses throughout the United States; his articles and reviews have appeared in various scholarly journals.

Q: You've devoted an entire career to exploring the ideas of philosopher David Hume. What initially sparked your interest?

A:  Although I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate, my exposure to Hume during those years was minimal. Even in a course that included many philosophers from the modern period, British empiricism received little time or attention. When I began reading Hume seriously in my first year of graduate study, I was attracted by his engaging and clear style; like many students, I later learned that such a style often hid a subtlety and complexity of thought. As a person of skeptical bent, I also was impressed by Hume’s skeptical arguments. In my second year of graduate school, I wrote a paper on Hume’s account of memory in the Treatise of Human Nature for Arthur Danto’s exciting course on the theory of knowledge. Later, with Danto’s encouragement, I decided to write my dissertation on Hume.

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