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Biography of David Hume

Portrait of David Hume

David Hume was a philosopher of the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment.

When and Where was he Born?

26th April 1711, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Family Background:

David Hume was the younger son of Joseph Hume, Lord of Ninewells, a small estate at Chirnside near Berwick-upon-Tweed. His father died when Hume was two years old.


Edinburgh University. Studied Law.

Timeline of David Hume:

1734: Hume’s passion for literature causes him to abandon his studies of law at Edinburgh University. To keep himself and in order to try and remove his depression he decides to move into commerce at Bristol. After a few months working for a merchant he realises he hadsno talent for it and resigns. He then moves to La Fleche in Anjou, France where Renee Descartes had been educated at the Jesuit College.

1737: He returns home from France in order to arrange for the publication of his “A Treatise of Human Nature”.

1739: The first two volumes of “A Treatise of Human Nature” are published which arouses little attention from the public.

1740: Undeterred Hume publishes the third volume “On Morals”.

1741: He publishes “Essays Moral and Political” which was more successful and had to be brought out in a second edition. These were to be an inspiration for the economic theories of his friend Adam Smith. Failing to get a university professorship he remains at his brother’s country estate at Ninewells in Berwickshire.

1744: Hume again fails to get the post of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University due to his atheism.

1745: He spends a year acting as a tutor to a mad nobleman, the Marquis of Annandale.

1746: He accompanies General St. Clair on his expedition to France and acts as his Secretary.

1748: He again accompanies St. Clair. This time on a secret mission to Vienna and Turin. This was the year that one of his most important works “Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding” is published, which was said to inspire the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

1751: A second edition of the “Philosophical Essays” is published. David Hume is turned down for the post of Professor of Logic at Glasgow University.

1752: He publishes “Political Discourses” which he claimed to be the only work that was successful on publication. He is appointed a keeper of the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, a post which gave him a small income and enabled him to carry out more historical research.

1754: Hume begins publishing volumes in his large scale work “The History of England” which gains him international recognition.

Statue of Hume Edinburgh
Statue of David Hume in Edinburgh Royal Mile in front of the High Court. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1757: He publishes “Four Dissertations” which were mainly about the natural history of religion, the passions, suicide and immortality although the last two names were hurriedly withdrawn before publication.

1758: The “Philosophical Essays” is republished as “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”

1763: Hume acts as Secretary to the English Embassy in Paris where he is received with great favour by the court and literary society.

1766: He returned to London in January accompanied by his new friend Jean Jacques Rousseau, although the two were to fall out famously later in the year. In the winter he returned to Scotland.

1767: David Hume is recalled to London as Under Secretary of State for the Northern Department.

1769: He finally settles in Edinburgh for good and is the centre of a literary society, which, although not as dazzling as in Paris, was known for its moderatism.

When and Where did he Die?

25th August 1776, Edinburgh, Scotland of cancer.

Age at Death:


Written works:

1739: “Treatise of Human Nature”.
1741: “Essays Moral and Political”.
1748: “Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding”. “The Adventures of Roderick Random”.
1751: “Enquiry Concerning Principles of Morals”.
1752: “Political Discourses”.
1754: “History of England”.
1757: “Four Dissertations”.
1758: “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”.
1779: “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion”.


Never Married.

Site of Grave:

Old Calton Burial Ground, Waterloo Place, Edinburgh.

David Hume Grave
Grave Monument to David Hume in Old Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Edinburgh University.
National Library of Scotland.
Statue outside the Royal Courts of Justice.