Philosophy can appear impenetrable. The questions discussed are fascinating, but the method of enquiry, analysis and argumentation is often dense and confusing. The history and development of philosophical thought has always filled a gap for me, as the narrative through-line that comes with a historically based analysis is easier to follow and process, whilst also delivering the key facets of the philosophers ideas. Hume: An Intellectual Biography by James Harris fits right in to this category.
Using the term intellectual biography signals that this is not a traditional book on the life and times of David Hume the man. That has been done before by Ernest Campbell Mossner in The Life of David Hume, a biographical foundation stone often referenced in the reviews. Instead what Harris has taken on is a detailed review of the development of Hume as a thinker and writer, and is the surprisingly the first book to do so:
Remarkably, James Harris’s intellectual biography of Hume is the first to have been attempted. As such, it covers the full trajectory of Hume’s intellectual career—from his earliest experiments in epistemology and ethics, through his views on religion, economics, and politics, to his mature efforts to complete his classic History of England. The result is an engrossing reconstruction of his ideas along with his position in 18th-century intellectual life. A significant place is given to Hume’s “anatomy” of human nature, and thus to the criticism of Stoicism which he developed in that context