Hume locates the source of the idea of necessary connection in us , not in the objects themselves or even in our ideas of those objects we regard as causes and effects. In doing so, he completely changes the course of the causation debate, reversing what everyone else thought about the idea of necessary connection. Subsequent discussions of causation must confront the challenges Hume poses for traditional, more metaphysical, ways of looking at our idea of causation.
He goes on to apply both his method, and its concrete results, to other prominent debates in the modern period, including probable inference, testimony for miracles, free will, and intelligent design. He takes his primary task to be an investigation into the origin of the basic moral ideas, which he assumes are the ideas of moral goodness and badness. Determining their causes will determine what their content is—what we mean by them.
His secondary concern is to establish what character traits and motives are morally good and bad. The sentiments of approval and disapproval are the source of our moral ideas of goodness and badness. To evaluate a character trait as morally good is to evaluate it as virtuous; to evaluate it as morally bad is to evaluate it as vicious. As he did in the causation debate, Hume steps into an ongoing debate about ethics, often called the British Moralists debate, which began in the mid-seventeenth century and continued until the end of the eighteenth.
He uses the same method here as he did in the causation debate: there is a critical phase in which he argues against his opponents, and a constructive phase in which he develops his version of sentimentalism. Hume has two sets of opponents: the self-love theorists and the moral rationalists. He became the most famous proponent of sentimentalism. Hobbes, as his contemporaries understood him, characterizes us as naturally self-centered and power-hungry, concerned above all with our own preservation. In the state of nature, a pre-moral and pre-legal condition, we seek to preserve ourselves by trying to dominate others.
The way out is to make a compact with one another. We agree to hand over our power and freedom to a sovereign, who makes the laws necessary for us to live together peacefully and has the power to enforce them. While acting morally requires that we comply with the laws the sovereign establishes, the basis of morality is self-interest. According to Mandeville, human beings are naturally selfish, headstrong, and unruly. Some clever politicians, recognizing that we would be better off living together in a civilized society, took up the task of domesticating us.
Realizing that we are proud creatures, highly susceptible to flattery, they were able to dupe many of us to live up to the ideal of virtue—conquering our selfish passions and helping others—by dispensing praise and blame. Moral concepts are just tools clever politicians used to tame us. Two kinds of moral theories developed in reaction first to Hobbes and then to Mandeville—rationalism and sentimentalism. By the mid—eighteenth century, rationalists and sentimentalists were arguing not only against Hobbes and Mandeville, but also with each other. Hume opposes both selfish and rationalist accounts of morality, but he criticizes them in different works.
Either moral concepts spring from reason, in which case rationalism is correct, or from sentiment, in which case sentimentalism is correct. If one falls, the other stands. In the second Enquiry, Hume continues to oppose moral rationalism , but his arguments against them appear in an appendix. More importantly, he drops the assumption he made in the Treatise and takes the selfish theories of Hobbes and Mandeville as his primary target. Once again, he thinks there are only two possibilities. Either our approval is based in self-interest or it has a disinterested basis.
The refutation of one is proof of the other. The views of the moral rationalists—Samuel Clarke — , Locke and William Wollaston — —are prominent among them. He believes that there are demonstrable moral relations of fitness and unfitness that we discover a priori by means of reason alone.
Gratitude, for example, is a fitting or suitable response to kindness, while ingratitude is an unfitting or unsuitable response. He believes that the rational intuition that an action is fitting has the power both to obligate us and to move us. To act morally is to act rationally. In Treatise 2. His first argument rests on his empiricist conception of reason. As we saw in his account of causation, demonstrative reasoning consists in comparing ideas to find relations among them, while probable reasoning concerns matters of fact.
He considers mathematical reasoning from the relation of ideas category and causal reasoning from the category of matters of fact. No one thinks that mathematical reasoning by itself is capable of moving us. Suppose you want to stay out of debt. This may move you to calculate how much money comes in and how much goes out, but mathematical reasoning by itself does not move us to do anything. Mathematical reasoning, when it bears on action, is always used in connection with achieving some purpose and thus in connection with causal reasoning.
Hume, however, argues that when causal reasoning figures in the production of action, it always presupposes an existing desire or want. On his view, reasoning is a process that moves you from one idea to another. If reasoning is to have motivational force, one of the ideas must be tied to some desire or affection. As he says,. It can never in the least concern us to know, that such objects are causes, and such others effects, if both the causes and effects are indifferent to us.
Noticing a causal connection between exercise and losing weight will not move you to exercise, unless you want to lose weight. It immediately follows that reason alone cannot oppose a passion in the direction of the will. To oppose a passion, reason must be able to give rise to a motive by itself, since only a motive can oppose another motive, but he has just shown that reason by itself is unable to do this. Since there are only two types of perception—ideas and impressions—the question between rationalism and sentimentalism is. The argument from motivation has only two premises.
The first is that moral ideas have pervasive practical effects. Experience shows that we are often motivated to perform an action because we think it is obligatory or to refrain because we think it is unjust. We try to cultivate the virtues in ourselves and are proud when we succeed and ashamed when we fail. If morality did not have these effects on our passions and actions, moral rules and precepts would be pointless, as would our efforts to be virtuous.
The second premise is that by itself reason is incapable of exciting passions or producing and preventing actions, which Hume supports with the arguments we just looked at about the influencing motives of the will. Reason for Hume is essentially passive and inert: it is incapable by itself of giving rise to new motives or new ideas.
Although he thinks the argument from motivation is decisive, in T 3. Hume takes the defeat of rationalism to entail that moral concepts spring from sentiment. Of course, he was not the first to claim that moral ideas arise from sentiment. Hutcheson claimed that we possess, in addition to our external senses, a special moral sense that disposes us to respond to benevolence with the distinctive feelings of approbation. But he complains that this is not only highly implausible, but also contrary to the.
Instead of multiplying senses, we should look for a few general principles to explain our approval of the different virtues. The real problem, however, is that Hutcheson just claims—hypothesizes—that we possess a unique, original moral sense. If asked why we have a moral sense, his reply is that God implanted it in us.
He aims to provide a wholly naturalistic and economical explanation of how we come to experience the moral sentiments that also explains why we approve of the different virtues. In Treatise 3. He refers to them as feelings of approval or disapproval, praise or blame, esteem or contempt. Approval is a kind of pleasant or agreeable feeling; disapproval a kind of painful or disagreeable feeling. In several key passages, he describes the moral sentiments as calm forms of love and hatred. When we evaluate our own character traits, pride and humility replace love and hatred.
He traces the moral sentiments to sympathy. Sympathy is a psychological mechanism that explains how we come to feel what others are feeling. It is not itself a feeling or sentiment and so should not be confused with feelings of compassion or pity. Hume appeals to sympathy to explain a wide range of phenomena: our interest in history and current affairs, our ability to enjoy literature, movies, and novels, as well as our sociability.
It is central to his explanations of our passions, our sense of beauty, and our sense of what is morally good and bad. Sympathy is a process that moves me from my idea of what someone is feeling to actually experiencing the feeling. There are four steps to this process. I first arrive at the idea of what someone is feeling in any of the usual ways. I next become aware of the resemblances between us, so we are linked by that principle of association. While we resemble every human being to some extent, we also resemble some individuals more than others—for instance, those who share our language or culture or are the same age and sex as we are.
The associative principles of contiguity and causality also relate individuals who are located closely to us in time or space or who are family members or teachers. According to Hume, we are able to sympathize more easily and strongly with individuals with whom we have strong associative ties. The stronger the associative relations, the stronger our sympathetic responses. Hume then claims—controversially—that we always have a vivid awareness of ourselves. Finally, he reminds us that the principles of association not only relate two perceptions, but they also transmit force and vivacity from one perception to another.
Suppose my friend recently suffered a devastating loss and I realize she is feeling sad. Since for Hume the difference between impressions and ideas is that impressions are more lively and vivacious than ideas, if an idea of a passion is sufficiently enlivened, it becomes the very passion itself. I now feel sad too, but not quite as strongly as my friend. The way Hume uses the idea that the associative principles transmit force and vivacity in his explanation of sympathy is parallel to the way he uses it in his explanation of causal inference.
A belief is an idea that is so lively that it is like an impression, and influences us in the way impressions do. But the result in the case of sympathy is even stronger: when an idea of a passion is sufficiently enlivened, it becomes the very passion itself. He explains the moral sentiments by appealing to sympathy, which, in turn, he explains in terms of the same associative principles he invoked to explain causal beliefs. Without sympathy, and the associative principles that explain it, we would be unimaginatively different than we are—creatures without causal or moral ideas.
Hume develops his account of moral evaluation further in response to two objections to his claim that the moral sentiments arise from sympathy.
Sympathy enables us to enter into the feelings of anyone, even strangers, because we resemble everyone to some extent. But it is an essential feature of his account of the natural and spontaneous operation of sympathy that our ability to respond sympathetically to others varies with variations in the associative relations. I am able to sympathize more easily and strongly with someone who resembles me or is related to me by contiguity or causation. There are two regulatory features to the general point of view. We sympathize with the person and the people with whom that person regularly interacts and judge character traits in terms of whether they are good or bad for these people.
Second, we regulate sympathy further by relying on general rules that specify the general effects and tendencies of character traits rather than sympathizing with their actual effects. When we occupy the general point of view, we sympathize with the person herself and her usual associates, and come to admire the person for traits that are normally good for everyone. The general point of view is, for Hume, the moral perspective. We do not experience the moral sentiments unless we have already taken up the general point of view.
The moral sentiments and the concepts to which they give rise are products of taking up that standpoint. Hume offers the claim that we admire four sorts of character traits—those that are useful or immediately agreeable to the agent or to others—as an empirical hypothesis. While he provides support for it in his discussion of the individual virtues, he also uses his fourfold classification to undermine Christian conceptions of morality.
He makes pride a virtue and humility a vice. Their goal is to reform us—or at least our outward behavior—making us better, when understood in Christian terms. Hume, however, rejects the distinction along with the dubious function these reformers assign to morality. Hume identifies both what has value and what makes things valuable with features of our psychology. Our first-order sentiments, passions and affections, as well as actions expressive of them, are what have moral value. On his view, morality is entirely a product of human nature.
EPM 9. This is a precise parallel of his two definitions of cause in the first Enquiry. He follows Hutcheson in thinking that they assign two distinct roles to self-interest in their accounts of morality: first, moral approval and disapproval are based in a concern for our own interest and, second, the motive of which we ultimately approve is self-interest. Hobbes is his main opponent. Like Hutcheson, he mistakenly supposes that Hobbes was offering a rival theory of approval and disapproval. Hume looks at each of the four types of virtue and argues that in each case, our approval does not spring from a concern for our own happiness, but rather from sympathy.
In Section II, Hume argues that one reason we approve of benevolence, humanity, and public spiritedness is that they are useful to others and to society. In Sections III and IV, he argues that the sole ground for approving of justice and political allegiance is that they are useful to society. In Section V, he asks: But useful for whom?
A social order provides security, peace, and mutual protection, conditions that allow us to promote our own interests better than if we lived alone. Our own good is thus bound up with the maintenance of society. Although Hume agrees with Hobbes up to this point, he rejects his explanation that we approve of justice, benevolence, and humanity because they promote our own happiness. We would never admire the good deeds of our enemies or rivals, since they are hurtful to us. We would also never approve or disapprove of characters portrayed in novels or movies, since they are not real people and cannot possibly help or harm us.
We approve of character traits and actions that are useful not because they benefit us, but because we sympathize with the benefits they bestow on others or society. Hume next examines the remaining three types of character traits—those that are useful to the agent industriousness, good judgment , agreeable to the agent cheerfulness or agreeable to others politeness, decency. Why, for example, do we approve of industriousness and good judgment, character traits that are primarily advantageous to the possessor? In most cases they are of absolutely no benefit to us and, in cases of rivalry, they counteract our own interest.
We approve of these character traits not because they are beneficial to us, but because we sympathize with the benefits they confer on others. If our approval and disapproval were based on thoughts about our own benefits and harms, the moral sentiments would vary from person to person and for the same person over time. The moral sentiments spring from our capacity to respond sympathetically to others. Hume is equally adamant that any explanation of the motives that prompt us to virtuous actions in terms of self-interest is mistaken.
He follows Hutcheson in thinking that the issue is whether the various benevolent affections are genuine or arise from self-interest. Hume offers two arguments against this selfish view. He first asks us to consider cases in which people are motivated by a genuine concern for others, even when such concern could not possibly benefit them and might even harm them. We grieve when a friend dies, even if the friend needed our help and patronage. How could our grief be based in self-interest? Parents regularly sacrifice their own interests for the sake of their children.
Non-human animals care about members of their own species and us. Hume supplements this argument from experience with a highly compressed sketch of an argument he borrows from Butler. Happiness consists in the pleasures that arise from the satisfaction of our particular appetites and desires. It is because we want food, fame, and other things that we take pleasure in getting them. If we did not have any particular appetites or desires, we would not want anything and there would be nothing from which we would get pleasure.
To get the pleasures that self-love aims at, we must want something other than happiness itself. Hume rightly showcases his pioneering account of justice. In the Treatise , he emphasizes the distinction between the natural and artificial virtues. The natural virtues—being humane, kind, and charitable—are character traits and patterns of behavior that human beings would exhibit in their natural condition, even if there were no social order.
Hume believes that nature has supplied us with many motives—parental love, benevolence, and generosity—that make it possible for us to live together peacefully in small societies based on kinship relations. One of his important insights is that nature has not provided us with all the motives we need to live together peacefully in large societies. After arguing in Treatise 3. The first question concerns justice as a practice constituted by its rules. Hume argues that we enter into a series of conventions to bring about practices, each of which is a solution to a problem. Each convention gives rise to new problems that in turn pressure us to enter into further conventions.
The convention to bring about property rights is only the first of several into which we enter. After property rights are established, we enter into conventions to transfer property and to make promises and contracts. According to him, we are by nature cooperators, although at first we cooperate only with members of our own family. But it is also advantageous for us to cooperate with strangers, since it allows us to produce more goods and to exchange them.
All three conventions are prior to the formation of government. Hume argues that the practice of justice is a solution to a problem we naturally face. The problem is that since we care most about our family and close friends, but material goods are scarce and portable, we are tempted to take goods from strangers to give to our family and friends. Disputes over these goods are inevitable, but if we quarrel we will forfeit the benefits that result from living together in society—increased power, ability, and security.
The solution to the problem is to establish property rights. Hume was one of the first to see that what is useful is the practice of justice, rather than individual acts of justice. Like Hobbes, he believes that it is in our interest to have the practice of justice in place. As we just saw, Hume parts company with Hobbes when he answers the second question about why we approve of people who obey the rules of justice. We approve of just people not because they benefit us but because we sympathize with the benefits they bestow on others and society as a whole. Hume thus explains our approval of justice by appealing to the same principle he invoked to explain our approval of the natural virtues.
Thus while. While it is in our interest to have the practice of justice in place, it may not always be in our interest to obey its rules in every case. This is the free rider problem. The free rider, whom Hume calls the sensible knave, wants to get the benefits that result from having a practice in place without having to always follow its rules.
He knows that the only way to obtain the advantages of social cooperation is for the practice of justice to be in place, but he also realizes that a single act of justice will not significantly damage the practice. Most people will obey the rules of justice, so if he commits one act of injustice, the institution will not be in any danger of collapsing. Suppose he has the opportunity to commit an act of injustice that will benefit him greatly. Hume confesses that if the sensible knave expects an answer, he is not sure there is one that will convince him.
If his heart rebel not against such pernicious maxims, if he feel no reluctance to thoughts of villainy or baseness, he has indeed lost a considerable motive to virtue…. There is no general agreement about whether Hume actually provides an answer to the sensible knave and if he does, whether it is adequate. Hume wrote forcefully and incisively on almost every central question in the philosophy of religion, contributing to ongoing debates about the reliability of reports of miracles, the immateriality and immortality of the soul, the morality of suicide, and the natural history of religion, among others.
All his work excited heated reactions from his contemporaries, and his arguments still figure centrally in discussions of these issues today. In the debates about causation and ethics, there is an initial critical phase , where Hume assesses the arguments of his predecessors and contemporaries, followed by a constructive phase , where he develops his own position. In the natural religion debate, however, the situation is very different. Instead of resolving this debate, Hume effectively dissolves it.
The Dialogues are a sustained and penetrating critical examination of a prominent argument from analogy for the existence and nature of God, the argument from design. The argument from design attempts to establish that the order we find in the universe is so like the order we find in the products of human artifice that it too must be the product of an intelligent designer. The Dialogues record a conversation between three characters. Cleanthes and Demea represent the central positions in the eighteenth—century natural religion debate.
Instead, they used the order and regularity they found in the universe to construct a probabilistic argument for a divine designer. Holdouts clung to demonstrative proof in science and theology against the rising tide of probability. Demea is the champion of these conservative traditionalists.
There was no genuinely sceptical presence in the eighteenth—century natural religion debate. This makes Philo , who both Cleanthes and Demea characterize as a sceptic , the ringer in the conversation. Demea holds that God is completely unknown and incomprehensible; all we can say is that God is a being without restriction, absolutely infinite and universal. Natural objects and human artifacts resemble one another, so by analogy, their causes also resemble each other. God is therefore like a human mind, only very much greater in every respect. He launches a battery of arguments to show just how weak it is.
The dissimilarities between human artifacts and the universe are more striking than their similarities. We only experience a tiny part of the universe for a short time; much of what we do experience is unknown to us. How can we legitimately infer anything about remote parts of the universe, much less the universe as a whole?
We have no experience of the origin of a universe. Since causal inference requires a basis in experienced constant conjunction between two kinds of things, how can we legitimately draw any conclusion whatsoever about the origin of the universe? Does it even require a cause? One or many? Does the cause of the universe itself require a cause? The problem, then, is not just that the analogy is weak; the real problem is that it attempts to take us beyond what we can know.
The barbs they throw at each other, and the speeches Philo goads them to make, help create a dilemma that Philo uses them to construct.
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He directs the dilemma at Cleanthes, but it affects both characters, although Demea is slow to realize this. He argues that mystics like Demea are no better than atheists , since they make God so remote and incomprehensible that he bears no resemblance to human characteristics. Demea adds that giving God human characteristics, even if they are greatly magnified, denies him attributes theists have always ascribed to him. How can an anthropomorphic God have the unity , simplicity, and immutability of the God of traditional theism?
If he accepts the argument from design, he must be committed to a God who is finite in all respects. But what does it mean to say that God is finitely perfect? Why think that the universe is more like a human artifact than an animal or a vegetable? To illustrate, Philo throws out a number of outlandish alternative hypotheses.
Total suspense of judgment is the only reasonable response. Otherwise, we go beyond the bounds of anything to which we can give specific content. We can only give the idea of God intelligible content at the perilously high cost of denying that he is really God. To do so is to abandon God for some kind of superhero. Demea offers an a priori alternative to the design argument in Part 9. Demea begins the discussion in Part Our forms of worship are attempts to appease unknown powers that oppress and torment us.
DCNR They proceed with a joint litany of the misery and melancholy of the human condition, topping each other with catalogues of woes.
My Own Life, by David Hume
Demea is also scornful of theodicies, blissfully unaware that all too soon he will be offering his own. But hoping that the extent of human misery is not so widespread is not the same as proving that it is. Cleanthes is on weak ground. He thinks he finally has Philo on the ropes. In forcing a sceptic to prove a positive thesis, he must not only succeed at a difficult task, but violates his scepticism in the process. Cleanthes fails to realize that Philo will make his case without needing to prove anything, nor does he realize that he will soon be the one who needs a proof.
Demea objects that Cleanthes exaggerates the dire consequences of acknowledging the human condition, and, despite his earlier vehement rejection of theodicies, offers his own. Cleanthes retorts that Demea denies the facts, and offers only empty hypotheses, which, if intelligible at all, could only establish their bare possibility, but never their reality. Cleanthes has now put himself in the position in which he thought he had put Philo. He must establish that the facts are as he claims, and Philo is quick to stress how difficult this will be.
By resting his case on such an uncertain point, any conclusion he draws will be equally uncertain. Philo then ups the ante by granting for the sake of argument that human happiness exceeds human misery. But if God is infinitely powerful, wise, and good, why is there any misery at all? He admits that if we go beyond their usual meanings when we apply human terms to God, what we say is indeed unintelligible. Abandoning all human analogy is thus to abandon natural religion, but preserving it makes it impossible to reconcile evil with an infinite God.
Cleanthes realizes he has painted himself into a corner, but once again he thinks there is a way out. Instead of God, he is now committed to some kind of superhero. Besides, the story he is telling is itself a theodicy. In any case, Cleanthes is no better off than he was before. Conjectures may show that the data are consistent with the idea of God, but are never sufficient to prove that he actually exists. Philo then proceeds to outline four possible hypotheses about the cause of the universe: it is perfectly good; it is perfectly evil; it is both good and evil; it is neither good nor evil.
The regularity and uniformity of the general laws we find in experience is sufficient to discount the third, so the fourth seems the most probable. On that hypothesis, the cause of the universe is entirely indifferent to the amount of good and evil in the world. These points about natural evil also apply to moral evil. We have even less reason, in fact, since moral evil outweighs moral goodness more than natural evil outweighs natural goodness. Since every effect must have a cause, either the chain of causes goes back infinitely, or it stops with the original principle that is the ultimate cause of all things—God.
If he leans on the mystery—mongering he has professed until now, Philo has shown that, because of its lack of specific content, it does not point exclusively to a good God. Commitment without content turns out to be no commitment at all. Demea realizes this, dimly at least, as he leaves the conversation.
Philo seems to reverse field, apparently recanting what he has argued for so forcefully. His remarks are, however, by no means straightforward. Some take Philo—and, by implication, Hume—to be outing himself as a closet theist. Others conclude that, since he holds all the cards at this point, he can afford to be conciliatory. But there is no need to force the irony here. In fact, what he says here reiterates his position in Part 8, that function alone is no proof of divine design:.
I would fain know how an animal could subsist, unless its parts were so adjusted? DCNR 8. At the conversation continues, Philo provides a diagnosis of the dispute. But verbal disputes can be resolved—or dissolved —by providing clear definitions. However, the dilemma about the content of our idea of God that Philo has constructed clearly implies that such a constructive solution is not possible here.
Philo explains why only a critical solution is possible by offering a deeper diagnosis of the problem. These are the controversies concerning the degrees of any quality or circumstance. This is exactly what the dispute over intelligent design is about. The dispute about design is actually worse than a verbal dispute. Anything is like anything else in some remote respect. So the ordering principle of the universe, if indeed there is one, can be absolutely anything. As it concludes, it is no longer clear that these questions are really so distinct as originally assumed.
What, then, are we to make of the claim about his existence? EHU 2. If we stop short of the limit, we may have content, but we have also lost God. Life and Works 2. The relation between the Treatise and the Enquiries 3. Philosophical Project 4.
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Book I: Of The Understanding
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