David Hume

David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (eds), The Clarendon Edition of the Works of David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, Vol. 1: Texts

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pg 23Editor’s NotePART 2SB [26]Of the ideas of space and time

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Editor’s Note
23.title ideas of space and time] Philosophical accounts of space and time date from antiquity. For detailed historical background, see Sorabji, Time, Creation and the Continuum and Matter, Space and Motion; and Grant, Much Ado About Nothing, as well as the studies listed in the extensive bibliographies of these works. For an account of the early modern debate over the structure of matter, whether infinitely divisible or not, see Holden, The Architecture of Matter. Helpful but less synoptic historical background is found in Furley 'Epicurus and David Hume', in Two Studies in the Greek Atomists; and R. Wood, Introduction to Wodeham, Tractatus de Indivisibilibus.
For nearly contemporary accounts of the issues Hume encountered, Bayle is essential reading. First, Bayle was himself a participant in the extensive seventeenthcentury debate about the nature of space, time, and the vacuum or void, and, while presenting the views of ancient philosophers on these topics, he also engagingly outlined the contemporary debate in lengthy, discursive notes in his Dictionary (see esp. 'Leucippus', 'Zeno of Elea', and 'Zeno the Epicurean') and in his Systême abrégé de philosophie (3.2.2–5). In addition, the marginal references in the Dictionary provided Bayle's readers with a useful guide to then recent literature on the topic. Along with references to works by such well-known authors as Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Pascal, and Newton, there are others to works by those now of lesser renown—Arnauld, Huet, Gassendi, Malebranche, Nicole, Rohault, and Suárez, for example—as well as those now seldom discussed—Arriaga, Clavius, de Volder, and Hartsoeker, for example. As Laird, Kemp Smith, and others have noted, Hume in Treatise 1.2 makes substantial use of Bayle's discussions, to the point of sometimes seeming merely to paraphrase them.
Berkeley's views on these issues began to appear only in 1709, and consequently he is not included in Bayle's lists. But Berkeley's works, especially his New Theory of Vision and Principles, are essential background to the Treatise account of space and time; for further discussion, see Raynor, '"Minima sensibilia" in Berkeley and Hume'; Ayers, 'Berkeley and Hume: a Question of Influence'. Chambers' Cyclopædia, first published in 1728, is also a valuable aid to an appreciation of Hume's positions on space and time or the ideas thereof (see, e.g., 'Divisibility', 'Number', 'Space', 'Time', and 'Vacuum'), while E. Law's Enquiry into the Ideas of Space, Time, Immensity, and Eternity reprises debates about space and time among early eighteenth-century British philosophers.
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