Freeman

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Book Review: Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary by David Humeedited and with a foreword, notes and glossary by Eugene F. Miller

MARCH 01, 1986 by JOHN K. WILLIAMS

Liberty Classics, 7440 North Shadeland, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250 • 1985 • 679 pages, $11.00 cloth

Students of the freedom philosophy are indebted to Liberty Fund. From that body comes Liberty Classics, a superbly produced series of works of inestimable value to any person desirous of making the acquaintance of the great thinkers of history who defended political and economic liberty.

The latest addition to that series is David Hume’s Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary. The volume’s edi tor, Eugene F. Miller, has contributed a foreword, notes, and glossary of interest to any reader but invaluable to students of Hume’s writings. Included also is a brief autobiographical outline of Hume’s life and a moving letter penned by Hume’s admiring and fond friend, Adam Smith. Then come no less than forty-nine: essays, graced by the subtlety of insight and clarity of expression typical of Hume.

It would be unfortunate if readers of The Freeman who peruse this volume merely study Hume’s essays dealing with explicitly economic issues (those on trade, interest, and money, for example). Hume’s comments on the “Dignity or Meanness of Human Nature,” on “National Characters,” on “Civil Liberty,” on “Passive Obedience,” and on the “Study of History” merit thoughtful consideration.

All students of Hume’s works will be delighted to find in this volume the full and accurate text of two of Hume’s most controversial essays: “On Suicide” and “On the Immortality of the Soul.”

The freedom philosophy needs enthusiastic advocates. It also needs informed advocates. Shallowness of historical insight does not become any person who wishes to further the cause of liberty. We all do well to steep ourselves in the works of the great thinkers who have explored and expounded the philosophy that is ours. Liberty Classics has long made available the works of such thinkers in an attractive, and remarkably inexpensive, form. This edition of Hume’s essays is a significant addition to an already distinguished series.

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March 1986

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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