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Demeter’s Opticks-Inspired Interpretation of Hume

Tamás Demeter, David Hume and the Culture of Scottish Newtonianism: Methodology and Ideology in Enlightenment Inquiry (Boston: Brill, 2016), Hardcover ISBN 9789004327313, e-book ISBN 9789004327320, 221 pp.

Ramona WINTER

 

In his insightful book, Tamás Demeter places David Hume’s philosophy within the tradition of Scottish Newtonianism. As Demeter notes, commentators generally agree that both the moral philosophy and natural science of 18th century Scotland were shaped by Newton’s work, and Demeter concurs. Regarding Newton’s influence on natural science, and especially chemistry and physiology, many authors further agree that it was first and foremost the Opticks, rather than the Principia, that left its mark. With this too, Demeter concurs. Demeter characterizes this Opticksinspired influence in terms of a “vitalistic” approach, thereby connecting Scottish natural inquiry with the contemporary tradition of “Enlightenment vitalism” on the continent (p. 3). This vitalistic approach, he writes, replaces “the mechanistic image of nature as inhabited by homogeneous inert matter and external forces acting on it, with an alternative image which emphasized qualitative differences, elective attractions, and organic interaction” (p. 82). In particular, the vitalistic methodology relies less on mathematics, and more on “comparative analysis and analogical reasoning” (pp. 38– 39).

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