ABSTRACT

In his discussion of David Hume’s Enquiry concerning Human Understanding called Hume’s Enlightenment Tract, Stephen Buckle sets out to show that Hume is a philosopher of the Enlightenment. More precisely, Buckle claims that Hume is not a radical sceptic, but his employment of forms of ancient scepticism ‘re ects the characteristic Enlightenment strategy of appealing to ancient schools of thought opposed to Aristotle in order to attack scholastic philosophy and its religious truths’.1 is claim implies a negative and somewhat sceptical conception of the meaning of enlightenment. But is such an orientation su - cient to count as a ‘philosopher of the Enlightenment?’ In this paper I do two things. First, I question whether this form of sceptical orientation su ces for being considered an Enlightenment philosopher. e limits of such an orientation emerge, in particular, when one turns to the consequences of this orientation for Hume the political theorist and historian. Second, I argue that it is rather in the history and philosophy of Hume’s opponent, Catharine Macaulay that one nds a genuine Enlightenment philosophy. e rst of these claims may rest on a quibble over the answer to the question, ‘What is the Enlightenment?’ But it is an important quibble. If, as I will argue, the Enlightenment consisted fundamentally in the establishment of the development of the idea that individuals have political rights, which underpins the growth, during the nineteenth century, of democratic forms of government, then Hume is not a philosopher of the Enlightenment. He should cede that place to another less famous eighteenth century historian, Catharine Macaulay. In fact, the strand of Enlightenment thinking which has these political consequences is consciously opposed to the sceptical conservatism that results from Hume’s conception of moral science.2 For those who believe in ‘enlightened reason’ Hume is the enemy, and for good reason. is becomes clear once one turns to the unjustly neglected philosophical underpinning of republicanism as outlined by Macaulay.