Nineteen Quotes by David Hume (With References)

This page contains a collection of quotes by David Hume. These quotes are all genuine and details about the book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable. Quotes that begin with a section of bold text are my personal favourites. Without further ado, here are nineteen quotes by Hume:


On philosophers:

Whatever has the air of a paradox, and is contrary to the first and most unprejudiced notions of mankind, is often greedily embraced by philosophers, as shewing the superiority of their science, which coued discover opinions so remote from vulgar conception.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, II, 1


On cause and effect:

We have no other notion of cause and effect, but that of certain objects, which have been always conjoined together, and which in all past instances have been found inseparable.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, III, 7


On personal identity:

I cannot compare the soul more properly to any thing than to a republic or commonwealth, in which the several members are united by the reciprocal ties of government and subordination, and give rise to other persons, who propagate the same republic in the incessant changes of its parts. And as the same individual republic may not only change its members, but also its laws and constitutions; in like manner the same person may vary his character and disposition, as well as his impressions and ideas, without losing his identity.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, IV, 6


On scepticism:

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds [of scepticism], nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Here then I find myself absolutely and necessarily determined to live, and talk, and act like other people in the common affairs of life.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, IV, 7


On causation:

If we believe, that fire warms, or water refreshes, it is only because it costs us too much pains to think otherwise.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, IV, 7


On religion and philosophy:

Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, IV, 7


On reason and passion:

We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. II, III, 3


On reason and passion:

It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. It is not contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me. It is as little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledgeed lesser good to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than the latter. . . . In short, a passion must be accompanyed with some false judgment in order to its being unreasonable; and even then it is not the passion, properly speaking, which is unreasonable, but the judgment.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. II, III, 3


On morality and reason:

Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. III, I, 1


On virtue:

It is one thing to know virtue, and another to conform the will to it.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. III, I, 1


On morality:

Take any action allowed to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but it is the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compared to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind: And this discovery in morals, like that other in physics, is to be regarded as a considerable advancement of the speculative sciences; though, like that too, it has little or no influence on practice.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. III, I, 1


On the is/ought gap:

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprized to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. III, I, 1


On sympathy:

We may begin with considering a-new the nature and force of sympathy. The minds of all men are similar in their feelings and operations; nor can any one be actuated by any affection, of which all others are not, in some degree, susceptible. As in strings equally wound up, the motion of one communicates itself to the rest; so all the affections readily pass from one person to another, and beget correspondent movements in every human creature.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. III, III, 1


On sympathy:

If we compare all these circumstances, we shall not doubt, that sympathy is the chief source of moral distinctions . . .

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. III, III, 4


On philosophy:

Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.

– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, I, 4


On miracles:

When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, X, 91


On Christianity:

. . . upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.

– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, X, 101


On science and metaphysics:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, XII, 132


On the human condition:

Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!

– David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, XI


Know of a quote that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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