From beginner-friendly introductions to classic works by David Hume, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Hume. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or read Hume for yourself.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on or by David Hume in no particular order.
Hume: A Very Short Introduction – A. J. Ayer
Publisher description: Hume’s “naturalist” approach to a wide variety of philosophical topics resulted in highly original theories about perception, self-identity, causation, morality, politics, and religion, all of which are discussed in this stimulating introduction by A.J. Ayer, himself one of the twentieth century’s most important philosophers. Ayer also gives an account of Hume’s fascinating life and character, and includes generous quotations from Hume’s lucid and often witty writings.
The Philosophy of David Hume – Norman Kemp Smith
Publisher description: Norman Kemp Smith’s The Philosophy of David Hume continues to be unsurpassed in its comprehensive coverage of the ideas and issues of Hume’s Treatise. Now, after years of waiting, this currently out-of-print and highly sought-after classic is being re-issued. This ground-breaking book has long been regarded as a classic study by scholars in the field, yet a new introduction by Don Garrett places the book in its contemporary context, showing Humes’s continuing importance in the field.
Hume: An Intellectual Biography – James A. Harris
Publisher description: This is the first book to provide a comprehensive overview of the entire career of one of Britain’s greatest men of letters. It sets in biographical and historical context all of Hume’s works, from A Treatise of Human Nature to The History of England, bringing to light the major influences on the course of Hume’s intellectual development, and paying careful attention to the differences between the wide variety of literary genres with which Hume experimented. The major events in Hume’s life are fully described, but the main focus is on Hume’s intentions as a philosophical analyst of human nature, politics, commerce, English history, and religion. Careful attention is paid to Hume’s intellectual relations with his contemporaries. The goal is to reveal Hume as a man intensely concerned with the realization of an ideal of open-minded, objective, rigorous, dispassionate dialogue about all the principal questions faced by his age.
The Cambridge Companion to Hume – David Fate Norton & Jacqueline Taylor
Publisher description: Each Cambridge Companion to a philosophical figure is made up of specially commissioned essays by an international team of scholars, providing students and non-specialists with an introduction to a major philosopher. The series aims to dispel the intimidation that readers may feel when faced with the work of a challenging thinker. David Hume is now considered one of the most important philosophers of the Western world. Although best known for his contributions to the theory of knowledge, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion, Hume also influenced developments in the philosophy of mind, psychology, ethics, political and economic theory, political and social history, and aesthetic theory. The fifteen essays in this volume address all aspects of Hume’s thought. The picture of him that emerges is that of a thinker who, though often critical to the point of skepticism, was nonetheless able to build on that skepticism a constructive, viable, and profoundly important view of the world. …
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – David Hume
Publisher description: A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume’s response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, which anticipates discussions developed in the Enquiry.
In his concise Introduction, Eric Steinberg explores the conditions that led Hume to write the Enquiry and the work’s important relationship to Book I of Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion – David Hume
Publisher description: In the posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume attacked many of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, expressing the belief that religion is founded on ignorance and irrational fears. Though calm and courteous in tone – at times even tactfully ambiguous – the conversations between Hume’s vividly realized fictional figures form perhaps the most searching case ever mounted against orthodox Christian theological thinking and the ‘deism’ of the time, which pointed to the wonders of creation as conclusive evidence of God’s Design. Hume’s characters debate these issues with extraordinary passion, lucidity and humour, in one of the most compelling philosophical works ever written.
Selected Essays – David Hume
Publisher description: In his writings, David Hume set out to bridge the gap between the learned world of the academy and the marketplace of polite society. This collection, drawing largely on his Essays Mortal, Political, and Literary (1776 edition), comprehensively shows how far he succeeded.
As seen in these selections, Hume embraces a staggering range of social, cultural, political, demographic, and historical concerns, charting the state of civil society, manners, morals, and taste, and the development of political economy in the mid-eighteenth century. These essays represent not only those areas where Hume’s arguments representative of his age, but also where he is strikingly innovative.
A Treatise of Human Nature – David Hume
Publisher description: David Hume’s comprehensive attempt to base philosophy on a new, observationally grounded study of human nature is one of the most important texts in Western philosophy. It is also the focal point of current attempts to understand 18th-century philosophy The Treatise first explains how we form such concepts as cause and effect, external existence, and personal identity, and how we create compelling but unverifiable beliefs in the entities represented by these concepts. It then offers a novel account of the passions, explains freedom and necessity as they apply to human choices and actions, and concludes with a detailed explanation of how we distinguish between virtue and vice.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Hume – Carnegie Mellon University
- Hume – Philosophy 322 | Stanford University
- Hume – New York University
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Hume
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Hume
- Where to begin with David Hume
- I want to get into Hume — where should I start? What should I look into or avoid?
- The Best Books on David Hume recommended by Simon Blackburn
If you want to learn more about Hume, you can find a collection of free articles, videos, and podcasts here.
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on the History of Philosophy
- The Best Books on or by Immanuel Kant
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
The Daily Idea aims to make learning about philosophy as easy as possible by bringing together the best philosophy resources from across the internet. To get started, check out this organized collection of 400+ articles, podcasts, and videos on a wide range of philosophical topics.
A Collection of the Greatest Philosophical Quotations
A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.