“No quality of human nature is more remarkable, both in itself and in its consequences, than that propensity we have to sympathize with others, and to receive by communication their inclinations and sentiments, however different from, or even contrary to our own.”
Writing in The Treatise of Human Nature, published in 1739-40, Scottish philosopher, historian and economist David Hume (1711-1776) belonged to a brach of philosophy that asserted that desire, not reason, governed human behaviour.
This line of thought perhaps fuelled the Edinburgh-born academic’s sentimental inclination towards human nature - one where human have the capacity to feel sympathy for one other despite otherwise marked differences between them.
The huge work also covered topics such as human cognition, free will, emotions, justice and ideas of morality and benevolence, and the degree to which these ideas were innate or human constructs.
Hume’s book is widely regarded as a precursor for many branches of contemporary philosophy and psychology.
Although The Treatise of Human Nature is Hume’s most famous work, during his lifetime he was more notable as a historian of England - The History of England, published in 1754-61 in installments, was a bestseller.
He rewrote The Treatise of Human Nature, criticised at the time for being too unintelligble and abstract, as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, which was published in 1748. Three years later, a third version - An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals - was written; by this time, his reputation as an essayist had bloomed considerably, and was the most successful of the series.