David Hume Tower: Edinburgh University acting like imbeciles – Murdo Fraser

The ludicrous move to ‘cancel’ the philosopher David Hume may backfire badly on Edinburgh University, writes Murdo Fraser.

The tower block at the heart of the row over David Hume's views on race and slavery (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
The tower block at the heart of the row over David Hume's views on race and slavery (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

It is not surprising that there has been such an angry reaction to last week’s announcement by Edinburgh University that the David Hume Tower will be renamed “40 George Square”, supposedly due to concerns over the philosopher’s views on slavery.

Hume was the leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century, and although many of his views are controversial (and were at the time, not least his atheism) he is nevertheless honoured as one of our country’s greatest thinkers. The historian Sir Tom Devine describes him as “the greatest philosophical mind Scotland has ever produced”.

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There is hardly a figure in our past whose views on a wide range of topics would withstand scrutiny from the perspective of today’s standards. But rather than reflect on Hume’s legacy in the broad sense, it seems that Edinburgh University would rather concede to the woke mob and cancel him from its history.

Devine has reacted by saying that “the current Principal of Edinburgh University should hang his head in absolute shame”. He is entirely right. In the great city of the Scottish Enlightenment, an institution noted for the development of intellect and the promotion of free thinking and open debate has been taken over by imbeciles.

There are many Edinburgh graduates, some of whom studied in the Hume Tower themselves, who contribute financially to an institution which they hold in high regard, who will now be rethinking their donations.

Moreover, universities like Edinburgh are already demanding additional public cash to help meet the pressures on them as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ludicrous moves like the cancelling of Hume are unlikely to win them many friends among politicians who will have to make choices about where vital taxpayers’ funds should be spent.

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