Why teach Hume if he has been ‘cancelled’? - Readers' Letters

Edinburgh Universtity Principal Peter Mathieson's most recent statement on the decision to remove David Hume's name from Tower previously named in his honour does little to clarify matter and even less to justify it.

Before attempting to join the increasingly futile and fractious debate let me make it clear to that I am not a person of colour. Does that now disqualify me, as the statement on the 'lived experience' of those who may have signed letters of protest, seems to suggest?

The Principal has seemingly moved far from a principle of equality of gender and race, and has moved into the currently hashionable “cancel culture” camp. We are still in the world of Animal Farm, where all are equal but some are more equal than others.

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At some stage the Principal will require the indulgence he has refused to allow David Hume, that is, the acknowledgement that his craven part in this sorry affair is not representative of his life's work, that there is more to him that one act of his, or one piece of writing of Hume's, however reprehensible.

Let it be repeated that Hume ought not to have written the words objected to, but does that make it reasonable to blacklist a man held in respect throughout the world?

There are other questions still to be addressed. The university has stated that it has shown its recognition of Hume by appointing two lecturers whose specialism is the study of Hume's philosophy. Why? How can they permit the minds of their young charges to be polluted by exposure to the thought of a man from whom they have publicly dissociated themselves? Is the use of his name above a door dangerous while his actual philosophy remains valuable?

We do not know how numerous were those who were ill-at-ease in entering a building named after Hume, but it would be good to know why the university did not engage them and others in a public debate, a move which would have been in keeping with the now threatened status of the university as a forum for informed research and discussion. Far from trivialising anyone's lived experience, such a move would have had identifiable, educational benefits, such as putting Hume's view of race and slavery in the context of his times and in the context of his overall thought.

By the way, how long is 'temporary?' What is going to change meantime? What steps is the university taking to decide whether the 'temporary' renaming is made permanent? Who is involved?

Prof Joseph Farrell

Endfield Avenue, Glasgow

Time for debate

I recall Alex Cheyne, Edinburgh's much loved and distinguished Professor of Ecclesiastical History, discussing David Hume's legacy: "Until recently it was thought unfair to judge the sentiments of one age by the moral perceptions of another but late 20th century arrogance knows no bounds."

Hume's one, throw-away, comment must be placed in its historical context and compared to his comprehensive denunciation of slavery. He had written of it as quite the most appalling experience imaginable for those who had known freedom.

Even if Peter Mathieson believed that he was taking a principled decision, it looked to alumni like me as if he was caving in to student activists.

There needed to be a university-wide debate as to whether Hume was judged on this one comment on race rather than his immense contribution to philosophy.

Rev Dr John Cameron

Howard Place, St Andrews

It’s 1984 again

With Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak unveiling the new ‘Diversity built Britain’ 50 pence piece, may I suggest two other slogans suitable to adorn our ‘woke’ coinage: ‘freedom is slavery,’ and ‘ignorance is strength.’

Penny Ponders

Ingliston Road, Edinburgh

History lesson

I was struck by the comments from the family of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, to be featured in a forthcoming BBC documentary, describing him as an “abolitionist”.

As Home Secretary and Secretary of State for War, Dundas is recognised as being instrumental in delaying the abolition of the slave trade.

When William Wilberforce tabled his abolition bill in 1792, Dundas as Home Secretary was responsible for tabling an amendment that it be “gradually abolished”, with the date of 1st January 1796 agreed.

It could be argued legitimately that this was a ploy by Dundas, given the strength of the pro-slavery West Indian Lobby in Parliament, to actually get the bill passed.

However, this is rather contradicted by the fact that when in 1796 Wilberforce again put his case to the legislature, introducing another bill for the abolition of the trade from 1st January 1797, Dundas, by now Secretary of State of War, agreed the trade was evil but that it was wrong to abolish it at that time. He argued that with Britain currently engaged in a Caribbean war, now was not the time for added disruption in the West Indies.

Speaking in the debate, Dundas thought the principle of the bill to be just. He noted that the African slave trade was contrary to justice and humanity, and that it ought to be abolished, but he had no hesitation in saying, that it was not possible for parliament to give effect to the bill at the present moment and voted against it.

The bill was narrowly lost by 70 votes to 74, largely Wilberforce believed due to the absenteeism of some abolitionists. For Henry Dundas it seemed to be a well-rehearsed argument of “now is not the time”. Would it ever have been, one may ask?

Alex Orr

Marchmont Road, Edinburgh

Fire regulations

Your article "Charity warns Scots will be hit by the cost of the new fire alarm rules" (17 October) hugely understates the effect of the measure. At this time of Covid, oncoming poverty and unemployment nothing could be more ill-considered or inappropriate than visiting these costs on us.

Worse, the online government guidance is alarming in its vagueness. The links it provides are often contradictory in their advice.It makes reference to the Building Standards [Scotland] Act but does not say whether it applies, and there is no link I could find to the primary legislation The guidance is deliberately silent on when hard-wired systems will be required, but states that "flats may require such".

This matters greatly. An expensive certified electrician will be required to do the work, and getting mains cables to the various detectors will mean holes in walls and ceilings, possibly facings and skirtings ripped off, and hence redecoration.

They also state that a Building Warrant may be required for this work. 200,000 would be a very conservative estimate of Scottish flatted properties affected. Most building control departments were struggling before Covid. A fraction of that number of applications would bring the system to a standstill.

In its guidance the Government refers to the Grenfell Tower fire, of three years ago, as the reason for springing this on us now. Significantly, the underlying cause of the deadliness of that fire was the weakness of government regulation.

Our political/administrative class appear not understand the reality they are trying to manage.

David Hogg

Glanville Place, Edinburgh

End the witch hunt

I have been saddened by the ferocity of the witch hunt directed against the disgraced SNP MP Margaret Ferrier throughout the media. In not excusing her conduct in any way, perhaps a little compassion and courtesy could have been shown to a lady who became ill and is recovering from this debilitating disease. Also the sheer hypocrisy directed against the SNP beggars belief, as the Tory Unionist's silence was deafening when Dominic Cummings's confuted trip, during lock down, took place.

The fact is the SNP acted immediately in condemning and expelling Ms Ferrier and demanding her resignation, which is all they could do in relation to a Westminster MP.

There is a recognised neurological condition of the virus symptoms called "brain fog" described by many top experts in the field including Dr Avindra Nath, head of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders.

Many victims have described the panic and confusion arising in their minds during the symptoms of Covid –notably described by Mr Cummings feeling "weird" before his trip north!

There is no doubt that Ms Ferrier's conduct was wrong and inexcusable, which she acknowledged and apologised for and no doubt in time will pay dearly for. She is certainly not the first or will be the last MP to blunder.

Grant Frazer

Cruachan, Newtonmore

Time, gentlemen

As claims emerges as reported elsewhere coming from another Conservative MP that Health Secretary, Matt Hancock was seen drinking in a Westminster bar at 10.25pm on Monday, 5 October, flouting the 10pm curfew, we await the flood of outraged letters with anticipation.

Gill Turner

Derby Street, Edinburgh

Polls apart

Recent polls claim support for Independence is soaring. One even claimed 75 per cent in favour “"with the right economic case".

Back in the real world, last week the SNP won a council by election in Ellon, Aberdeenshire from the Conservatives by 30 votes.

Each party got 42 per cent.The SNP's count rose ten oer cent, Labour and Lib Dem dropped ten per cent. Including the Greens' 2.5 per cent, the split was 55/45 for pro-uk parties.

This is surely a timely, dire, warning that, in next year's Holyrood election, organised tactical voting for the party most likely to beat the SNP is the only way end this grinding procession of dodgy polls, indy scaremongering and 13 years of decline.

Allan Sutherland

Willow Row, Stonehaven


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