‘Almost Inseparable’: Taste and History in Hume

James Noggle

in The Temporality of Taste in Eighteenth-Century British Writing

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199642434
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191738579 | DOI:
‘Almost Inseparable’: Taste and History in Hume

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In his Essays and The History of England, David Hume portrays individuals’ immediate taste as ‘almost inseparable’from the large historical forces that shape a culture’s progress. In stressing this linkage, Hume helps inspire Scottish Enlightenment historiography, which views advances of liberty, commerce, and taste as integrally joined. But Hume remains alert to the distinction between individual acts of judgement and historical forces, and repeatedly throughout the History cites moments when a gap opens between them. For judgement to be tasteful, it must both stand apart from history and understand its own determination by the historical forces and contexts that govern its emergence. This double imperative does not amount to a claim that modern enlightenment can never come, only that the present of history and the present of individual judgement may only ‘almost’ fully coincide. This non-coincidence makes Hume’s critical perspective on the ideology of modern progress, liberty, and commercialism possible.

Keywords: David Hume; taste; history; historiography; modernity; ideology

Chapter.  12945 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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