Tag Archives: autobiographical

David Hume

Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron’d with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv’d of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I wou’d return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

David Hume, An Enquiry into Human Nature, London, 1739, book 1, part 4, sect. 7

C. D. Broad

Philosophy is essentially a middle-aged man’s game, though certain philosophers (notably Plato and Kant) have put up their best performances when they were well past middle life. Those of us who are not Platos or Kants are well advised to retire gracefully before they have too obviously lost their grip. Medical science would almost have made the world safe for senility, if physics had not made it unsafe for everybody; and there are far too many old clowns arthritically going through their hoops, to the embarrassment of the spectators:

From X’s eyes the streams of dotage flow,
And Y expires a driveller and a show.

My younger colleagues would have no difficulty in substituting appropriate constants for the variables in these lines. Moreover, though philosophies are never refuted, they rapidly go out of fashion, and the kind of philosophy which I have practised has become antiquated without having yet acquired the interest of a collector’s piece:

New forms arise, and different views engage,
Superfluous lags the veteran on the stage.

So this veteran now definitely makes his last bow as a professional performer, though he may occasionally make a graceful appearance “by request” at a matinee for charity.

C. D. Broad, ‘A Reply to My Critics’, in Paul A. Schilpp (ed.) The Philosophy of C. D. Broad, New York, 1959, pp. 711-830

Jeremy Bentham

Dr. Priestley published his Essay on Government in 1768. He there introduced, in italics, as the only reasonable and proper object of government, ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number.’ It was a great improvement upon the word utility. It represented the principal end, the capital, the characteristic ingredient. It took possession, by a single phrase, of every thing that had hitherto been done. It went, in fact, beyond all notions that had preceded it. It exhibited not only happiness, but it made that happiness diffusive; it associated it with the majority, with the many. Dr. Priestley’s pamphlet was written, as most of his productions, currente calamo, hastily and earnestly.

Somehow or other, shortly after its publication, a copy of this pamphlet found its way into the little circulating library belonging to a little coffee-house, called Harper’s coffee-house, attached, as it were, to Queen’s College, Oxford, and deriving, from the popularity of that college, the whole of its subsistence. It was a corner house, having one front towards the High Street, another towards a narrow lane, which on that side skirts Queen’s College, and loses itself in a lane issuing from one of the gates of New College. To this library the subscription was a shilling a quarter, or, in the University phrase, a shilling a term. Of this subscription the produce was composed of two or three newspapers, with magazines one or two, and now and then a newly-published pamphlet; a moderate sized octavo was a rare, if ever exemplified spectacle: composed partly of pamphlets, partly of magazines, half-bound together, a few dozen volumes made up this library, which formed so curious a contrast with the Bodleian Library, and those of Christ’s Church and All Souls.

The year 1768 was the latest of the years in which I ever made at Oxford a residence of more than a day or two. The motive of that visit was the giving my vote, in the quality of Master of Arts, for the University of Oxford, on the occasion of a parliamentary election; and not being at that time arrived at the age of twenty-one, this deficiency in the article of age might have given occasion to an election contest in the House of Commons, had not the majority been put out of doubt by a sufficient number of votes not exposed to contestation. This year, 1768, was the latest of all the years in which this pamphlet could have come into my hands. Be this as it may, it was by that pamphlet, and this phrase in it, that my principles on the subject of morality, public and private together, were determined. It was from that pamphlet and that page of it, that I drew the phrase, the words and import of which have been so widely diffused over the civilized world. At the sight of it, I cried out, as it were, in an inward ecstasy, like Archimedes on the discovery of the fundamental principle of hydrostatics, eureka!

Jeremy Bentham, “Deontology, or the Science of Morality”, The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review, and Ecclesiastical Record, vol. 16, no. 32 (October, 1834), pp. 279-280

Jorge Luis Borges

Un hombre se propone la tarea de dibujar el mundo. A lo largo de los años puebla un espacio con imágenes de provincias, de reinos, de montañas, de bahías, de naves, de islas, de peces, de habitaciones, de instrumentos, de astros, de caballos y de personas. Poco antes de morir, descubre que ese paciente laberinto de líneas traza la imagen de su cara.

Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Epílogo’, in El hacedor, Buenos Aires, 1960