Epilogue: Pope, Berkeley and Hume

  • Tom Jones


In this brief chapter, I will attempt to show where the connection I have traced between Pope and Berkeley might lead. In the broadest sense I want to suggest a connection between Pope, Berkeley and Hume, based on their presentation of the world as something that has to be learnt through habit and custom, like a language, or indeed as a language. All of these writers present the human world as a world produced at the point where nature and custom meet. I will discuss Hume’s conjectural history of the virtues in his Treatise of Human Nature in relation to Pope’s treatment of the origins of society and kingship in the Essay on Man. Berkeley always turns to God as the ordering and organising principle of the world, the author of the language of the world. Hume does not rely so heavily upon God, and puts custom in God’s place as the guarantor of meaning.1 Hume develops a desacralised version of Berkeley’s providentially meaningful world: ‘Although he is opposed to any a priori account of standards, values, laws, or institutions, Hume gives to conventions, in terms of which all social phenomena are defined, an authority which might be called “the secular a priori”.2 There is a large theological difference then between Berkeley and Hume, and I would like to suggest that Pope does something to resolve this difference, rather than to exemplify it: Pope’s Essay on Man connects the two philosophers, offers a means of interpreting the ambiguous way in which Hume’s reading in Berkeley becomes evident in Hume’s work.


Human Nature Human World External Reality Natural Affection Sexual Instinct 
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  1. 1.
    See James F. Zartman, ‘Hume and “The Meaning of a Word”’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 36 (1975), 255–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Peter Jones, ‘Strains in Hume and Wittgenstein’, in Hume: A Re-evaluation, ed. Donald W. Livingston and James T. King (New York: Fordham University Press, 1976), pp. 191–209, p. 206.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    John E. Sitter, ‘Theodicy at Midcentury: Young, Akenside, and Hume’, Eighteenth-Century Studies 12:1 (Autumn 1978), 90–106, passim and p. 104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    The Letters of David Hume, ed. J.Y.T. Greig, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932) I, 200 to Joseph Spence 15 October 1754; I, 210 to William Mure of Caldwell October 1754, ‘Dear Mure, I have sent to Sharpe a copy of my History, of which I hope you will tell me your Opinion with Freedom. “Finding, like a Friend,/Something to blame, & something to commend.”’ I, 282 to Andrew Millar 20 June 1758, Hume notes that Pope spells honour without a ‘u’. New Letters of David Hume, ed. Raymond Kilbansky and Ernest C. Mossner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), pp. 184–5, to John Crawford, 29 August 1768, Hume writes from Oakley Park, Bathurst’s estate in Cirencester, and notes that Pope celebrated the place, and was intimate with Bathurst.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    David Hume, An Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. J.M. Keynes and P. Saffra (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), ‘Introduction’, x.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See ‘A Finding List of Books Surviving from Pope’s Library with a Few That May Not Have Survived’, Appendix A in Maynard Mack, Collected in Himself: Essays Critical, Biographical, and Bibliographical on Pope and Some of His Contemporaries (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1982), pp. 394–460, p. 420. This book is now in the possession of Bill Zachs. I owe him a great debt for allowing me to see the book, which, as Mack notes, contains marginal corrections of some of the errata.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Harry, M Solomon, The Rape of the Text: Reading and Misreading Pope’s Essay on Man (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1993), p. 132. Solomon suggests Pope directly influences Hume, p. 145, but provides little in the way of comparative reading.Google Scholar
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    Christopher Fox, Locke and the Scriblerians: Identity and Consciousness in Early Eighteenth-Century Britain (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 125–6.Google Scholar
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    See M.A. Stewart, ‘William Wishart, an Early Critic of Alciphron’, Berkeley Newsletter 6 (1982–83), 5–9, and ‘Berkeley and the Rankenian Club’, Hermathena 139 (Winter 1985), 25–45.Google Scholar
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    David Hume, The Natural History of Religion and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. A. Wayne Colver and John Vladimir Price (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), Dialogue 7, p. 208, alluding to Alciphron, p. 142, IV.2. Cleanthes finds Philo’s perversion of the argument by analogy to support the idea that the world is spun out of the belly of a great spider as unconvincing as Alciphron finds metaphysical (or a priori) arguments for the existence of God.Google Scholar
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    See Michael Morrisroe, Jr, ‘Did Hume Read Berkeley?: A Conclusive Answer’, Philological Quarterly 52 (1973), 310–15.Google Scholar
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    Berkeley’s Principles and Dialogues: Background Source Materials, ed. C.J. McCracken and I.C. Tipton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Cambridge Philosophical Texts in Context, ed. John Cottingham and Daniel Garber, p. 261, quoting from ‘Metacritique of the Purism of Reason’, in R.G. Smith, ed. and trans., J.G. Hamann, 1730–1788: A Study in Christian Existence, with Selections from his Writings (New York: Harper, 1960), p. 216. McCracken and Tipton give a good account of Hume’s reading in Berkeley, pp. 208–9.Google Scholar
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    M.A. Box, ‘How Much of Berkeley did Hume Read?’, Notes and Queries 234 (1989), 65–6. See also Hume’s Letters, II, 29 and Berkeley’s Works, V, 66. Hume is talking about Rousseau’s sensitivity.Google Scholar
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    Harry M. Bracken, for example, in ‘Bayle, Berkeley, and Hume’, Eighteenth-Century Studies 11:2 (Winter 1977–78), 227–45, p. 228, suggests that ‘Bayle independently influences Berkeley and Hume’, and that ‘Berkeley had little or no direct impact on Hume.’CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge, rev. P.H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, 2nd edn), I.iv.7, p. 273. Further references will be given in brackets in the text. See also Solomon, The Rape of the Text, pp. 67, 132.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    David B. Morris, ‘Pope and the Arts of Pleasure’, in The Enduring Legacy: Alexander Pope Tercentenary Essays, ed. G.S. Rousseau and Pat Rogers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 95–117, p. 100, notes the connection between Hume and Pope on pleasure and pain, citing Treatise, III.iii.1, p. 574.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Lawrence E. Klein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, ed. Karl Ameriks and Desmond M. Clarke, ‘Sensus Communis’, p. 51.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    One problem with both Hobbes’ and Locke’s schemes is that, given the preferability of a social existence on simple grounds of personal ease and pleasure, there is no conceivable point at which the self-interested person would not choose society, as Shaftesbury suggests. See Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), Chapters 13 and 17; Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960, repr. 1988), p. 277, where Locke states that men keep faith and promises as they are men, not as they are men in society, and p. 334, where he says that men made agreements to form civil societies. If social contract is the fundamental agreement of human life, it seems that natural and social man are the same. Pope’s image seems to describe more accurately the relationship between natural and civilised states, which is not strictly an historical development. I do not agree with Nuttall, who sees in Pope ‘a very British, Lockean state of nature’, Pope’s Essay on Man (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984), p. 112. Rousseau also recognises that the state of nature as described by many philosophers already includes much that is cultivated. His analysis of the origin of languages comes close to concluding that language could not have originated at all, A Discourse on Inequality, trans. Maurice Cranston (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), pp. 72, 92–8. Howard Erskine-Hill states that ‘Pope’s moment of original contract is presented less as a public legal transaction than as a recognition of appropriate merit, and the context of the Epistle as a whole, with its emphasis upon evolution through imitation of nature, induces us to interpret the contract as a stage in a process rather than a start on a totally new foundation’, ‘Pope on the Origin of Society’, in The Enduring Legacy, pp. 79–93, p. 89. My reading intends to describe this process. Miriam Leranbaum takes it as a flaw in Pope’s account of the restoration of original social principles, II.283ff., that it is ‘difficult to determine just when and how Pope (normally so expert in his command of adverbs) thinks the change from a state of nature to a civil state has come about’, Alexander Pope’s ‘Opus Magnum’ 1729–42 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 80. I attempt to identify a quality in this flaw.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 21.
    See Sitter, ‘Theodicy at Midcentury’, p. 104. Sitter cites the Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge and P.H. Nidditch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 164, first enquiry, XII.iii.134.Google Scholar

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© Tom Jones 2005

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  • Tom Jones

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