Baggini – The Great Guide

Started reading Julian Baggini’s latest on David Hume as “The Great Guide” for our times and have already completed the intro and first chapter without yet taking any notes, so just some pre-review thoughts for now.

Front / end / blurbs / etc: Nagging issue for me is no mention of Simon Blackburn anywhere, is there some unwritten academic-competition rule about not crediting or even mentioning fellow living philosophers? For me Blackburn has been the UK authority on Hume, and his place in modern Humanism. Indeed he provides Baggini with one of the cover blurb “in praise” quotes. Odd. That said, the referencing is non-intrusive end-notes, relying on direct quotes from Hume himself wherever possible, and an extensive further reading bibliography, minus Blackburn.

Cancel Culture: He comes to bury Hume, not to praise him. Baggini addresses head-on all of the racist Hume quotes (and actions) about negro slaves and Johnny foreigner generally. Reminding us also that Baggini is a Bristolian these days, where the Edward Colston statue event is topical. Nothing so crass as to defend their positions as being “of their time” – but in fact Baggini does a great job of counterbalancing the rest of what Hume had been saying and doing, pragmatically, in context around the more offensive examples, and the evolution toward what we would now consider humanism. I’ve certainly found plenty of quality in Humean thinking before now, (with the help of Blackburn).

Intriguing fact about the book itself, as opposed to Hume, is that it was originally created for the Korean market and this is “a much revised English edition” by Princeton press.

The other fact is that the book is, as advertised, very much a “lifestyle guide” – an antidote to other Stoic offerings. Capturing Hume as a guide, using his life lived as the context of his thoughts and words – biographical timelines of thinkers always an important component for me here at Psybertron, and Baggini is quite explicit that truth values cannot be objectively disembodied. Humane living is no science. Also, highlighting his pithier advice as we go, and gathering 145 adages, aphorisms or maxims in a handy Appendix – the guide itself.

Recommended already.

5 thoughts on “Baggini – The Great Guide”

  1. With every post of yours I groan with how comparatively little I manage to read. Yet this sounds useful enough to add to the pile. I don’t mind the attempt to address Hume in terms of contemporary attitudes. Because, philosophers do not stand addressing eternity, but the issues, debates and problems that surround them there and then. And the same considerations apply to the way a commentator will, in turn, assess a figure from the past. There is no escape from historical context.

    These considerations should lead us to avoid facilely literal interpretations. The problem is then one of balance. Do we judge, for example, Hume’s statement on race against the worst, the average or the best (judged from our standpoint) of his time? Choose your option and you may praise, exonerate, or condemn at will. One opinion piece I read by an Edinburgh academic recently, chose the latter course. But this, arguably, is to make the best the enemy of the good.

  2. PS have you spotted that it is the centenary of the Tractatus? Surely worth a post!

  3. Yes, it is surely the cause of so many other new media pieces about Witt recently?

    (Same as Dante in 2021 … noticed the topical physicist Chiara Marletto also claims a second string in Italian literature.)
    It’s hard to keep up with it all.

  4. You’re dead right.

    I said “crass” – but I probably meant it would be crass to make that the “sole aspect” of your defence – a binary choice. As ever nuance matters.

  5. And in 2022 I suspect it will be the centenary of:
    T E Lawrence – Seven Pillars of Wisdom
    James Joyce – Ulysses.

    Every single day is the significant anniversary of something.
    Planning by the planetary motion of the moons and stars is an old game 😉

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