First Edition of David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning The Principles of Morals

  • An Enquiry Concerning The Principles of Morals.
  • An Enquiry Concerning The Principles of Morals.
  • An Enquiry Concerning The Principles of Morals.

An Enquiry Concerning The Principles of Morals.


Item Number: 65017

London: A. Milar, 1751.

First edition, first state of L3, with catchword “than” on recto of what Hume himself considered his masterpiece. 12 mo, bound in contemporary full calf. With half-title, errata leaf, and 3 pages of ads at end. In very good condition with light toning and wear, inscription of the Caslon Society on front free endpaper. The Caslon Society was founded by William Caslon the Elder, who was an English typefounder. The distinction and legibility of his type secured him the patronage of the leading printers of the day in England and on the continent. His typefaces transformed English type design and first established an English national typographic style. Housed in a custom half morocco clamshell box.

Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) was the first attempt to apply principles of Locke’s empirical psychology to a theory of knowledge. In this and his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume stands as a leading voice in the school of Utilitarianism, “the most influential and longest continuing tradition in English speaking moral philosophy… marked by a long line of brilliant writers” that includes Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Hume’s Enquiry importantly explores “how we make moral judgments… the ‘mechanism’ of moral judgments. How are they made and what accounts for their content? Hume aims to be the ‘Newton of the Passions.’ In contrast to Locke, he does not present a normative system of principles founded on the Laws of Nature… [but] the role it plays in social life and in establishing social unity and mutual understanding… What Hume is trying to do is explain the fact that we agree… On Hume’s view there is only one possible basis, and that is one that appeals to our principle of humanity… the psychological tendency we have to identify with the interests and concerns of others when our own interests do not come into competition with them” (Rawls 162, 177-87). An Enquiry was, in Hume’s own opinion, “Of all my writings incomparably the best” (Autobiography). The influence of Utilitarianism as furthered by Hume was immense: “He may be regarded as the acutest thinker in Great Britain of the 18th century” (DNB).

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