In his book History of Western Philosophy, which was first published in 1946, Bertrand Russell devoted some space to the philosophical legacy of David Hume. Russell no doubt over-rated the cogency of the arguments put forward by Hume, who in recent years has been plausibly categorised as “a brilliant sophist”. However, it is worthwhile to contemplate the predicament into which — according to Russell — Hume’s work has plunged both philosophy and science, and to realise how the present situation of those who adhere to traditional beliefs may be worse than the predicament that Russell imagined.
The growth of unreason throughout the nineteenth century and what has passed of the twentieth is a natural sequel to Hume’s destruction of empiricism.
It is therefore important to discover whether there is any answer to Hume within the framework of a philosophy that is wholly or mainly empirical. If not, there is no intellectual difference between sanity and insanity. The lunatic who believes that he is a poached egg is to be condemned solely on the ground that he is in a minority, or rather — since we must not assume democracy — on the ground that the Government does not agree with him.
But what if the Government does agree with him?