Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Miren Boehm

Committee Members

William Bristow, Nataliya Palatnik


Hume, Scepticism


At the end of Book I of the Treatise, David Hume identifies a dilemma that has him ready to abandon philosophy. We have no choice, he suggests, between (1) a “false reason” that leads to “errors, absurdities, and obscurities,” and (2) no reason at all, a paralysis of self-doubt that ends in “total scepticism.” In the last two decades, the “Title Principle” has recast the debate around how Hume is able to continue with philosophy in the face of this dilemma. Per its proponents, the Title Principle is Hume’s “answer” to the dilemma, an articulation of the sort of reasoning we can accept in spite of it. In this paper, I contest that view and advance a novel account of how Hume addresses the dilemma. I argue that Hume does not solve the dilemma, but rather suggests that the intractability of the dilemma teaches us how to proceed when we are inclined, as Hume says most of us inevitably are, to inquire beyond common life and into the underlying nature of reality. That is, the intractability of the dilemma teaches us how to do philosophy: by employing “sceptical principles” that anticipate what Hume would later call, in the first Enquiry, “mitigated scepticism.”

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