David Hartley

David Hartley (1705–1757), the son of a Yorkshire clergyman, had completed his training as a minister at the University of Cambridge before an interest in biology caused him to seek a career as a physi- cian. Hartley remained deeply religious all his life, believing that understanding natural phenomena increased one’s faith in God. It took several years for Hartley to write his long and difficult Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749). This ponderous book is divided into two parts; the first part (concerning the human frame) contains his contributions to psychology, and the second (concerning the duty and expectations of humans) is almost totally theological.

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Hartley’s Goal. Although Hartley’s Observa- tions appeared several years after Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature (1739–1740), Hartley had been working on his book for many years and appears not to have been influenced by Hume. His two major influences were Locke and Newton. Hartley accepted Newton’s contention that nerves are solid (not hollow, as Descartes had believed) and that sensory experience caused vibrations in the

Hume’s Influence. Like Locke, Hume vastly increased the importance of what we now call psychology. In fact, he reduced politics, philosophy, religion, and science to psychology. Everything that humans know is learned from experience. All beliefs are simply expectations that events that have been correlated in the past will remain correlated in the future. Such beliefs are not rationally determined, nor can they be rationally defended. They result from experience, and we can have faith only that what we learned from experience will be applicable to the future. According to Hume then, humans can be certain of nothing. It is for this reason that Hume is sometimes referred to as the supreme Skeptic.

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