Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

"A Treatise of Human Nature" explores the nature of human understanding and reasoning.


"A Treatise of Human Nature" is a philosophical work by Scottish philosopher David Hume, first published in 1739-1740. This influential book presents Hume's comprehensive system of philosophical thought, covering a wide range of topics including human nature, morality, and the nature of knowledge. Hume's work has had a profound impact on the development of modern philosophy and continues to be studied and debated by scholars and philosophers.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

"A Treatise of Human Nature" is divided into three books: "Of the Understanding," "Of the Passions," and "Of Morals." In Book 1, Hume explores the nature of ideas and impressions, arguing that all of our mental content can be categorized into these two types. Book 2 delves into the nature of emotions and moral sentiments, while Book 3 discusses the foundations of morality and justice.


The book is set within the context of Enlightenment-era Europe, a period of intellectual and cultural flourishing. Hume's ideas were shaped by the scientific and philosophical developments of the time, and his work reflects the spirit of inquiry and rationalism that characterized the Enlightenment.

Main Characters

David HumeThe author and philosopher whose ideas and arguments form the basis of the book.

Story Points Over Chapters

Book 1: Of the Understanding

Chapter 1: Of the Origin of Our Ideas

Hume begins by examining the origin and classification of ideas, distinguishing between impressions and ideas. He argues that all ideas are ultimately derived from sensory impressions.

Chapter 2: Division of the Sciences

This chapter explores the relationship between philosophy and the sciences, emphasizing the importance of empirical observation and experience in the pursuit of knowledge.

Chapter 3: Of the Association of Ideas

Hume discusses the principle of association, suggesting that ideas are linked in the mind through various associative relationships such as resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect.

Book 2: Of the Passions

Chapter 1: Of Pride and Humility

Hume examines the nature of pride and humility, considering the psychological and social factors that contribute to these emotions.

Chapter 2: Of Love and Hatred

This chapter explores the emotions of love and hatred, investigating their underlying causes and the role of social interactions in shaping these passions.

Chapter 3: Of the Will and Direct Passions

Hume discusses the relationship between the will and human passions, considering how the will is influenced by our desires and emotions.

Book 3: Of Morals

Chapter 1: Of Moral Distinctions

Hume begins by examining the nature of moral distinctions, arguing that moral judgments are based on sentiment rather than reason.

Chapter 2: Of Benevolence and Anger

This chapter explores the moral sentiments of benevolence and anger, considering their role in shaping our moral evaluations and behavior.

Chapter 3: Of the Origin of the Natural Virtues

Hume investigates the origins of natural virtues such as benevolence, justice, and honesty, considering how these virtues are cultivated in society.

Main Events

  1. Hume's exploration of the distinction between ideas and impressions.
  2. The discussion of the association of ideas and its role in shaping human thought.
  3. The examination of various human passions such as pride, love, and the will.
  4. The exploration of moral distinctions and the origins of natural virtues.

Themes and Insights


  1. Empiricism: Hume's emphasis on the role of sensory experience and observation in shaping human knowledge and understanding.
  2. Moral Sentiment: The idea that moral judgments are based on emotional sentiment rather than rational principles.
  3. Association of Ideas: The influence of associative relationships on human thought and mental processes.


  • Hume's exploration of the limitations of human knowledge and the role of experience in shaping our understanding.
  • The examination of moral sentiments and their implications for ethics and moral philosophy.
  • The significance of the association of ideas in shaping human cognition and mental life.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Treatise of Human Nature" offers readers a thought-provoking exploration of human understanding, emotions, and morality. Hume's work challenges readers to reconsider the foundations of knowledge and ethics, inviting them to critically examine the nature of their beliefs and sentiments.


In conclusion, "A Treatise of Human Nature" stands as a seminal work in the history of philosophy, presenting a comprehensive and influential system of thought that continues to be studied and debated. Hume's insights into human understanding and morality have left a lasting impact on the development of modern philosophy, making this book essential reading for anyone interested in the complexities of human nature and the foundations of knowledge and morality.

A Treatise of Human Nature FAQ

  1. What is 'A Treatise of Human Nature' about?

    A Treatise of Human Nature is a philosophical work by David Hume that explores the nature of human understanding, morality, and the principles of human nature.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Treatise of Human Nature'?

    The author of 'A Treatise of Human Nature' is David Hume, a Scottish philosopher and historian known for his influential works in the fields of empiricism and skepticism.

  3. What are the main themes of 'A Treatise of Human Nature'?

    The main themes of 'A Treatise of Human Nature' include epistemology, ethics, and the nature of human passions and emotions.

  4. Is 'A Treatise of Human Nature' a challenging read?

    Yes, 'A Treatise of Human Nature' can be a challenging read due to its complex philosophical ideas and arguments. It is recommended for readers with an interest in philosophy and a willingness to engage with dense material.

  5. What is the historical significance of 'A Treatise of Human Nature'?

    A Treatise of Human Nature is considered one of the most important works in the history of philosophy, as it had a significant impact on the development of empiricist and skeptical thought.