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date: 16 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

David Hume in a notorious footnote in “Of National Characters,” in his Essays, Moral, Political and Literary, explicitly wrote that there were human races and that nonwhites were inferior to whites. The footnote has been characterized as “just an offhand comment.” However, the footnote reflects Hume’s deeper views about methodology in the sciences of man, and it can be connected to passages in Hume’s other works and to a broader Scottish and European intellectual and historical setting. Hume consistently insisted on a natural inferiority of blacks which set them apart from other races and believed that the difference between Europeans and Amerindians was a great as the difference between human beings and animals. He rejected slavery, which rendered his ideology of white supremacy enigmatic, because his rejection of geographical or climatic differences as causes meant that he could not provide a convincing causal account of what he took to be racial difference.

Keywords: David Hume, human sciences, black inferiority, geography, white supremacy

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