Decision Concerning MS “A Treatise of Human Nature”// Author: Mr David Hume, Esq.

Dear Mr Hume,

I write regarding your recently submitted MS “A Treatise of Human Nature: Being An Attempt To Introduce The Experimental Method of Reasoning Into Moral Subjects”. I regret to inform you that after receiving reviewer reports, we will not be proceeding with publication.

Thank you for considering the Review of Philosophy. I hope this does not deter you from publishing with us in future.

Referee 3

The author proposes to advance a ‘science of man’ based on ‘experience and observation’, claiming in his introduction to march up to, and even conquer, the ‘central fortress’: ‘human nature itself’. Perhaps predictably given such bold claims, the pudding lacks proof in the eating. This MS promises much, but achieves little.

Problems start in the introduction. The account of Bacon’s scientific method is a caricature, whilst the claim that human understanding can be experimentally verified in the mode of the sciences is simply assertion without fact. Moreover, the author claims a hotchpotch of recent authors – Shaftesbury, Locke, Mandeville, Butler, Hutcheson – as having put this so-called ‘science of man’ on a ‘new footing’. Yet these writers share no common method, let alone the author’s, and would all be scandalised to be put on a par with the notorious Dr. Mandeville.

Regarding the main body of the work, there are three separate projects presented here, unconvincingly run together as one unified ‘scientific’ argument. The main problems stem from the author’s idiosyncratic account of causation. The author seems to believe that causation depends not upon the facts of the physical world, but upon his own imagination. (Hardly very scientific…) This peculiar doctrine that there is no such thing as causation appears to be presupposed by the author in all his subsequent reasonings, and yet is clearly undermined by those very reasonings. The author admits that human actions have consequences and we attach moral judgements to these – is this not to re-admit causation in its most blatant form? One despairs of such self-defeating arguments. Much the same could be said of the author’s self-refuting attack upon reason, one clearly dependent upon the faculty he wishes to call into question.

The middle part of the MS is perhaps the most doggedly earnest, but by turns equally unsatisfying. The author appears to subscribe to some sort of Epicurean framework of psychology, whereby we are propelled from pains and drawn to pleasures. Pride and humility get particularly extended treatment, though I frequently failed to see the relevance of the discussion. The author goes so far as to state that entering into the debate ‘that has so much excited the curiosity of the public’ is wide of his present purposes. This seems on the one hand clearly false, and on the other frustrating: why not tell us something relevant to frontline research, rather than offering long digressions into psychological speculations that cannot be proven? As for the author’s innovation of the concept of ‘sympathy’, I fail to see how this improves upon Professor Butler’s recent work on non-egoist motivation and our correlate reasons for action.

The third part of the MS seeks to discuss moral and political questions. Altogether far too much is attempted. The best parts here relate to the claim that reason cannot motive us to moral action. Alas, these arguments border on plagiarism: they have clearly already been advanced by Mr Hutcheson in his Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections. The rest of the argument asserts that moral distinctions are a function of taste, and that politics is nothing more than a product of human opinion. What results is not a theory of morality, or a theory of politics, but a sociology of human conduct with a recommendation for good breeding. There is ultimately no normative pay-out here, so I do not see how it can be considered a contribution. (As for the claim that justice is an ‘artificial’ virtue, this is simply Hobbes’s political theory newly clothed – and false for the same well-known reasons.)

I can therefore recommend only rejection. In future, the author might help him or herself by writing in a less inaccessible manner. Shorter sentences couched in the format of easily digestible essays for a non-specialst audience might be a better vehicle for those ideas here that are worth salvaging.

Decision Concerning MS “De Motu”// Author: Bishop Berkeley

Dear Bishop Berkeley,

First I would like to thank you for your submission of the manuscript of your De Motu. I am afraid to say that we have limited space and so, given the referee report which I have attached below, we will not be able to move forward with publication at this time.


The Editor


Referee Report

The author’s manuscript purports to overturn what all right-thinking men accept to be the foundations of modern natural philosophy. It is thus not surprising that his attempt falls flat. First off, we should deal with his assertion that terms such as ‘force’ and ‘gravity’ as used by contemporary natural philosophers are in some way ‘occult’. The author has simply misunderstood modern natural philosophy. Gravity and force are not, as the author asserts, ‘abstract’ ideas at all. As we have known since Galileo, if a body is dropped from a height it will accelerate at a constant rate. This very concrete phenomenon is what we modern natural scientists call ‘gravity’. Gravity is not an abstract idea, but rather a part of God-given nature. If the author would care to consider this once again, I am sure he will see that he is in error, and has simply misunderstood the issues at play.

The author goes on to make bizarre assertions to the effect that motion is not contained in bodies themselves, but rather in the minds observing them. Does the author seek to deny the existence of reality itself? Yet it is reality that we natural philosophers deal with. It seems the author wishes to sow the seeds of scepticism and doubt in the minds of men. He should not be given the opportunity to do so in a journal for right-thinking people. Likewise, the author’s assertions that ideas of absolute space have no content seem – to this reader at least – to be more of an attempt to spread doubt and dissent, rather than to engage constructively with modern natural philosophy.

This reader was particularly disturbed by the author’s insistence that motion should not be considered independently, and should rather be thought of in relation to time and space. Newton was quite clear that motion need only be considered in terms of infinitesmals, and in thus doing so should be taken alone as our object of study. Progress in natural philosophy will continue in this direction, regardless of whether the author tries to confuse gullible men with his ideas of relative motion, time, and space. Future generations will look back on the work of modern natural philosophy, and agree that Sir Newton’s accomplishment was revealing the God-given final truths of the physical universe. Proceeding from the notion that time, motion and space are relative? One is astounded by the lack of modernism the author is prepared to countenance in his inability to understand natural philosophy.

This referee advises that the author’s manuscript not be published.

This is a guest post by Philip Pilkington