David Hume and slavery

Dr Felix Waldmann, 2016 Hume Fellow at IASH, has written a fascinating piece in The Scotsman exploring David Hume's connections with slavery and his views on race. Felix highlights his discovery of "an unknown letter of March 1766 by Hume, in which he encouraged his patron Lord Hertford to purchase a slave plantation in Grenada. This is the only surviving evidence of Hume’s involvement in the slave trade". He also points out that the letter was unknown to scholars until published in his 2014 book Further Letters of David Hume.

The full article is available on The Scotsman website:

Eighteenth-century Scotland was a racist society. Many of its most prominent figures were direct beneficiaries of the slave trade. Scotland in general reaped the advantages of slavery in Britain’s colonies. It could be argued that holding Hume to the standard of a later age would be unfair. We should acknowledge, instead, that Hume could not criticise racism and slavery without upsetting social conventions.

But this argument is absurd. Hume was a genius by the standards of the 18th century. He was not deferential to convention. In fact, he was the antonym of convention. He was sufficiently wealthy in 1766 not to assist in this scheme. And he was aware of the widespread denunciation of slavery by his contemporaries, including in books by his friends and correspondents. Anyone with Hume’s intelligence would recognise the enormity of slavery. But Hume sought to benefit from it.