David Hume’s "Essays" have been forgotten. But their insights and blindspots still have much to teach us.
Thanks for your thoughtful essay on one of the most profound thinkers of our civilization. I agree with your comment
many concluded that the footnote exposed Hume’s claims to greatness as hollow, and that his whole philosophy was tainted by racist, imperialist assumptions—hence a successful campaign to have the University of Edinburgh’s David Hume Tower renamed. Though this indignation is understandable when the sentiments he expressed are so evidently rebarbative to us today, it can reveal a kind of moral arrogance on the part of the protestors, a complacent assumption that no decent person could ever possibly have expressed such sentiments
Hume's racial observations were poorly-substantiated perhaps even for his time, and reflected a world-view we now find obnoxious, repellent, and dangerous. As you rightly say, contemporary indignation ignores the passage of time and changes in knowledge and values. But you say "it can reveal a kind of moral arrogance," rather than "it reveals..." which to my mind is closer to the truth.
Perhaps you're basing your opinion on a much larger corpus than the snippet you quoted (one would think so), but the snippet itself offers no basis for your discussion of it. No sentence that begins with “I am apt to suspect..." can be attacked for having insufficient supporting evidence.
It's been forty-five years, but from what I remember of Hume from my high-school Philosophy class he was among the most sensitive to the difference between what he suspected and what he 𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘸.
He may have had racist opinions by our standards, or even by the standards of his own time, but frankly a) you have nothing here to suggest that* and b) why would anyone care?
* Yes, if you consider the acceptance of the idea of race-related traits to be racism, then even his tentative opinion would define him as a racist. That's a plausible definition, too, except that let's be honest -- nobody who throws accusations of racism around nowadays thinks of it that way. They think in terms of oppression.
For some reason the word “deplorables” popped into my head reading this.
At Case in the early 60s one of my professors walked into class one day and said "today we are going to exhume Hume" and proceeded to do so. Although we were students of science and engineering, we were expected to also be open to intellectual diversity.
We see in Hume's work the questioning of democracy which no doubt lead the founders of the US to build a Republic not a Democracy. Now we suffer the consequences in the form of Donald Trump, who became president but lost the popular vote. We also see the consequences in the Supreme Court where members are confirmed by an unrepresentative body.