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Uncovering the Untold Stories Behind Our City's Statues: David Hume Statue

Please be advised that this article contains quotes that were prevalent at the time and may contain racist language. We do not condone or promote the use of such language, but we believe it is essential to provide a comprehensive historical context. Reader discretion is advised.


Introduction:

(licensed to SEMPER Scotland for personal and commercial use)
David Hume Statue and St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland

The statue of David Hume in Edinburgh commemorates the influential Scottish philosopher and Enlightenment thinker. However, Hume's views on race and his opinions regarding African people have sparked significant controversy and raised questions about the statue's representation. This report addresses the statue's significance and Hume's controversial racist views.

Hume's Racist Views:

It is essential to acknowledge that David Hume held racially biased beliefs that are widely considered unacceptable today. In his essay "Of National Characters," he expressed discriminatory views about different races and argued that Africans were inherently inferior to white Europeans. These views, prevalent during the 18th century, were influenced by prevailing social and intellectual attitudes that justified and perpetuated racism and white supremacy.

Here are a few examples of David Hume's quotes on race:

"I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds), to be naturally inferior to the whites." (From a letter to the historian and philosopher George Home, dated 1753)

"I am apt to suspect the Negroes and, in general, all other species of men, to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white." (From "Of National Characters," an essay by Hume)


These quotes demonstrate Hume's racist views, claiming the innate inferiority of non-white races. It is essential to critically evaluate such statements within the historical context of colonialism, slavery, and prevalent scientific and philosophical theories that perpetuated racial hierarchies. Notably, these views have been widely criticised and are not representative of current societal values and understanding of race and equality.

Representation and Debate:

The presence of the David Hume statue in Edinburgh raises contentious debates about whether public monuments should represent individuals who hold deeply problematic and discriminatory views. On one hand, some argue that removing such statues would involve erasing a historical figure and his contributions to philosophy. On the other hand, proponents of the statue's removal contend that it is inappropriate to honour someone whose beliefs perpetuated racial discrimination and supported the dehumanisation of others.

Reevaluating Historical Figures:

As societies evolve and develop a greater understanding of systemic racism and its impact, there is a growing call for a reassessment of historical figures and their commemoration. This discourse urges a more nuanced approach that acknowledges the positive contributions of individuals like Hume and the ethical implications of their discriminatory views.

Moving Forward:

In considering the David Hume statue and its controversies, engaging in open and honest discussions about the complex legacies of historical figures is crucial. This includes acknowledging Hume's racist views while recognising his more comprehensive contributions and intellectual influence. Furthermore, addressing the statue's representation can take various forms, such as adding plaques providing context, commissioning additional artwork, or promoting educational initiatives to ensure a balanced understanding of the past.

Conclusion:

The David Hume statue in Edinburgh reminds us of the philosopher's notable contributions to Western philosophy. However, it is essential to confront and acknowledge his racist views, particularly regarding African people and the controversies they engender. It is crucial to approach historical figures like David Hume holistically, acknowledging their contributions and shortcomings while fostering ongoing conversations about the consequences and implications of their beliefs.

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