Chirnside Philosphy Festival will honour village’s world famous son

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THE village of Chirnside is hosting a Philosophy Festival on Saturday, April 30, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of its world famous son, the philosopher David Hume.

“David Hume is the greatest British philosopher,” asserts Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, “and perhaps, along with Socrates, the most loved of philosophers anywhere.”

If however you still need impressed by this great man and thinker, consider his line in Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Song: “David Hume could out-consume Schopenhauer and Hegel.”

Why should we care about this genial genius, described by the economist Adam Smith as “approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human frailty will admit”?

Why must we honour this lion of the Scottish Enlightenment, that so-called Age of Reason and great flowering of ideas in the eighteenth century?

Well, because David Hume was a Borderer: he grew up on the family home at Ninewells Farm in Chirnside – not far from his friend, the Berwickshire farmer and ‘father of geology’, James Hutton. What’s more April 26, 2011, is the 300th anniversary of his birth.

David Hume isn’t Berwickshire’s only great philosopher - Duns Scotus, ‘the subtle doctor’, and unjustly the origin of the word ‘dunce’, was born in Duns almost 450 years before.

Hume’s statue may guard the gates of the High Court in Scotland’s capital, opposite the Heart of Midlothian and St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile, but there’s no mark to him in the land or village where he came from.

Locals can be rightly proud of their world famous son, yet few in Berwickshire, the Borders, or even in Scotland know who Hume was, or what made him great. Hume and philosophy are subjects too rarely made accessible to the public.

Philosophy occupies 100 or so professionals in Scottish universities at any one time, yet what they do all day is rarely explained to the people outside. And Hume is the perfect teacher.

Described by Oxford professor Sir Isaiah Berlin as “the clearest and most revolutionary of British philosophers”, Hume wrote in an elegant, everyday language everyone could understand, about ideas and arguments which still provoke today.

Therefore the inspiration behind the Borders’ philosophy festival, organised by Chirnside Common Good Association, in collaboration with Edinburgh University is to open up the subjects of David Hume and philosophy to all ages of the public.

The group is also seizing the opportunity presented by the tercentenary to create a plaque and information panel in Chirnside to mark the village’s connection to the great man.

In the philosophy festival’s programme of events, Roderick Graham, author of Hume’s biography The Great Infidel, will reveal to audiences Hume the man, life and legacy, while an exhibition in Chirnside Community Hall will explore Hume’s story in the Borders, as well as village life in Georgian Chirnside.

Philosophers from Scotland’s universities will be on hand to explain and debate Hume’s famous sayings.

A series of thinking walks called ‘Border Brains’, including a new David Hume Walk in Chirnside, will also be launched at the festival, to guide locals and visitors through the ideas and lives of Berwickshire’s geniuses, and the beautiful landscape.

Children are natural philosophers, always questioning adults’ assumptions. So pupils at Borders high schools will compete for a new David Hume Essay Prize, championing the virtues of free thought and argument.

The winner will be announced at the festival on April 30, when Chirnside Primary School will also be performing a commemorative play about the life and philosophy of David Hume.

The philosophy festival in Chirnside, takes place on April 30, will then be followed by an ‘Enlightenment Evening’ at nearby Paxton House, featuring talks on Scotland’s Enlightenment and the Borderers who helped shape the modern world, such as James Hutton.

Guests can also dine at a Georgian banquet, serving recipes from Mrs Cleland’s Scottish Cookery: a cookbook written in 1755 during Hume’s lifetime, and republished by Paxton House for use in its Georgian kitchen.

The festivals’ organisers are also calling for your help, to involve as many interested and enthusiastic people as possible.

While library shelves creak under the weight of studies on Hume’s philosophy, there are big gaps in oabout Hume’s life in the Borders.

If you have any research or anecdotes to contribute about David Hume, or if you have any ideas about how to engage more people in his tercentenary celebrations, all are welcome at a public meeting at 7pm on Wednesday, February 2, in the Red Lion in Chirnside.

Perhaps you’d also like to volunteer to help organise a part of the philosophy festival?

The group also hopes local businesses, such as pubs and cafes, will also come along to share ideas about how they can best to attract extra custom on the day.

If you’re keen to help but can’t make the public meeting, please feel free to email

The full programme of events will be published on March 1. All events will be free, but tickets to the Georgian banquet will cost around £20.

Tickets will also be available via by March 1.

Edinburgh University’s year of David Hume tercentenary events at