David Hume was born in Edinburgh to a minor Scottish noble family, raised at the estate of Ninewells, and attended the University of Edinburgh for two years until he was 15. Although his family wished him to study law, he found himself unsuited to this. He studied at home, tried business briefly, and after receiving a small inheritance traveled to France, settling at La Fleche, where Descartes had gone to school. There he completed his first and major philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739--40), published in three volumes. Hume claimed on the title page that he was introducing the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects, and further that he was offering a new way of seeing the limits of human knowledge. Although his work was largely ignored, Hume gained from it a reputation as a philosophical skeptic and an opponent of traditional religion. (In later years he was called "the great infidel.") This reputation led to his being rejected for professorships at both Edinburgh and Glasgow. To earn his living he served variously as the secretary to General St. Clair, as the attendant to the mad Marquis of Annandale, and as the keeper of the Advocates Library in Edinburgh. While holding these positions, he wrote and published a new version of his philosophy, the two Enquiries, and many essays on social, political, moral, and literary subjects. He also began his six-volume History of England from the Roman Invasion to the Glorious Revolution (1754--62), the work that made him most famous in his lifetime. Hume retired from public life and settled in Edinburgh, where he was the leading figure in Scottish letters and a good friend to many of the leading intellectuals of the time, including Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin. During this period, he completed the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which he had been working on for more than 25 years. Hume first worked on the Dialogues in the middle of his career, but put them aside as too provocative. In his last years he finished them and they were published posthumously in 1779. They are probably his best literary effort and have been the basis for continuous discussion and debate among philosophers of religion. Toward the end of Hume's life, his philosophical work began to be taken seriously, and the skeptical problems he had raised were tackled by philosophers in Scotland, France, and finally Germany, where Kant claimed that Hume had awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers. Hume was one of the most influential philosophers of modern times, both as a positive force on skeptical and empirical thinkers and as a philosopher to be refuted by others. Interpreters are still arguing about whether he should be seen as a complete skeptic, a partial skeptic, a precursor of logical positivism, or even a secret believer.
Sartre is the dominant figure in post-war French intellectual life. A graduate of the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure with an agregation in philosophy, Sartre has been a major figure on the literary and philosophical scenes since the late 1930s. Widely known as an atheistic proponent of existentialism, he emphasized the priority of existence over preconceived essences and the importance of human freedom. In his first and best novel, Nausea (1938), Sartre contrasted the fluidity of human consciousness with the apparent solidity of external reality and satirized the hypocrisies and pretensions of bourgeois idealism. Sartre's theater is also highly ideological, emphasizing the importance of personal freedom and the commitment of the individual to social and political goals. His first play, The Flies (1943), was produced during the German occupation, despite its underlying message of defiance. One of his most popular plays is the one-act No Exit (1944), in which the traditional theological concept of hell is redefined in existentialist terms. In Red Gloves (Les Mains Sales) (1948), Sartre examines the pragmatic implications of the individual involved in political action through the mechanism of the Communist party and a changing historical situation. His highly readable autobiography, The Words (1964), tells of his childhood in an idealistic bourgeois Protestant family and of his subsequent rejection of his upbringing. Sartre has also made significant contributions to literary criticism in his 10-volume Situations (1947--72) and in works on Baudelaire, Genet, and Flaubert. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and refused it, saying that he always declined official honors.At the time of his death in 2003, Bernard Williams was hailed by the Times as 'the outstanding moral philosopher of his age.' Bernard Williams taught at the Universities of Cambridge, Berkeley and Oxford. He is the author of Morality; Utlitarianism: For and Against; Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry and Truth and Truthfulness, and Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. In 2006 three volumes of his collected papers were published by Princeton University Press.