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University of Edinburgh Re-Names Building Over Namesakes 260-Year-Old Comments on Race

The University of Edinburgh has renamed a building that was dedicated to an 18th-century philosopher due to his “comments on matters of race” that “rightly cause distress today.”

Campuses should reflect “contemporary and historical diversity” and there are “sensitivities” around asking students to use a building named after David Hume, one of Scotlands most lauded philosophers, the university said in a statement on Thursday.

The David Hume Tower will be temporarily known as 40 George Square until a full review has been carried out.

The building renaming is part of the universitys diversity and race-related committees ongoing evaluation, which has been “energized” by the death in May of George Floyd in the United States, the university said.

University of Edinburgh,
University of Edinburgh,
Old College at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, which was founded in 1852, making it the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world. (Kim Traynor/Public Domain)

The committees work was also influenced by the “ongoing campaigning by the Black Lives Matter movement,” and the committees Equality and Anti-Racist Action Plan was “accelerating and amplifying” their efforts.

Pressure on the university to rename the building also came in the form of an online petition started 3 months ago and signed by over 1,800 people.

“Nobody is demanding we erase David Hume from history. However, we should not be promoting a man who championed white supremacy,” wrote Elizabeth Lund, the petitions author. “That is mutually exclusive with the goal of reducing the harm caused by racism at Edinburgh University to students of color.”

Criticism

University of Edinburgh staff as well as politicians have criticized the decision to rename the David Hume Tower.

Asanga Welikala, a lecturer in public law at Edinburgh Law School and the director of the Edinburgh Center for Constitutional Law, said that he has been inspired by Hume and doesnt agree with the re-naming decision.

“David Humes thought has inspired me throughout a 20-year career working to further constitutional democracy in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

“As an employee of Edinburgh University I was not consulted in this,” added Welikala, who is also a research fellow at the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) in Sri Lanka.

I do not agree with this decision. David Humes thought has inspired me throughout a 20 year career working to further constitutional democracy in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. As an employee of Edinburgh University I was not consulted in this. https://t.co/uRV19e052H

— Dr Asanga Welikala (@welikalaa) September 13, 2020

David Hume was an empirical philosopher born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1711, and was a leading voice, along with his friend Adam Smith, in the Scottish Enlightenment—a period that led to the development of modern economics, sociology, and linguistics.

His most famous works include “A Treatise of Human Nature” (1739–1740), “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” (1748), and “An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals “(1751), as well as the posthumously published “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” (1779).

Jonathan Hearn, a professor of political and historical sociology at the university, wrote on his blog Uneasy Essays, that Humes comments in a footnote to an essay he wrote in 1753 were “racist, offensive, and worthy of condemnation.” But he still admired him.

“Hume deserves to be criticized for this belief, and if that were all there were to him, to be largely forgotten,” Hearn said.

“But his copious writings on philosophy, history and political economy are full of profound and lasting insights into human nature and history, that do not absolve, but do outweigh this error. …

“By all means, criticize his errors, debate his ideas, and if necessary, remove his name from buildings. But he deserves to be remembered,” Hearn said.

The University of Edinburgh said, despite the renaming and the coincidental discontinuation of the David Hume Fellowship, they were committed to “scholarship, teaching and learning around David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment.”

Wrong to be Ashamed

Maurice Golden, the Scottish Conservative culture spokesman, told The Telegraph that “David Hume is one of the greatest and most influential Scots in history.”

“Its wrong to suddenly be ashamed of someone who is clearly not known across the world for his links to the abhorrent slave trade. He is globally renowned as a philosopher and thinker,” he said.

Golden also called for “a more reasonable, mature, debate about the rights and wrongs of the past.”

“We can proudly respect our history and recognize when people got it very wrong at the same time,” he said.

“This decision does not do that.”

In a tweet, Conservative Member of Parliament Neil OBrien also spoke out strongly against The University of Edinburghs decision, calling it a “cowardly, stupid, craven, pathetic, spineless, dumb thing to do.”

The University of Edinburgh is a member of the Russell Group, a group of 24 top UK universities.

A spokesperson for the group told The Epoch Times in an email that “Our members are autonomous institutions and take their own decisions on these matters.”

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