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A strange and anonymous pamphlet was published in 1740 and the ensuing quest to determine its authorship has, several centuries later, given rise to an intriguing and fascinating series of events. This has unfolded through detailed and meticulous bibliophilic analyses and have generated heated and controversial debate about the identity of the author of the pamphlet. The protagonists in this intellectual adventure are two celebrated economists - John Maynard Keynes and Piero Sraffa – who both lived and taught in Cambridge and were united by a close intellectual relationship as well as a profound friendship. And, naturally, a further major protagonist is David Hume himself, who is discovered to have been the nameless author of the pamphlet. The reconstruction of this intriguing episode, put forward in this compact and highly readable book, offers the opportunity to revisit the original Introduction on which the two Cambridge economists placed their joint signatures. It was published by Cambridge University Press in 1938, in an edition that also featured the facsimile text of Hume’s short essay, which had lain in obscurity for almost two hundred years. Today, the pamphlet is reproduced in The Enigma of the Treatise.
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ISBN: 9781909287433
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The Enigma of the Treatise

The Enigma of the Treatise

An intriguing bibliophilic adventure

The anonymous, mysterious eighteenth-century pamphlet and its attribution to David Hume by virtue of the work of Keynes and Sraffa

With an Appendix containing the text of An Abstract of a Book lately Published; entituled, A Treatise of Human Nature, &c.

Gianfranco Dioguardi

Chartridge Books Oxford

Hexagon House

Avenue 4

Station Lane


Oxford OX28 4BN, UK

Tel: +44(0) 1865 598888


This book was originally published in Italy by Donzelli Editore under the title L’Enigma Del Trattato

copyright © 2011 Donzelli Editore

ISBN paperback: 978-1-909287-40-2

ISBN digital (pdf): 978-1-909287-41-9

ISBN digital book (epub): 978-1-909287-43-3

ISBN digital book (mobi): 978-1-909287-42-6

© G. Dioguardi (English language version) 2013

The right of G. Dioguardi to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data: a catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

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Printed in the UK and USA

English language translation by Rachel Costa


1   A few opening remarks

2   Prelude

3   The quirks of chance

4   The protagonists of an unusual adventure

5   An intricate and intriguing story

6   Lo and behold, other copies of the Abstract materialize

7   The investigation performed by Keynes and Sraffa

8   Revisiting the Introduction by John Maynard Keynes and Piero Sraffa

9   A few doubts arise concerning the true authorship of the Abstract

Notes and References


About the author

Gianfranco Dioguardi is a former Full Professor of the Politecnico University of Bari (Italy), where he taught economics and business organisation.

He is the author of numerous articles and books (published in Italy, France, English-speaking countries and Germany) on management organisation and entrepreneurship. He has also cultivated a lifelong interest in the world of ideas in the broad sense, with particular reference to history, philosophy, science and bibliophily. In this context he has published important essays on the eighteenth century – the Century of Enlightenment – and recently, in 2010, a book entitled Network Enterprises, which came out in English, as part of the Springer ‘Innovation, Technology and Knowledge Management’ series.

He has received several decorations: a gold medal bestowed on him by the President of the Italian Republic in 1996 upon the proposal of the Minister of Education, for meritorious achievement in Education, Culture and Art, and in 2001 upon nomination by the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific and Technological Research, for outstanding merit in Science and Culture; in 1989 he was awarded the Order of Merit for Labour, becoming Cavaliere del Lavoro of the Italian Republic, and in 2004 he was dignified with the title of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur of the French Republic.


A few opening remarks

It was certainly the magical intellectual atmosphere pervading the halls of the University of Cambridge that made this story possible. Its main protagonists – John Maynard Keynes (Cambridge, 5 June 1883 – Tilton, 21 April 1946) and Piero Sraffa (Turin, 5 August 1898 – Cambridge, 3 September 1983) spent the most significant years of their lives in Cambridge, enjoying the pleasure of this delightful centuries-old town in the United Kingdom, where the joys of the human dimension still endure.

Cambridge has scarcely more than a hundred thousand inhabitants and it was not until 1951 that it was granted the status of city, a standing the town had previously been denied as it lacked the appropriate prerequisite, namely a cathedral. But its origins date back many centuries, to the first century AD, when the Roman legions established a military encampment in the area. The very special atmosphere that permeates this small university town is certainly to some extent a legacy of its strikingly variegated history, which featured Saxons, Vikings, Normans and assorted other peoples among its protagonists. But Cambridge also