footThe Sunday Times recently asked me to nominate a piece of art that I found inspirational. I went for one of the most annoying statues ever. Discover why after the break.

David Hume was one of the world’s greatest philosophers. One of his most famous works deals with superstition, with Hume arguing that philosophical reason can act as an ‘antidote’ to superstitious thinking and religious belief.

In 1997, the good folk of Edinburgh arranged for a wonderful nine foot statue of Hume to be positioned on the High Street. That’s good.

180px-david_hume_statueHowever, the sculptor, Sandy Stoddar, deliberately stuck Hume’s big toe out over the plinth so that the public would be tempted to touch it. That’s OK, I guess.

Then, for the past few years, philosophy students from all around the world have made pilgrimages to the statue to rub Hume’s big toe, in the hope that this will bring them good luck in their exams. That is bad, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Hume would have hated it.

Not only that, the volume of touching is now having a serious effect on the statue, such that Hume runs the risk of losing a toe.

So, here is my plan. We all start a rumour that touching the toe brings bad luck, and that many of the people who have rubbed it have failed their exams and died in mysterious circumstances. Let’s fight superstition with superstition and help restore Hume’s dignity in his hour of need.


  1. There’s statue of John Harvard, the founder of Harvard University in Harvard Yard, and many tourists who visit rub the toe for good luck. If only they knew of the alternative good luck ritual of the many students of peeing on the toe at some point during your four years of study!

  2. My high school was named for Phillips Brooks, author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. There was a statue of him in the hall, and we all used to shine his nose for good luck. It worked for me. I graduated and was able to leave.

  3. But you’re just sinking to the same level as the superstitionists. Sheesh, I’m confused. And there I was thinking you were an out-and-out skeptic stubbornly maintaining the very real possibility of real knowledge, just like a true modern-day science hero.

  4. No, I think you should start a rumour that the good luck has spread to the rest of the statue. That way, the tarnish will be cleaned up, saving the Appendage Restoration Society of Excellence some money and time.

  5. Richard, if you’re serious about spreading the anti-rumour about Hume’s statue I could include it on my weekend history tours. We stop near to Hume’s statue to discuss Deacon Brodie whose workshop is opposite-ish.

    I wouln’t even have to lie outright, I’m fairly sure that since its erection in 1997 many people who have touched it have died in completely unrealted incidents, but worded correctly people will be left with the idea the deaths are connected even if they’re not.


  6. Add the nose (or, rather, the NOSE) of Sir Moses Montefiore, Bart, whose bust decorates a niche in Montefiore Hospital (Medical Center? – I’ve seen it refered to both ways) on Gunhill Road in the Bronx, New York, New York. I don’t have a photo, but his NOSE is thoroughly polished: it seems that rubbing it brings the rubber good luck.

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