HE is generally reckoned to be Scotland’s greatest philosopher and one of the world’s leading thinkers.

But before the rise of Black Lives Matter and the toppling of statues, it is likely that few Scots suspected David Hume was guilty of making racist statements.

The author of a A Treatise of Human Nature and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding was one of the greatest figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, but once wrote a footnote to an essay stating “I am apt to suspect the negroes, and in general all the other species of men … to be naturally inferior to the whites.”

Admittedly that was in the middle of the 18th century, and the Aberdeen Philosophical Society took him to task at the time, writing: “Learn, Mr Hume, to prize the blessings of liberty and education, for … had you been born and bred a slave, your genius, whatever you may think of it, would never have been heard of.”

Last year Edinburgh University announced that it was going to rename the David Hume Tower in the centre of the capital after the killing of George Floyd sparked international action against historic racism – though they could possibly have thought of a better name than just 40 George Square.

The university said at the time: “It is important that campuses, curricula and communities reflect both the university’s contemporary and historical diversity and engage with its institutional legacy across the world. For this reason the university has taken the decision to re-name – initially temporarily until a full review is completed – one of the buildings in the Central Area campus.

“From the start of the new academic year the David Hume Tower will be known as 40 George Square. The university has never played any part in the naming of the space where the building sits, which has been known as George Square since the 1700s.

“The interim decision has been taken because of the sensitivities around asking students to use a building named after the 18th century philosopher whose comments on matters of race, though not uncommon at the time, rightly cause distress today.”

The issue of the re-naming has rumbled on for months and now a high-powered panel will discuss the matter in an online event to be held on January 22, from 3pm to 5pm.

Scotland’s leading historian Professor Sir Tom Devine, the Sir William Fraser professor emeritus of Scottish history and palaeography at the university, will be joined by colleagues Thomas Ahnert, professor of intellectual history in Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology; Mazviita Chirimuuta, senior lecturer in philosophy at the university; and Tommy Curry, an American scholar, author and professor of philosophy.

Also taking part on the panel will be Elizabeth Lund, a third-year student of Norwegian and history, whose original petition helped bring about the name change.

Professor Devine told The National: "In my contribution to the debate I will focus on the performance of the senior management of the university during the David Hume Tower affair and the reputational damage to the institution which might have been caused by the affair.

“As a former deputy principal myself at Strathclyde in the 1990s, I am intrigued by their response to the challenges they faced.

“Until the event, however, I will keep my powder dry – though will not pull any punches on the day!”

The event is free but you must register on Eventbrite to take part.