Sunday, February 28, 2010

David Hume on Religion (Index)

Not only was Hume one of the greatest philosophers of all time, he also seems to have been a great guy. You certainly get that impression on reading about his jovial attitude towards his own demise in Boswell or in letters from his close friend Adam Smith. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if I could aspire to be like anyone it would be David Hume.

Apart from the unhealthy adoration which his writings instill in me (one should never really aspire to be like another), Hume was perhaps the quintessential religious sceptic. He articulated a devastating critique of religious belief that remains cogent to this day. 

If you are yet to read the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion then you are seriously missing out. I always like to imagine myself a participant at the after dinner conversation imagined therein. Nothing can beat that: good food, congenial surroundings, intelligent companions and intelligent debate. Actually one thing can beat that: when you "win" the debate with a combination of wit, charm, logic and evidence (in that order).

Hume's religious critique was a total critique. Like everything that he did, Hume approached religion with the equivalent of an intellectual pincer movement. The first arm of the pincer took on the arguments in favour of religious belief. In particular, Hume targeted the design argument, the argument from revelation and miracles, and the argument from morality. The second arm of the pincer tried to explain the persistence of religious belief in psychological and cultural terms.

I want to give an overview of Hume's attack on religion in the next few posts. To help me accomplish this, I will rely on the article "Hume on Religion" by J. C. A. Gaskin in the wonderful Cambridge Companion to Hume.

Gaskin's article is divided into two main sections. The first section covers the terminology, structure and interpretation of Hume's critique; the second section gives a summary of Hume's main arguments against religious belief. I will follow Gaskin's order in subsequent entries.


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