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Was Hume An Atheist?

From: Hume Studies
Volume 19, Number 1, April 1993
pp. 141-166 | 10.1353/hms.2011.0401

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1. "Of Miracles," and "Of a particular Providence and of a future State." Other relevant works include the essays "Of Superstition and Enthusiasm," "On Suicide," and "On the Immortality of the Soul."

2. See, for example, Antony Flew, The Presumption of Atheism (London, 1976), 52.

3. Timothy A. Mitchell, David Hume's Anti-Theistic Views (Lanham, MD, 1986).

4. Nelson Pike, ed., Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Indianapolis, 1970), 222-38. Also J. C. A. Gaskin, Hume's Philosophy of Religion, 2d ed. (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1988), 130.

5. James Noxon, "Hume's Agnosticism," in Hume, ed. V. C. Chappell (Garden City, N.Y., 1966), 361-83.

6. John Valdimir Price, The Ironic Hume (Austin, 1965), 152.

7. Keith E. Yandell, "Hume on Religious Belief," in Hume: A Re-Evaluation, ed. Donald W. Livingston and James T. King (New York, 1976), 109.

8. Except, possibly, for those who believe in original sin!

9. William L. Rowe, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction (Dickenson, 1978), 14.

10. The term is borrowed from William L. Rowe, "Evil and the Theistic Hypothesis: A Response to Wykstra," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16 (1984): 95. Rowe contrasts "standard theism" with "expanded theism" and "restricted theism," but the latter do not correspond to my distinction between "extended theism" and "limited theism."

11. David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith (Indianapolis, 1947), 57 (hereafter cited as "D"). Hume's friends were probably concerned lest the work's anti-religious tone alienate its readers and so set back the author's growing literary reputation.

12. For an account of the difficulties Hume encountered in arranging for its publication, see Ernest C. Mossner, The Life of David Hume, 2d ed. (Oxford, 1980), 592-93.

13. For an historical overview of the role of the argument from design in eighteenth century science, see Robert H. Hurlbutt, Hume, Newton, and the Design Argument, rev. ed. (Lincoln, NB, 1985).

14. For Hume's own statement, see the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, sec. 12, pt. 3.

15. The phrase is quoted from Richard Wollheim, ed. Hume on Religion (Cleveland, 1969), 25. Wollheim insists, however, that "Hume never called himself an atheist, nor thought of himself as one."

16. See, for example, Alvin Plantinga's reply to J. L. Mackie in God, Freedom and Evil (Grand Rapids, 1977), 12-55.

17. John Valdimir Price maintains that the choice of the name "Philo" for the sceptic in the Dialogues was not accidental, since Philo (160-80 B.C.) was the founder of the so-called fourth Academy and academic philosophy had become synonymous with sceptical philosophy.

18. David Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, 3d ed., rev., ed. P. H. Nidditch (Oxford, 1975), 136 (hereafter cited as "E").

19. David Hume, Natural History of Religion, in The Philosophical Works, ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, 4 vols. (Darmstadt, 1964), 4:309 (hereafter cited as "NHR").

20. David Hume, The Letters of David Hume, ed. J. Y. T. Grieg, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1932), 1:154 (hereafter cited as Letters).

21. Boswell Papers, 12:227. Quoted in Mossner, The Life of David Hume (above, n. 12), 517.

22. See Richard H. Popkin, "David Hume: His Pyrrhonism and His Critique of Pyrrhonism," in The High Road to Pyrrhonism, ed. Richard A. Watson and James E. Force (San Diego, 1980), 103-31.

23. Quoted in Norman Kemp Smith, "Hume's Views Regarding Religion in General," in Dialogues, 22.

24. Ernest C. Mossner, "Hume and the Legacy of the Dialogues," in David Hume: Bicentenary Papers ed. G. P. Morice (Edinburgh, 1977), 18.

25. Dialogues, 24.

26. Job 42:2-6.

27. See A. J. Ayer, "Introduction," in Language, Truth and Logic, 2d ed. (New York, 1946).

28. What philosopher's thought does not undergo development and modification over time? I assume that Hume's thought is coherent if his central tenets, as expressed in his mature work, are not incoherent.

29. John Stuart Mill, Three Essays on Religion (AMS Press, 1970), 195.

30. So far this story leaves open the possibility that the being in question is only your amanuensis, and that you...

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