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Hume Studies Volume XX, Number 1, April 1994, pp. 3-18 Hume: Second Newton of the Moral Sciences JANE L. McINTYRE The subtitle of A Treatise of Human Nature declares that work to be "An Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects."1 In the light of this expressed intent, and in recognition of the evident influence of Newtonianism on Hume's thought,2 many commentators have echoed the judgment that Hume's ambition was to be "the Newton of the moral sciences."3 A problem with this interpretation of the Treatise, however , is that there already was at least one prominent exponent of Newtonianism who could lay claim to that title—the rationalist Samuel Clarke. Philosophers writing on Hume often consider Clarke only as an exemplar of the ethical rationalism attacked by Hume in the opening section of Book III of the Treatise, but Clarke's credentials as a Newtonian were impeccable. Although he translated Rohault's popular textbook on Cartesian physics into Latin, Clarke's notes on the text introduced readers to Newton's system. By the third edition of 1710 Clarke's notes were printed at the bottom of the page along with the text; they presented criticisms of the Cartesian theory of vortices based on its inability to account for various observations, and quoted from Newton's Principia.4 This work was "arguably the best and most familiar natural philosophy textbook in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries."5 Clarke read, and made corrections to, Cotes' preface to the second edition of the Principia.6 His defense of Newton's view of space and time against Leibniz's criticisms is, of course, well known. Jane L. Mclntyre is at the Department of Philosophy, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH 44115 USA. e-mail: R1188@CSUOHIO.BITNET 4 Jane L. Mclntyre The "General Scholium" at the end of the Principia makes it clear that Newton and Clarke shared a set of theological and metaphysical assumptions as well. Indeed, Newton expressed a view of the self strikingly like Clarke's.7 Clarke's philosophical works depict the marriage of Newtonian science to a theologically based ethical rationalism.8 Insofar as Hume undertook a systematic attempt to show that these elements could be divorced from each other, his views constituted a challenge to Newtonian orthodoxy. Yet this challenge was not launched entirely from an external vantage point, for Hume applied a methodology derived from Newton, and appealed to principles modeled on Newtonian principles. He wanted to show that, contrary to the received view, Newtonianism so applied could provide the explanatory framework for a secular, sentiment-based ethical theory. In effect, this constitutes Hume's own conception of what Newtonian science had to offer to "moral subjects." Although the opposition to Clarke is evident at many places in the Treatise? I intend to focus on Hume's attack on Clarke's arguments for the simplicity and the immateriality of the self. I hope to shed some light on a particularly puzzling section of the Treatise: Book I iv 5, "Of the Immateriality of the Soul." If I am correct, in this section and the section on personal identity which follows, Hume was joining an ongoing debate about the nature of the self in which Clarke (and others) participated, and his account of personal identity is crafted to answer problems posed by the Newtonian Clarke by appealing to principles modeled on Newtonian ones. I will begin with an analysis of Treatise I iv 5, "Of the Immateriality of the Soul." Through a comparison with Clarke's arguments in A Demonstration of the Being and the Attributes of God I will argue that Clarke (though not explicitly mentioned in this section) is a target of Hume's criticism there. Hume's account of personal identity will be considered in the context of this comparison , and in the light of Clarke's debate with Anthony Collins over the nature of the soul. Finally, I will outline some consequences of my argument for the interpretation of the Treatise. "Of the Immateriality of the Soul": An Overview "Of the Immateriality of the Soul" is an unsettling section of the Treatise. The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 3-18
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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