In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Hume Studies Volume XX, Number 1, April 1994, pp. 103-120 Doubt and Divinity: Cicero's Influence on Hume's Religious Skepticism PETER S. FOSL It is standardly acknowledged that Hume was, to no small extent, a Ciceronian. He himself says so, writing for instance in a letter to Francis Hutcheson that "Upon the whole, I desire to take my catalogue of Virtues from Cicero's Offices, not from the Whole Duty of Man. I had, indeed, the former Book in my Eye in all my Reasonings."1 In his autobiographical essay, My Own Life, while discussing the years of feverish study he pursued during the late 1720s after having just left university, Hume mentions that My studious Disposition, my Sobriety, and my Industry gave my Family a Notion that the Law was a proper Profession for me: But I found an unsurmountable Aversion to every thing but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning; and while they fancyed I was pouring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring.2 Analyses of Hume's biography and of the culture in which his thought developed give us every indication to regard these remarks as sincere.3 Current textual studies of Hume's œuvre are, on this point, in accord. However, the standard acknowledgement is incomplete and, in places, even erroneous. Whether by focusing their interpretive lenses too narrowly or by noticing only superficial aspects of comparison, commentators have significantly underestimated the depth of Cicero's influence upon Hume. Peter S. Fosl is at the Department of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, Hollins College, Roanoke, VA 24020 U.S.A. e-mail: foslp@minnie.hollins.edu 104 PeterS. Fosl John Valdimir Price's account of the similarities between the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and Cicero's De Natura Deorum is suggestive, as are the assessments of editors such as Norman Kemp Smith and Martin Bell. But Price's arguments are often weak, and his claims are in many cases mistaken, most notably in his characterization of Philo's contentions about God as "ironic."4 Price also fails to see how other dimensions of Hume's philosophical system—dimensions concerned with Hume's philosophy of mind, experience, and science—can be deployed to shed light upon his effort in the Dialogues. Peter Jones's work on Hume and Cicero is seminal, but in centering upon Hume's moral philosophy Jones's assessment of the extent and significance of Cicero's influence on Hume's skepticism and philosophy of religion remains rather limited.5 Christine Battersby's work addresses religious topics directly. Situating Hume's work within the tradition of "original imitations," her admirable interpretation enlists rhetorical features of the Dialogues in order to articulate the work's philosophical thrust. Battersby's central thesis is that both the rhetorical form of the Dialogues and the manner in which it deviates from Cicero's Deorum indicate that while Hume objected to the possibility of assuming the Pyrrhonian stance of a total suspension of belief (Battersby, 251), he also maintained that there remains an intrinsic indeterminacy to both theism and atheism: "Hume sees hypocrisy as the occupational disease of clergymen. But just as consistent belief is not possible on such subjects, so is a consistent disbelief " (249). However, in principally addressing the rhetoric of the two works, Battersby neglects features of Hume's Academical skepticism articulated in the Treatise and Enquiries, which, I maintain, suggest a different, more determinate position, if not on the nature of theological speculation, then at least on the issue of belief in God per se. What follows, then, will complete and correct preceding scholarship by showing how Hume drew upon the Académica and De Natura Deorum in developing his own "Academical" philosophy and religious skepticism, and it will do so by relating Hume's work in the Dialogues to the Academicism of his general philosophical system.6 To begin, therefore, I will first describe the principal features of Hume's Academicism and the distinction he draws between it and Pyrrhonian skepticism. Insofar as Hume's skepticism is a familiar topic, my presentation will be swift. I will then make use of this rendering in...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 103-120
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.