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Hume Studies Volume XXI, Number 1, April 1995, pp. 95-115 Hume's Treatise and the Clarke-Collins Controversy PAUL RUSSELL There is no method of reasoning more common, and yet none more blameable, than in philosophical debates to endeavour to refute any hypothesis by a pretext of its dangerous consequences to religion and morality. When any opinion leads us into absurdities, 'tis certainly false; but 'tis not certain an opinion is false, because 'tis of dangerous consequence. (T 409) The philosophy of Samuel Clarke is of central importance to Hume's Treatise. Hume's overall attitude to Clarke's philosophy may be characterized as one of systematic scepticism. The general significance of this is that it sheds considerable light on Hume's fundamental "atheistic" or anti-Christian intentions in the Treatise. These are all claims that I have argued for elsewhere.1 In this paper I am concerned to focus on a narrower aspect of this relationship between the philosophies of Clarke and Hume. Specifically, I will consider Hume's views on the subjects of materialism and necessity in relation to Clarke's enormously influential debate with Anthony Collins on these topics. I begin by describing the nature and context of this controversy; I then examine how Hume's positions on questions of materialism and necessity stand in relation to the positions and arguments taken up by Clarke and Collins; and finally I explain the deeper significance of these specific issues for Hume's wider "atheistic" or anti-Christian objectives in the Treatise. Hume's views on the closely related subjects of materialism and necessity, I maintain, constitute Paul Russell is at the Department of Philosophy, 1866 Main Hall, Ε-370, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T IZl Canada, email: prussell@unixg.ubc.ca 96 Paul Russell core elements of his "atheistic" project in the Treatise, and they manifest his basic antipathy to the theistic metaphysics of the Christian religion in general, and to the Newtonian cosmology of Clarke in particular.2 Materialism, Necessitarianism, Atheism: Clarke Contra Hobbes During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries British philosophy gave rise to two powerful but conflicting philosophical outlooks. On the one hand, it was a major concern of divines at this time to show that the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Religion could be defended as true and reasonable.3 In opposition to this Christian rationalism, however, there existed a sceptical tradition of which the great representative was Hobbes. Hobbes's reputation in this period was that of an "atheist," and his philosophy was viewed as an attack on the basic tenets of Christianity.4 Hobbes's scepticism concerning natural and revealed religion and his egoistic, Epicurean theory of morals were particular targets of his Christian critics. There were two other aspects of Hobbes's philosophy that were also widely regarded as being especially "dangerous" and destructive of religion and morality: these were the (closely related) doctrines of materialism and necessitarianism.5 These doctrines served as the basis of Hobbes's secular and naturalistic account of human nature. A whole range of Christian critics stepped forward to argue that Hobbes's mechanistic view of man was inconsistent with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and with moral accountability (both in this world and in a future state). In short, it was widely held that it was necessary to refute these "atheistic" doctrines of Hobbes and his followers in order to defend the Christian Religion and the moral fabric of society. In order to refute these doctrines it was necessary to prove the doctrines of the immortality of the soul and free will. In the 1690's the Boyle Lectures were instituted for the purpose of "proving the Christian Religion" against "notorious Infidels" and "Atheists." The general significance of the Boyle Lectures is summarized by Margaret Jacob as follows: The lecture...series set the content and tone of English natural religion during the eighteenth century. By 1711 the reading of the Boyle Lectures formed a part of an educated man's knowledge.... The lecturers were carefully chosen by the trustees, and they marshalled their arguments in defence of natural and revealed religion with the conviction that their efforts were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 95-115
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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