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Hume Studies Volume 27, Number 1, April 2001, pp. 149-159 A Symposium on Adam Potkay, The Passion for Happiness: Samuel Johnson and David Hume Christian Johnson and Pagan Hume WILLIAM R. CONNOLLY It is a pleasure to be able to pay tribute to Adam Potkay's interesting and impressive book on two of the most important figures in the eighteenth century.x It brings together the philosophical and the literary, the "anatomist" and the "painter" of the passions and the moral life, integrating worlds that, however isolated they may have become in the twentieth century, were not seen as all that distinct in the eighteenth. Having said this, the most remarkable feature of Potkay's book is that it unites two figures usually thought to be opposed—the irascible, domineering, and deeply Christian Johnson and the dispassionate, moderate, and pagan Hume. Potkay's study exhibits a clear appreciation for the unified structure and purpose of Hume's work, the program of the science of human nature, from the Treatise and the Enquiries to the moral, political, historical, and economic essays. For the philosophical community he has nicely highlighted the contributions of Johnson as a moralist, drawing our attention to the philosophical underpinnings of Johnson's literary work in Rasselas and The Vanity of Human Wishes as well as the relevant essays from The Rambler, The Adventurer, and The Idler. Finally, he draws attention to the historical importance in this period of the influence of Cicero, whose philosophical works provided not only a stylistic model much admired by Hume, but also a substantive moral contribution in the form of Cicero's eclectic, somewhat skeptical and Romanized stoicism. One may view Potkay's work as an attempt to answer the following questions . Why have Johnson and Hume traditionally been seen as antagonists? William R. Connolly is Professor of Philosophy, University of Evansville, 1800 Lincoln Avenue, Evansville, IN 47722, USA. e-mail: dc25@evansville.edu 150 William R. Connolly How does this traditional account blind us to the substantial areas of underlying agreement between them? And, what are these areas of agreement? After examining these questions, I would like to conclude by suggesting that in some fundamental ways this project of reconciliation has important limitations , due in large part to religious differences to which both Johnson and Boswell draw attention. I suspect my experience of Johnson has been fairly typical for philosophers. What we know about Samuel Johnson is pretty much limited to knowing him as the author of the great dictionary and, more likely, as the witty, irascible, even arrogant conversationalist who emerges in Boswell's Life of Johnson. Indeed , it is probably rare for philosophers, even those interested in the eighteenth century, to read Johnson and certainly not for the purposes of mining philosophical gems. (I thank Professor Potkay for getting me at least to start some of this reading.) When one turns to Boswell for references to those occasions when Johnson speaks about Hume, in nearly every case we are confronted with hostility both to the ideas and the person of Hume. Consider this gem from Boswell's account of a conversation on July 20, 1763.2 Of a gentleman who was mentioned, he said, "I have not met with any man for a long time who has given me such general displeasure in his principles, and wants to puzzle other people." I [Boswell] said his principles had been poisoned by a noted infidel writer [Hume], but that he was, nevertheless, a benevolent good man. [Johnson:] We can have no dependence from that instinctive, that constitutional goodness which is not founded on principle. I grant you that such a man may be a very amiable member of society. I can conceive him placed in such a situation that he is not much tempted to deviate from what is right; and as every man prefers virtue, when there is not some strong incentive to transgress its principles, I can conceive of him doing nothing wrong. But if such a man stood in need of money, I should not like to trust him; and I should certainly not trust him with young ladies, for there is always temptation. [One might hazard...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 149-159
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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