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

Hume Studies Volume 28, Number 1, April 2002, pp. 113-130 Bayesianism, Analogy, and Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion SALLY FERGUSON Introduction Analyses of the argument from design in Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion have generally treated that argument as an example of reasoning by analogy.1 In this paper I examine whether it is in accord with Hume's thinking about the argument to subsume the version of it given in the Dialogues under the model of probabilistic reasoning offered by Bayes's theorem. Wesley Salmon attempted this project in 1978.2 In related projects, David Owen3 as well as Philip Dawid and Donald Gillies4 have more recently attempted to construct Bayesian analyses of Hume's argument concerning testimony in "Of Miracles." I want to be careful at this stage to note exactly what I will claim. It is not that Bayesian reasoning sheds no light on the argument from design, or on arguments concerning testimony. All of the analyses mentioned above are beneficial in that they have been able to expose subtleties in these arguments that had previously gone unnoticed. Salmon's paper, in particular, contributes nicely to an understanding of just how the design argument may function in relation to contemporary scientific reasoning. In this paper I argue that, nonetheless, the attempt to apply Bayesian reasoning to the argument as presented in the Dialogues is not well supported as a reconstruction of Hume's own approach to the argument from design. Sally Ferguson is Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of West Florida, UOOO University Parkway, Pensacola, FL 32514, USA. e-mail: sallyf@uwf.edu 114 Sally Ferguson There are two stages to my treatment of the issue. I begin by considering how much Hume knew of Bayes's theorem, and what consequence that knowledge might have had on his treatment of the argument in the Dialogues. This discussion includes a consideration of exactly what has been claimed by other authors on this subject, including what some have argued concerning Hume's reasonings in "Of Miracles," section 10 of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. I conclude that, based on the historical data, there is little reason to think of Hume's approach to the argument from design as anything more than proto-Bayesian at best. I then argue further, through a close textual analysis of the Dialogues, that there are good reasons for not treating Hume's reasoning there as even proto-Bayesian. In the end, the benefits that have been claimed for that approach, in terms of exposing both the subtleties of the argument and of Hume's reasoning about it, can equally well be derived from a careful analysis of the argument under a model of analogical reasoning, without need of Bayes's theorem. Section One Perhaps one might think that there is not much use for a consideration of the question whether Hume himself conceived of any of his arguments along specifically Bayesian lines. As Gower argues,5 Hume's knowledge of mathematics in general was fairly limited, and Bayes's theorem was not well known even up until Hume's death. It is important, therefore, for me to establish that there have not only been those who thought that Bayesian reasoning illuminates the arguments Hume gave, but also his own thinking about those arguments. It is also important for me to establish that it is not obvious that knowledge of Bayes's theorem did not affect Hume's reasonings. Each of these points will be addressed in the following. As to the first point, the claims of some authors on the subject are ambiguous . Dawid and Gillie, for example, make no statement to the effect that the probabilities involved in Bayes's theorem were in fact examined in "Of Miracles," nor do they attempt to produce any passages from Hume in support of that view. Thus it would be assumed that they see their attempt not as an attempt to provide an analysis that represents Hume's own approach to the argument, but rather simply as one that provides an illuminating method of analysis and support for an argument that Hume happened to give. Indeed , their conclusion, to the effect that a...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 113-130
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.