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Hume Studies Volume 28, Number 1, April 2002, pp. 161-167 JOHN EARMAN. Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. xi + 217. ISBN 0-19-512737-4, cloth, $47.50; ISBN 0-19-512738-2, paper, $22.95. This book is divided into two parts. The first (73 pages plus notes and a two-page appendix on probability) is Earman's harsh critique of Hume's essay and its conclusions. The second part of the book (95-212) contains selections from primary texts of Locke, Spinoza, Clarke, and others, along with the text "Of Miracles," recording changes that Hume made. There is little in the way of explanation, a single paragraph in the preface, as to why these texts have been selected. Presumably, Earman sees each of these as containing something significant to contribute to the formulation of his theses in the first part of the book—especially his claim that Hume's arguments are largely derivative. Earman thinks he is dealing a blow to Hume scholarship in general and to the commentary on Hume's essay on miracles in particular. He says, It is almost universally assumed, by Hume's admirers and critics alike, that "Of Miracles" offers a powerful and original argument against miracles. On the contrary, I contend that Hume's argument is largely derivative, almost wholly without merit where it is original, and worst of all, reveals the impoverishment of his treatment of inductive reasoning. Hume scholars will no doubt be enraged by this charge. Good! There has been too much genuflecting at Hume's altar, (vi) And he continues, "to be blunt, I contend that Of Miracles' is an abject failure " (3). "Hume has generated the illusion of deep insight by sliding back and forth between various theses, no one of which avoids both the Scylla of banality and the Charybdis of implausibility or outright falsehood" (48). As it turns out Hume scholars have nothing to fear, and little to gain, from Earman's book. Those familiar with even a moderate portion of the literature on Hume's essay will recognise Earman's above contentions as anything but novel. However, one who begins a book in this supercilious manner had better understand the argument that they claim so totally lacks merit. I do not think that Earman does. His repeated claims that Hume's "Of Miracles" is a morass of confusion is, in my view, a projection of his own confusions concerning Hume's position onto Hume. Hume Studies 162 Book Reviews To grasp Hume's principle argument in part 1 in "Of Miracles" and why it fails, it must be set not just in terms of his account of induction, but in the wider context of Hume's philosophy where his account of induction is itself based. Earman does not do this. In fact, he treats "Of Miracles" in almost total isolation from Hume's philosophy (Book 1 of the Treatise being most crucial), thereby losing any hope of seeing what is distinctive in the argument or of understanding it. Although Earman is aware of the fact that there is good reason to treat Hume's argument in the context of the Treatise (6), he ignores it. In a letter to George Campbell, Hume is explicit about the connection . It is not enough to talk about Hume's views on induction in general terms—in isolation from his more fundamental empiricist principles—because not even his views on induction can be understood in apart from his empiricism. Apart from this wider context of Hume's philosophy, his argument(s) in "Of Miracles" is bound to appear derivative. Earman misses what is distinctive about Hume's argument because he ignores (and he is not alone in this) the fact that the argument, along with Hume's account of induction is embedded in his empiricism. Consider an interpretation of Hume's argument against justified belief in miracles that does make an explicit connection with his theory of a posteriori reasoning and empiricism. Even if this interpretation is not quite right (though I think it exactly right), it illustrates that what is distinctive about Hume's argument...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 161-167
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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