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Hume Studies Volume 30, Number 2, November 2004, pp. 408-411 MARK G. SPENCER, ed. Hume's Reception in Early America. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2002.2 vols. Pp. xxvi + 278; xxi + 290. ISBN 1 85506 934 2, cloth£175.00/$265.00. Mark Spencer has brought together eighty-seven American discussions, dating from 1758 to 1850, of Hume's work. A few of these discussions may previously have received scholarly attention, but most have not. A few of the items are brief, no more than a paragraph or two, and some others are slight, even as clues to the cultural history of the thirteen colonies and the United States they became (none of the authors reprinted was based in other parts of North America). But taken as a whole, the collection adds a valuable new dimension to that history and to our knowledge of Hume's reception in North America.1 Many items provide useful background to Spencer's forthcoming book on the reception of Hume's political thought in eighteenth-century America.2 Spencer has divided his selections into four sometimes overlapping categories: Items related to Hume's Essays Moral, Political, and Literary; to his "philosophical writings," including his writings on religion; to his History of England; and to his character and death. Among the eleven items included in part 1 are William Smith's "Dispute about the Tragedy oÃ- Douglas (1758); Alexander Hamilton's "Every Man Ought to be Supposed a Knave" (1775); John Adams's "A Complicated Aristocracy" (1787); and editorial contributions from Thomas Ewell's first American edition of Hume's Philosophical Essays onMorals, Literature, andPolitics (1817), an edition, in effect, of the Essays and Treatises, more or less as they had appeared in 1777, but to which George Campbell's reply to Hume's "Of Miracles" was added as a propaedeutic against obvious irreligion. Of the seventeen items concerned with Hume's explicitly philosophical writings , roughly half are discussions of Hume on miracles. Several of these essays aim to refute an opponent who has struck "at the foundation of our religion," whose argument "leads to atheism," and "whose writings are in the hands of almost all young persons" (1: 94,114,108), and say little that enhances our understanding of the issues Hume's essay raises. Two more philosophically valuable pieces are a chapter from Archibald Alexander's Evidences of the Authenticity... of the Holy Scriptures (1836), and Alexander Lawrence''s An Examination of Hume's Argument on the Subject of Miracles (1845). One of the most interesting of the attempts to uncover the Humean principles and conclusions leading to atheism is that of Frederick Beasley. Hume's principles, says this author, lead by inevitable consequence to the rankest atheism. For, if as he asserts, we have no idea of power or efficiency in causes to produce their effects Hume Studies Book Reviews 409 ... and if moreover, we have no reason to believe, either from intuition, demonstration or experience, that there is any efficiency in any one thing to produce another; and ... if when any effect is exhibited to us there be no good ground to conclude that there must have been a cause, there being no truth in the maxim, that whatever begins to exist must have a cause; the very foundation of the argument by which the existence of a God is proved is sapped and destroyed. (1:164) There may be, for the 1820s, nothing unusual about this assessment of Hume, but Beasley's concern about Hume's "baneful influence upon the Scottish school of metaphysicks" does come as a surprise. Thomas Reid, he points out, says that what we call "natural causes" have "no proper efficiency or causality, as far as we know, " so that we can affirm with certainty no more than that "nature hath established a constant conjunction between them and the things called their effects" (citing Reid, Inquiry concerning the Human Mind S3). This according to Beasley "is precisely the language of Mr. Hume, and as far as the structure and operations of the physical world are concerned, to all intents and purposes, his doctrine" (1: 170). Even worse, both Reid and his uncritical disciple, Dugald Stewart (see...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 408-411
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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