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

Hume Studies Volume XXV, Numbers 1 and 2, April/November 1999, pp. 256-262 CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS. A Cultivated Reason: An Essay on Hume and Humeanism. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991. viii + 190. ISBN 0-271-01821-6, $17.95, paper. A Cultivated Reason is an intriguing book. Everyone who thinks she understands Hume or is pretty sure that she doesn't should read it. It is elegantly written, informal and illuminating. It does take patience however, partly because its organization is idiosyncratic and sometimes confusing. (I'm not sure exactly what "linear reasoning" means but am clear enough to be sure that Williams's mode is nonlinear.) Williams combines exegesis of Humean texts—the Treatise, the two Enquiries, and the Essays—with the defense of a view that he calls "nonrationalism."1 This wide-ranging theory stakes claims in ontology, theory of knowledge, ethics, aesthetics, and in the broader issue of how philosophical reflection is related to the concerns of everyday life. Williams endorses nonrationalism and believes that Hume is its progenitor; for almost every nonrationalist thesis, Williams finds a Humean precedent. Here he goes against the tradition in which the explication des textes requires the explicator to keep his own theoretical commitments in the background. Williams does not do this and thus he aligns himself with philosophically sophisticated commentators—David Pears, Robert Fogelin, and Barry Stroud are examples—who are explicit and candid about where they stand. As a consequence of Williams's procedure, the reader is often at a loss to know whether a particular thesis is being ascribed to Hume or whether the author is trying in a Humean spirit to advance the nonrationalist cause. There do seem to be significant differences, for example, the nonrationalist does not countenance the gap that was important to Hume between the "is" and the "ought." So if you object or disagree, you don't know where to complain. There is a further complication: in the bad old days when nobody read the Treatise, the textbooks regularly characterized Hume's theory as a reduction of empiricism. (If you start from Locke and follow through, you will end as a skeptic with nothing to say either in epistemology or in ethics.) Then people rediscovered the Treatise: what with its grand constructive design and its Newtonian aspirations, it does not sound like the last gasp of empiricism (or of anything else). But read in conjunction with Hume's later works, it did bring to the fore problems about the consistency and coherence of his overall theory . What conception of personal identity can accommodate both the notion of the self as a bundle of passing impressions and the role assigned to the self in Books II and III? If our knowledge extends to nothing beyond our perceptions, how do we account for ordinary scientific procedures? If necessary connections are fictitious, how can we agree that a cause is always necessary? Again, how can Hume, champion of common sense, prophet of the Enlightenment, Hume Studies Book Reviews 257 assert that "reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions?" Why doesn't Hume face up to these questions? The most sympathetic critics occasionally voice their exasperation. Not Williams, however: he sees Humean philosophy as unitary, systematic, and entirely credible. For some of the apparent paradoxes he offers a solution; others he simply ignores with the suggestion that they do not arise for nonrationalism. On Williams's interpretation, Hume's theory has a negative and a positive component. On the one hand it aims to demolish rationalism, and for Williams that means not just Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz but Plato, Kant, Hegel, and all but a few contemporary thinkers. On the positive side we have the nonrationalists, but it is not clear who, besides Williams, belongs to that club. Let me try in what follows to summarize both the claims of rationalism and the grounds on which it is said to be unacceptable. To be a rationalist is not merely to acknowledge the authority of reason in its proper province. Hume takes that province to include arithmetic, geometry, and algebra, and I suppose that the nonrationalist would want to add...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 256-262
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.