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

What Hume Actually Said About Miracles Robert J. Fogelin Two things are commonly said about Hume's treatment ofmiracles in the first part of Section X of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: I.Hume did not put forward an a priori argument intended to show that miracles are not possible. II.Hume did put forward an a priori argument intended to show that testimony, however strong, could never make it reasonable to believe that a miracle had occurred. In a recent article in this journal, Dorothy Coleman calls this the "traditional interpretation," and, since this characterization strikes me as correct, I shall call it that too. Antony Flew stands virtually alone in challenging the traditional interpretation, arguing, in particular, that Hume did not even attempt to provide an a priori argument showing that testimony can never establish the existence of a miracle. On FIeW1S reading, Hume's argument was intended to do no more than place a "check" on arguments put forward to establish the existence of miracles on the basis oftestimony. Along with others, however, Flew accepts the first partofthe traditional interpretation, namely, that whatever Hume was up to, he was certainly not trying to produce a proof showing that miracles cannot exist. He endorses the first part of the traditional interpretation in these words: What [Hume] is trying to demonstrate a priori in Part I is: not that, as amatter offact, miracles do nothappen; but that, from the very nature of the concept — 'from the very nature of the fact' — there must be a conflict of evidence required to show that they do. In opposition to these united voices, I will argue that this consensus on the first part of the traditional interpretation is unfounded, for there are clear texts — at the very heart ofHume's discussion — that go dead against it. Volume XVI Number 1 81 ROBERT J. FOGELIN Two passages, which occur in the same paragraph, are particularly relevant to this discussion: Passage I. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proofagainst a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. (E 114, emphasis added) Passage II. There must ...bea uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct andfullproof, from the nature ofthe fact, against the existence ofany miracle; nor can such aproofbe destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior. (E 115, emphasis added in final clause) The clause nor such a proof be destroyed, or miracle rendered credible in Passage II is crucial for our purposes, for it simultaneously expresses two claims which, for clarity's sake, I will state separately. First, when Hume speaks ??such a proof, he is referring to the direct and full proof, from the nature ofthe fact, against the existence ofany miracle mentioned in the first part of the same sentence. Thus, one thing that Hume is saying is this: Ci: Nor can such a proof(against the existence ofany miracle) be destroyed, but by an opposite proof which is superior. He is also making the following claim: C2: Nor can such a miracle be rendered credible, but by an opposite proof which is superior. Having sorted things out, it is now possible — using only direct quotations from the immediate text — to show that, contrary to the traditional interpretation, Hume does present an a priori argument against the existence ofmiracles. Argument One 1. there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature ofthe fact, against the existence ofany miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed ... but by an opposite proof, which is superior. (E 115, from Passage II) 82Hume Studies WHAT HUME ACTUALLY SAID ABOUT MIRACLES 2.the proofagainst a miracle, from the very nature ofthe fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. (E 114, emphasis added, from Passage I) Therefore: 3.there is ... a direct andfullproof, from the nature ofthe fact, against the existence ofany miracle...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 81-86
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.