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Hume's Playful Metaphysics Greg Moses Let us revive the happy times, when Atticus and Cassius the Epicureans, Cicerothe Academic, andBrutus the Stoic, could, all of them, live in unreserved friendship together, and were unsensible to all those distinctions, except so far as they furnished agreeable matter to discourse and conversation.1 This paper argues, firstly, that contrary to appearances, the mature Hume allows for engagementin a certain style ofmetaphysical reasoning in a rather strong sense of'metaphysics'. The proviso is that this be done in a carefully defined playful 'Pyrrhonian' spirit (sees. 1-5). It argues, secondly, that engagementinmetaphysics in such aHumean playful spirit might be available to us and of some value for us nowadays (sees. 6-7). The strategy ofthe argument in sections 1-5 is that the character Philo in Hume'sDialogues ConcerningNaturalReligion engages injust that kind ofmetaphysics that Hume rules out in the Treatise and the Enquiries, but that he does so in such a playful fashion as to be able to get away with it. (1) The word 'metaphysics' is used in the Hume text interpretation part of this paper (sees. 1-5) to refer to enquiry concerning 'ultimate principles/causes'. These ultimate causes are more than just very general constant conjunctions the reality of which is supposed, given habit, on the basis of experience. They are characterized in Hume by the fact that: 1) there is a relations of ideas connection between the 'essence' or 'nature' of whatever it is we are talking about, the soul/mind/human nature, or external bodies, such that 2) could we know the 'nature' or 'essence' we could come to know the principle without consulting experience, and, consequently, 3) they are such that if and when we came to know them we could give a reason for them, beyond our experience of their reality, namely by showing them to follow from the 'essence' or 'nature' ofthe object in question.2 The search for these ultimate springs and causes motivates our researches. "This is our aim in all our studies and reflections" (T 266), tofind the ultimate and operatingprinciple, which resides in the object. We are not satisfied, we would not willingly stop until acquainted with them, or until we are convinced that such a goal is beyond us human Volume XVII Number 2 63 GREG MOSES beings and despair has the same effect on us as enjoyment. Science, in fact, only "staves off our ignorance a little longer" (E 31). The most general and most refined principles we discover are as inexplicable to us as the phenomena themselves are to the vulgar; we have no idea even of what it is we are looking for when we search for them.3 There is thus a kind of natural desire for insight into causes, which natural and moral science does notfully satisfy,4 a sort ofnatural desire for the vision of, if possible, ultimate causes. (2) The attitude ofthe Treatiseand theEnquiries withrespect tothe search for ultimate principles is to stay away from it—as every first year philosophy student knows. This is Hume's position even antecedent to science and enquiry, taken over from the example of the natural philosophers whose empirical method he is adopting. Note that we are using the word 'metaphysics' here as a temporary convenience in a non-Humean sense: for Hume, 'metaphysics' = the more difficult parts of learning, profound reasonings of any kind (cf. E 11). Hume himself engages in such profound reasonings, for a variety of reasons (under five headings in E, sec. 1), including the idea that we "must cultivate true metaphysics with some care, in order to destroy the false and adulterate" (E 12). One of Hume's purposes in book 1 of the Treatise and in the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is to turn us away from "specious and agreeable" (T 272) hypotheses and towards those subjects where alone we can expect assurance and conviction (T 272-73), in order to Uve at ease ever after, having rejected, after deliberate enquiry, the most uncertain and disagreeable part of learning (E 12-13). This is accomplished by his investigation of belief inmattersoffactbeyond testimonyofsenses ormemory;thatis, relying on causal reasoning and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 63-79
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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