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408 'ATHEISM' AND THE TITLE-PAGE OF HUME'S TREATISE It may be necessary, as well now as heretofore, for wise men to speak in parables, and with a double meaning, that the enemy may be amused, and they only who have ears to hear may hear . - Earl of Shaftesbury (Characteristics: 11,1,2) In this paper I will describe certain significant features of the title-page of Hume's Treatise which have gone largely unnoticed. My discussion will focus on two features of the titlepage . First, Hume's Treatise shares its title with a relevant and well-known work by Hobbes. Second, the epigram of the title-page, which is taken from Tacitus, also serves as the title for the final chapter of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. In the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries Hobbes and Spinoza were infamous as the two most influential representatives of 'atheistic' or antiChristian philosophy. The significance of these features of the title-page of the Treatise, therefore, is that in this important context Hume unambiguously alludes to these philosophers and their 'atheistic' doctrines. This, I will argue, accords well with a proper understanding of the nature of Hume's own anti-Christian intentions in the Treatise. According to many Hume scholars the most significant feature of the title-page of Hume's Treatise is the subtitle: "An Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into MORAL SUBJECTS." More specifically, several commentators have suggested that we should interpret the significance of this subtitle in terms of Hume's 2 ambition "to become the Newton of the Human Mind." Let me open my discussion by making one or two brief 409 points about this claim. In order to assess this claim it is essential that we clearly distinguish between Hume's project of a "science of MAN" (T xiv) and the method by which that project was carried out. These two aspects of Hume's thought are, as John Wright has noted, often confused by commentators — though Hume was clear on this matter. The subtitle of the Treatise, it may be granted, does indicate the important role that Newton's method plays in this 4 work. Nevertheless, in itself, this does not establish that the subtitle indicates the project of the Treatise was "inspired by Newton." On the contrary, as I will suggest below, the inspiration for Hume's project lies elsewhere; and if we exaggerate or inflate the significance of the subtitle in this context (i.e., the subtitle indicates Hume's ambition to "become the Newton of the Human Mind") then we are liable to distort the overall significance of the title-page itself. There are, in my view, at least two other highly significant features of the title-page of the Treatise which have been overlooked by commentators. Moreover, these features of the title-page provide us with evidence for a rather different interpretation of the nature of Hume's intentions in the Treatise. In order to account for these further significant features it is necessary to note two general points of interpretation which are relevant to my discussion. (In this context I will simply note these points; I will not discuss or defend them in any detail. ) (1) The project of Hume's Treatise — that is, a 'science of man' — is modelled or 'planned' after Hobbes's very similar project in The Elements of Law and the first two parts of Leviathan. Hume, following Hobbes, believes that moral and political 410 philosophy must proceed upon the same methodology as that which is appropriate to the natural sciences (although they disagree about the nature of that methodology). Further, Hobbes and Hume are agreed that this scientific investigation of morals must begin with an examination of human thought and motivation (it being assumed by both thinkers that the minds of men "are similar in their feelings and operations"). We find, accordingly, that the structural parallels which hold between Hobbes's works and Hume's Treatise are indicative of the fundamental similarity of their projects. Hume, like Hobbes before him, begins with a study of human understanding (i.e., sensation, imagination, knowledge, etc.), proceeds to a study of human passions (i.e...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 408-423
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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