Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume

Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume

Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume

Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume

Excerpt

In 1915 I began a study of the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion in order to arrive, at a clearer understanding of Hume's position with regard to religion. Scholars have taken entirely opposite views of the meaning of the Dialogues. The work itself has a certain ambiguity which seemed to me, at first, to be due only to its literary excellence as "dialogue," for it was the last of Hume's philosophical writings, the product of his nature genius. But it appeared from his letters that he himself had long been in some perplexity over the attitude that he should take toward religion, and that he was actually dramatising, in the Dialogues, the inner conflict of his own mind. The struggle had dated, apparently, from the very earliest period of his intellectual life, which suggested that his scepticism might have arisen out of his personal difficulties with the arguments for a belief in the Deity. I set out to study the way in which his reflections on that problem could have led him to the "discovery" concerning the nature of our reasoning in terms of cause and effect, for which he is now famous. It occurred to me, too, that his very genuine concern to find some valid reason for believing in a Deity pointed to a constructive or "dogmatic" tendency in his thought. I studied his first book, the Treatise of Human Nature, to see if it contained any positive theory of knowledge. It was natural to follow this study with an examination of the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and the later writings, in which he matured his philosophic scepticism. What these successive studies finally revealed was a kind of "naturalism," the tendencies of which are now apparent to us in contemporary realism. But I have had to leave the reader with a problem which I do not know how to solve, because its solution calls for a mastery of the present situation in philosophy to which I cannot pretend. The problem is illustrated in . . .

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