Dialogues concerning Natural Religion

Dialogues concerning Natural Religion

Dialogues concerning Natural Religion

Dialogues concerning Natural Religion

Excerpt

The manuscript of Hume Dialogues in the library of the Royal Society of Edinburgh is of great interest. It gives what we may believe to be the first version of the Dialogues, as completed in the period 1751-5. The revisions which it exhibits in every part and on almost every page also record the stages by which the Dialogues were later brought into their final form. As we know, the revisions were made by Hume in or prior to 1761, and again in the year of his death, in 1776.

It was from this manuscript that Hume's nephew obtained the text of the Dialogues. In accordance with Hume's instructions, he omitted whatever Hume had marked for omission, and incorporated the revisions and additions. Everything else in the manuscript he very rightly passed over without comment. His text is remarkably correct; his intentional departures from the manuscript are few in number, and are justified by Hume's own preferences as shown in the works, the publication of which he had himself supervised. In all subsequent editions the nephew's text has been simply reprinted; later editors have made no use of the manuscript, either to improve upon the text or to supplement it in any way.

Now, however, that the Dialogues are a recognized philosophical classic, and have themselves become a subject of discussion and of varying interpretation, we cannot any longer afford to neglect the light which the manuscript casts on Hume's own understanding of the course and outcome of his argument. This is the more necessary in that his intentions are by no means always evident on the surface, and have, indeed, as I have endeavoured to show, been very generally misunderstood. The revisions and additions recorded in the manuscript consist (1) in improvements of wording and phrasing, (2) in passages scored out but marked ' still to be printed' (these being among the instructions which Hume's nephew has faithfully followed), (3) in passages scored out, and not hitherto printed, and (4) in additions, made on the margins, or when more lengthy on separate sheets, with marks to indicate where the additions belong in the manuscript as first composed. In re-editing the . . .

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