Hume's Presence in The Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2017-09-01
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Why did David Hume feel so deeply about publishing The Dialouges Concerning Natural Religion that he set aside funds in his will providing for its posthumous publication? Part of the answer is that it provided a literary, satirical work responding to his mean-spirited theological critics. In Hume's Presence Robert Fogelin provides a textual analysis that demonstrates the close relationship of The Dialogues with his central philosophical writings and its centrality to his relationship with skepticism.

A striking feature of The Dialogues is that Cleanthes and Philo seem well versed in the works of the philosopher David Hume. Their arguments often echo in content--even wording--claims found in Hume's central philosophical writings. Beyond this, the overall dialectical structure of The Dialogues mirrors dialectical developments found in both The Treatise of Human Nature and the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: the naturalistic effort to provide a rational defense of religion ends in weakening religious commitments rather than in strengthening them.
Nowhere in The Dialogues does Hume address his readers directly. As a result, it may not immediately be clear whether Hume is expressing his own opinions through one of his characters or is using a character to represent a position he wishes to examine, perhaps to reject. The Dialogues is a contest, and Hume, by not speaking directly in his own voice, leaves it-officially, at least-to his readers to judge who, if anyone, wins.

The central problem of The Dialogues is to consider what Hume understood by skepticism. The second section of this book examines competing views of Hume's skepticism, concluding with his own remarks. In the Treatise and the Enquiry, Hume says, when consumed by skeptical arguments and reasoning, he finds philosophical nurture in rejoining the practices of everyday life. His famous, concluding remark in The Dialogues about skepticism being the basis for a believing Christian seems cut from the same cloth.

Author Biography

Robert Fogelin is Professor of Philosophy and Sherman Fairchild Professor in the Humanities at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Walking the Tightrope of Reason (OUP 2002), Hume's Skeptical Crisis (OUP 2009), Figuratively Speaking (OUP 2011), and more.

Table of Contents

General Introduction
Section I: A Textual Study
Letter from Pamphilus to Hermippus

Part One
"Let us become thoroughly sensible of the
weakness, blindness, and narrow limits of
human reason." Philo

Part Two
"Look round the world. You will find it to be nothing but one great machine." Cleanthes

Part Three
"Must you not instantly ascribe it to some design or purpose?" Cleanthes

Part Four
"I have found a Deity; and here I stop my enquiry." Cleanthes

Part Five
"What tools and levers and derricks?" Philo

Parts Six and Seven
"It must be a slight fabric, which can be erected on so tottering a foundation." Demea

Part Eight
"Each disputant triumphs in his turn." Philo

Part Nine
"We must, therefore, have recourse to a necessarily existent Being, who carries the Reason of his existence in himself." Demea

Part Ten
"Whence then is evil" Philo

Part Eleven
"Supposing the Author of nature to be finitely perfect EL a satisfactory account may be given of natural and moral evil." Cleanthes

Part Twelve
"To be a philosophical Sceptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential step towards being
a sound, believing Christian." Philo

Who Speaks for Hume?

Section II: Critical Reflections

1. Hume, Pyrrhonism, and Fideism
2. Richard Popkin on Hume and Pyrrhonism
3. The New Hume
4. Garrett on Hume's Notion of a True Religion
5. David Hume on the Dialogues

Appendix: Some Responses to The Dialogues

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