Hume, David

(1711-76)
   Although his first book, A Treatise of Human Nature, received a bad reception on its publication between 1739 and 1740, Hume did not let this prevent him from publishing An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in 1748. This contained the notorious Section X, 'Of Miracles'. The year 1751 saw the publication of An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, which Hume later took to have been his best book. It was followed by The Natural History of Religion in 1757. Having retired to revise for posthumous publication Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume died in 1776, apparently facing death with atheistic equanimity, which provoked the admiration of Adam Smith, but the bafflement of Boswell and the scepticism of Dr Johnson. Hume has had a considerable impact on Christian philosophy in two ways. First, he has cast doubt on the effectiveness of traditional arguments for the existence of God: in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Philo, Hume's mouthpiece, and a sceptic concerning the existence of God, attempts to punch holes in the arguments for the existence of God, particularly the argument to design, and to use the existence of evil to buttress a sceptical position. Hume's attack on belief in the miraculous, which is defined as 'violation of the laws of nature' (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: X. i), is based on his principle that a wise person 'proportions his belief to the evidence' (X. i) and the view that 'no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish' (X. i). Christian philosophers have met Hume's objections either directly by trying to show that the evidence for God's existence and the occurrence of miracles is compelling, or indirectly by claiming that Hume's probabilistic arguments are not relevant to Christian belief. Hume's influence, which first aroused Kant from 'his dogmatic slumbers', still lives on, however.
   Further reading: Hall 1978; Hume 1874-5 and 1974; Stroud 1981

Christian Philosophy . . 2015.

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