The Riddle of Hume's Treatise

The Riddle of Hume's Treatise : Skepticism, Naturalism, and Irreligion

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Although it is widely recognized that David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) belongs among the greatest works of philosophy, there is little agreement about the correct way to interpret his fundamental intentions. It is an established orthodoxy among almost all commentators that skepticism and naturalism are the two dominant themes in this work. The difficulty has been, however, that Hume's skeptical arguments and commitments appear to undermine
and discredit his naturalistic ambition to contribute to "the science of man". This schism appears to leave his entire project broken-backed.

The solution to this riddle depends on challenging another, closely related, point of orthodoxy: namely, that before Hume published the Treatise he removed almost all material concerned with problems of religion. Russell argues, contrary to this view, that irreligious aims and objectives are fundamental to the Treatise and account for its underlying unity and coherence. It is Hume's basic anti-Christian aims and objectives that serve to shape and direct both his skeptical and naturalistic
commitments. When Hume's arguments are viewed from this perspective we can solve, not only puzzles arising from his discussion of various specific issues, we can also explain the intimate and intricate connections that hold his entire project together.

This "irreligious" interpretation provides a comprehensive fresh account of the nature of Hume's fundamental aims and ambitions in the Treatise. It also presents a radically different picture of the way in which Hume's project was rooted in the debates and controversies of his own time, placing the Treatise in an irreligious or anti-Chrisitan philosophical tradition that includes Hobbes, Spinoza and freethinking followers. Considered in these terms, Hume's Treatise constitutes the crowning
achievement of the Radical Enlightenment.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 448 pages
  • 162 x 244 x 32mm | 792g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 7 black and white illustrations
  • 0195110331
  • 9780195110333

Table of contents

I. Riddles, Critics and Monsters: Text and Context ; 1. The Riddle ; 2. "Atheism" and Hume's Early Critics ; 3. Religious Philosophers and Speculative Atheists ; 4. Newtonianism, Freethought, and Hume's Scottish Context ; 5. The Monster of Atheism: Its Being and Attributes ; II. The Form and Face of Humes's System ; 6. A Hobbist Plan ; 7. Atheism Under Cover: Esoteric Communication on Hume's Title-Pages ; III. The Nature of Hume's Universe ; 8. Blind Men Before a Fire: Empiricism and the Idea of God ; 9. Making Nothing of "Almighty Space" ; 10. Hume's "Curious Nostrum" and the Argument A Priori ; 11. Induction, Analogy and a Future State: Hume's "Guide to Life" ; 12. Matter, Omnipotence and our Idea of Necessity ; 13. Skepticism, Deception and the Material World ; 14. Immaterialisty, Ommortality and the Human Soul ; 15. The Practical Pyrrhonist ; IV. The Elements of Virtuous Atheism ; 16. Freedom Within Necessity: Hume's "clockwork Man" ; 17. Morality without Religion ; V. Hume's Philosophy of Irreligion
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Review quote

Paul Russell has given us a marvelously good book... [He] offers original and compelling accounts of the irreligious implications of central arguments of the Treatise on an impressive range of topics... it should never again be claimed that the Treatise is largely unconcerned with questions of religion. * Don Garrett, Philosophical Review * This book is a triumph and a model for work in the history of philosophy. It offers a powerful reading of the Treatise and of Hume's intentions in writing it, while also correcting common misunderstandings about Hume's place in early modern thought. It deserves to be read by anyone interested in Hume or in early modern philosophy. * Colin Heydt, Journal of the History of Philosophy * Russell's... book presents a powerful, comprehensive, and elegantly written case for putting 'irreligion' alongside - and even above - 'scepticism' and 'naturalism' as a pervasive theme not only of Hume's later work, but also of his Treatise. * Peter Millican, Faculty of Philosophy, Hertford College, Oxford University * This is a terrific tome ... Why is this book so important? Quite simply, this is one of the best contextualist studies of Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature ever written. To elaborate a bit, this book provides a unique and fascinating interpretation of the Treatise by relating its structure and content to many of the most influential debates about religion raging at Hume's time ... one of the best books on Hume I have ever read * Kevin Meeker, Mind *
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About Paul Russell

Paul Russel is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, Canada.
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