‘Is Hume an atheist?’ (yet again we ask this)

In a post in the past, the Noumenal Realm asked this question, but didn’t really answer it, and it was a post about something else. Anyway, lets ask the question as a textual issue. Lets forget about a ‘historical’ Hume with recourse to Hume’s life history and his relationship with the Kirk. But his philosophical reasons.

Reasons people give to suggest Hume is an atheist:

  • Natural theology fails (such as the design inference, and the argument from definition)
  • Revealed theology fails insofar as miracles do, and belief in them (First Enquiry)
  • Religion comes about as natural instinct or response to the wonder of life

What does this infer?

  • We should not make bad inferences
  • We should avoid metaphysics as the project of being qua being
  • Person-centric philosophy leads the disposition to believe in God, but not necessarily that he’s an invention

Could Hume be a Theist, then?

  • Perhaps a Deist
  • Fideist? Believe in God is the most ‘natural instinct’; and it is not an object of our questioning this belief, but merely we must accept it is in the furniture of our mental processes; in the same way that we do not question the quale ‘this coffee is damn hot!’

No, this isn’t good enough

  • Hume is a SKEPTIC; he wouldn’t assent to answering questions like ‘Does God exist’, or others in the same line like ‘is the soul a seperate substance?’, ‘do we intuit reality as modes through the two attributes of thought and extension’



5 thoughts on “‘Is Hume an atheist?’ (yet again we ask this)

  1. I broadly agree with what you say here. There isn’t enough evidence in what we have of Hume’s writings to conclude that Hume was an atheist, but he certainly has a skeptical perspective, and of course, is highly irreligious. Hume’s problems seem chiefly to be with organised religion. He doesn’t appear to have a chip on his shoulder about God, per se.

  2. The trouble with “Kantian” as a term, of course, is that it is ambiguous. Shelly Kagan manages to argue a kantian position (his lower case) that is consequentialist, so to a certain extent ‘anything goes’.

    Obviously Hume predates Kant (and indeed inspires him) – but I don’t personally see the germ of a contractarian position in Hume’s thinking. In fact, Hume’s thinking is very rough and ready – quite different from Kant’s very formal and rigid approach.

    Nothing of Hume that I’ve read so far would allow me personally to make an assertion of the form “Hume is a Kantian” – but it’s certainly an interesting question to ask. 😉

    Best wishes!

  3. Dear Chris;

    As always; I enjoy your versed understanding of Hume. I think you are right about Hume’s rough and ready approach; Hume works are a fine ingredient of a philosophical meal; it can be taken alone or as a whole.

    Hume’s link with contractarianism (or lack of) is not something I know a lot about; however, I believed that the political (2nd) argument from his Essay on Suicide is suggestive of a social contract; although perhaps that is not related to what you say.

    Keep watching the skies above,

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