On the Interpretation of Hume's Dialogues

Religious Studies 11 (1):1-18 (1975)


One of the most striking facts about Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is the fact that it has been subject to so many mutually contradictory interpretations. It is not, to be sure, unusual that a complex philosophical work be capable of a variety of interpretations. The case of the Dialogues is, however, surely an exceptional one, for the contradictory interpretations concern what is clearly the main subject of the book: the justifiability of world-hypotheses, and specifically the justifiability of the religious world-hypothesis. According to some commentators, Hume's point in the Dialogues is that no world-hypothesis whatever is justifiable, perhaps none is even intelligible. According to others, Hume not only does not deny the possibility of a justified world-hypothesis, but actually proposes some particular hypothesis as the most reasonable one. Those who agree that Hume defends some world-hypothesis, however, differ radically about its content. For some, Hume's preferred hypothesis is that the explanation of order in the universe is a deity immanent in the universe. For others, Hume subscribes to a deity distinct from the universe whose order he explains, and possessing many, at least, of the traditional attributes of God, including wisdom, power, and benevolence. Still others hold that Hume's God, while distinct from the universe, possesses only the natural, not the moral, attributes traditionally assigned to him. Some commentators have even argued that Hume's purpose in the Dialogues is to employ scepticism in defence of religious faith. How, one must ask, is it possible that so many mutually contradictory interpretations have been proposed? How is this striking fact about the Dialogues to be explained?

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Interpreting Hume's Dialogues.Dorothy P. Coleman - 1989 - Religious Studies 25 (2):179-190.
Demea’s Dilemmas.Thomas Olshewsky - 2003 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (3):473 – 492.

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