The Argument a Priori and Hume's “Curious <i>Nostrum</i>”

Paul Russell

in The Riddle of Hume's Treatise

Published in print March 2008 | ISBN: 9780195110333
Published online May 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199872084 | DOI:
The Argument a Priori and Hume's “Curious Nostrum”

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Although most philosophers would agree with the suggestion that Hume's treatment of the problem of causation “is the center‐piece of the Treatise” (or, at least, of Book I), they also generally hold that Hume's views on causation in the Treatise are of little or no direct relevance to problems of natural religion. In contrast with this, many of Hume's early critics interpreted his views on causation as involving an “atheistic” or irreligious attack on the argument a priori—particularly as defended by Clarke and his followers. This chapter argues that Hume was well aware that his most distinguished adversaries had used Lucretius's (atheistic) maxim “nothing can come from nothing” to defend the cause of “superstition.” In opposition to this, Hume abandoned Lucretius's maxim and embraced its direct opposite: “any thing may produce any thing.” This “curious nostrum” served as Hume's principal weapon in his battle to discredit all efforts to use demonstrative reason to prove the existence of God.

Keywords: argument a priori; cosmological argument; Andrew Baxter; causal principle; causation; Samuel Clarke; Ralph Cudworth; demonstrative reasoning; matter and mind; necessary‐existence; Lucretius; principle of sufficient reason

Chapter.  8933 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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