Was Hume an “Atheist”?

Paul Russell

in The Riddle of Hume's Treatise

Published in print March 2008 | ISBN: 9780195110333
Published online May 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199872084 | DOI:
Was Hume an “Atheist”?

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This chapter considers to what extent the irreligious interpretation of the Treatise supports the charge of “atheism” and how this relates to Hume's philosophical commitments in his later writings in so far as they concern religion. The most accurate and informative label for describing Hume's views on this subject is irreligion—which is the label used here to describe Hume's fundamental intentions in the Treatise. Irreligion is a term that both Hume's contemporaries and our own would understand and can apply to Hume's arguments and outlook without any serious misrepresentation. Calling Hume's views on this subject irreligious avoids, on one side, attributing any form of unqualified or dogmatic atheism to him, while, on the other, it also makes clear that his fundamental attitude toward religion is one of systematic hostility and criticism (i.e. he believes that we are better off without religion and religious hypotheses and speculations). Nevertheless, Hume's early critics were well justified in their view that the label of “atheism” was a natural fit, given their own understanding of this term and the evident irreligious features contained in Hume's writings.

Keywords: agnosticism; atheism; deism; Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion; irreligion; Ernest Mossner; skepticism; Spinozism; theism

Chapter.  6304 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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