A Defense of Hume on Miracles

A Defense of Hume on Miracles

Robert J. Fogelin
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 120
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  • Book Info
    A Defense of Hume on Miracles
    Book Description:

    Since its publication in the mid-eighteenth century, Hume's discussion of miracles has been the target of severe and often ill-tempered attacks. In this book, one of our leading historians of philosophy offers a systematic response to these attacks.

    Arguing that these criticisms have--from the very start--rested on misreadings, Robert Fogelin begins by providing a narrative of the way Hume's argument actually unfolds. What Hume's critics (and even some of his defenders) have failed to see is that Hume's primary argument depends on fixing the appropriate standards of evaluating testimony presented on behalf of a miracle. Given the definition of a miracle, Hume quite reasonably argues that the standards for evaluating such testimony must be extremely high. Hume then argues that, as a matter of fact, no testimony on behalf of a religious miracle has even come close to meeting the appropriate standards for acceptance. Fogelin illustrates that Hume's critics have consistently misunderstood the structure of this argument--and have saddled Hume with perfectly awful arguments not found in the text. He responds first to some early critics of Hume's argument and then to two recent critics, David Johnson and John Earman. Fogelin's goal, however, is not to "bash the bashers," but rather to show that Hume's treatment of miracles has a coherence, depth, and power that makes it still the best work on the subject.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2577-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    The full title of Thomas Middleton’sFree InquiryisA Free Inquiry into Miraculous Powers, Which are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian Church, From the Earliest Ages through several successive Centuries. It is an anti-Papist tract intended to show that Christian miracles did not continue into post-Apostolic times and that, for this reason, none of the later miracles claimed in support of the Roman Catholic Church should be acknowledged. When it appeared in 1749, Middleton’s work caused a sensation, whereas David Hume’s recently publishedEnquiry concerning Human Understanding(1748), including its own examination of miracles, was, as he...

  6. 1 The Structure of Hume’s Argument
    (pp. 4-31)

    Standards for evaluating testimony. Hume opens his examination of miracles with a general discussion of beliefs founded on testimony.² He then moves quickly to apply these reflections to the special case of miracles. Perhaps Hume moves too quickly, for many commentators pay insufficient attention to these opening general reflections. Here we will proceed more slowly.

    Hume begins his argument by reminding his readers of the complexity and fallibility of causal reasoning.

    Though experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact; it must be acknowledged, that this guide is not altogether infallible, but in some cases is apt...

  7. 2 Two Recent Critics
    (pp. 32-53)

    In offering the above account of Hume’s treatment of miracles, I have not considered recent criticisms that have been brought against it. It seemed better to give a full exposition of his position before turning to this matter. In the last few years there has been a spate of attacks—“bashes” might be a better word—aimed at Hume’s treatment of miracles. Here I will examine two representative examples: David Johnson’sHume, Holism, and Miraclesand John Earman’sHume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles. What I say in response to their criticisms can, I think, be used to reply...

  8. 3 The Place of “Of Miracles” in Hume’s Philosophy
    (pp. 54-62)

    The interpretation of a philosophical text is often a controversial matter, with commentators disagreeing even about the basic aspects of the work under consideration. Clearly I read Hume’s discussion of miracles in ways that are radically different from the readings offered by Johnson and Earman. Are there principles or guidelines that we can appeal to in trying to decide how a philosophical text should be interpreted? In the introduction toPhilosophical Interpretations—a collection of articles in which I offer analyses of texts by Wittgenstein, Hume, Berkeley, Plato, and others—I suggest two such principles. The first is the principle...

  9. Appendix 1 Hume’s Curious Relationship to Tillotson
    (pp. 63-67)
  10. Appendix 2 “Of Miracles”
    (pp. 68-88)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 89-94)
  12. References
    (pp. 95-96)
  13. Index
    (pp. 97-101)