This chapter investigates the rationality of failing to believe miracle reports. Hume famously argued that it is irrational to believe that a miracle has occurred on the basis of testimony alone. While certain aspects of Hume's argument have received extensive discussion, other features of his argument have been largely overlooked. After offering a reconstruction of Hume's argument, I argue that epistemic defeat plays a central role in the argument, and I explore the aptness of as well as some limitations to (...) Hume's reasoning. I then discuss the relevance of the prior likelihood of an event when evaluating the evidential strength that testimony to such an event provides. Finally, I explore some ways the argument is altered if we adopt a non-traditional picture of evidence and defeat. (shrink)
This book provides a concise treatment of David Hume’s “Of Miracles,” defending both an interpretation of Hume’s argument and an evaluation of its philosophical significance. The philosophical argumentation is consistently rigorous, and the interpretation of Hume is interesting and original.A distinctive aspect of George’s approach, which should have been highlighted in the introduction but was not, is his treatment of “Of Miracles” as a standalone essay. This approach serves to illuminate certain aspects of “Of Miracles,” especially the relationship between the (...) two parts. However, there are places where the lack of discussion of the essay’s position in the larger scheme of Hume’s Enquiry concerning Human... (shrink)
For Hume virtues are character traits that are useful and agreeable to ourselves and to others. Such traits are wide-ranging, from moral virtues such as benevolence to intellectual virtues such as courage of mind and penetration. This paper focuses on Hume’s account of the latter. I argue that Hume is a virtue epistemologist, principally interested in the role that intellectual character traits play in social interactions rather than in the justifiedness of particular beliefs. I shall argue that this interpretation is (...) consonant with his mitigated skepticism, and that it calls for a reappraisal of the marshalling of Hume and Reid into the contemporary debate between reductionists and non-reductionists with respect to the epistemology of testimony. (shrink)
As part of his wider critique of the credibility of miraculous testimony, Hume also offers a rather curious argument as to the mutual detriment of conflicting testimony for the miracles of contrary religious worldviews. Scholarship on this aspect of Hume’s reasoning has debated whether or not the considerations are to be understood as essentially probabilistic, and as to whether or not a probabilistic interpretation of the argument is logically valid. The consensus would appear to offer a positive answer to the (...) first question and a negative answer to the second. In this paper I expose a deeper fallacy in Hume’s reasoning that undermines both probabilistic and non-probabilistic readings. My critique is closely based upon analogous considerations in the philosophy of science, and the equally intriguing issue as to the epistemological relevance of conflicting scientific theories throughout the history of science. (shrink)
Hume's essay on the credibility of miracle reports has always been controversial, with much debate over how it should be interpreted, let alone assessed. My aim here is to summarise what I take to be the most plausible views on these issues, both interpretative and philosophical, with references to facilitate deeper investigation if desired. The paper is divided into small sections, each headed by a question that provides a focus. Broadly speaking, §§1–3 and §20 are on Hume's general philosophical framework (...) within which the essay is situated, §§4–11 and §19 are on Part 1, §12–18 are on Part 2, and the final three sections §§18–20 sum up my assessment of his arguments. (shrink)
Among contemporary epistemologists of testimony, David Hume is standardly regarded as a "global reductionist", where global reductionism requires the hearer to have sufficient first-hand knowledge of the facts in order to individually ascertain the reliability of the testimony in question. In the present paper, I argue that, by construing Hume's reductionism in too individualistic a fashion, the received view of Hume on testimony is inaccurate at best, and misleading at worst. Hume's overall position is more amenable to testimonial acceptance than (...) has traditionally been thought. In particular, Hume believes that indirect evidence of human nature and of the social world around us, can take the place of first-hand evidence of the track record of individual speakers or specific classes of testimony. In developing this interpretation of Hume's views on testimony, the present paper draws on discussions found in the Treatise, the Enquiry, and in Hume's writings on historical knowledge. (shrink)
The standard interpretation of Hume on testimony takes him to be a reductionist; justification of beliefs from testimony ultimately depends on one's own first-person experience. Yet Hume's main discussions of testimony in the Treatise and first Enquiry suggest a social account. Hume appeals to shared experience and develops norms of belief from testimony that are not reductionist. It is argued that the reductionist interpretation rests on an overly narrow view of Hume's theory of ideas. By attending to such mechanisms of (...) the imagination as abstraction and fictions, it is shown that Hume's theory of ideas does not forestall a non-reductionist social epistemology. (shrink)
It has been argued that Hume's account of testimony is seriously inadequate: an autonomous knower of the sort Hume defends cannot, through simple inductive methods, justify accepting another's testimony as true. This conclusion is no doubt correct. But Hume does not defend the idea of an autonomous knower, nor does he defend relying upon simple inductive methods. An examination of Hume's critique of Descartes’ method of doubt shows him as a defender of what might be called the responsible knower, and (...) reveals the sophistication of the inductive methods he wishes to defend. It is shown that Hume can and does use these methods to justify accepting the testimony of others. (shrink)
Abstract At stake in the dispute between Campbell and Hume is the basis for our acceptance of testimony. Campbell argues that, contrary to Hume, our acceptance of testimony is prior to experience, while Hume continues to maintain that the appropriation through testimony of the experience of others depends ultimately on one's own experience. I argue that Hume's remarks about testimony provide a non-circular account of the process by which the experience of others may become one's own; and I suggest that (...) the view of Campbell and Hume as proponents of two radically opposed positions on the epistemology of testimony represents a considerable over-simplification. (shrink)
The topic and methods of David Hume’s "Of Miracles" resemble his historiographical more than his philosophical works. Unfortunately, Hume and his critics and apologists have shared the prescientific, indeed ahistorical, limitations of Hume’s original historical investigations. I demonstrate the advantages of the critical methodological approach to testimonies, developed initially by German biblical critics in the late eighteenth century, to a priori discussions of miracles. Any future discussion of miracles and Hume must use the critical method to improve the quality and (...) relevance of the debate. (edited). (shrink)
The foremost advocate of Baconian probability, L. J. Cohen, has credited Hume for being the first to explicitly recognize that there is an important kind of probability which does not fit into the framework afforded by the calculus of chance, a recognition that is evident in Hume's distinction between analogical probability and probabilities arising from chance or cause. This essay defends Hume's account of the credibility of testimony, including his notorious argument against the credibility of testimony to miracles, in light (...) of this insight. (shrink)
David Hume advances a reductionist epistemology of testimony: testimonial beliefs are justified on the basis of beliefs formed from other sources. This reduction, however, has been misunderstood. Testimonial beliefs are not justified in a manner identical to ordinary empirical beliefs; it is true, they are justified by observation of the conjunction between testimony and its truth, it is the nature of the conjunctions that has been misunderstood. The observation of these conjunctions provides us with our knowledge of human nature and (...) it is this knowledge which justifies our testimonial beliefs. Hume gives a naturalistic rather than sceptical account of testimony. (shrink)
Hume's argument concerning miracles is interpreted by making approximations to terms in Bayes's theorem. This formulation is then used to analyse the impact of multiple testimony. Individual testimonies which are ‘non-miraculous’ in Hume's sense can in principle be accumulated to yield a high probability both for the occurrence of a single miracle and for the occurrence of at least one of a set of miracles. Conditions are given under which testimony for miracles may provide support for the existence of God.
In this paper I will critically analyze the first part of David Hume’s argument against miracles, which has been traditionally referred to as the in-principle argument. However, unlike most critiques of Hume’s argument, I will (1) present a view of evidential epistemology and probability that will take into consideration Hume’s accurate observation that miracles are highly improbable events while(2) arguing that one can be within one’s epistemic rights in believing that a miracle has occurred. As for the proper definition of (...) a miracle, I offer the following, which I believe most religious people generally mean when they call an event miraculous: "A miracle is a divine intervention that occurs contrary to the regular course of nature within a significant historical-religious context". Although I am fully aware that this definition has its detractors, it will merely function in this paper as a working definition so that we can come to grips with Hume’s argument. This definition has been. (shrink)
A BAYESIAN ARTICULATION OF HUME’S VIEWS IS OFFERED BASED ON A FORM OF THE BAYES-LAPLACE THEOREM THAT IS SUPERFICIALLY LIKE A FORMULA OF CONDORCET’S. INFINITESIMAL PROBABILITIES ARE EMPLOYED FOR MIRACLES AGAINST WHICH THERE ARE ’PROOFS’ THAT ARE NOT OPPOSED BY ’PROOFS’. OBJECTIONS MADE BY RICHARD PRICE ARE DEALT WITH, AND RECENT EXPERIMENTS CONDUCTED BY AMOS TVERSKY AND DANIEL KAHNEMAN ARE CONSIDERED IN WHICH PERSONS TEND TO DISCOUNT PRIOR IMPROBABILITIES WHEN ASSESSING REPORTS OF WITNESSES.
Epistemology is in the business of formulating norms of acceptable belief. We typically arrive at beliefs through inference. So epistemology is concerned with our inferential practices. Making inferences is something individuals do. If I believe the premises of an argument and you know how to infer something from those premises, it doesn't follow that you will draw the inference, unless you believe the premises. It appears, then, that all the important epistemic work goes on in individual agents. When we build (...) an automobile together, we build it just once, but when we draw the same conclusion, each of us draws it. (shrink)