True religion in Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Many think that the aim of Hume’s Dialogues is simply to discredit the design argument for the existence of an intelligent designer. We think instead that the Dialogues provides a model of true religion. We argue that, for Hume, the truly religious person: believes that an intelligent designer created and imposed order on the universe; grounds this belief in an irregular argument rooted in a certain kind of experience, for example, in the experience of anatomizing complex natural systems such as the eye; and retains this belief, on the basis of these reasons, even after careful scrutiny. We argue that two of the Dialogues’s characters, Philo and Cleanthes, exhibit true religion. A third character, Demea, exhibits false religion and a persistent impiety. Taken as a whole, we see the Dialogues as an educational performance for the benefit of Pamphilus, Cleanthes’s ward, as well as for the benefit of readers of the Dialogues. Specifically, we think, given that its lessons concern theology and the principles of religion, the dynamics of the Dialogues’s discussion and the interplay between its characters can be seen as a demonstration of a method for becoming truly religious.
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DOI 10.1080/09608788.2016.1255175
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