Thomas Holden
University of California at Santa Barbara
Although various points of Hume's canonical works hint at a critique of religious affect, his most explicit attack on such sentiments occurs in a letter of June 30th 1743 to his friend William Mure. In this letter Hume sets out an objection to all affective attitudes that are putatively directed toward God, and maintains that the Deity is not in fact the ‘natural object’ of any human passion. I examine this claim and canvass three possible interpretations of Hume's challenge to religious affect, according to which Hume is, alternatively, (i) asserting the impropriety of all religious affect, (ii) denying that our affective states can secure reference to the divine, or (iii) rejecting the psychological possibility of affective states that take God as their object. Hume's argument may be best understood, I suggest, as a combination of all three criticisms. I close with an examination of Hume's diagnosis of the self-deceit involved in putative cases of religious feeling, and connect the argument of his letter to the similar analyses in Essays, Moral and Political and the Natural History of Religion.
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DOI 10.1515/AGPH.2007.014
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