Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Philosophy 13 (49):84-86 (1938)

Abstract

Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion are still much with us. What appears to be the definitive edition was published by Professor Norman Kemp Smith in 1935 with a learned introduction which, among other things, assembled a mass of evidence pointing to the conclusion that Philo is to be identified with Hume himself, and that Hume in the Dialogues is deliberately trying to undermine the religious hypothesis. Though these conclusions have been widely accepted, Dr. B. M. Laing, in the April issue of Philosophy , strenuously attacked them in an ingenious argument based in part on his already published thesis that Hume's fundamental philosophy is not really the scepticism so long assigned him. Dr. Laing takes the opportunity in passing to indicate his sympathy with the recent position of a distinguished British poet that Voltaire, also, has been traditionally abused in the assumption that on the question of religion he wrote with his tongue in his cheek. The present examination is not designed to inquire into this new mode of making the wicked pious; nor to push the question back from the Dialogues to Hume's basic philosophy; nor to press the writer's conviction [“The Enigma of Hume,” Mind , XLV pp. 334–349] that not only is Philo to be identified as Hume, but in addition, Cleanthes as Joseph Butler, and Demea as Samuel Clarke. The present purpose is solely to indicate certain unhistorical bases of Dr. Laing's attack on the more traditional view so ably championed by Professor Norman Kemp Smith

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