Hume's Problem: The Opposition Between Philosophy and Common Life

Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley (1990)

Hume raises the issue of how common life and philosophy are related. He presents the possibility that they are irreconcilably opposed, that philosophy rigorously and honestly pursued must lead to skepticism. I discuss some prominent interpretive issues about Hume in light of this opposition between common life and philosophy. I also argue that this opposition is a deep and general philosophical problem, and sketch an approach to this problem. ;These are my interpretive claims: I argue that Hume has constructive aims in his epistemology, and that he is surprised when his naturalism subverts these constructive aims and leads to skepticism. I argue that Hume does not entertain a moral skepticism similar to his skepticism about the external world and causal relations, but that he should have entertained such a skepticism. I argue that, in the Dialogues, Philo does not concede that religious belief is natural and therefore secure despite its unreasonableness. Rather, Philo contends that religious belief is not natural, and contends that this lack of naturalness gives us principled grounds for preferring causal and moral beliefs to natural ones. However, I argue, the problem of general philosophical skepticism keeps this religious skepticism from being satisfactory. ;I use the interpretation of Hume to clarify and deepen Hume's Problem, and to begin working toward a solution of that problem. I argue that there is a perspective we can take up that makes skepticism about the status of our physical and moral beliefs and practices seem inevitable. To resolve Hume's Problem, we must show that this perspective is the wrong perspective on human life, or at least that there is some alternative perspective that does not lead to skepticism but is no less rational than the perspective that does lead to skepticism
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