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Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

versão On-line ISSN 1445-7377
versão impressa ISSN 2079-7222

Indo-Pac. j. phenomenol. (Online) vol.8 no.2 Grahamstown Set. 2008


Leaving the "real Hume" in peace and reading the dialogues from a moral perspective



Alon Segev




This paper offers a new reading of Hume's much discussed Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779/2000) which shows that, in contrast to what commentators tend to ascribe to Hume, the crux of the text is not epistemological-ontological - that is, not the arguments in favour of and against God's existence - but moral. It is shown that, although most of the epistemological-ontological pro-and-contra arguments are quite weak, Hume's interlocutors nevertheless cling to their theses from beginning to end, with the reason for their dogmatism shown to be moral rather than epistemological-ontological. The paper is divided into four sections. The introduction to the argument is followed by a discussion of Hume's rejection of substance as epistemologically-ontologically superfluous and as morally bad. Thereafter, it is first shown how the concept of a transcendental God undergoes deflation and consequently disappears. It is then shown that, even though their arguments are wrong, Cleanthes and Philo cling dogmatically to their starting points instead of trying to improve their claims and to rebuff the criticisms made against them. In conclusion, it is shown that the only way to account for their dogmatic inflexibility is in terms of their moral position: Cleanthes thinks that society and morals will collapse without the belief in a transcendental God, while Philo thinks it will function better if we discard this belief.



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