A touchstone of the Enlightenment dispute between rationality and religious belief, David Hume’s essay “Of Miracles” has elicited much commentary from proponents and critics ever since it was published over 250 years ago. Alexander George’s lucid and sustained interpretation of Hume’s essay provides fresh insights into this provocative, occasionally elusive, and always subtle text. The Everlasting Check will be read with interest by both students new to Hume and seasoned scholars.
George does justice to the letter and spirit of Hume’s essay, explaining the concepts and claims involved, making intelligible the essay’s structure, and clarifying remarks that have long puzzled readers. Properly interpreted, the essay’s central philosophical argument proves to be much hardier than Hume’s detractors suggest. George considers a range of objections to Hume—some recent, some perennial—and shows why most fail, either because they are based on misinterpretations or because the larger body of Hume’s philosophy answers them.
Beyond an analysis and defense of Hume’s essay, George also offers a critique of his own, appealing to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s thoughts on magic and ritual to demonstrate that Hume misconstrues the character of religious belief and its relationship to evidence and confirmation. Raising a host of important questions about the connection between religious and empirically verified beliefs, George discusses why Hume’s master argument can fail to engage with committed religious thought and why philosophical argumentation in general often proves ineffective in shaking people’s deeply held beliefs.
This is an excellent discussion of Hume’s thoughts regarding miracles.
Alexander George’s interpretation of Hume’s essay is distinguished by lucidity, logical rigor, and attention to textual detail. But George is not content simply to clarify Hume’s argument; he also draws on Wittgenstein and Samuel Johnson to suggest that religious belief need not be connected to evidence in the way that Hume assumed. These reflections will not satisfy those who wish to use Hume to bash religion, nor those who wish to show that Hume is utterly mistaken, but they will appeal to anyone who wishes to think more deeply about evidence, faith, and reason.
This lovely book—wise, humane, brief, and beautifully written—offers both a sympathetic reconstruction of Hume's argument concerning miracles and a series of illuminating reflections on the argument's nature and significance. The book is an ideal point of entry into the argument for students and general readers, but scholars too will find that it gives them plenty to learn from—as well as plenty to contend with.
- 112 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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