Leigh Jackson's Reviews > The Riddle of Hume's Treatise: Skepticism, Naturalism, and Irreligion

The Riddle of Hume's Treatise by Paul    Russell
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's review
Oct 16, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: empiricism, godlessness, history-of-philosophy, hume, moral-philosophy, reviewed

The standard interpretation of Hume's Treatise involves two seemingly unrelated theses. First, it is widely believed that the Treatise was "castrated" of its religious components and is thus neutral with respect to religious questions. Second, it is normally held that Hume's skeptical project of Book I is in tension with the naturalist project of Books II and III. This second feature of the standard interpretation has lead most Hume scholars to emphasize his skepticism over his naturalism, or vice versa.

Russell's excellent book seeks to counter the first thesis, and in doing so, eliminate the tension involved in the second. By carefully situating the arguments in the skeptical portion of Book I within the broader philosophical context, Russell shows that Hume's skepticism is not intended to be a universal acid. Rather, Hume's skeptical arguments narrowly targeted those ideas and arguments of philosophers and theologians who sought to extend the use of reason beyond its proper bounds by claiming to demonstrate propositions for which no experiential basis can be found. Understood in this way, Hume's skeptical project does not eliminate the possibility of robust naturalistic theories of human agency and human morality (the "science of man" pursued in Books II and III). On the contrary, the irreligious interpretation of the Treatise sees the theory of passions and theory of morals that follow the skeptical theory of understanding as fleshing out a positive naturalistic alternative to Christian anthropology. On Russell's reading, then, the Treatise is not a work separated in content from Hume's later critiques of religion, but instead is the theoretical foundation upon which those later works are built.

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Reading Progress

October 16, 2012 – Shelved
February 26, 2013 – Started Reading
April 26, 2013 –
page 187
May 5, 2013 –
page 239
May 17, 2013 – Shelved as: moral-philosophy
May 17, 2013 – Shelved as: history-of-philosophy
May 17, 2013 – Shelved as: empiricism
May 17, 2013 – Shelved as: godlessness
May 17, 2013 – Shelved as: hume
May 17, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed
May 17, 2013 – Finished Reading

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