Friday, August 07, 2009

Neo-Humean Theology

He has, in truth, in his speculations, given, without knowing it, the skeleton of the noblest and most purely Religious System of the human mind which has ever yet been unfolded to the world ; for if, in pursuing those which he has entered into on cause and effect, (the most important and original part of his system,) we but carry this principle along with us, that, in all constant conjunctions of natural events, the mind feels the constancy and regularity of the operation to be a sign of intelligence and design, and that the belief which is felt in consequence is nothing but the sentiment of trust in that Supreme Intelligence; then, I say, we shall perceive that the system of Mr Hume is a system of the most pervading theology.

Robert Morehead, Dialogues on Natural and Revealed Religion, Note O.

Morehead's Dialogues are a rather curious nineteenth-century work. Morehead takes Hume's characters from the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Philo, Cleanthes, Pamphilus writing to Hermippus. However, in his Dialogues we see the three toward the end of their lives -- Philo, in fact, seems to be not all that far from death -- and time has changed them. Cleanthes is less brazen than he used to be, although he is still a deist insisting on empirical evidence. Philo still has a tendency to be overimaginative in his speculations, but he has long since changed his basic views: he became disenchanted with skepticism and became a Christian. Despite this, however, there is still a discernible Humean tinge to Philo's extensive discussion of his belief that experiences of sublimity and beauty in nature are confused experiences of God. Morehead is able to accomplish this by a very clever move in which he takes advantage of the Humean account of causation. Hume's account of causation has some very original aspects to it, but much of it is taken over from Malebranche's occasionalism (a fact that becomes very clear in ECHU Section VII, Part I, where Hume takes over, sometimes nearly word for word, several Malebranchean arguments and then finally concludes by rejecting Malebranche's own system). Thus Hume's skepticism is already next door to Malebranche's rationalist enthusiasm ('enthusiasm' being here taken in the early modern sense rather than our sense). Morehead makes a very slight modification to Hume's account of causation: instead of rejecting the claim that we get the idea of causation from the experience of volition, accept it. Then, on Humean principles, all causation becomes a form of volition, either God's or another mind's; Humean naturalism shifts into a kind of occasionalism, and Humean empiricism becomes a sort of theistic nature mysticism. Since causation is pervasive in our experience, Humean associationism automatically becomes an experience of the dependence of all things on the divine will; the Humean account of belief becomes an account of trust in the divine will. And Hume already accepts, or at least more than once refuses to reject, a basic form of design argument, so the whole thing can be done quite consistently: the resulting new Hume has a great many similarities to Berkeley, although Morehead's Philo insists that the material world exists. There are weaknesses in execution, since Morehead lacks Hume's incisiveness, but it is rather clever, and more thoroughly done than its closest cousin, Hamann's modification of Humean skepticism into a form of fideism.

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