Monday, May 09, 2011

'Dr. Warburton's Railing'

In his autobiographical essay, My Own Life, Hume says that he knew his works were having an effect when they got a reaction out of William Warburton:

I found, by Dr. Warburton's railing, that the books were beginning to be esteemed in good company

Warburton was a famously cutting polemicist, so the term 'raillery' is closely associated with his name in the eighteenth century. His Divine Legation of Moses, a philosophical work that should be more widely read than it is, if only so that philosophers will stop mischaracterizing divine command theory, provides a good example of this. The book is dedicated to freethinkers everywhere, and the dedicatory epistle consists almost entirely of contemptuously and sarcastically mocking freethinkers for what he sees as their constant (and dishonest) whining. A sample:

But to return to our subject: The poor thread-bare cant of want of liberty, I should hope then you would be, at length, persuaded to lay aside; but that I know such cant is amongst your arts of controversy; and that something is to be allowed to a weak cause, and to a reputation that requires managing. We know what to understand by it, when after a successless insult on religion, the reader is intreated to believe that you have a strong reserve: but till the door of liberty be set a little wider, you have not room to display it.

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