Meeting 18

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DATE: Tuesday, November 10

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : David Hume: Miracles and Logic

SPEAKERS: Graham Clay (University of Notre Dame) & Michael Jacovides (Purdue University)


Hume Should Deny the Law of Excluded Middle

Graham Clay (University of Notre Dame)

Hume’s principles require that he deny the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM). Although Hume never states or refers to the LEM explicitly, its negation is entailed by what he does state. I discuss these principles–which include Hume’s Separability Principle and Conceivability Principle–as well as ways in which they might ought to be modified to deal with objections. I conclude by reflecting on one context where Hume appears to implicitly rely on the LEM and thereby contradict himself. In contexts like this one, Hume should alter his argumentation rather than abandon the core tenets that lead him to the negation of the LEM.

The Anti-Catholic Background to Hume’s Essay on Miracles

Michael Jacovides (Purdue University)

Placing Hume’s essay on miracles in its religious and historical context clarifies the force of his arguments. Three years before its publication, Edinburgh is occupied by an insurrectionary Catholic army. Hume’s British readers contemplated Catholicism with fear and contempt. We should understand two of the arguments in Part 2 of Hume’s essay on miracles as reductios ad Catholicism: if you believe in the miracles in the Bible, then you ought to believe in Catholic miracles as well. Understanding this intention dissolves the tension between Hume’s assertion that there’s never been a miracle that’s been witnessed by men of learning, good sense, and reputation, and his glowing description of the witnesses to Jansenist miracles a few paragraphs later. He knows his readers won’t believe in a Catholic miracle no matter what, so praising the witnesses of those miracles to the skies raises the bar on the quality of testimony required for the religious miracles they do believe in. Hume’s concrete intentions also illuminate the Contrary Religions Argument. When that argument is abstracted away from its particular context, it loses plausibility. When we understand that the main contrary religion Hume has in mind is Catholicism, we can see how the argument could persuade its readers.

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