Toward a Humean True Religion: Genuine Theism, Moderate Hope, and Practical Morality
David Hume is traditionally seen as a devastating critic of religion. He is widely read as an infidel, a critic of the Christian faith, and an attacker of popular forms of worship. His reputation as irreligious is well forged among his readers, and his argument against miracles sits at the heart of the narrative overview of his work that perennially indoctrinates thousands of first-year philosophy students. In Toward a Humean True Religion, Andre Willis succeeds in complicating Hume’s split approach to religion, showing that Hume was not, in fact, dogmatically against religion in all times and places. Hume occupied a “watershed moment,” Willis contends, when old ideas of religion were being replaced by the modern idea of religion as a set of epistemically true but speculative claims. Thus, Willis repositions the relative weight of Hume’s antireligious sentiment, giving significance to the role of both historical and discursive forces instead of simply relying on Hume’s personal animus as its driving force. Willis muses about what a Humean “true religion” might look like and suggests that we think of this as a third way between the classical and modern notions of religion. He argues that the cumulative achievements of Hume’s mild philosophic theism, the aim of his moral rationalism, and the conclusion of his project on the passions provide the best content for this “true religion.”
Andre C. Willis is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University.