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Toward a Humean True Religion

Genuine Theism, Moderate Hope, and Practical Morality

Andre C. Willis

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ISBN: 978-0-271-06487-1

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264 pages
6" × 9"
2015

Toward a Humean True Religion

Genuine Theism, Moderate Hope, and Practical Morality

Andre C. Willis

“Andre Willis's book is an original treatment and superb analysis of Hume’s conception of ‘true religion.’ Willis’s meticulous scholarship ranges across the magisterial corpus of the most profound and powerful philosopher in the English language. His synthetic perspective situates Hume’s conception of ‘true religion’ within the context of Hume’s quest for a science of human nature. His use of major figures such as Locke, Hutchinson, Descartes, Hobbes, Tindal, Toland, Grotius, and Lord Herbert to situate Hume’s mitigated skepticism, attenuated naturalism, and classical humanism is quite persuasive. Willis's argument is highly nuanced, critically fair, and textually grounded. The writing is crystal clear, balanced, humble, assured, and honest. It is the kind of book that would make Hume smile from the grave, as if to say, ‘Someone has got the gist of what I was about! And there is no greater satisfaction than this!’”

 

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  • Table of Contents
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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 Willis's book is an original treatment and superb analysis of Hume’s conception of ‘true religion.’ Willis’s meticulous scholarship ranges across the magisterial corpus of the most profound and powerful philosopher in the English language. His synthetic perspective situates Hume’s conception of ‘true religion’ within the context of Hume’s quest for a science of human nature. His use of major figures such as Locke, Hutchinson, Descartes, Hobbes, Tindal, Toland, Grotius, and Lord Herbert to situate Hume’s mitigated skepticism, attenuated naturalism, and classical humanism is quite persuasive. Willis's argument is highly nuanced, critically fair, and textually grounded. The writing is crystal clear, balanced, humble, assured, and honest. It is the kind of book that would make Hume smile from the grave, as if to say, ‘Someone has got the gist of what I was about! And there is no greater satisfaction than this!’”
“Hume’s repeated references to ‘true religion’ have rarely been taken seriously by philosophers, for whom he has been the paradigmatic religious skeptic. Of late, though, the thought that this may be an important mistake has been gaining traction. Andre Willis’s book is the first sustained and comprehensive attempt to capitalize on this revolutionary idea. By exploring texts beyond the normal narrow compass of the Dialogues and the essay ‘Of Miracles,’ Willis opens up the possibility of a far richer philosophical understanding of Hume on religion than the one that has been dominant for a century or more.”
“Hume’s occasional praise of ‘true religion’ is often viewed as an ironic gesture of respect toward an empty set. In his new book, Andre Willis argues instead that such comments point to the possibility of an adaptive form of religious life that fosters moderation of the passions, ethical formation, and affective solidarity. Building constructively on Hume’s broadly Ciceronian predilections, Willis defends a Humean notion of ‘true religion’ as a productive way forward for anti-foundationalist and post-metaphysical retrievals of ‘religion.’ Under Willis’s deft and sympathetic treatment, Hume emerges as an important resource for those convinced that religiousness in some form is here to stay and hopeful that it can do so as a kind of natural piety. A refreshing and important contribution.”
“With great acuity and originality, Willis does address the question of how Hume’s thinking on religion might be made serviceable to our post-secular twenty-first-century culture in general, and a philosophically-informed study of religion in particular. In fact, this line of thought is well articulated in the first page of Willis’s book and becomes again prominent in his insightful and challenging last chapter, ‘A Humean true religion.’ Willis’ study is a must read for anyone who wants to know whether Hume might be a good philosophical guide to help such an Enlightened sense of piety to flourish.”
“[Willis] succeeds in his attempt to establish Hume as a constructive voice in dialogues about religion and in calling into question the belief that Hume was a thoroughgoing atheist.”
“As Willis impressively demonstrates, Hume was neither an atheist nor an opponent of all conceptions of religion. In detailing this unfurrowed truth throughout the work, Willis proves an insightful and potent guide through the mind of David Hume.”

Andre C. Willis is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University.

Acknowledgements

Abbreviations of Primary Texts

Introduction

Chapter 1: The ‘Proper Office of Religion’ from Cicero to Hume

Chapter 2: Genuine Theism

Chapter 3: Moderate Hope

Chapter 4: Practical Morality

Chapter 5: The Religious Significance of Hume’s True Religion

Bibliography

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