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Critical Notice: Paul Russell’s The Riddle of Hume’s Treatise: Skepticism, Naturalism, and Irreligion (OUP 2008)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Joe Campbell*
Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, PO Box 644880, Washington State University, Pullman, WA99164-4880, USA


In The Riddle of Hume’s Treatise: Skepticism, Naturalism, and Irreligion (2008), Paul Russell makes a strong case for the claim that “The primary aim of Hume’s series of skeptical arguments, as developed and distributed throughout the Treatise, is to discredit the doctrines and dogmas of Christian philosophy and theology with a view toward redirecting our philosophical investigations to areas of ‘common life, ’ with the particular aim of advancing ‘the science of man’”; (2008, 290). Understanding Hume in this way, according to Russell, sheds light on the “ultimate riddle”; of the Treatise: “is it possible to reconcile Hume’s (extreme) skeptical principles and conclusions with his aim to advance the ‘science of man’”; (2008, 3)? Or does Hume’s skepticism undermine his “secular, scientific account of the foundations of moral life in human nature”; (290)? Russell’s controversial thesis is that “the irreligious nature of Hume’s fundamental intentions in the Treatise”; is essential to solving the riddle (11). Russell makes a compelling case for Hume’s irreligion as well as his atheism. Contrary to this interpretation I argue that Hume is an irreligious theist and not an atheist.

Research Article
Copyright © Canadian Journal of Philosophy 2015

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