Hume's conclusions on the existence and nature of God

Timothy S Yoder, Marquette University


The Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), probably the most influential philosopher ever to write in the English language, is well-known for his skeptical metaphysics and his empirical epistemology. This combination of skepticism and empiricism leads many to presume that, regarding the question of God, Hume is an atheist or, at best, an agnostic. While it is certainly true that Hume called into question a number of religious beliefs, like the belief in miracles or an immortal life, when it comes to belief in God, the issue is not so clear. Hume challenges some of the arguments for the existence of God, but repeatedly in his writings, he affirms God's existence and speculates about God's nature. This dissertation is devoted to a thorough examination of Hume's conclusions regarding God, and I conclude that the conventional story that Hume is agnostic or atheistic is not an accurate one. In recent Hume scholarship, some have recognized this fact and argued that Hume was some kind of deist, however, I argue that this claim also is flawed and that an accurate characterization of Hume's theistic beliefs will distinguish Hume from the English deists of his day. Another common interpretative move is to suggest that Hume's affirmation texts should be understood as ironic. After a thorough study of the nature of irony, I develop a hermeneutic for discovering and interpreting irony in Hume. Using this method, I conclude that many of Hume's affirmation passages are intended to be understood in their natural sense, and that they indicate that Hume did believe in a god. I offer a reading of Hume's writings on religion which preserves the many criticisms of established religion that he voiced, but also reveals that Hume believed in a genuine theism and a true religion. At the heart of this belief system is Hume's affirmation that there is a god, although not a morally good. Lastly, I summarize Hume's theism (which I call amoral theism ), which is unique in the history of ideas.

Recommended Citation

Yoder, Timothy S, "Hume's conclusions on the existence and nature of God" (2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3184687.