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Issue 34, Year 2021

Belgrade Philosophical Annual
Institute for Philosophy, University of Belgrade
ISSN: 0353-3891


Guest Editors:
Peter Kail (University of Oxford)
Angela Coventry (Portland State University)
Dejan Šimković (The University of Notre Dame, Australia)


Tamás Demeter

I suggest that it is fruitful to read Hume’s Enquiry concerning Human Understanding as a concise exposition of an epistemic ideal whose complex philosophical background is laid down in A Treatise of Human Nature. Accordingly, the Treatise offers a theory of cognitive and affective capacities, which serves in the Enquiry as the foundation for a critique of chimerical epistemic ideals, and the development of an alternative ideal. Taking the “mental geography” of the Treatise as his starting point, this is the project Hume pursues in the Enquiry. The epistemic ideal Hume spells out in the Enquiry is an alternative to competing ideals: the Aristotelian, the Cartesian, and the Newtonian, and can be read as an exposition of the epistemic ideal of modern science. Although the spell of the Aristotelian and the Cartesian ideals had been in decline for several decades by the 1740s, they had not fully lost their grip on the philosophical imagination. Yet, it was the Newtonian epistemic ideal that became dominant in Scotland and Britain by then, guiding inquiry in moral and natural philosophy, as well as in medical theory. Hume offers a critique of these ideals. He shows that Aristotelian and Cartesian epistemic aspirations rest on mistaken views on human cognitive capacities. And albeit the Newtonian ideal is not prone to this mistake by Hume’s standards, its epistemic expectations extend far beyond the limits of those capacities. Hume’s epistemic ideal can be read as a correction, limitation and refinement of the Newtonian ideal: it sets epistemic aims and propagates methods for the production of fallible, limited and potentially useful knowledge that falls short of the great epistemic expectations of Newton and many Newtonians – but it conforms to what we expect from modern science.

pp. 7-25

DOI: 10.5937/BPA2134007D

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Hsueh Qu

Hume’s epistemological legacy is often perceived as a predominantly negative sceptical one. His infamous problem of induction continues to perplex philosophers to this day, and many of his sceptical worries maintain their interest in contemporary eyes (e.g. with regard to reason, the senses, substance, causation). Yet Hume’s positive epistemological contributions also hold significance for philosophy in this day and age. In this paper, I aim to situate Hume’s epistemology in a more contemporary context, particularly with regard to the theme of reliabilism that runs throughout this epistemology. This will take the shape of examining correspondences and contrasts between Hume’s epistemologies in the Treatise and Enquiry and reliabilism, as well as an examination of how Hume’s framework might handle some major challenges for reliabilist epistemologies. In particular, I argue that that while Hume is tempted to an epistemology that is intimately tied to truth in the Treatise, he backs away when confronted with the excesses of scepticism in the conclusion of Book 1, and winds up with an epistemology most similar to the contemporary epistemological frameworks of dogmatism and phenomenal conservatism. Yet, largely because of his reliance on the passions (a respect in which he diverges from these two contemporary frameworks), the epistemology of the Treatise remains crucially dissociated from truth. Meanwhile, in the first Enquiry, he proceeds to develop a two-tiered epistemological framework that first accords all our justification with default authority, and then founds all-things-considered epistemic justification on our evidence for the reliability of our faculties. The first tier most resembles the contemporary epistemological framework of conservatism, while the second tier most closely resembles approved-list reliabilism. In this, a clear reliabilist thread runs through the epistemology of the Enquiry. I will also argue that although Hume did not appear to fully appreciate one of the most significant challenges for reliabilism—that is, the generality problem—his philosophical framework nevertheless contains the beginnings of a response to it.

pp. 27-51

DOI: 10.5937/BPA2134027Q

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Sofía Calvente

My aim is to look into the representational aspect of ideas, exploring not only to what Hume refers as adequate ideas, but also these cases where for a number of reasons an idea does not reach that standard. It has been suggested that the latter are fictions, but an in-depth examination of Hume texts reveals that there are several types of imperfections, such as incompleteness or imprecision that prevent an idea from being adequate. This leads to an analysis of the status of supposed or pretended ideas, and the possibility of there being terms with no ideas annexed to them.

pp. 53-72

DOI: 10.5937/BPA2134053C

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Gabriel Watts

This paper provides a reception history of Book Two of the Treatise – Of the passions – as well as an attempt to reconcile Hume’s ambitions to systematicity in Book Two with the distracted and distracting nature of the text. We currently have, I think, a good sense of the philosophical importance of Book Two within Hume’s science of human nature. Yet we have not made much progress on understanding Book Two on its own terms, and especially why Book Two so often seems on the verge of falling into an explanatory heap. I aim to rectify this situation by giving a reading of Book Two that makes sense of the philosophical importance of Hume’s system of the passions, yet also explains why he encounters so many difficulties in setting out his system; such that he is often forced to stretch his explanations to the very edge of the credible. I contend that Hume’s system of the passions is best viewed as an unstable explanatory compound, one that progressively dissolves as Hume’s explanatory intentions become increasingly ambitious.

pp. 73-94

DOI: 10.5937/BPA2134073W

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Jonas Olson

This paper considers and argues against old and recent readings of Hume according to which his account of moral judgement is non-cognitivist. In previous discussions of this topic, crucial metaethical distinctions—between sentimentalism and non-cognitivism and between psychological and semantic non-cognitivism—are often blurred. The paper aims to remedy this and argues that making the appropriate metaethical distinctions undermines alleged support for non-cognitivist interpretations of Hume. The paper focuses in particular on Hume’s so-called ‘motivation argument’ and argues that it is a poor basis for non-cognitivist interpretations. While there is textual support for attributing to Hume what may be called ‘modally weak’ motivational internalism, there is no solid textual support for attributing to him either psychological or semantic non-cognitivism. The paper also challenges briefly some further alleged support for non-cognitivist interpretations. It concludes by offering some positive evidence against such interpretations, namely that Hume appears to hold that there are moral beliefs and moral knowledge.

pp. 95-111

DOI: 10.5937/BPA2134095O

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Aleksandra Davidović

One of the reasons for many different and even opposing interpretations of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is the absence of consensus concerning the question of which character in the Dialogues represents Hume. In this paper I argue that taking Philo to be his primary spokesperson provides us with the most consistent reading of the whole work and helps us better understand Hume’s religious viewpoint. I first stress the specific dialogue form of Hume’s work, which requires us to take into account literary tools such as irony and double-talk when interpreting it. From there I proceed to show why I believe that my hypothesis is better supported than the other two main hypotheses concerning Hume’s presence in the Dialogues, the first one being that Cleanthes represents Hume and the other one that none of the characters consistently speaks for Hume but rather that the whole structure of the work does that. Although there is both textual and historical evidence which suggests that Hume favoured Cleanthes, I show that his opinions deviate from Hume’s well-known views on important subjects such as scepticism, morality and Christianity, while Philo’s opinions on these subjects agree with Hume’s almost verbatim. The second hypothesis is proven to be wrong by the fact that Philo actually consistently defends Hume’s opinions. Finally, I argue that Philo’s understanding of true religion as a philosophical position devoid of any religious import agrees with Hume’s religious scepticism.

pp. 113-137

DOI: 10.5937/BPA2134113D

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Liz Goodnick

I argue that Hume’s naturalistic explanation of religious belief in the Natural History of Religion has significant epistemic consequences. While he argues in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (and in other works) that belief in God is not justified on the basis of testimony or philosophical argument, this is not enough to show that religious belief is not warranted. In the Natural History, Hume provides a genetic explanation for religious belief. I contend that the explanation of religious belief in the Natural History, given Hume’s conclusions in his other works, provides grounds to reject religious belief. Thus, I conclude that the Natural History plays an important role in Hume’s overall critique of religion insofar as it is a necessary component in Hume’s arsenal against the warrant of religious belief.

pp. 139-157

DOI: 10.5937/BPA2134139G

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Emilio Mazza

Men of sense, Hume says, condemn the extreme undistinguishing judgments concerning national characters; yet, he adds, they also allow that each nation has a national character or a peculiar set of resembling manners. Hume’s “Of national characters” was published at the end of 1748 in unclear circumstances, but it is still the object of several discussions for different reasons. William Godwin, Julio Caro Baroja and Gregory Bateson seem to refer to it, even though only the first two acknowledge it. Godwin uses it as a weapon to attack the climatic theory in the service of tyranny; Baroja as a sceptical solvent to destroy all mythical national character and real national prejudice; Bateson as a model to delineate an abstract frame for the research on national differences. Since, as Hume warns us, we run with avidity to give our evidence to what flatters our national prejudices and, as Mary Wollstonecraft denounces, we are eager to give a national character to every people, “Of National Characters” still provides us with acute and instructive remarks: to speak of national characters does not necessarily means that we are speaking in favour of nationalism and against the individuals.

pp. 159-182

DOI: 10.5937/BPA2134159M

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