May 8, 2010

Quotes of the Day: Berkeley and Hume on Unconvincing Arguments

But that all his [Berkeley's] arguments, though otherwise intended, are, in reality, merely sceptical, appears from this, that they admit no answer and produce no conviction. Their only effect is to cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion, which is the result of scepticism. (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748): sect. 12.1.15)

I am not to be persuaded by metaphysical arguments [for the existence of God] ... as they are not suited to my way of thinking they may perhaps puzzle but never will convince me. (Alciphron, the free-thinker, in Berkeley 1732 work by that name, sect. 4.2)

The philosophers [i.e. free-thinkers] being gone, I observed to Crito how unaccountable it was that men so easy to confute should be so difficult to convince. (Berkeley, Alciphron, 7.26)

Hume was heavily influenced by the tradition of English 'free-thinkers' Berkeley is attacking in Alciphron. While it is possible that he had read Alciphron, it seems more likely to me that there is a common source, such as Mandeville or Shaftesbury, for the line of thought that Berkeley is ridiculing and Hume is endorsing. Of course, this is well-motivated by Hume's naturalism, though I doubt if it was equally well-motivated in whatever writing Berkeley is attacking. For one thing, Berkeley's opponents in Alciphron are not philosophers of Hume's stature; for another, Hume's naturalism is pretty original.

Update (1:05PM): I found another one:

HYLAS. To deal frankly with you, Philonous, your arguments seem themselves unanswerable, but they have not so great an effect on me as to produce that entire conviction, that hearty acquiescence which attends demonstration. (Three Dialogues, Luce and Jessop p. 223)

Hume may actually be alluding to this passage, since Berkeley seems here to be admitting to Hume's charge of "admitting now answer and producing no conviction."

Posted by Kenny at May 8, 2010 10:31 AM
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