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October 31, 2020

Hume's Polemic against Tillotson (and Friends) in "Of Miracles"

Interpreters of Hume's "Of Miracles" (section 10 of the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding) have often been puzzled about the purpose of Part 2 of the essay. It appears to many interpreters that Hume's argument in Part 1, if it works at all, must establish that it is impossible in principle for any testimony to yield rational belief in miracles. (For defense of this interpretation of Part 1, see, e.g., Robert Larmer.) The announced purpose of Part 2, however, is to argue that actually existing testimony of miracles is of poor quality. If Part 1 has established that no matter how...
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April 28, 2020

"The Sacred Law of Fashion": Masham on Religious (Non-)Conformity

The 'occasion' for Damaris Cudworth Masham's 1705 Occasional Thoughts was, she tell us, a discussion among several women about "ladies' conduct books" and, in particular, Francois Aubignac's Les Conseils d'Ariste a Celimene, sur les Moyens de Conserver sa Reputation (Occasional Thoughts, p. 9).* These conduct books were intended to teach young ladies how to behave properly in the society circles in which they would move. This particular book was likely chosen because its very title illustrates the point Masham wants to make about this genre. The book purports to be advice from a man to a young woman on how...
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March 8, 2017

Spiegel on Berkeley and Orthodoxy

The first paper in Idealism and Christian Theology is James Spiegel's "The Theological Orthodoxy of Berkeley's Immaterialism." This piece was originally published in Faith and Philosophy in 1996, though I must confess that I had not read it before today. I found the essay rather odd, partly because I have some confusion about the nature of its project. Contrary to my expectations, it does not really address any of the questions I outlined in my last post. On the whole, I think the essay makes problematic unexamined assumptions about Berkeley's religion, and it relies on a controversial characterization of Berkeley's...
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June 4, 2012

On the Controversy Surrounding Berkeley's Ordination

In George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man, David Berman amasses considerable circumstantial evidence to the effect that Berkeley's movement away from Locke's theory of language may have been touched off by an in-person encounter with Archbishop William King and Provost Peter Browne (later Bishop of Cork and Ross) at a meeting of the Dublin Philosophical Society, November 19, 1707, where Berkeley read a brief paper entitle 'Of Infinities' (included in Luce and Jessop, volume 4; see Berman 11-20). I think Berman's overall picture is quite likely correct. In fact, in a paper called "Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology" which I am...
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October 14, 2011

Berkeley on Miracles and Transubstantiation

It was the custom among 17th and 18th century English philosophers to take as many potshots at the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation as possible. Sometimes it almost seems that a desideratum for a theory of metaphysics is that it should be inconsistent with that doctrine. This desideratum is, of course, easily satisfied: most theories of metaphysics are inconsistent with transubstantiation. All versions of the doctrine require that it be metaphysically possible for flesh to exist under the 'species' of bread, and a conservative interpretation of the doctrine popular in the early modern period further required that numerically the same...
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May 24, 2007

Quote(s) of the Day: Selections From Berkeley's Letter to Sir John James

In the course of a bit of research on Berkeley's views on the epistemology of religion, I have just come across a little letter Berkeley wrote to one Sir John James, dated June 7, 1741. James was, apparently, an Anglican living in Boston who was considering converting to Roman Catholicism. While for some reason (perhaps because he was Irish) Berkeley is often mistakenly believed to have been a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he was, in fact, a member of the clergy of the Church of England, and wrote against Roman Catholicism on a number of occasions, this being...
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