What Hume Didn't Notice About Divine Causation

In Gregory E. Ganssle (ed.), Philosophical Essays on Divine Causation. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 158-173 (2021)
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Hume’s criticisms of divine causation are insufficient because he does not respond to important philosophical positions that are defended by those whom he closely read. Hume’s arguments might work against the background of a Cartesian definition of body, or a Malebranchian conception of causation, or some defenses of occasionalism. At least, I will not here argue that they succeed or fail against those targets. Instead, I will lay out two major deficiencies in his arguments against divine causation. I call these “deficiencies” because Hume does not adequately address live positions. This does not mean, of course, that there are not problems with these views or that Hume could not have given strong arguments against them. Rather, Hume’s arguments, which can seem comprehensive to the twenty-first century reader, are in fact not so. For the deficiencies discussed in this essay, I point to writers from Hume’s near context (many of whom we know he read carefully) who held the views not discussed, and I provide reasons why Hume seems not to have entertained these possibilities. I won’t distinguish between accidentally overlooking and actively ignoring. By drawing attention to these three deficiencies, I have two goals. The first is to demonstrate the diversity of seventeenth and early eighteenth century views on divine causation, especially among philosophers in England, Scotland, and Ireland, who are often ignored by philosophers today who, like Hume, focus on continental Cartesians while ignoring British dualists and vitalists. The second goal is to make today’s readers aware of shortcomings in Hume’s arguments to encourage productively contextual readings of Hume and his contemporaries.

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Timothy Yenter
University of Mississippi


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