David Hume: “The Natural History of Religion”

In this video, I discuss David Hume’s essay “The Natural History of Religion,” originally published as one of the Four Dissertations in the work by that name. I start out by indicating some of Hume’s key ideas, assumptions, and methods in the work. Then, I discuss Hume’s views on the origins and nature of polytheism and monotheism, whether these arise through philosophical speculation about the universe (he does not think so) or through human passions, ignorance about the causes of things, and the gradual workings of social processes. I also examine Hume’s comparison of polytheism to monotheism in terms of the categories he uses: tolerance, courage, rationality, morality.

Ultimately, I argue, Hume is using this work to make a rather subtle attack on the religion prevalent in his time, pursuing a skeptical strategy (similar to that on his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) of pitting opposed positions against each other, in order to be free of any of them. His seeming endorsements of a “pure,” philosophical monotheism are not representative of his true position

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