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VOORBIJ DE KALME ZONNESCHIJN VAN DE GEEST: HUME OVER MORAAL EN RELIGIE

Willem Lemmens
Tijdschrift voor Filosofie
72ste Jaarg., Nr. 3 (derde kwartaal 2010), pp. 423-460
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40890733
Page Count: 38
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VOORBIJ DE KALME ZONNESCHIJN VAN DE GEEST: HUME OVER MORAAL EN RELIGIE
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Abstract

Hume has been widely recognized for his philosophical critique of the rational foundations of religious belief, in particular of Christian theism. However, from the perspective of his 'science of human nature' Hume wanted in the first place to explain and understand the impact of religious beliefs and practices on human life. Therefore, in the Natural History of Religion his investigation of the origin of religion in human nature is worked out with a clearly moralistic intention: while explaining how religion emerges as a product of the passions and imagination, Hume at the same time defends the idea that all forms of religion to be found in history have been a form of superstition. Moreover, so Hume firmly contends, religion has in general a detrimental influence on morality. In this article, this double thesis is investigated and evaluated against the broader context of Hume's moral critique of religion as it is given voice in other passages in his essays and philosophical writings. Hume's explanation of religion 'as it is found in the world' depicts a rather gloomy and pessimistic view on the irrational and passionate forces at work in human nature, which contrasts remarkably with his optimistic and positive view on the natural origins of human morality. This confronts us with the question how Hume's propagation of a purely mundane, irreligious ethics can be reconciled with his thesis that it is hardly conceivable how mankind can ever be totally emancipated from its tendency to superstition. In the end, so Hume defends, a 'true religion' which is in tune with a humane morality remains an ideal that only a certain form of philosophical contemplation can vouchsafe. For the bulk of mankind, however, such a life under the 'calm sunshine of the mind' remains unattainable. Hume's moralistic critique of superstition thus leaves unexplained another possibility: that religion in common life, as it is given shape by the passions and imagination, could under certain conditions foster morality and be a source of human flourishing. At certain instances Hume appears to have been sensitive for this possibility, but nowhere in his writings is to be found a more constructive explanation and appreciation of a positive, dynamic interaction between religion and morality.

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