Last night’s talk at the Tintern Pub Philosophy Circle was on the philosopher, David Hume who’s 3rd centenary of birth is celebrated this year.

Prof. Ray Billington led with a picture of Hume’s life. An atheist or at least agnostic, Ray presented Hume as a man in despair at the conclusions of his life’s work in philosophy. His scepticism leads him to an almost existential crisis: philosophy had failed to explain the nature of man.

‘There is no God. There is no such thing as a soul.’ Were phrases that Ray used to paraphrase Hume’s spiritual position, but where his forbears  – like Berkeley – believed the mind of God gave us our thoughts, the new age of doubt (science, discovery and the reformation) led to a scepticism where the truth needed to be tested from sense experience. Newton presented a testable methodology of observation and experiment which could describe the external world; Hume, having banished the role of God wanted to do the same for the inner world of human nature.

His failure to find success in his philosophical exploration of human nature was the cause of this existential crisis, a crisis of wisdom no less.

My understanding of John Clarke’s presentation has me summarising the problem as…

Reality is not ultimately knowable

Hume concluded that we cannot truly know reality, only our perception of it.

Dissatisfied, he only finally found peace of mind in the fact that the machine of nature itself enables us – as part of nature – to save ourselves from this scepticism.

The world of objects exists beyond us. Nature has endowed us with the means to accept causation in the world which cannot be truly proven. It is benign if not good. And it works as an acceptable consolation for philosophy’s failure to test reality.

Hume therefore is kind of a pre-Darwin Darwinian: nature has given us the natural instinct that the universe is regular – but philosophy can’t prove it – that is the nature of nature. And that’s something even we atheists can believe in.

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