Saturday, March 5, 2011

For Credit: Hume and Enlightenment Religion Follow-Up

Many commentator's on Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion find Hume's conclusion NOT in Pamphilus's claim that Cleanthes' views "approach still nearer the truth" (89), but in Philo's remark italicized on the precediing page: that natural religion can arrive at the fairly limited truth "That the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence" (88). 

Is that enough to build a spiritual practice on?  According to Hume's own example (as we'll see on Monday): No.  Yet Philo goes on to say (much to the dismay of many, who want Hume to be an unwavering proponent of aetheism), "To be a philosophical skeptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian" (89).  Don't be to quick to assume that such remarks are merely strategic--after all, Hume knew the public would not be reading his thoughts on natural religion after his death.

What difference does it make to one's belief or lack there of if the cause(s) of order in the universe are probably remotely analogous to human intelligence?   Does that change anything?  What?  How? 

Deadline: Monday (3/7), start of class.  Posts before midnight tonight (3/5) will count towards Week 7; posts after midnight will count towards Week 8.

Friday, March 4, 2011

For Credit: Midterm Exam (BUMPED and UPDATED)

The midterm exam was handed out in class yesterday, and I've posted it in the sidebar over there.  Spectator 11 is a separate document which you will need to complete the exam.  It's also in the sidebar.

You will notice that the midterm includes no questions about The Love Suicides at Amijima or The Story of the Stone.  Those texts are missing, not because they aren't important, but because the midterm  evaluates your growing ability to comprehend and interpret Enlightenment-era language.  Texts we read in translation are presented in idiomatic C20/21 English.  The final exam will cover the full range of non-Anglophone literature we read in this course.

That said, what else is missing from the exam?  What knowledge or understanding or insight have you gained thus far this semester that you do not get the opportunity to display on the midterm?

Deadline: Monday (3/7), start of class.  (Posts before midnight Saturday count for Week 7; posts after midnight count for Week 8.)

UPDATE:  If you are using the PDF of Spectator 11 that's linked to here--rather than the handout from class--you will note that the left-hand margin of the first page is cut off.  Here is a version of that first page that includes the complete text. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

For Credit: An Enlightenment Text?

In “What is Enlightenment?” Kant defines Enlightenment as “the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority.” Other Enlightenment principles are also evident in his essay such as a belief in constant progress, the value of reason, an emphasis on the mind and equality.
But there is more going on in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion than philosophical reasoning. It has aspects of humor and it is hard to see a simple conclusion or someone who is definitely right. As we discussed in class, it is as if Hume is playing a three dimensional philosophical game with himself.
Given that Hume is using techniques other than simple reason (for example, the characterisation of the interlocutors), are his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion still an Enlightenment text? What role do these other non-rational elements play in the rational discussion?

Deadline: Friday (3/4), start of class.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

For Credit: Silence on the Blog

Hmmm...not much seems to be happening on the blog tonight.

Everyone turning their attention to other matters after getting the papers in?

General bafflement where Hume is concerned?

Perplexity about how to approach this reading?

If the questions below are daunting, feel free to break the silence here.  What questions do you have about this text?  What do you find particularly puzzling or difficult to understand?

Deadline: Wednesday (3/2), start of class.

For Credit: Hume's Dialogues Grab Bag

Here are some more precise questions you can respond to in preparation for class tomorrow.  Just be sure to specify which you are responding to, and cite some text to illustrate your claims.

1.  In Part III, Cleanthes offers a thought experiment: a library in which "books [written in a common universal language] are natural productions which perpetuate themselves in the same manner with animals and vegetables, by descent and propagation" (24).  What is the Cleanthes trying to show with this example?

2.  In Part IV, Demea argues against what he calls the "anthropomorphism" of Cleanthes and Philo.  God is, Demea says, characterized by
perfect immutability and simplicity....He is entire in every point of place, and complete in every isntant of duration.  No succession, no change, no acquisition, no siminution....And what he is in this moment he has ever been and ever shall be, without any new judgement, sentiment, or operation.  He stands fixd in one simple, perfect state; nno can  you ever say, with any propriety, that this act of his is different from that other, or that this judgment or idea has been lately formed and will give place, by succession, to any different judgment or idea.
Why doesn't the argument end here, with this statement of the perfect unknowable transcendent unity of God?

3.  For what purposes does Philo announce, in Part VI, "The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal, and the Deity is the Soul of the world, actuating and actuated by it" (39-40)?

4.  At other points in these dialogues, the world also gets compared to an animal, a vegetable, and a machine.  What is the significance of these particular analogies?  Why so many?

5.  Related to 3: which of these analogies is, in your view, most effectively used in these dialogues?

Deadline: Wednesday (3/2), start of class.

Monday, February 28, 2011

For Credit: Laughing at God?

Ahem.  I get that having a paper due makes it difficult to do the reading.  Still.  Of the hardy souls who showed up for class today (approximately half the class), only half of those had a copy of Hume's Dialogues with them—which pretty much undermined the exercise I had planned, one designed to help you all start learning the material, even if you hadn't done the reading.

Get the book.  We're spending the whole week on it, and you will be a better person for the experience, whether or not the text touches your faith or lack thereof.  Read to the end of the 9th part for Wednesday.  And as you read, consider the following:
Laughter is the key to Hume's Dialoques Concerning Natural Religion. Indeed, I would suggest that if the Dialogues have not made one laugh, and if one has not experienced the sheer delight of Hume's rhetorical excesses and gaiety, then one hasn't really understood this work at all. From this perspective, the usual questions are irrelevant -- Is Hume Cleanthes or Philo? Is Philo a mitigated sceptic or a Pyrrhonian? Such debates are sterile and miss the point, for however consistent or inconsistent the characters may be, the actual drama of the text has an intention and a direction all of its own, destroying the religious hypothesis not so much by 'serious' calculated argument as by ridicule and excess. (Richard Wright, "Hume's Dialogues and the Comedy of Religion"  Hume Studies 14:2 [Nov. 1988].  Web.
Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  To what extent, either way?  Discuss!  And cite some text to support your views.

Deadline: Wednesday (3/2), start of class.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

For Credit: Initial Reactions

Feel free to respond to this post with your initial reactions to Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
  • What do you find confusing or difficult to understand in the text?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What issues does it raise that you hope to discuss in class?
  • What in the text strikes you as particularly interesting?

Deadline: Monday (1/28), start of class.