Although it is widely recognized that David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature (1729-40) belongs among the greatest works of philosophy, there is little aggreement about the correct way to interpret his fundamental intentions.
The solution to this riddle depends on challenging another, closely related, point of orthodoxy: namely, that before Hume published the Treatise he removed almost all material concerned with problems of religion. Russell argues, contrary to this view, that irreligious aims and objectives are fundamental to the Treatise and account for its underlying unity and coherence. It is Hume's basic anti-Christian aims and objectives that serve to shape and direct both his skeptical and naturalistic commitments. When Hume's arguments are viewed from this perspective we can solve, not only puzzles arising from his discussion of various specific issues, we can also explain the intimate and intricate connections that hold his entire project together.
This "irreligious" interpretation provides a comprehensive fresh account of the nature of Hume's fundamental aims and ambitions in the Treatise. It also presents a radically different picture of the way in which Hume's project was rooted in the debates and controversies of his own time, placing the Treatise in an irreligious or anti-Christian philosophical tradition that includes Hobbes, Spinoza and freethinking followers. Considered in these terms, Hume's Treatise constitutes the crowning achievement of the Radical Enlightenment.
"Paul Russell has given us a marvelously good book.... [He] offers original and compelling accounts of the irreligious implications of central arguments of the Treatise on an impressive range of topics....it should never again be claimed that the Treatise is largely unconcerned with questions of religion." - Don Garrett, Philosophical Review
"This book is a triumph and a model for work in the history of philosophy. It offers a powerful reading of the Treatise and of Hume's intentions in writing it, while also correcting common misunderstandings about Hume's place in early modern thought. It deserves to be read by anyone interested in Hume or in early modern philosophy." - Colin Heydt, Journal of the History of Philosophy
"Paul Russell's The Riddle of Hume's Treatise is one of the most important contributions to Hume scholarship of recent years, and deserves to be read by all who wish to untangle the complex threads of Hume's masterpiece. It ranks as a permanent and significant achievement." - Peter Millican, British Journal of the History of Philosophy
"This is a terrific tome.... Why is this book so important? Quite simply, this is one of the best contextualist studies of Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature ever written. To elaborate a bit, this book provides a unique and fascinating interpretation of the Treatise by relating its structure and content to many of the most influential debates about religion raging at Hume's time.... one of the best books on Hume I have ever read. " - Kevin Meeker, Mind
"This book is a triumph and a model for work in the history of philosophy. It offers a powerful reading of the Treatise and of Hume's intentions in writing it, while also correcting common misunderstandings about Hume's place in early modern thought. It deserves to be read by anyone interested in Hume or in early modern philosophy."
--Colin Heydt, Journal of the History of Philosophy
"The Riddle of Hume's Treatise is a stimulating and provocative piece of scholarship. The central question it poses--how to understand all of the Treatise as part of a single project?--is most certainly a question that still needs to be asked. And Paul Russell's way of answering it, by means of a careful consideration of David Hume's intellectual context, is the only way."
--Times Literary Supplement
"Paul Russell's The Riddle of Hume's Treatise is an excellent and thought-provoking text that is a pleasure to read.... It deserves to have an important impact not only on Hume research, but on the narrative that drives undergraduate survey courses in the history of early modern philosophy as well."
--Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"Paul Russell has given us a marvelously good book.... [He] offers original and compelling accounts of the irreligious implications of central arguments of the Treatise on an impressive range of topics....it should never again be claimed that the Treatise is largely unconcerned with questions of religion."
--Don Garrett, Philosophical Review
"[T]his work of great historical erudition and philosophical penetration...is essential reading that will deepen forever our understanding of Hume's philosophical masterpiece."
--Don Garrett, Professor of Philosophy, New York University
"Russell's...book presents a powerful, comprehensive, and elegantly written case for putting 'irreligion' alongside -- and even above - 'scepticism' and 'naturalism' as a pervasive theme not only of Hume's later work, but also of his Treatise."
--Peter Millican, Faculty of Philosophy, Hertford College, Oxford
"Paul Russell's lucid and finely-researched book...will enable all of us to read Hume's primary work with fresh understanding, and is a major addition to the scholarly literature."
--Terence Penelhum, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, University of Calgary
"Persuasively argues that irreligion is the main agenda of Hume's Treatise ."
--Annette Baier, author of Death and Character: Further Reflections on Hume
"A bold and novel approachthe study as a whole has an exceptional merit."--J. D. McNabb, Eighteenth Century Fiction
Abbreviations of Hume's Writings Used in Citations
I. Riddles, Critics, and Monsters: Text and Context
1. The Riddle
2. "Atheism" and Hume's Early Critics
3. Religious Philosophers and Speculative Atheists
4. Newtonianism, Freethought, and Hume's Scottish Context
5. The Monster of Atheism: Its Being and Attributes
II. The Form and Face of Hume's System
6. A Hobbist Plan
7. Atheism under Cover: Esoteric Communication on Hume's Title Pages
III. The Nature of Hume's Universe
8. Blind Men before a Fire: Empiricism and the Idea of Good
9. Making Nothing of "Almighty Space"
10. The Argument a Priori and Hume's "Curious Nostrum"
11. Induction, Analogy, and a Future State: Hume's "Guide of Life"
12. Matter, Omnipotence, and Our Idea of Necessity
13. Skepticism, Deception, and the Material World
14. Immateriality, Immortality, and the Human Soul
15. The Practical Pyrrhonist
IV. The Elements of Virtuous Atheism
16. Freedom within Necessity: Hume's "Clockwork Man"
17. Morality without Religion
V. Hume's Philosophy of Irreligion
18. The Myth of "Castration" and the Riddle's Solution
19. Was Hume an "Atheist"?
20. Hume's Lucretian Mission: Is It Self-Refuting?
Appendix: Cato's Speech at the Oracle of Ammon