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A Defense of Hume on Miracles (Princeton Monographs in Philosophy)

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ISBN-13: 978-0691122434
ISBN-10: 0691122431
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Editorial Reviews


"What a joy to read a philosophy book that is graceful, clear, and short. . . . Fogelin writes with the simplicity and immediacy of a distinguished mind. . . . [I]mpressively conceived and executed."--Mark Sainsbury, Times Literary Supplement

"This book provides a subtle reading of Hume; it is both engaging and well argued; and, it makes a useful addition to the recent literature concerning both Hume's argument and testimony in general."--Dan O'Brien, Philosophy in Review

From the Inside Flap

"Fogelin's defense of Hume on miracles is both engaging and illuminating. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in Hume or in the topic of testimonial evidence for miracles."--Don Garrett, New York University

"We are very much in need of Fogelin's response to the recent abuse heaped on Hume's argument. His book is elegant without being imprecise, well argued without being overly complex, and a pleasure to read."--David Owen, University of Arizona --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Monographs in Philosophy
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 23, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691122431
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691122434
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,111,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James Wagner on July 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
A Defense of Hume on Miracles is a short book divided into three parts:
1. a clear interpretation of Hume's famous argument against miracles;
2. a look at two supposed refutations, that is Johnson's "Hume, Holism and Miracles" and Earman's "Hume's Abject Failure";
3. a look at how Hume's stance on miracles fits into his philosophy as a whole.

Hume's argument basically consists of two methods of measuring the reliability of testimony: the "direct method", ie. showing the witness is reliable, unbiased, noncontradictory, etc. The more important second method is the "reverse method" in which the probability of the event that is being testified is assessed and then applied to judge the reliability of the testimony.
That is the first part of Hume's essay. The second part applies the reverse test to testimonies of religious miracles and argues that these have continuously failed, and as such has created an enormous barrier for future testimony of religious miracles.

Fogelin argues strongly against two common misinterpretations of Hume, namely that he is using an a-priori argument against miracles, and that Hume's argument is circular because it assumes "uniform experience" to discredit miracles (an argument used by CS Lewis among others). The former is simply false since Hume explicitly gives an example of when testimony would suffice to establish that a miracle has taken place. The latter also reads into Hume's essay what is simply not there - Hume nowhere says reports of miracles are false because we know they never happened. Fogelin explains with a clear example:

"Hume begins with a claim about testimony. On one side we have wide and unproblematic testimony to the effect that when people step into water they do not remain on its surface.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Mark I. Vuletic on December 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
After reading Earman's HUME'S ABJECT FAILURE, I thought Hume's argument against miracles was dead. Now, after having reading Fogelin's A DEFENSE OF HUME ON MIRACLES, I appreciate the argument more than ever. Fogelin's exposition makes sense of a number of things about "Of Miracles" that always puzzled me. Fogelin effectively argues that Hume never offered an a priori argument, or even a knockdown argument against testimony on behalf on miracles, and shows how Part II of "Of Miracles" is just as essential to Hume's real argument as Part I.

A DEFENSE OF HUME ON MIRACLES also contains responses to the recent criticisms of Johnson and Earman, a discussion of how Hume's argument against miracles relates to other aspects of his philosophy, an appendix treating Hume's use and abuse of Tillotson, and a second appendix reprinting "Of Miracles", which the reader will definitely want to have handy.

The one thing I felt would have made the book even better was detailed assessment by Fogelin of the merits of the argument he reconstructs, which I thought still makes very interesting and controversial claims about testimony and evidence. Although Fogelin seems sympathetic, it is often difficult to tell whether he is agreeing with Hume altogether, or just pointing out that he did not make one or another mistake commonly attributed to him. But proper exegesis and interpretation must come before assessment, and Fogelin's book goes a long way towards establishing that necessary foundation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C. Collins on March 21, 2011
Format: Paperback
David Hume's 'Enquiry concerning Human Understanding', published in 1748, has attracted at least as much attention and notoriety in recent times as it did during his own and most of this is focused on the essay, 'Of Miracles', which appears as Section 10 of 'Enquiry'.

One of the primary reasons that it has proved controversial, both now and in the past, is because there exists significant disagreement over what, precisely, was the intended scope of 'Of Miracles'. Many of Hume's critics have alleged that he seemed to believe himself to be in possession of a 'silver bullet' argument against any and every allegation of the miraculous, i.e. ruling out the very possibility of the miraculous, merely by definition. It seems, furthermore, that Hume's prose was just sufficiently ambiguous, in places, to enable conflicting interpretations to flourish. But is this a fair reading of Hume? Robert Fogelin argues, forcefully and plausibly, that it is not.

Coming in at only 62 pages of essential text, 'A Defense of Hume on Miracles' is an extended essay, which focuses, in large part, on two recent critics of Hume's essay, but with the broader aim of setting their particular criticisms into context, given what Fogelin regards as "two common misreadings of the text" (p.2). So, Fogelin cites two recent critics - David Johnson and John Earman - of Hume's, in order to illustrate these relatively common readings and purports to show how each is flawed. On the former, whom Fogelin considers a 'gross misreader', relatively little time is wasted, before moving on to the more sophisticated criticisms of his 'subtle misreader', John Earman.
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A Defense of Hume on Miracles (Princeton Monographs in Philosophy)
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