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Hume, Holism, and Miracles (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion) [Hardcover]

by David Johnson
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 7, 1999 080143663X 978-0801436635 1
David Johnson seeks to overthrow one of the widely accepted tenets of Anglo-American philosophy—that of the success of the Humean case against the rational credibility of reports of miracles. In a manner unattempted in any other single work, he meticulously examines all the main variants of Humean reasoning on the topic of miracles: Hume's own argument and its reconstructions by John Stuart Mill, J. L. Mackie, Antony Flew, Jordan Howard Sobel, and others.Hume's view, set forth in his essay "Of Miracles," has been widely thought to be correct. Johnson reviews Hume's thesis with clarity and elegance and considers the arguments of some of the most prominent defenders of Hume's case against miracles. According to Johnson, the Humean argument on this topic is entirely without merit, its purported cogency being simply a philosophical myth.

Editorial Reviews


"The discussion of terms constitutes one of the most valuable features of the book. Undergraduates embarking on a study of Hume will benefit immensely from the definitions themselves and from the discussion of issues implicit in the definitions of these terms. Graduates will benefit from examining closely reasoned arguments. . . .While the volume will not change the minds of confirmed Humeans, it does constitute a needed counterweight in Humean studies. "—Choice. June, 2000.

"Johnson defends Hume's own treatment from some of the usual barbs, and presents as clear a statement of Hume's reasoning as I have seen anywhere."—William Harper, University of Alabama. Philosophy in Review, Vol. 20, No. 4-6, Aug-Dec. 2000

"Johnson writes concisely and argues incisively. These qualities, though creating difficulties for undergraduates, will be attractive to philosophers reading this inventive and very worthwhile . . . contribution to the miracles debate."—John Gill, University of Adelaide. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 79, No. 3, Sept. 2001

"This short book. . . consists of an incisive and illuminating critical study of Hume's celebrated chapter, 'Of Miracles,' and of the elaborations and defenses of that line of argument by several later philosophers. . . There is much to be learned here about testimony and miracles, about the doing of philosophy, and in some cases about the history of philosophy."—George I. Mavrodes, University of Michigan. Philosophia Christi,Vol. 3, No. 1

"A book of quality, brevity, and, in many places, charm, Hume, Holism and Miracles is a major contribution both to the philosophy of religion and to Hume scholarship."—Robert Audi, University of Nebraska

About the Author

David Johnson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Yeshiva University. He is the author of Truth without Paradox.

Product Details

  • Series: Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (October 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080143663X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801436635
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,198,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hume's Miracle of Rhetoric January 12, 2003
Johnson's bottom line is that insofar as Hume's argument against miracles is persuasive, it's a triumph of rhetoric over reason. What's surprising, in Johnson's view, is just how wide the triumph has been. Nonetheless, Johnson argues convincingly, when Hume and his followers argue that no testimony could ever establish a miracle, they invariably end up begging one question or another. For example, Flew argues that in interpreting the "detritus of the past" -- including reports of miracles -- the "critical historian" must always give priority to the stock of natural laws we take ourselves to have established. The upshot is supposed to be that in any contest between science and history, history is bound to lose. But as Johhson points out, the experimental reports underlying our beliefs about the laws of nature are themselves part of this "detritus of the past." That means our belief in laws of nature depends on our belief that certain historical events have actually occurred -- a belief based on testimony.
Johnson himself accepts that various biblical miracles actually occurred, but one need not be a believer to take his point. And his point is that if we are allowed to take all our knowledge into account (that's the bit about holism), it would be very strange if a purely philosophical argument could show that NO testimony could possibly make it reasonable to believe in a miracle.
When you think about it, this is a rather modest conclusion. It's similar to the conclusion that John Earman arrives at in _Hume's Abject Failure_, though Earman's issues and arguments are more technical. Indeed, one is inclined to apply Hume's own slogan and say that a those who accept the Humean view ought to be conscious of a continuing miracle in their own persons, persuading them to accept something contrary to philosophical good sense, if not to custom and experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rigorous Work on the Author's Part December 28, 2012
By Yips
I took a number of courses with the author, during which he has covered a variety of Hume's arguments. It is possible that the joy I had reading this book is due to the fact that it was accompanied with a lecture, I nevertheless felt the book helped me along in understanding.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
In this masterful work, David Johnson, philosopher, logician and pedagogue par excellence delivers a coup de grace to Hume's well known argument against miracles and religious testimony. This book offers invaluable insights into the philosophy of religion, philosophy of testimony, probability theory and beyond. A must read for any serious student of philosophy. Johnson's clarity and meticulousness in philosophical method and writing is rare in todays philosophical arena, an arena characterized by the very same ambiguous rhetoric devoid of cogent logic which led David Hume to the abject failures elucidated in this expert analysis.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Completely unconvincing December 23, 2009
By Ornello
The author claims that Hume's arguments in his discussion of miracles are circular. I find no merit in the author's claim whatsoever. It is utterly unconvincing. All Hume claimed was that hearsay regarding a miracle's occurrence is weaker evidence than our collective and universal experience to the contrary. His second point is that weaker evidence cannot overthrow stronger.

Hume claims that, given what we know about the world, people don't come back from the dead. Hearsay evidence of a claim to the contrary is weaker evidence than the collective and universal experience of mankind, that people don't come back from the dead. It seems awfully risky to put people to death if they're just going to get right back up after a couple days and come after you. "Dead men tell no tales" is not an old maxim without good reason. The debate over capital punishment would seem somehow less urgent if we could have resurrections at will. Yet Johnson somehow sees Hume's argument as "circular". Hmmmmm. Really? Now how is that again, Mr Johnson? Circular? The universal and collective experience of mankind is that dead is dead. Hearsay to the contrary is meaningless in the face of such. Dracula and zombie undead are fictional, and they are entertaining fictions, but fictions they remain.
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