Socrates Meets Hume: The Father of Philosophy Meets the Father of Modern Skepticism
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Kreeft’s Socrates reflects what the historical philosopher would likely have made of Kant’s ideas, while also recognizing the greatness, genius, and insightfulness of Kant. The result is a helpful, highly readable, even amusing book. Kant’s philosopher of knowing truly is a “Copernican revolution in philosophy,” as he himself dubbed it. His ethics intended to set out the rational grounds for morality. Did he achieve his goals? What would Socrates say about the matter?
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If you are not familiar with Kreeft's Socrates books, the premise is fairly simple. The books are dialogues between Socrates and the thinker in question, and they discuss one or more of the philosopher's greatest books in a purgatorial world beyond the grave. They are fun but insightful introductions to the ideas and problems of major philosophers, and Socrates Meets Hume is no exception.
But this book is different from the others in the series in that Kreeft, in order to deal with some of Hume's very complex ideas, has shortened the usual Socratic method employed by his fictional Socrates, moving more quickly between major concepts with fewer stops to discuss terms and definitions or other important steps in Socrates's philosophical progress. I understand that Kreeft had an enormous amount of material to cover, but this book felt less like the others in the series. Socrates's witty, amiable personality was a little blunted, for instance, and there was less conversational quality in the dialogue between Socrates and Hume. They get right down to ideas and mostly stay there.
That's a minor complaint, really, because the book is good. But, as I said above, this is certainly the most difficult of the series so far, and that has much to do with Hume's ideas. The first two-thirds of the book deal primarily with epistemology and difficult issues like Nominalism. The final third, however, in which Kreeft's Socrates deals with Hume's attitudes toward religion, the miraculous, morality, causation, and the self, is solid, the strongest part of the book and the part most like the other Socrates books.
Socrates Meets Hume may not be as witty or accessible as the other books in Kreeft's excellent series, but it is nonetheless a good introduction to beliefs, arguments, and philosophical flaws of an important thinker.
Kreeft's intellect, weathered as it is by many decades of careful reading, is incredibly agile, fluent in Socratic liberal abstraction, and easily runs circles around Hume's conclusions, while casting serious doubt on Hume's major premises. Hume is exposed especially well in his circular mishaps, e.g. it is always less probable that a miracle occurred, than it is that a witness of a miracle was lying or deceived, and this is so because only what is experienced is probable, and miracles have never been experienced... this is circular. It is like saying "I don't believe you, because you must be lying. And the reason I think you're lying, is because if you were telling the truth, you wouldn't say that." It is also like saying, "Scientific countries, which are more reliable, tend to disbelieve miracles. And the reason they tend to disbelieve them, is because they are so scientific." If you spin around really fast and close your eyes, you don't get dizzy. Socrates has a way of slowing things down. Dizziness ensues.
At no point in this book did I feel Kreeft was attacking a straw-man version of Hume's arguments. Hume's emphasis on custom and his probabilism are particularly well analyzed and doubted here. (or torn to shreds, for that matter.) Chesterton, who is the other, fatter Scotsman referenced in my fanciful title for this book, gets several pages of face time in this book and his quotes are arresting, to say the least. It is precisely because sense-impressions and brute facts have no contradictories (one of Hume's fundamental points) that miracles do not violate the laws of nature, but are absorbed by those laws, as an entirely new event like a meteor is absorbed by the climate and geography of the earth. (A casual reference to C. S. Lewis's poem 'The Meteorite') It is the naturalist who is the sentimentalist, swept away and soaked by mere associations. Moreover, it is precisely because each event in nature is probabilistically distinct, like the flipping of a coin, that we cannot determine what the probability of a miracle would be. You cannot predict future uniformity by past uniformity, you can only naively expect future uniformity, and this has nothing whatever to do with whether a supernatural cause could intervene, producing a natural effect. To think otherwise is to fall prey to a version of the Gambler's fallacy, or the idea that if the coin has landed heads 10 times in a row, it is highly likely that a tail will come up next. Whereas, it's still 50/50.
And that is exactly how this excellent book ends: now matter how "swept away by associations" Hume or any other naturalist may become, it's still 50/50 with regards to probabilism itself, and Humean skepticism itself. And if that's the case, it might be totally wrong, or it might be totally right. In which case, mere probabilism hasn't advanced human understanding one bit.
you should buy kant's too: Socrates Meets Kant: The Father of Philosophy Meets His Most Influential Modern ChildSocrates Meets Descartes: The Father of Philosophy Analyzes the Father of Modern Philosophy's Discourse on Method
try them all they are really good.
Top international reviews
Sur la forme, de façon générale, le dialogue n'est tout simplement pas crédible. Sans compter qu'on reconnait bien peu les personnages à la façon dont ils s'expriment.
Somme toute, c'est un livre qui, à mon avis, ne rend justice ni à Hume ni à Socrate.