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A Defense of Hume on Miracles (Princeton Monographs in Philosophy) Hardcover – 24 Aug 2003


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (24 Aug. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691114307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691114309
  • Product Dimensions: 24.9 x 12.6 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,789,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"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 Back Cover

"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


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Collins on 21 Mar. 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brian Flange on 22 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Hume's notorious argument concerning testimony to the occurrence of miracles is a great source of philosophical controversy and thus, inevitably, a great punching-bag for detractors. Robert J. Fogelin has done philosophy in general, and Hume-scholarship and philosophy of religion in particular, a great service in offering a painstaking and historically well-informed reading of Hume's argument that places it in the context of Hume's philosophy generally. Fogelin's combination of careful scholarship and clear prose is engaging but so too is his reluctance to insult opponents or to draw conclusions stronger than his arguments will warrant. (Not all recent commentators on Hume have been so scrupulous or even-handed.) This is not a long book but it's rich in detail and it's absolutely essential reading for anyone who would consider Hume on miracles critically.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A clear and to the point interpretation and defense of Hume 25 July 2010
By James Wagner - Published on Amazon.com
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. On the other side we have isolated reports of people walking across the surface of water. Given testimony of the first kind, how should we evaluate the testimony of the second sort? The testimony of the first sort does not show that the testimony of the second sort is false; it does, however, create a strong presumption - unless countered, a decisively strong presumption - in favor of its falsehood. That is Hume's argument, and there is nothing circular or question-begging about it."

Fogelin shows in part 2 that Johnson commits both misinterpretations, that is, he both says that Hume's argument is circular and that Hume's argument is a-priori. Earman's approach is more subtle, but still flawed. Based on a couple of strong statements of Hume against miracles, Earman thinks Hume thought the probability of miracles was roughly zero. But, as noted earlier, this is incorrect because Hume provided an example of when a miracle could be established by testimony; moreover, it contradicts his epistemic fallibility, as well as a statement elsewhere that "the course of nature may change". So Earman's treatment too is based upon a misreading.

The third part is good too. Overall, Fogelin's book is written in clear style, offers excellent insights and provides a thorough defense against some more vocal critics of Hume. This all more than compensates for the short length of the book. Highly recommended for people interested in Hume's argument against miracles, or interested in miracles in general.
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Excellent defense of Hume. 31 Dec. 2005
By Mark I. Vuletic - Published on Amazon.com
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A welcome corrective to misrepresentations of Hume's argument 21 Mar. 2011
By C. Collins - Published on Amazon.com
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. What Fogelin's 'misreaders' have in common, is that they charge Hume with trying to make an a priori argument and Fogelin sets out to rehabilitate Hume against such critiques. As to whether or not Fogelin fully succeeds, others will need to make up their own minds but, Fogelin endeavors to show, moreover, not only why the interpretation of Hume as offering an a priori argument is implausible but why "Hume's treatment of miracles, when properly understood, exhibits a level of richness, subtlety, coherence, and force not generally appreciated." (p.3)

My own conclusion is that Fogelin has certainly succeeded in offering a closer, more nuanced interpretation of Hume than many of Hume's critics have done. His is an account that will require critics of Hume to go beyond their own preconceptions and knee jerk accusations, and engage fully with 'Of Miracles' on its own terms. He offers an account of Hume's argument that steers clear of tedious efforts to hector the reader into agreement, one that seeks to persuade through force of reason, rather than through force of rhetoric. For these reasons I recommend 'A Defense of Hume on Miracles' to anyone interested in, for example, the demarcation between science and religion, the use of probability, the 'problem of induction', or just the idea of 'miracles' in general, with the sole caveat that I borrowed this copy from my local library without having paid the relatively high price tag commonly attaching to academic works of this kind.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Fogelin's Failed Defense of Hume. 30 Sept. 2012
By David Marshall - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fogelin is a lucid and temperate writer, and if this little book gave more bang (60 odd pages) for the bucks, I might recommend it. The book is worth reading, I think, but not buying at this price, unless you happen to be a library.

Four problems ruin Fogelin's argument (described accurately by favorable reviewers below).

First, as Tim McGrew points out in a journal review also referenced by another reviewer, most early commentators did seem to interpret Hume as offering a conclusive a priori argument against miracles, and when he had the chance, Hume did not deny it.

Second, Fogelin quotes a late version of a key Humean passage, that downplays the radical character of Hume's argument. Early versions are stronger.

Third, when Hume says that universal testimony to a worldwide eight day period of darkness could potentially establish that it had occurred, he is not (as Fogelin often implies) at all conceding that strong testimony could establish a miracle. Hume makes it clear that even in that case, some NATURAL explanation should be sought and would presumably be found.

Fourth, if Hume beats his chest and makes extravagent claims for a naive argument, why is it the fault of his critics for showing that that argument (naively understood) fails? It's a writer's job to make his point clear. Hume could be an incisive writer, but failed in this case to make his point clear. It does seem probable, as McGrew argues, that much of his charm lies precisely in that ambiguity: pin him down to a clear argument, and it tends to evaporate like the point of a sword from the Barrow Downs.

Hume's argument has, in our day, degenerated into two cliches: (1) "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and (2) various question-begging assertions about miracles that take Hume's apparent argument at face value, and that save his disciples the trouble of trying to find out if miracles really do happen. Fogelin does us a favor, by digging deeper into Hume, and in effect showing that these two different arguments echo the war between Hume's reason and his hubris. (The latter of which Fogelin dismisses with a tolerant "boys will be boys" attitude, that he fails to show Earman.) What Fogelin fails to do, and that might be worth doing, is to develop (1), the stronger interpretation of Hume, and see what if anything his skeptical but not altogether close-minded approach might contribute to the modern debate over miracles. (In light, especially, of subsequent arguments that miracles actually do occur, and not nearly so rarely as Hume assumed.)

Good fodder for this debate might be Craig Keener's mammoth empirical argument for miracles -- 20 times the length of this book, not much more expensive, and with several chapters chock full of examples, for some of which Keener offers a first or close second-hand account. Keener also touches on Hume and the philosophical debate, along with just about every other related issue.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
decent 4 Aug. 2014
By Bra - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is short and to the point. Quick read if you're familiar with the subject matter. I wish the kindle edition would let you click the footnotes and allow you to go back and forth between the footnotes and the main text
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