Ideal of religious purification: a critical enquiry into Hume’s two Concepts of True Religion
This thesis explores the implications of Hume’s puzzling concept of true religion. The existing literature tends to either take it as entirely tactical or to read it from a theistic perspective. Focusing mainly on the Dialogues, this dissertation takes another route, arguing that while Hume is serious about the notion of true religion, his concern is pragmatic rather than theistic. The central argument is that Hume has, in fact, provided two very different versions of true religion in the Dialogues: Philo’s version is a minimized theology for “the learned”, while Cleanthes proposes an ideal of regulated popular religion for “the vulgar”. Overall, Hume attempts to find a proper position for religion in a modern society by restricting theology to a limited academic sphere and regulating the priestly power under the civil authority. In particular, Chapters 1 and 2 investigate the arguments and difficulties of the atheistic and theistic readings of Hume’s true religion, showing that true religion is likely to be Hume’s own idea and that his concern about the topic is secular in nature. Chapter 3 presents a textual reading of the statements of true religion by Philo and Cleanthes in the Dialogues, suggesting that their differences originate from Hume’s distinction between “the learned” and “the vulgar”, which is of great significance in his philosophy, as well as throughout his personal life. Chapters 4 and 5 explore the implications of Philo’s and Cleanthes’ concept of true religion respectively, showing that the former admits to a limited form of theism that rests on an epistemological “remote probability”, while the latter explores the potential benefits of popular religion in the moral and political sphere. Chapter 6 reconstructs three approaches to achieving the ideal of true religion from Hume’s texts: a philosophical cure, a tolerant state church, and historical education for the progress of moral taste. Finally, Chapter 7 evaluates the implications of Hume’s pragmatic concern and functional accounts of true religion, both historically and contemporarily.