Full Title   Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Author   David Hume

Philosophical Movement   British Empiricism and skepticism concerning the possibility of rational religious beliefs

Language   English

Time and Place Written   Hume wrote the Dialogues over a twenty-five year period. The work was largely completed in 1751 while living in Edinburgh. However, because of his fear of the strong religious forces in Britain, he held off publication until after his death in 1776. During the last year of his life, he spent most of his energies preparing the work for publication. He left detailed instructions for the publication in his will.

Date of First Publication   Although Hume left detailed instructions for publication in his will, these plans fell through. Hume's friend Adam Smith, who was supposed to arrange for the publication, was too afraid to follow through with his role. The book lay dormant for three more years, until Hume's nephew finally arranged for publication in 1779.

Speaker   There are three speakers in the Dialogues. There is Demea, the orthodox believer, Cleanthes, the empirical theist, and Philo, the philosophical skeptic. Though Philo is surely the character whose views most closely mirror Hume's own, no one character seems to represent Hume's thoughts entirely.

Areas of Philosophy Covered   The book is primarily concerned with the possibility of natural religion—that is, of the possibility of religious belief based on reason rather than on revelation.

Philosophical Movements Opposed   Hume's primary target in the Dialogues is the empirical theist who believes that there is enough evidence in nature to ground a reasonable belief that God has any particular attributes (i.e. goodness, wisdom, etc.).

Other Works by Hume on Similar Topics   Hume wrote several works criticizing religious faith during the 1750s. In addition to the Dialogues he also wrote four essays, "Of Miracles", "Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State", "Of Suicide", and "Of the Immortality of the Soul", as well as a book, The Natural History of Religion.

Philosophers Influenced by the Dialogues   Philosophy of religion was greatly influenced by Hume's effort. Many later attempts to accuse religious belief of not being grounded in rationality have benefited from Hume's effort. However, fideists and other religious orthodox philosophers have also used Hume's work to support their positions. Perhaps the most famous philosopher who was influenced by Hume's religious ideas was Søren Kierkegaard, the leading fideist of the 19th century.

Goal of the Book   Hume's intention in the Dialogues is to demonstrate that religious belief has no rational basis.

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