Academic Scepticism and Pyrrhonian Scepticism in Hume’s Dialogues

  • Todd RyanEmail author
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas Archives internationales d'histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 221)


This paper examines the role of Pyrrhonian and Academic scepticism in Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. At issue is whether the entire project of natural theology can be dismissed on general sceptical grounds even prior to any detailed examination of its arguments. The paper seeks to characterize the kind of scepticism employed by Philo and to assess its implications for natural theology by identifying two general sceptical arguments advanced by Philo. The first involves the “reasonable” sceptic’s unwillingness to engage in “abstruse” and “remote” inquiries. Convinced of the irrefutability of Pyrrhonian arguments against the reliability of sense perception and reason, the sceptic will confine his philosophical activities to the natural and moral sciences. Cleanthes, however, offers a cogent and even compelling response to this sceptical consideration. By pledging to pursue natural theology using the same empirical data and reasoning patterns of the natural sciences, he effectively presents reasonable sceptics such as Philo with a dilemma. Even in the Enquiry Hume does not hold that mitigated scepticism of itself is a philosophically sufficient response to natural theology. The second main sceptical argument involves a kind of scepticism with regard to reason that has no clear equivalent in the Enquiry. This argument is more ambitious in that it attempts to show that unlike the beliefs of ordinary life, belief in the conclusions of natural theology does not survive confrontation with Pyrrhonian arguments. Once again Cleanthes is able to meet this general sceptical challenge.


Experimental theism Faith Reason Natural theology Mitigated scepticism Scepticism with regard to reason 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Trinity CollegeHartfordUSA

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