Hume published Books 1 and 2 of his Treatise in 1739. By publishing these two books, he proposed views that were against many core teachings of Christianity. These themes were repeated more extensively at length in Hume’s First Enquiry, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Natural History of Religion, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary, The Letters of David Hume, in particular A Letter from a Gentleman to his friend in Edinburgh, Early Memoranda, and An Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, and the lessons and teachings of the Christian religion were undermined and discredited by his extreme skeptical arguments.
The last paragraph of the third book of the treatise, which was translated into Persian by Dr. Jalal Paykani in 2017, makes it clear that Hume did not consider his philosophy to be important only theoretically. This passage states:
An anatomist ought never to try to copy the painter, as though in his minute dissections and portraitures of the smaller parts of the human body he could give his figures any graceful and engaging attitude or expression! . . . But an anatomist is admirably fitted to give advice to a painter; indeed, it is hardly possible to excel in painting without the assistance of the anatomist. We must have an exact knowledge of the parts, their positions, and their connections, before we can draw with any elegance or correctness. And thus the most abstract speculations concerning human nature, however cold and unentertaining, become subservient to practical morality; and they can render this latter science more correct in its precepts, and more persuasive in its exhortations (Hume, 2018A: 431-432).
According to this very important passage, Paul Russell in his recent paper, entitled “Hume's Skepticism and the Problem of Atheism”, Robert Fogelin in his book, entitled “Hume's Skepticism in the Treatise of Human Nature”, and the famous writer, J. M Robertson in the book, entitled “The Dynamics of Religion”, have mentioned that Hume's practical purpose of designing this collection of skeptical arguments is discrediting the religion. Recently, Mrs. Farideh Lazemi presents a very similar view in her doctoral thesis, entitled “The place of Religion on David Hume's Philosophy”. This researcher claims in the opening section of her work:
Hume discredits the religious beliefs and teachings of Christian philosophy, such as the existence and attributes of God, the doctrine of the immateriality of the soul, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, the doctrine of a future state, the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, the doctrine of free will, the nature and conditions of moral responsibility, and the consequences of this for human happiness and misery, and the connection between religion and moral principles, as well as the reasonability of testimony and belief in miracles, with a view to the re-direction of philosophical research in the field of life, with the special purpose of project of a “science of man”, that this irreligious purpose of David Hume's philosophy is by no means completely theoretical in its nature; Because the irreligious philosophy of this philosopher has an obvious practical intention, and that is to discredit the role of religion in human life (Lazemi, 2022: 21).
The authors of this paper claim that despite the efforts of our prominent and young commentators who aimed to present a clear and good interpretation of Hume's practical goal, there are still some faults in their interpretations, which major of them are the lack of interest in Hume's naturalistic observations about the origins and roots of religion, and human's natural need for religion, the observations that, in our opinion, lead us to his optimistic approach to the presence of religion in human life, which is the main goal of this study. It is true that Hume reaches the negative conclusion that superstition is harmful and a remedy should be found for it, but he does not leave us at this point. In his works, he plainly aims to describe the detailed mechanisms that enable us to see religion as an original sin in human nature. In this case, there is no hope of us entirely purging humanity of these propensities and tendencies.
A very important question can be raised here, and that is, why do we try to call Hume's attitude to presence of religion in human life is a moderate optimistic attitude? In response, on the one hand, it should be said that this commentary allows audience and readers of this philosopher to dislodge the most common attached title to Hume's religious position, that is; Extreme Pessimist. On the other hand, in recent years, Hume scholars have only focused on the negative and destructive aspects of his philosophical program and have not paid enough attention to the constructive and positive aspects of his irreligious program. Therefore, our interpretation warns us from giving one-sided emphasis to the critical features of Hume's irreligious philosophy. In other words, by this interpretation, we do not give emphasis to the negative and destructive aspects of Hume's philosophical program, but we are also able to understand the constructive and positive aspects of the irreligious program of Hume's philosophy of religion. It should be noted that in the contemporary era, and especially in the last decade, due to the lack of understanding of the continuity between Hume’s earliest work and his later works on religion, such an interpretation is ignored in the philosophy of religion of this philosopher.
In this paper we have used an analytical-comparative method. At first, we have explained Hume's position regarding the theoretical and practical part of religion. Then, we have explained Hume's complex psychological and historical theories about the origins and roots of religion, about the justice/ religion analogy t, and about the important role of religion in human life. By using these two ways, we have criticized our leading and young commentator’s account of Hume's practical intention and have shown that Hume's irreligious program in its practical aspect represents moderate optimism on presence of religion in human life.
Research findings show that Hume's attitude to presence of religion in human life, at least in its minimal and inevitable form, is optimistic.
Discussion and conclusion
This Research outlines, based on evidence and documentation, Hume's attitude to presence of religion in human life can be described as a moderate optimistic attitude, contrary to common view. The most important of these evidences are described in the following:
Hume's naturalistic commitments: Hume's naturalistic commitments show that religion plays a fundamental and valuable role in human life and society- one that it is plainly unwise to disturb and dislodge.
Hume was unwilling to discredit religion: Hume himself did not want to abolish religion and destroy it completely. He has directed his irreligious efforts only at the more destructive forms of religion. It is certainly true that most forms of Christianity Hume was familiar with would fall into this category. We have seen that his skeptical-academic arguments were aimed at only the dogmatic rationality of the defenders of the Christian religion, and therefore this conclusion does not commit him to any kind of common extreme pessimistic hypothesis regarding the presence of religion in human life.
Hume's skeptical principles are in conformity with the first Reformers views: by presenting the connection between Hume's skeptical principles and natural religion issues, our findings indicate that Hume's extreme skeptical principles are in conformity with the first Reformers and also some Catholic thinkers, who were never deemed irreligious, that when Christianity was first established, their skeptical views were usual for religious teachers to preserve “the excellency of faith” and to denigrate natural reason.
Hume's disloyalty to extreme optimistic principles: Although the need and propensity to religion will always be with us (i.e. original superstition), Hume is no fatalist in face of these natural forces. By unmasking religion, both with respect to its absurdities and corrupting tendencies, we can help ourselves overcome many of the difficulties we must inevitably encounter, given the human predicament. To this extent, Hume is an optimist. But this optimism subject is accompanied with a fair measure of pessimism.