"The Whole is a Riddle, an Enigma, an Inexplicable
Mystery": David Hume's Philosophy of Religion


Dr Callan Ledsham
Not offered in 2020

The philosophy of religion of David Hume (1711-1776) is a major, though often undisclosed part of the intellectual heritage of contemporary “New Atheist” thinkers like Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens. His psychological theory of religious belief and his sceptical critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God present some of the most profound and classic challenges to Christian belief. In particular his psychological account of the origin and nature of religious belief as propensity of projection of entities (e.g. God/s) has been influential in the fields of philosophy of religion. This unit explores his major work on the origin of religious belief, The Natural History of Religion, and his major criticism of the arguments for the existence of God is found in The Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. The unit will examine these, plus other lesser texts (e.g. On Miracles, On Superstition and Enthusiasm, and A Treatise of Human Nature) in order to analyse the different strands of Hume’s philosophy of religion, evaluating its coherence, presuppositions, strengths and weaknesses.




face-to-face 3-hour weekly classes in semester


  • one 6,000-word essay 90%
  • one 1,000-word skeleton argument 10%
  • one 4,000-word essay 60%
  • one 1,000-word skeleton argument 10%
  • one 2,000-word essay 30% 


  • Beauchamp, Tom L., ed. A Dissertation on the Passions: The Natural History of Religion: A Critical Edition. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.
  • ———, ed. Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Buckle, Stephen. Hume’s Enlightenment Tract: The Unity and Purpose of an Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Oxford: Clarendon, 2001. 
  • Earman, John. Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000.
  • Gaskin, John C. A. Hume’s Philosophy of Religion. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1988.
  • Herdt, Jennifer A. Religion and Faction in Hume’s Moral Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. 
  • Logan, Beryl. A Religion Without Talking: Religious Belief and Natural Belief in Hume’s Philosophy of Religion. New York: Peter Lang, 1993.
  • O’Connor, David. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hume on Religion. Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • Penelhum, Terence. Themes in Hume: The Self, the Will, Religion. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000.
  • Pyle, Andrew. A Reader’s Guide to Hume’s Dialogues. London: Continuum, 2006.