Volume 42, Issue 1/2, April/November 2016
Jonathan Harold Krause
The Political Lessons of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Much scholarship has traditionally treated David Hume’s interest in religion as primarily theoretical in character. This theoretical treatment of Hume’s engagement with religion neglects his marked concern with religion’s relation to political life. In the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume is primarily concerned not with theory but with religion’s practical effects. In this article, I build on recent scholarly attention to the connection between religion and politics in Hume’s thought by examining the dialogical form of the Dialogues, and especially, the role of Pamphilus, the young student whose central place in the Dialogues is often overlooked. The consideration of the best approach to take to the religious education of Pamphilus throws into sharp relief the practical consequences of different theoretical approaches to religion. The question of religion’s political consequences, and the ramifications of those consequences for the religious education of the young, is Hume’s primary focus in the Dialogues.