Volume 47, Issue 1, April 2022
Hume’s Fragment on Evil
Since its relatively recent publication (1995), Hume’s Fragment on Evil has received little sustained analysis. References to the Fragment tend to be scarce, and at best, only parts of the Fragment are cited at any time. This essay presents an interpretation of the Fragment that considers the text in its entirety, emphasizing its overall argumentative features and structure. This essay begins by providing an introduction to the background of the Fragment, arguing that Hume was likely responding, in part, to Butler’s Analogy. It then examines the aims and methodology of the Fragment. In this, it considers Hume’s naturalistic and experimental epistemology, and his mitigated skepticism. The Fragment is presented as a discussion about our ability to know the moral attributes of God. The rest of the essay discusses the three strategies Hume employs to answer this question. Further, it considers Hume’s own distinction between a philosophical response to the question (its foundation in reason) and a psychological one (its origin in human nature). Throughout the essay, I provide an evaluation of Hume’s key arguments and point out several connections the Fragment has with other texts in Hume’s corpus. I conclude by suggesting that these connections indicate that the Fragment represent Hume’s own views.