Monday, December 27, 2010

Dacey on Death and Skepticism

James Boswell no doubt hoped for some sort of coerced reversal when he sat down to interview an ailing David Hume on July 7, 1776. What he found was the great skeptic smiling at death. Hume amiably told him that he had entertained no religious belief since he began reading Locke and Clarke, that the ethics of every religion is bad, and that when he hears that a man is religious he concludes that he is a rascal. Searching for a scoop, Boswell pressed Hume on what lay beyond the grave. Hume responded that “it was a most unreasonable fancy that we should exist for ever” and that the prospect of his personal annihilation gave him no anxiety.

In August, Adam Smith wrote to a mutual friend of Hume’s, Alexander Wedderburn, “[p]oor David Hume is dying very fast, but with great cheerfulness and good humour and with more real resignation to the necessary course of things, than any whining Christian ever dyed with pretended resignation to the will of God.” Although they were going to lose a friend, Smith observed, at least he would die “as a man of sense ought to.”

Philosopher Austin Dacey
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