David Hume

David Hume: A Skeptic for Conservative Evangelicals, by Robert Case ★★★★★

I was given an autographed copy of this book recently by the author and promptly proceeded to devour it. I was peripherally acquainted with Hume, having encountered him in a 3-term history of philosophy class in college. I don’t recall spending more than a day on Hume as the teacher did not regard the Scottish skeptics in a good light. Cornelius VanTil also spends time with Hume in his history of philosophy lecture series, pointing out how Hume led to the public acceptance of atheism and agnosticism. So, my thinking was that this book was akin to finding a book titled “Adolf Hitler: A Warrior for Pacifist Evangelicals”. Though Hitler was a deeply evil person, one could also find great good that Hitler accomplished. We have our interstate highway system thanks to Adolf. Curiosity mounted high, wondering how Case was going to extract the possibility that Hume offers good advice to conservative Christians. Yet, without performing logical acrobatics, Case accomplishes well his mission. The book is fairly dense to read and so cannot be properly consumed by speed-reading. I was also quite unfamiliar with the realm of political philosophy, which is the bulk of this book. So, the book ended up taking me a while to finish.

Dr. Case is fair with his treatment of Hume and doesn’t attempt to disguise his anti-Christian bias. Case points out how Hume carried the baggage of Scottish Presbyterianism in much of his thinking, though he rejects the notion of a God, which is the basis for Presbyterian thinking. Case first gives a historical context to Hume, then spends several chapters developing Hume’s political philosophy, before bringing in the raison d’être for the book, the good that we can glean from Hume’s politics. Certainly, Hume’s empiricism would not be heavily discussed. Hume spoke much about the necessity of communities and traditions for maintaining a stable society. Most conservatives would agree that the church is the most important of those communities but will forget that other social societies are of great relevance in maintaining our identity. We live in a society that is ever increasingly anti-social, such that even Christians opt strongly at times for “rugged individualism” without being sensitive to the notion of being an active participant in society at large. The tradition of family is emphasized. The need to be a participant in government is also mentioned. The concept of anarcho-capitalism/libertarianism is opposed (though not mentioned by name), which emphasizes personal rights to the exclusion of responsibilities of the individual to behave morally and positively within the culture at large.

This book was a delight to read. Dr. Case makes good points regarding David Hume, though I’m not sure the positive notions of Hume have not been well stated elsewhere by other authors. I would have appreciated a discussion in the book as to how Hume’s thinking led to logical positivism. I would have also appreciated some discussion as to the reaction to Hume’s thinking with the Scottish common-sense realism thinkers associated with Thomas Reid, and which heavily influenced American Presbyterian thinking, most notably with Jonathan Edwards. These are not serious criticisms of the book, which otherwise was very well written. Though one could object to Dr. Case making too much of David Hume’s political philosophy, one cannot object to Case’s skill at generating thoughtful reflection as to what makes for a successful society. Case is a brilliant thinker who is worth taking seriously in all that he writes, and this book is an example from Dr. Case of a worthy tome to devour.