chapter  1
10 Pages

Cudworth and Clarke: reason mired

Since Hume mentions no opponent by name, how can we be so certain that he is addressing Cudworth, Clarke and Wollaston? With Clarke, it is a matter of Hume’s various references to the claim ‘that there are eternal fitnesses and unfitnesses of things’ (see, for instance, 3.1.1:4,17). For this claim, couched in exactly this terminology, is characteristic of Clarke, in whose work, A Discourse of Natural Religion,1 it is (as we shall shortly see) repeatedly found. On the other hand, Hume’s discussion of the assertion that ‘falshood is the foundation of all guilt and deformity’ (3.1.1:15) is just as clearly a reference to Wollaston, who makes this distinctive assertion in his The Religion of Nature Delineated,2 and who is the ‘late author’ mentioned in note 68 (3.1.1:15). Hume’s talk of ‘the immutable measures of right and wrong’ suggests Cudworth whose work is entitled ‘A Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality’.3 His reference (3.1.1:18) to ‘an opinion very industriously propagated by certain philosophers, that morality is susceptible of demonstration . . . and may be brought to an equal certainty with geometry or algebra’ suggests both Cudworth and Clarke. Most telling of all is perhaps his allusion (3.1.1:4) to the claim that ‘the Deity himself’, alongside ‘every rational being that considers them’, is obliged by these ‘immutable measures of right and wrong’. For this extension of the scope of obligation to cover God is a peculiar feature of the moral rationalism of these two writers.