Scepticism

Hume: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

DavidHumeDialogues Concerning Natural Religion, by David Hume (1711-1776), was first published  in 1779. The choice of the dialogue form, modelled on Cicero, as well as its posthumous appearance, reflected the work's far reaching implications for contemporary religious authority.

The three central characters are Cleanthes, an 'experimental theist', typical of eighteenth century progressive theologians, Demea, a traditionalist mystic, and Philo, a radical sceptic, whose views are often taken to be closest to Hume's own. While there is some debate over whether Hume's position entailed strict athiesm, or allowed for some philsopophical conceptions of God such as deism, he is generally seen as hostile to organised religion.

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Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, edited by Henry D. Aitken (Hafner Library of Classics, 1948). Multiple formats.

University of Adelaide: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. HTML and other formats.

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Hume: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Painting_of_David_HumeAn Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a 1748 work by David Hume. It is often known as the First Enquiry, as distinguished from the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Human Morals. Both works provide succinct accounts of aspects of the philosophy originally developed in Hume's Treatise on Human Nature.

The opening sections of the Enquiry offer a theory of knowledge which owes much to Locke, while making a clearer distinction between sense impressions and ideas. Hume's more fundamental departure was his conclusion that there was no rational justification for our making judgements about the world based on cause and effect, and that we do so simply out of custom and habit.

In the latter part of the book, Hume applied his scepticism to a variety of metaphysical and religious beliefs, concluding however with a chapter recommending the approach of the more moderate Academic sceptics among the ancients, rather than that of the more radical Pyrrhonians.

He ends with a paragraph whose precise significance, as a criterion of truth or of meaningfulness, has been much debated by later analytic philosophers:

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

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Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and Selections from A Treatise of Human Nature (1907). Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, with works by Locke and Berkeley. (Great Books of the Western World edition, 1937). Multiple formats.

University of Adelaide: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. HTML and other formats.

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Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature

David_Hume_EsqrA Treatise of Human Nature, published in three books in 1739-40, was the first major philosophical work by David Hume, who famously said that it 'fell dead-born from the press', leading him to recast his ideas in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.

Hume's mature philosophy was nevertheless substantively that of the Treatise, which sought to put philosophy on an experimental basis like that of the physical sciences, rejecting metaphysical speculation as futile. It includes Hume's first account of his famous problem of induction, arguing that our belief in cause and effect is based on habit rather than rational justification. It was this sceptical attack which Kant later said ' first interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a completely different direction.'

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Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: A Treatise of Human Nature, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: A Treatise of Human Nature. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: A Treatise of Human Nature Vol I | Vol II. Everyman's Library edition. Multiple formats.

University of Adelaide: A Treatise of Human Nature. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: Treatise of Human Nature. HTML and other formats.

Other Resources

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: David Hume. Melvyn Bragg with Peter Millican, Helen Beebee and James Harris.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: David Hume (1711-1776) - Hume on Causation.

Librivox - A Treatise of Human Nature, Vol I | Vol II - public domain audiobook.

PhilPapers: Hume - A Treatise of Human Nature - bibliography with open access option.

Philosophy Bites: Paul Russell on David Hume's Philosophy of Irreligion. Podcast with Nigel Warburton.

Physics Today: Albert Einstein to Moritz Schlick - comments on the influence of the Treatise on the theory of relativity.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: David Hume - Kant and Hume on Causality.

Wikipedia: David Hume - A Treatise of Human Nature.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Hume: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Hume: An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.

Kant: Critique of Pure Reason.

Kant: Prologomena to Any Future Metaphysics.


Descartes: Discourse on Method

Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_René_DescartesThe Discourse on Method (French: Discours de la méthode) by René Descartes was published in French in Leiden in 1637, alongside essays on optics, meteorology and geometry. It offered the an autobiographical of Descartes skeptical method and the positive metaphysical conclusions that he would later develop more fully in the Meditations. Notable among these is the first formulation of the famous 'Cogito', the principle that 'I think therefore I am' and cannot doubt my own existence.

Of the accompanying scientific essays, that on geometry is notable for introducing Cartesian co-ordinates.

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Free online texts

Bartleby: Discourse on Method. English translation. Harvard Classics, Volume 34, Part 1. HTML format.

Gallica: Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison et chercher la vérité dans les sciences , plus la dioptrique, les météores et la géométrie qui sont des essais de cette méthode. French text. Image file format.

Gutenberg: Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, translated by John Veitch. Multiple formats. 

Gutenberg: Discours de la méthode. French text. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Discourse on the Method, Meditations on First Philosophy, Objections against the Meditations and Replies, The Geometry, by René Descartes. The Ethics, by Benedict De Spinoza. Great Books of the Western World, no 31 (1925). Multiple formats.

Liberty Fund: The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes, translated by John Veitch. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: French text and English translation. HTML and other formats.

Zulu Ebooks: Discours de la méthode. French text. PDF format.

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Montaigne: Essays

Montaigne-DumonstierThe Essays (French: Essais) by Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) inaugurated a literary form on their first publication in 1580. His  Essais or 'attempts' at various subjects were part of a larger project of-self reflection. His focus on the individual personality, in contrast to the ancient writers on whom he dew copiously, had a profound influence on later writers.

He knew Greek authors mainly though Latin and French, but his broad classical learning informed an eclectic philosophical world view which drew on Cicero, stoicism and skepticism. The latter was influence was strengthened by Montaigne's experiences as a nobleman during the French Wars of Religion. His belief in tolerance forms an important part of his legacy.

Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: Essays, Bks 1-11, translated by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format. Modern English translation with some editorial alterations.
Gutenberg: Essays of Michel de Montaigne — Complete, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats. 
Internet Archive: The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Vol I | Vol II. Translated by Charles Cotton and revised by William Carew Hazlitt. Multiple formats.
The Montaigne Project: Les Essais de Montaigne. Full Searchable HTML text in French.
Online Library of Liberty: Essays of Montaigne in 10 Volumes, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats.
University of Adelaide: The Essays of Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats.
University of Oregon: Montaigne's Essays, translated by John Florio, 1603. PDF format.
Wikisource: Multiple French editions | English translation by John Florio, 1603 | English translation by Charles Cotton 1686, revised by William Carew Hazlitt in 1877.

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Cicero: On the Nature of the Gods

On the Nature of the Gods (Latin: De Natura Deorum) is a dialogue by Cicero which examines theology from the point of view of various philosophical schools. In book 1, Gaius Velleius gives the Epicurean argument for the existence of God, while Quintus Lucilius puts the Stoic case in book 2. Gaius Cotta criticises both viewpoints in book 3 from the viewpoint of Cicero's own academic skepticism.

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Free online texts

Gutenberg: Cicero's Tusculan Disputations also, Treatises On The Nature Of The Gods, And On The Commonwealth, translated by C.D. Yonge. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: The treatises of M.T. Cicero: On the nature of the gods; On divination; On fate; On the republic; On the laws; and On standing for the consulship. Literally translated chiefly by the editor, C.D. Yonge (1878). Multiple formats.

Internet Archive. De Natura Deorum, Libri Tres, Vol I, Vol II, Vol III, edited by J.B Mayor (Cambridge, 1888). Latin text, Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: De natura deorum, De divinatione, De fato, edited by Reinholdus Klotz (1879). Latin text, multiple formats.

Latin Library: De Natura Deorum. Latin text, HTML format.

Loebulus. L268 - Cicero -- De Natura Deorum. Academica. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Latin and English.

Online Library of Liberty: De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), trans. Francis Brooks (London: Methuen, 1896). Multiple formats.

Perseus: De Natura Deorum. Latin text, HTML and XML format.

Wikisource: De Natura Deorum. Latin text, multiple formats.

Other Resources

Academia.edu: Cicero Handout -  Arguments For And Against God's Existence in On the Nature of the Gods, by Gregory Sadler.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Rhetorical Questions: Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Raphael Woolf on Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cicero.

Librivox: On the Nature of the Gods - public domain audiobook.

Wikipedia: Cicero - De Natura Deorum.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Plato: Euthyphro - a classic examination of divine command theory.

Cicero: Tusculan Disputations - defends Stoic views on happiness.

Cicero: On the Ends of Good and Evil - discusses the ethical teachings of the major philosophical schools.

Cicero: Academica - dialogues on the theory of knowledge.

Cicero: On Divination.

Cicero: On Fate.

David Hume: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Latin resources: Learn to read Latin texts in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: On the Nature of the Gods is listed.


Cicero: On the Ends of Good and Evil

On the Ends of Good and Evil or On Moral Ends (Latin: De finibus bonorum et malorum), composed by Cicero in 45 BC, presents the ethical teachings of the major philosophical schools of the time in the form of dialogues recounted by Cicero to his friend Brutus. Lucius Torquatus serves as spokesman for epicureanism in the first two books, while Cato represents stoicism in books three and four. Book five presents Cicero's own academic skepticism.

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Free online texts

Gutenberg: The Academic Questions, Treatise De Finibus, and Tusculan Disputations. Multiple formats.

LacusCurtius: de Finibus, translated by H. Harris Rackham. HTML format.

Latin Library: De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. Latin text, HTML format.

Loebulus. L040 - Cicero -- De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Latin with English translation by H. Rackham. Also at the Internet Archive.

Perseus: De finibus bonorum et malorum (Teubner, 1915). Latin text, HTML and XML format.

University of Adelaide: Treatise de Finibus, translated by Charles Duke Yonge. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: De finibus bonorum et malorum. Latin text, multiple formats.

Other Resources

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Rhetorical Questions: Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Raphael Woolf on Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cicero.

Librivox: On the Ends of Good and Evil - public domain audiobook.

The Obstinate Classicist: On Moral Ends, summary by Bill Prueter.

Wikipedia: CiceroDe finibus bonorum et malorum.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Cicero: Academica - dialogue on stoic and academic views of the theory of knowledge.

Cicero: Tusculan Disputations.

Plato: Phaedrus - cited by Cicero in Book Two.

Latin resources: Learn to read Latin texts in the original.


Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Pyrrhonism

The Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Πυῤῥώνειοι ὑποτυπώσεις, Pyrrhōneioi hypotypōseis) is a work by Sextus Empiricus, written sometime in the second or third century CE. it is the main source for the ideas of the sceptical movement which traced its roots to Pyrrho of Elis, a philosopher who lived hundreds of years earlier in the 3rd Century BC. 

The Pyrrhonists were opposed on the one hand to dogmatic philosophers such as the stoics, who believed they could attain certain knowledge, and on the other to the rival form of scepticism associated with the Academics, or followers of Plato.

Rediscovered during the renaissance, the work had a profound influence on modern thinkers such as Montaigne, Descartes and David Hume.

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The availability of English translations of the Outlines in the public domain appears to be very limited. While some can be found online, their copyright status is often unclear at best. If you know of a link a comment below would be most welcome.

Gutenberg: Sextus Empiricus and Greek Scepticism by Mary Mills Patrick (1899), includes a translation of the first book of the 'Pyrrhonic Sketches'. Multiple formats. 

Internet Archive: Sexti Empirici Opera, Greek text, edited by Hermann Mutschmann (1912).

Other Resources

Bibliography on Skepticism, by Diego E. Machuca.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Healthy Skepticism: Sextus Empiricus - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ancient Greek Skepticism, by Harald Thorsrud.

Philpapers: Outlines of Pyrrhonism - academic bibliography.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sextus Empiricus, by Benjamin Morison.

The Partially Examined Life: Pyrrhonian Skepticism According to Sextus Empiricus - podcast.

Wikipedia: Sextus Empiricus.

Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Cicero: Academica - discusses the form of scepticism, distinct from Pyrrhonism, associated with the Platonic Academy at some periods.


Cicero: Academica

Richard_Wilson_-_Cicero's_Villa_and_the_Gulf_of_Pozzuoli_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Academica is Cicero's main philosophical work on the theory of knowledge. The first edition, the Academica Priora, consisted of two books, the dialogues Catulus and Lucullus, of which only the latter is extant. Lucullus defends the stoic position on the possibility of certain knowledge, which Cicero argues takes the view of the academic sceptics that it is necessary to accept what is merely probable.

Part of a revised version, the Academica Posteriora,  in which Varro replaced Lucullus as the main interlocutor, also survives.

The Academica at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

Free online texts

Gutenberg: Academica. Multiple formats.

Gutenberg: The Academic Questions, Treatise De Finibus, and Tusculan Disputations. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: De natura deorum; Academica; with an English translation by H. Rackham (1933). Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: The Academica of Cicero. Latin text, edited by James Smith Reid. Multiple formats.

Loebulus. L268 - Cicero -- De Natura Deorum. Academica. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Latin and English.

Wikisource: Academica Priora - Latin text. Multiple formats.

Other Resources

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Rhetorical Questions: Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Raphael Woolf on Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cicero: Academic Skepticism, by Harald Thorsrud.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Pyrrhonism - main source for the Pyrrhonist school which propounded a rival form of scepticism to that of the Academics.

Latin resources: Learn to read Latin texts in the original.