Hume and Miracles

hume miracles

Miracles and Philosophy

The Miracle issue is at the heart of the philosophy of Hume, as a proof of his empiricism.

Far from the “traditional” critics of miracles, most often based on their physical impossibility and clear violation of the laws of nature as they are in Spinoza’s works, Hume, in Section X of the Treatise of human nature, operates a methodological turn by reducing the question of the credibility of witnesses and thus subjectivity.

Hume has said repeatedly that there is no necessity immanent in nature and its laws, and if there are laws, are those of our mind rather than those of nature (theory of association). The truth of the facts has nothing to do with the relationship of ideas and the opposite of any fact is still possible. The laws of nature that does that experience translate into law, their violation is therefore not contrary to reason, nor a supposed order of things, but only our habits.

However, in studying the text, taken from the first part of Section X, we see that by the “poisoned gift” to the defenders of religious miracles, Hume sprayed it the notion of miracle by taking away its meaning. If, in nature, everything is possible, what is called a “miracle” is actually a quite extraordinary, shocking habits, but that has nothing to do with a disruption of the divine laws nature or will of God to intervene in the world.

Once reduced to a natural and conceivable possibility, the miracle must seem, to obtain the approval or rejection of the trial (which determines the belief or unbelief, we like to disbelief), the court probabilistic prior to the inclination of the understanding.

The whole theory of knowledge, physics and psychology of Hume are actually called in the text of incredible power, which leads inexorably to its relentless conclusion (evidence, if we stick to the framework of analysis of Hume) who were only too happy to Hume’s concession to the physical possibility of miracles: the meaning of the term miracle is meaningless, and the miracle will always be more miraculous (less credible) than the falsity of witnesses in his favor.

So, how Hume, recalling the principles of his theory of knowledge and its principle of immanence, then applying them to a particular example (“thesis to apply

Principles to a Particular Proceeding “), that the testimony of a man,” Testimony of men “, he shows that a miracle is never believable? In analyzing the testimony as a conjunction of a word problem and a fact, Hume does he propose not even the crux of the problem: who to trust? Which the credibility of the witness or the heuristic value of what it shows, weighs the heaviest on the scales in our reasoning?

This proposal, which began studying the text does not apply only to evidence about the miracles: it is a general proposition, the required system as soon as Hume asked that we can have knowledge of appearances and not sensitive “objects in themselves” are a construction of the philosophers. Therefore, even for an event or fact that makes our past experience with the latest predictive level of assurance, our understanding has to adjust his beliefs as a result of a proportional reasoning. The wise man has recourse to mediation so rational.


Note first that this reasoning is to say a formal appraisal, an argument of the understanding regarding the consent to be given to the testimony, as a content and e as actions from men and inseparable from the person witnesses. This is an argument for a common species useful and necessary to life, a calculation that is based in experience, not an empty metaphysical reasoning but a natural reasoning, it is to make explicit :

“In Such conclusions are as infallible Year Founded on experience, and Expect the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards historical past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event.”

Here, experience infallible discussed is the experience that has never been denied. For example, my past experience has shown me, again without experience contrary, that the sun rises every morning. The predictive strength of this proposal is the highest level and allows me to believe with confidence (but not certain, since everything is possible and thinkable in nature and that the sunrise is a well-trained law of our mind from centuries and millennia, or the sun rose every day) that tomorrow the sun will rise as well. This is the only proof that we can claim, evidence that there is nothing definitive, although it gives a legitimate right to be virtually certain of what will happen, and be surprised if you have not the case.

In other cases, the understanding has to reason in order arithmetic, and make a revision of beliefs if the probabilistic reasoning gives a result which is opposite

All probability, then, requires a year of experiments and observations opposition, Where the one found to overbalance side IS the Other, and to Produce a degree of evidence, proportioned to the superiority.”

As a result, the miracle is by definition incredible, and this exemption from scrutiny. Hume is content to develop this internal contradiction in the second part of the text:

There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, the event Otherwise Would not merit That appellation. And as a uniform experience Amount to a proof, There Is a direct and full proof, from the kind of the Fact, Against the existence of Any miracle. ”

Everything here is based on the Humean concept of experience. But precisely because the constitution of experience is a subjective constitution, the survey simply immanent. The requirement appears to be an argument credibility paradoxically much stronger against the miracles that a physical theory which would exclude the possibility, for the reason that any audit is unnecessary to Hume. In a sense, the laws of human nature, are much more necessary than those of nature: the miracle is a psychological impossibility because it would have to undo the very laws of probabilistic reasoning which concludes with the highest level of assurance to impossibility of miracle. Hume makes an important distinction for our discussion: he distinguishes the wonderful “marvelous,” the unusual, and miraculous.

Indeed, to understand about the consistency of Hume here, it is necessary to redefine the miracle: it is not enough to say that it is “a violation of the Laws of Nature”, because the relative nature of our experiment may exclude the unusual and understands the contrary. We believe, under certain conditions, a North Pole weather testimony contradicts our common experience, but nothing can bend our minds to believe that a man has risen, for one simple reason: the “true” miracle is characterized not meaning, a reference to religion. In this sense, the many testimonials for the miracles that have to do with the interests of a person or group, a hypothetical “conspiracy of priests,” a human tendency to credulity the most perfect, do not pose epistemological problem : you simply look at what is more miraculous in terms of probabilistic reasoning: the miracle or the falsity of the testimony.


Cite this article as: Tim, "Hume and Miracles, April 13, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 13, 2012,

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