More Thoughts on Charles Taylor, Secularity and Miracles

In the last post I set out a brief overview of Charles Taylor’s critique of the secular. But how might this relate to Hume’s definition of and argument against miracles? I want to set out some points that may be useful.

1. Hume really seems to believe that the human approach to the world is that of a detached observer weighing up the likelihood of the evidence, but of course this ignores the fact that we are embodied minds, in a process of coping with the world. The view that we are able to stand outside of this network of significances in a neutral space is misguided. Therefore, Hume’s approach to miracles is misguided.

Another way of putting this point is that Hume deals with testimony for miracles, but his argument has nothing to say on what he would do if personally faced with a miracle – would he be able to be so detached?

Taylor points to the difference between the kind of philosophy Aristotle was doing, and that which Descartes did – a journey of nearly 2000 years which led from a view of humans as embodied beings upon which things make an impact, to a completely dualistic system in which the mind is able to stand apart from and rationally weigh up the embodied experiences.

2. We have seen from point (1) above that Hume’s epistemology is rather naive; it also leads to an empirical method and an understanding of induction that is too narrow. To use Taylor’s phrase, Hume is working with a closed world structure based on a very limited view of what counts as evidence. This is particularly evident in his four a posteriori arguments which discredit evidence because it comes from ‘ignorant and barbarous nations’, and from people  of  ‘insufficient education’. If you decide, before you see what the issues are that interest you, that only certain kinds of evidence are going to count, then you are loading the dice in favour of the outcome which you want.

3. Finally, this selecting of a narrow range of evidence is evident in the ‘violation’ definition of miracle as it presupposes a prescriptive rather than descriptive understanding of the laws of nature, which as we saw here, is mistaken.

I hope this has been of some help with Hume’s concept of miracles, it may give you an alternative philosopher with which to critique Hume, and one who is still very much alive! Have a look here to see a talk that Charles Taylor gave recently.

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