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09/24/2020

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Robin Mills

Interesting stuff. Thanks for the mention. Beattie’s framing of the Essay as a polemic is, I think, reflective of his sense that that is what he can achieve with his book. I probably exaggerate this aspect of it—primarily, it is an attempt at a learned philosophical treatise?—but he is aiming to fight the good fight, act as a ‘friend of mankind’ and undo the pernicious influence of a philosophy that he thinks is going to destroy all morals, religion and society itself.

I think of this in psycho-biographical terms (shouldn’t say that out loud): he hates Hume, he hates philosophy, he’s a poet who has got appointed as a philosopher, it’s not his calling, and he finds it very difficult not to let his emotion get in the way of his arguments. So, to go back to your point about a well-crafted polemic, I wonder if this is Beattie trying his best to turn his real anger at Hume, Berkeley et al, into something productive. I get the impression, as you do too I think, reading the Essay that, very often, he isn’t thinking straight (or ‘philosophically’), he’s thinking passionately.

You can trace Beattie’s emotional reactions and the sheer misery he experiences writing the Essay in his correspondence.

Beattie’s falls into ‘controversy’ I think with the Essay—I’m using that term to describe the sort of attack on Hume you discuss, making Hume ‘detestable in the eyes of others’. See also Warburton & Hurd’s Remarks on Hume’s Natural History of Religion. This distinction between Hume the text/author and Hume the man, where you think you can vehemently attack the former without harming the latter, seems very alien to me now and I’d like to know if there’s been any research done on it. I know that Beattie’s friends got him to remove those passages in drafts of the Essay where he really crossed over into attacking Hume the man. (Interesting use of ‘financier’ though, in Beattie’s list of praise for Hume… that doesn’t feel like a praising choice of words, the word has negative associations for someone of Beattie’s politics).

Certainly. you could argue that a lot of Hume’s positioning himself as an author, a correspondent etc, is about separating as much as possible the argument from the author. And the ‘bigoted’ Beattie epitomised the kind of authorly behaviour Hume hated.

Not being as clever as you philosopher types, I don’t know if Beattie merits the dismissals amongst philosophers he has received. I do know he was very successful for several decades in making Hume’s opinions appear detestable to others.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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