Skip to main content

Twenty Questions about Hume's “Of Miracles”*

  • Peter Millican (a1)

Hume's essay on the credibility of miracle reports has always been controversial, with much debate over how it should be interpreted, let alone assessed. My aim here is to summarise what I take to be the most plausible views on these issues, both interpretative and philosophical, with references to facilitate deeper investigation if desired. The paper is divided into small sections, each headed by a question that provides a focus. Broadly speaking, §§1–3 and §20 are on Hume's general philosophical framework within which the essay is situated, §§4–11 and §19 are on Part 1, §12–18 are on Part 2, and the final three sections §§18–20 sum up my assessment of his arguments.

Hide All
Aquinas Thomas (1258–64), Summa Contra Gentiles, translated by Vernon J. Bourke as On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, Doubleday and Co., 1956. Excerpt reprinted in Swinburne Richard (ed.), Miracles (Macmillan, 1989), pp. 1922.
Broad C. D. (1917), “Hume's Theory of the Credibility of Miracles”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 17, pp. 7794.
Burns R. M. (1981), The Great Debate on Miracles, Associated University Presses.
Butler Joseph (1736), The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature, ed. Gladstone W. E., Clarendon Press, 1896 [bracketed § numbers are Gladstone's].
Campbell George (1762), A Dissertation on Miracles, Edinburgh: A. Kincaid & J. Bell.
Coady C. A. J. (1973), “Testimony and Observation”, American Philosophical Quarterly 10, pp. 149–55.
Coady C. A. J. (1992), Testimony, Clarendon Press.
Coleman Dorothy (1988), “Hume, Miracles and Lotteries”, Hume Studies 14, pp. 328–46.
Coleman Dorothy (2001), “Baconian Probability and Hume's Theory of Testimony”, Hume Studies 27, pp. 195226.
Earman John (2000), Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles, Oxford University Press.
Earman John (2002), “Bayes, Hume, Price, and Miracles”, Proceedings of the British Academy 113, pp. 91109.
Flew Antony (1959), “Hume's Check”, Philosophical Quarterly 9, pp. 118.
Flew Antony (1961), Hume's Philosophy of Belief, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Fogelin Robert J. (2003), A Defense of Hume on Miracles, Princeton University Press.
French Christopher C. and Wilson Krissy (2007), “Cognitive Factors Underlying Paranormal Beliefs and Experiences”, In Sala Sergio Della (ed.), Tall Tales about the Mind and Brain: Separating Fact from Fiction, Oxford University Press, pp. 322.
Garrett Don (2002), “Hume on Testimony concerning Miracles”, in Millican Peter (ed.), Reading Hume on Human Understanding, Clarendon Press, pp. 301–32. Adapted from Garrett, Cognition and Commitment in Hume's Philosophy, Oxford University Press (1997), chapter 7: pp. 137–62.
Gaskin J. C. A. (1988), Hume's Philosophy of Religion, Macmillan, second edition.
Gillies Donald (1991), “A Bayesian Proof of a Humean Principle”, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 42, pp. 255–6.
Gilovich Thomas, Griffin Dale, and Kahneman Daniel, eds (2002), Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, Cambridge University Press.
Holder Rodney D. (1998), “Hume on Miracles: Bayesian Interpretation, Multiple Testimony, and the Existence of God”, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 49, pp. 4965.
Houston Joseph (1994), Reported Miracles: A Critique of Hume, Cambridge University Press.
Howson Colin (2000), Hume's Problem: Induction and the Justification of Belief, Clarendon Press.
Hume David (1739/40), A Treatise of Human Nature: A Critical Edition, vol. 1, ed. Norton David Fate and Norton Mary J., Clarendon Press, 2007 (references indicated by “T” and given to book, part, section and paragraph number).
David Hume (1741–77), Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Miller Eugene F., Classics Liberty, second edition 1987 (“Essays”, references given to paragraph number and to page number).
Hume David (1748), An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, ed. Millican Peter, Oxford University Press, 2007 (references indicated by “E” and given to section and paragraph number, except when giving page references for additional material such as Hume's letters).
Hume David (1751), An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. Tom L. Beauchamp, Oxford University Press, 1998 (references indicated by “M” and given to section and paragraph number).
Hume David (1757), A Dissertation on the Passions and The Natural History of Religion, ed. Beauchamp Tom L., Oxford University Press, 2007 (references to Natural History indicated by “NHR”, and given to section and paragraph number).
Hume David (1932), The Letters of David Hume, ed. Greig J. Y. T., 2 vols, Clarendon Press (references indicated by “HL”).
Hume David (1954), New Letters of David Hume, ed. Klibansky R. and Mossner E. C., Clarendon Press (references indicated by “NHL”).
Johnson David (1999), Hume, Holism, and Miracles, Cornell University Press.
Larmer Robert (1996), “David Hume and the Miraculous” in Larmer (ed.), Questions of Miracle, McGill-Queen's University Press, pp. 2639.
Lewis C. S. (1947), Miracles: A Preliminary Study, Macmillan.
Locke John (1690), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Nidditch P. H., Clarendon Press, 1975 (“Essay”, references given to book, chapter and section number).
Lombrozo Tania, Kelemen Deborah and Zaitchik Deborah (2007), “Inferring Design: Evidence of a preference for teleological explanations in patients with Alzheimer's disease”, Psychological Science 18.11, pp. 9991006.
Mackie J. L. (1982), The Miracle of Theism, Clarendon Press.
Millican Peter (1993), “‘Hume's Theorem’ Concerning Miracles”, Philosophical Quarterly 43, pp. 489–95.
Millican Peter (2003), “Hume, Miracles, and Probabilities: Meeting Earman's Challenge”, available online at Miracles and Probabilities.pdf (as presented at the Las Vegas Hume Conference, July 2003).
Millican Peter (2007a), “Humes Old and New: Four Fashionable Falsehoods, and One Unfashionable Truth”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 81, pp. 163–99.
Millican Peter (2007b), “Against the ‘New Hume’”, in Rupert Read and Richman Kenneth A. (eds), The New Hume Debate: Revised Edition, Routledge, pp. 211–52.
Millican Peter (2009), “Hume, Causal Realism, and Causal Science”, Mind 118, pp. 647712.
Noonan Harold (2007), Hume, Oneworld Publications.
Norton David Fate (1982), David Hume: Common-Sense Moralist, Sceptical Metaphysician, Princeton University Press.
Price Richard (1768), On the Importance of Christianity and the Nature of Historical Evidence, and Miracles, Dissertation IV of Four Dissertations, second edition (first edition was 1767), London: A. Millar and T. Cadell.
Purtill Richard L. (1978), “Miracles: What if They Happen?” in Swinburne Richard (ed.), Miracles Macmillan, 1989), pp. 189205. From Purtill, Thinking about Religion, Prentice Hall, pp. 65–79.
Selby-Bigge L. A. (1894), “Editor's Introduction” to Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals by David Hume, Clarendon Press, pp. viixxxi.
Sherlock Thomas (1729), The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus, London: J. Roberts.
Sobel Jordan Howard (1991), “Hume's Theorem on Testimony Sufficient to Establish a Miracle”, Philosophical Quarterly 41, pp. 229–37.
Stroud Barry (1977), Hume, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Swinburne Richard (1968), “Miracles”, Philosophical Quarterly 18, pp. 320–8.
Swinburne Richard (1996), Is There a God?, Oxford University Press.
Traiger Saul (1993), “Humean Testimony”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 74, pp. 135–49.
Tversky Amos and Kahneman Daniel (1974), “Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases”, Science 185, pp. 1124–31.
Wilson Fred (1989), “The Logic of Probabilities in Hume's Argument against Miracles”, Hume Studies 15, pp. 255–75.
Wootton David (1990), “Hume's ‘Of Miracles’: Probability and Irreligion”, In Stewart M. A. (ed.), Studies in the Philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment, Clarendon Press, pp. 191229.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 17
Total number of PDF views: 54 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 274 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 17th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.