An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Miracles: Reliable Testimony or a Falsehood for an Epistemologist?
Many of David Hume’s writings and ideas, such as the famous “Hume’s Fork,” are common currency today. While his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding was not well-received when it was first published, it later became known as one of his major works. This essay addresses Hume’s question about whether miracles are reliable testimony that aid human understanding or merely falsehoods that do not serve as epistemological grounds. In large part, it is evident that Hume was not in favor of testimony that attempted to prove miracles because it did not fit in with his convictions about natural philosophy and reason.
Hume argues that while testimony may have some validity in furthering human understanding, it is never as powerful as the direct evidence confronting our senses, and the only reason why we would believe testimony is if the person speaking is reliable and the facts do not fly in the face of observed reality. For instance, if someone says that there is a “dead man restored to life,” is it more probable that “this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact… should really have happened” (116)? This central question succinctly shows Hume’s viewpoint that conformity to experience or “natural law” is more...
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