Reading custom as illative sense": a theological account of John Henry Newman's appropriation of a realist interpretation of David Hume "

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: William L. Portier


This thesis explores the notion that John Henry Newman offered an epistemological system that in some way mirrors the image of the non-skeptical, realist reading of Hume that we have only seen become popular over the last few decades and that understanding this commonality to Newman's system is extremely helpful in making sense of the complicated notion he names the illative sense and the function it is to play in the practice of the Christian faith. I first formulate the historically accepted skeptical epistemology associated with Hume, with specific attention given to his discussion of the problems surrounding the idea of causation. I contrast this traditionally rendered Hume with the model provided by his contemporary, Thomas Reid, which includes explicit interaction with this understanding of Hume's philosophy. I next attempt to complicate this reading of Hume as well as to present my alternative understanding of his work as a realist and a defender of a more sophisticated, tenable, and responsible common sense intuitionism. To further strengthen what many philosophers regard as a complete nonstarter, I introduce a group of prominent Hume scholars who have sympathy with this realist interpretation that has come to be referred to as The New Hume." The following section is devoted to Newman's complicated conversion from Anglican intellectual elite to Catholic priest and then, in turn, to an overview of the system he puts forth in his An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. I then defend idea that Newman's religious epistemology shares a framework strikingly similar to some form of a realist interpretation of Hume. In this discussion, I rely heavily upon the texts of both the Treatise and the Grammar to make explicit the ways in which Newman's argument is ordered after and borrows from Hume's. Having made clear this similarity with both Hume's argument and philosophical vocabulary, my final section is devoted to the topic of the illative sense and the role the epistemological system Newman builds upon it functions in the life of the believer. To this end, I begin my discussion with an account of how the phenomenon of conscience is what precipitates Newman's departure from Hume's entirely secular philosophical conclusions. Having demonstrated why philosophy is always, then, a thoroughly theological practice for Newman, I go on to depict how this common sense system centered entirely on the illative sense functions for Newman in his own account of his own life in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, as well as a brief depiction of what the illative sense ought to look like in our own practice of Christian theology and faith today. I conclude by offering that the epistemological model here presented serves to clarify and strengthen our own understanding of our role as Christian theologians. And for this to be the case we need Newman and for Newman we need Hume."


Newman, John Henry, 1801-1890, Hume, David, 1711-1776, Philosophy and religion, Insight, Theology, Religion, Philosophy, David Hume, John Henry Newman, illative sense, religious epistemology, New Hume, custom or habit, Thomas Reid, philosophical theology

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