It is fair to say that the Natural History of Religion appeals to psychological principles originally presented in the Treatise ; but it cannot be seen as a replacement text in the same way that the First Enquiry might be viewed as the mature successor to Book One of the Treatise. The same point can be made about Of the Standard of Taste : this text cannot improve on Hume's earlier account because Hume does not provide an examination of aesthetic disagreement in the Treatise. And a similar worry arises in the context of the essay Of Tragedy.
Hume appeals in this work to a psychological principle -- by which one emotion is converted into another -- that was originally presented in Book Two of the Treatise. Hume modifies this principle in the Four Dissertations and applies it to the puzzle of tragedy. But the subject of tragedy does not appear in Book Two. There is once again no sustained explanation in the earlier work, therefore, for these later essays to develop or improve on. The analogy with the first two Enquiries appears to have broken down.
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Hume's Enquiries offer a substantial reworking and reshaping of material presented in the Treatise : but the same cannot be said of his later essays on religion and aesthetics. One would expect Merivale to be on safer grounds in his examination of Hume's Dissertation on the Passions. This text involves a radical makeover of content originally presented in Book Two of the Treatise. Merivale maintains that Hume changes his mind, moreover, about the essential nature of emotions. He reads the Hume of the Treatise as a feeling theorist who is committed to the view that emotions are constituted solely by their distinctive phenomenological qualia.
But Merivale reads the Hume of the Four Dissertations as cognitivist: the intentional objects of emotions are intrinsic rather than extrinsic features of these mental states.
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Passions such as pride are complex, in other words, and are constituted both by their characteristic feels and their intentional objects The textual support for this interpretation, Merivale admits, is rather thin, and he leans heavily on the fact that Hume removed his explicit endorsement of feeling theory in his later writings on the emotions. It is hard to discern whether such changes amount to space saving measures, intended merely to ease exposition, or whether Hume has actually turned his back on his earlier commitments.
Merivale is a sympathetic reader who attempts to defend Hume's later writings on emotion, art, and religion from a variety of contemporary criticisms. But it should be noted that he stops short of providing a complete defense of Hume's positions.
Consider, for example, Of the Standard of Taste. Merivale offers a "partial defense" of Hume's attempt to resolve widespread aesthetic disagreements He believes that Hume's account can be internally defended from a host of recent objections; but he acknowledges that he is not in a position to externally defend Hume's assumption that core aesthetic values are grounded in principles of human nature, since evaluating this claim would require one to take interdisciplinary research from cognitive science into consideration But one might worry that this interpretative strategy puts an end to the matter right when one has reached its crux.
If Hume is offering experimental claims about the workings of human emotions, then one can only fully defend his position by taking our best empirical studies into consideration. Merivale recognizes that a complete defense of Hume's solution to the puzzle of tragedy would require similar explorations into the neighboring field of experimental aesthetics The same might be said about Hume's speculative proposals in the Four Dissertations concerning the psychological foundations of religious belief.
Merivale regards Book Two of the Treatise as a "first draft" for the Four Dissertations and he boldly asserts that his later writings on the passions are "better" than his earlier ones There is reason to suspect, as we have seen, that he has not sufficiently established this controversial claim. But this objection does not ultimately diminish the overall value of this critical study.
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