Research Article

No Abiding City: Hume, Naturalism, and Toleration1

Samuel Clarka1

a1 Lancaster University


This paper rereads David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion as dramatising a distinctive, naturalistic account of toleration. I have two purposes in mind: first, to complete and ground Hume's fragmentary explicit discussion of toleration; second, to unearth a potentially attractive alternative to more recent, Rawlsian approaches to toleration. To make my case, I connect Dialogues and the problem of toleration to the wider themes of naturalism, scepticism and their relation in Hume's thought, before developing a new interpretation of Dialogues part 12 as political drama. Finally, I develop the Humean theory of toleration I have discovered by comparison between Rawls's and Hume's strategies for justification of a tolerant political regime.


1 I have given versions of this paper at POLIS, University of Leeds; at the Department of Politics and Philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University; and at the Philosophy Department, Lancaster University. I want to thank my audiences for their kind attention and helpful questions.