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Portrait of David Hume (detail) by Allan Ramsey (1754)

Antony Flew (1923–2010)

J. Nickerson Photo
New York Times

Antony Flew was born in Ealing, West London, on 11 February 1923; he died in Reading on 8 April 2010. His early education was at Kingswood School, Bath (1936–41), and, after war service, at St John’s College, Oxford. Having held lectureships at Christ Church, Oxford (1949–50) and Aberdeen University (1950–54), he was appointed Professor of Philosophy at what became Keele University (1954–71), the University of Calgary (1972–3) and Reading University (1973–82). He was awarded the DLitt of Keele University in 1974, and was Gifford Lecturer at St Andrews in 1986.

Two books about Hume (Hume’s Philosophy of Belief, 1961, 1997 and David Hume: Philosopher of Moral Science, 1986) constitute Antony Flew’s principal contribution to philosophical scholarship. He does not at every point agree with what he takes Hume to be saying; nor, where he does agree, is his concurrence uncritical. Interpretation, exposition and assessment are interrelated in these works. The earlier book, notwithstanding its title, should not be supposed only to concern belief or epistemology narrowly defined; it is about human cognitive competence and some implications thereof. The later volume particularly brings out Hume’s claim to be treated as a pioneer of what we call the social sciences.

Flew’s views are never more Humean than in his writings about religion. A distinctive feature of his account of Hume’s first Enquiry was the according of a central place, in Hume’s purposes in that book, to the treatment of religious questions. Flew’s chapters dealing respectively with the credibility of reports of miracles, and with the import and weight of any natural theology that might possibly be called in aid by an apologist for religion are very substantial. Flew agrees with Hume that on the latter’s proper and pointful definition of the miraculous no reasonable person should believe a report or a case based on any kind of evidence that a miracle has happened. And any attempt to seek support from natural theology is doubly unsatisfactory: our behaviour should not be led by any conclusions of natural theology in ways into which our mere awareness of nature would not have led us anyhow, and the only form of natural theology that holds out a prospect of having any force is unsound.

Selected and adapted from Joseph Huston, Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy (2006), ed. A.C. Grayling, Naomi Goulder, and Andrew Pyle


“‘Hume on Space and Geometry’: One Reservation”
Antony Flew, Hume Studies (April 1982)

“Impressions or Experiences: Public or Private?”
Antony Flew, Hume Studies (November, 1985)

“Fogelin on Hume on Miracles”
Antony Flew, Hume Studies (November, 1990)

“An Intervention into the Flew/Fogelin Debate”
Kenneth G. Ferguson, Hume Studies (April 1992)

New York Times Obituary

“Humean philosopher and atheist who ultimately
came to believe in intelligent design”

The Guardian, April 14, 2010

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