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

Charles W. Hendel (1890 - 1982)

Yale, 1957

Charles William Hendel, Jr., son of a successful hat maker turned banker, was born on December 16, 1890 in Reading, Pennsylvania. In 1913 he graduated from Princeton University at the head of his class, and after studying at Marburg and Paris he earned the Ph.D. from Princeton in 1917, partly under the direction of Norman Kemp Smith. He served in the U.S. Army infantry until 1918, where he reached the rank of second lieutenant. He subsequently taught at Williams College, and then at Princeton, until 1929. He was after that professor of moral philosophy and then dean of the faculty of arts and science at McGill University, in Montreal. In 1940 Hendel joined the faculty at Yale, as Clarke Professor of Moral Philosophy and Metaphysics, and chairman of the philosophy department. He was elected president of the American Philosophical Association (Eastern Division) in 1939, and served as president of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy from 1959 to 1961. Hendel was appointed Gifford Lecturer in Natural Theology at Glasgow University for the academic session of 1962 to 1963. He died on November 18, 1982.

Charles Hendel was a leading Hume scholar. Not only did he edit widely used editions of Hume’s major works, but he also made valuable contributions to Hume scholarship. In Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume (Princeton, 1925; Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), he integrated the different facets of Hume’s thought and developed criticisms of Hume that went further than anyone before. Hendel was one of the first scholars to demonstrate that Hume’s major philosophical works were motivated by theological concerns. He argued that Hume investigated the principle of causation because he wanted to explain the world order without an appeal to God. Hendel convincingly showed that Hume’s claim that we can logically think of something existing without a cause was founded on his desire to show that the existence of the world does not entail God as its cause.

Hendel additionally advanced some interesting ideas concerning Hume’s religious position, which many scholars now accept. Readers of Hume often concluded that he was an atheist without faith. In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, they see Philo, the religious skeptic, as his spokesman who argues against Cleanthes, the religious dogmatist, who thinks reason can establish religious beliefs. Hendel denies this and argues that both characters express Hume’s thinking because both represent valid ways of looking at the matter. Philo, the skeptic, is right in showing the defects of our reasoning in proving the existence of God. Cleanthes is right in insisting that the theist position, given our nature, is the one we must accept. Hendel concludes that Hume is Pampilus, who listens to the arguments on both sides.

Selected from the New York Times Obituary, and from Richard W. Burgh, Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers (2005), ed. John R. Shook


Studies in the Philosophy of David Hume
Charles W. Hendel, Jr. Princeton University Press, 1925

The meat of this book is in the chapters on Hume’s theory of causation, and the role played by the imagination. Here is a really new view of Hume. No one interested in the proper evaluation of Hume’s philosophy can afford to neglect the careful and revealing study; and it will be surprising if most competent readers do not find that the book will force them to revise their previous estimates in large measure, and to accord to the great Scotch thinker a far higher place as an original discoverer in the realm of thought than he has hitherto been granted.

–The Saturday Review, October 3, 1925 (p. 183)


”Charles W. Hendel: An Educational Statesman”
Yale Daily News (October 10, 1958)

Charles William Hendel Gifford Lecturer

New York Times Obituary

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