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The Irregular Argument in Hume's Dialogues

From: Hume Studies
Volume 18, Number 2, November 1992
pp. 483-500 | 10.1353/hms.2011.0444

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The Irregular Argument in Hume's Dialogues1 Beryl Logan In the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,2 Cleanthes advances the Argumentfrom Design, which states that, from certain observable features of the world and machines, an inference can be made analogically to the intelligence of the designer of the world. In this paper I argue that Cleanthes formulates this Argument in two ways—as a regular" argument (part 2), and as an 'irregular' argument (part3).Asaregularanalogical argument,theinferenceisconsiderably weakenedby Philo's objections (thatis, the Argumentfails tomeet the requirements of the rules of an argument by analogy); but as an irregular argument, the 'inference' is made in spite of the fact that it does not meet these requirements. Philo presents further objections (in parts 4-8) that show that the data in the world do not offer support for an analogical inference to the intelligence ofthe Deity, and a suspense ofjudgement is the only possible result. He then shows that drawingthis analogy between human and divine intelligence can only offer a proposition that carries a very low degree ofprobability. However, we must then account for Philo's apparent profession offaith in part 12.3 J. C. A Gaskin, whohaswritten extensivelyonHume's philosophy of religion, denies that there are two arguments in the Dialogues* his position is, rather, that while we have a propensity to acknowledge design in nature, "the feeling for design is not a new argument, irregular or otherwise ... It is something more like the sense ofcosmic awe." 5 1 will return later in the paper to discuss Gaskin's argument. In part 3, Cleanthes offers a discussion ofirregular arguments. Some beauties in writing we may meet with, which seem contrary to rules, and which gain the affections, and animate the imagination, in opposition to all the precepts ofcriticism, and to the authority ofthe established masters ofart. And if the argument for Theism be, as you pretend, contradictory to the principles oflogic; its universal, its irresistible influence provesclearly, thatthere maybe arguments ofalike irregular nature. Whatever cavils may be urged; an orderly world, as well as a coherent, articulate speech, will still be received as an incontestable proofofdesign and intention. (D 155/119) Volume XVIII Number 2 483 BERYLLOGAN These irregular arguments contravene established rules of argumentation; rather than appealing to reason, they appeal to the affections and stimulate the imagination. Their influence is universal and irresistible: the evidence strikes with such a force that only great violence, or "blind dogmatism," can prevent us from reaching the conclusion. We are compelled by a feeling* to assent immediately and spontaneously to the conclusion: "Consider, anatomize the eye: Survey its structure and contrivance; and tell me, from your own feeling, ifthe idea of a contriver does not immediately flow in upon you with a force like that of sensation" (D 154/119). No reflection or process of calculation is present. Objections as to the appropriateness, quality, etc. of the evidence do not prevent the inference'. The imagination is irresistibly and immediately drawn by the data in the world to acknowledge a designer. The rules for a reasoned argument are irrelevant to an irregular 'argument' as their influence is effected by the imagination and sentiment rather than by reason. The principles ofrationality have no place—they are inapplicable and inappropriate, not ignored or contravened. (Due to the idiosyncratic nature of these argument forms, it is appropriate to place the words 'argument' and 'inference' in single quotes.) Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart, writing soon after Hume, make use of a similar 'inference'. Reid argues in his Essays on the Powers of theHumanMind,6that the principle that an intelligent first cause may be inferredfrom marks ofwisdom in the effects is arrived at neither by reason (it is "too universal to be the effect of reasoning" and is only shownby "appealing to the common sense ofmankind" [Reid, 323]), nor byexperience (perceivingitemsinconjunction, "informsusonlyofwhat hasbeen, but neverofwhatmustbe" [Reid, 325];itcannothelp uslearn ofthe connection between an intelligent cause and an intelligent effect when we can have no access to the intelligent cause). Thisjudgement, by which we infer the presence ofotherminds, is "common to the whole human race that are endowed with understanding" (Reid, 323).7 To deny this principle in this case...