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Hume Studies Volume 28, Number 1, April 2002, pp. 131-147 Morality above Metaphysics: Philo and the Duties of Friendship in Dialogues 12 RICHARD H. DEES In part 12 of Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion,1 Philo famously appears to reverse his course. After slicing the Argument from Design into small pieces throughout most of the first eleven parts of the Dialogues, he suddenly seems to endorse a version of it: One great foundation of the Copernican system is the maxim, that nature acts by the simplest methods, and chuses the most proper means to any end; and astronomers often, without thinking of it, lay this strong foundation of piety and religion. The same thing is observable in other parts of philosophy: And thus all the sciences almost lead us insensibly to acknowledge a first intelligent Author; and their authority is often so much the greater, as they do not directly profess that intention. (DNR 214-15) Even more amazingly, Philo then asserts that the difference between an atheist and a theist is merely verbal (DNR 217-19), and he concludes by asserting that his form of skepticism is a prerequisite for becoming a "sound, believing Christian" (DNR 228). The reversal is so remarkable that it has prompted considerable speculation about what Hume and Philo could mean. Interpretations fall into two Richard H. Dees is Associate Professor of Philosophy and a member of the core faculty in women's studies at Saint Louis University, P.O. Box 56907, St. Louis, MO, 63156-0907 USA. e-mail: deesrh@slu.edu 132 Richard H. Dees basic camps.2 On one side are those who think that Philo's concession is either insincere or that his concession really amounts to nothing. Norman Kemp Smith, for example, supposes that Hume is simply making a concession to conventional wisdom to keep the book from being condemned too harshly.3 Graham Priest, as another example, thinks the concession that the creator of the universe bears some resemblance to human intelligence is meaningless since Philo is essentially arguing that anything can resemble anything else in some respect.4 On the other side are those who think Philo's reversal demonstrates a sincere expression of a religious faith, albeit an unorthodox one. On this view, Philo truly believes in an intelligent designer of the universe, but maintains that the more conventional attributes that Christians find in that designer are not justified.5 One important variant of this view is the belief that religious faith is a product of common life, which Philo's arguments in the earlier parts of the Dialogues ultimately do nothing to undermine.6 Both interpretations have their problems. The second camp must explain how the view Philo seems to accept does not fall prey to the very objections that he has raised against it in the rest of the Dialogues. The strategy of these interpreters, then, is to show that the new sentiments are not subject to the old objections because they are not the result of an argument, but of an irresistible sentiment, a natural belief, or an essential component of common life. The first camp, on the other hand, has difficulty explaining why Philo appears to make any concessions at all. Usually, these interpreters argue that Hume could not conclude the Dialogues with an openly skeptical view of religion without risking condemnation—though they must then explain what exactly Hume feared once he had decided to publish the work posthumously. In any case, they must rely on motivations outside the Dialogues to explain Philo's claims, and so it concedes that the reversal does not fit within the dramatic logic of the work.7 So the cost of the first interpretation is that it forces us to admit that the Dialogues fail internally.8 I want to suggest yet another way to read these passages, one that takes the arguments seriously, but which also pays attention to the conversational context in which they take place. My claim is that Philo's concession is an attempt to maintain a friendship with Cleanthes that might have been damaged by the spirited arguments that Philo laid against him earlier in the conversation and to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 131-147
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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