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74 HUME'S DIALOGUES ON EVIL Only two sections of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion are concerned with the topic of the benevolence of the designer of the world (Parts X and XI), and the conclusion reached is stated by Philo in an unambiguous manner: The true conclusion is, that the original source of all things is entirely indifferent to all these principles, and has no more regard to good above ill than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light above heavy. (D 212) In light of the fact that much of the Dialogues is concerned with setting out sceptical or Pyrrhonian objections to positions in natural theology which reveal our ignorance in this area, it is important for an understanding of Parts X and XI to ask whether we are meant to take Philo's conclusion seriously; that is, does Hume intend Philo's conclusion in Part XI to be a truth in natural theology? Nelson Pike answers this negatively: Philo claims that there is an 'original Source of all things' and that this source is indifferent with respect to matters of good and evil. He pretends to be inferring this conclusion from observed data. This represents a departure from Philo's much professed skepticism in the Dialogues. ... I think the center of Philo's remarks in this passage must be located in their skeptical rather than their metaphysical import. Philo has proposed a hypothesis which is counter to the one offered by Cleanthes. And he claims that this hypothesis is the 'true conclusion' to be drawn from the observed data. But the point is not, I think, that Philo's new hypothesis is true, or even probable. The conclusion is, rather, that the hypothesis advanced by Cleanthes is false, or very 75 improbable. when claiming that evil in the world supports a hypothesis which is counter to the one offered by Cleanthes, I think Philo simply means to be calling attention to the fact that evil in the world provides evidence against cleanthes' theological position. It is true that at certain points in the Dialogues Philo does profess to be a sceptic (Pyrrhonian), and he often attempts to show Cleanthes that his hypothesis is false by generating an hypothesis from the available data which is as plausible as Cleanthes' hypothesis (e.g., Part IV, where they debate Cleanthes' view that God is external to the world which He has designed), or which has greater plausibility than Cleanthes' hypothesis (e.g., Parts VI and VII where Philo argues against Cleanthes' claim that the available data support the hypothesis of an intelligent designer for the world). However, whenever Philo proceeds in this manner, he makes it clear that he has no hypothesis on the matter under discussion (e.g., D 164) which he is willing to defend, and that he has proceeded in this manner, not to argue for a position — he maintains that the available data are not adequate to do so — but to argue against the position Cleanthes is defending (see, for example, D 177). In fact, at one stage in the discussion, Philo urges against embracing any religious system, because of the victory which awaits the sceptic: All religious systems, it is confessed, are subject to great and insuperable difficulties. Each disputant triumphs in his turn; while he carries on an offensive war, and exposes the absurdities, barbarities, and pernicious tenets of his antagonist . But all of them, on the whole, prepare a complete triumph for the sceptic; who tells them, that no system ought ever to be embraced with 76 regard to such subjects: For this plain reason, that no absurdity ought ever to be assented to with regard to any subject. A total suspense of judgment is here our only reasonable resource. (D 186-187) This passage, which appears toward the end of Part VIII, is reminiscent of the point Philo made in Part I, when he warned of arguments which "run wide of common life." In the case of such arguments, "the most refined scepticism comes to be upon a footing with them, and is able to oppose and counterbalance them. The one has no more weight than...


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pp. 74-85
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