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207 THE CARELESS SKEPTIC THE 'PAMPHILIAN' IRONIES IN HUME'S DIALOGUES In "Hume and the Legacy of the Dialogues" E. C. Mossner sets out a widely accepted interpretation of one of Hume's major intentions in that great work. He argues that Hume's main use of irony therein is to dissimulate with respect to his true religious convictions. The purpose is to provide Hume with a defense against the expected negative reaction to the powerful attack on religion mounted 2 in the Dialogues. The attack, as is well known, is set out in the arguments of Philo against natural and revealed religion as espoused by Cleanthes and Demea, and Philo's views are taken to be those of Hume. It is argued or assumed that since such attacks were in Hume's day imprudent, they must be made by indirection, that is, by a device such as irony. Thus the Dialogues have surface meanings in which the religious views under attack are said (by Pamphilus) to win out; they also have other meanings, underlying or implicit, in which the religious views are conclusively refuted. That they are refuted is a conclusion drawn by the interpreters, in the present case Mossner and those who share his views. These destructive refutations are derived from explication and assessment of the ongoing argument as embodied in the explicit statements of the contestants, and are thus not explicitly linked to Hume. In consequence, quite often from one standpoint (a trivial one of external comment by an immature and prejudiced onlooker) the design argument wins; and from another, more sophisticated one, it loses. The upshot is that "Philo, who as Hume's spokesman for mitigated 208 skepticism will perforce be the victor in the philosophic debate, will nevertheless be 'artfully' depicted as being vanquished by the antagonist." The strategy Mossner finds in the Dialogues thus has the youthful Pamphilus, a ward of Cleanthes, and one who takes no actual part in the adversarial discussions, interposing (in brief asides) comments that superficially but subtly belittle Philo's philosophical position. Philo is characterized, for instance, as having a "careless scepticism," in contrast with Cleanthes, who has an "accurate philosophical turn [of mind]" (D 128). Similarly, at the end of the Dialogues, Pamphilus awards the victory to Cleanthes. In support of his thesis that Philo is a devious Hume's mouthpiece, Mossner brings forth two kinds of evidence, roughly characterizable as external and internal. One kind of external evidence is exemplified in Hume's correspondence with Gilbert 4 5 Elliot of Minto, and Adam Smith; the letters involved are interpreted as showing that Philo represents Hume. Another kind involves comparing the amount of space devoted to the arguments of the three adversaries. The internal evidence is derived from the explication and appraisal of the explicit statements of the contestants; and it is essentially identified with the arguments and conclusions of Philo, except where Cleanthes can be said to make claims which square with those made by Hume in other works such as the Treatise. Thus Hume's views and the related arguments are interpreted as those of Philo, in part because they are considered to be more valid and sound than those of Cleanthes, and in part because they are held to square with the views and arguments affirmed in Hume's other writings. Hume's views, as indicated above, are taken to be those of 209 Philo except where Philo appears to agree with Cleanthes and to accept a form of the design argument. Hume is Cleanthes when Cleanthes sets forth doctrines of the Treatise and the Enquiry that are in accordance with the received (more or less) positivistic interpretation of Hume's skepticism. It is this view that requires that in those places in Parts III, X, and XII, where Philo appears to avow a form of the design argument or to let it stand unrefuted, he be (ironically) dissimulating. Thus the surface victories of Cleanthes and natural religion, which the adversarial flow of the statements of Philo and Cleanthes exhibits, are refuted by the propositions derived from the assessed form and content of the philosophical debate. The basic irony, therefore, lies in aspects of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 207-250
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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