In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

347 THE ROLE OF PART XII IN HUME'S DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION Anyone appreciative of Hume's greatness as a philosopher will want to suppose that the Dialogues both form a coherent whole and express Hume's own views on natural religion or religion based on reason (as opposed to religion based on revelation). In the last connection, given what we know of Hume's epistemology, life, and correspondence, one would be inclined to suppose that he would reject out of hand the claims of revealed religion and contend that if there existed an acceptable religion it would have to be some form of natural religion. But insofar as natural religion claimed to establish scientifically the existence and nature of God one would envisage Hume dissenting. Now as long as we restrict our gaze to Parts I-XI of the Dialogues we seem to be able, easily enough, to satisfy all these suppositions. In Part IV, under the name of 'mysticism, ' revealed religion is summarily and facetiously dismissed as 2 indistinguishable from atheism. Demea's apparently permanent departure from the discussion at the conclusion of Part XI as much as says, symbolically, that revealed religion is not a serious contender for one's belief. Its a priori arguments -- the argument from sufficient reason and the ontological argument -- are almost as shortly attacked and dismissed (D 188-192). Also quite in keeping with Hume's philosophical view on knowledge of matters of fact is, on the other hand, the lengthy and detailed examination he bestows on the empiricist argument from design. That Philo, ostensibly his spokesman, is however able to uncover all kinds of logical short-comings in its claims to scientifically 348 establish the existence and nature of God does not surprise us; it coheres perfectly with our preconceived picture of Hume the skeptic, and his system as restricting science to numbers and quantities or, in the term's looser sense, to human nature and its more immediate surroundings. In short, Parts I-XI seem to be all of one Humean whole. But at first and even second glance Part XII notoriously seems to tear our hopes to find coherence and a plausible representation of Hume to tatters. There are, for one thing, those mocking sentences that seem to paint Hume in the colors of a devout, believing Christian, 'avid' for revelation. Thus, at the end of Part XII, apparently expressing Hume's deepest convictions, Philo says that "a person, seasoned with a just sense of the imperfections of natural reason, will fly to revealed truth with the greatest avidity" and immediately afterwards, "To be a philosophical sceptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian" (D 227, 228). For another thing, in Part XII Hume seems to be completely reversing his refutations in Parts I-XI of the argument from design's claims to establish the existence and nature of God. Thus, where in Part II he had Philo reject the use of causal reasoning in the establishment of a Mind as the first cause of the universe on the relevantly Humean grounds that, to do so, "it were requisite, that we had experience of the origin of worlds" (D 150), in Part XII he has Philo, apparently speaking for himself (Hume), argue that "as there are also considerable differences, we have reason to suppose a proportional difference in the causes; and in particular ought to attribute a much higher degree of power and energy to the supreme cause than any we have ever observed in mankind. 349 Here then the existence of a DEITY is plainly ascertained by reason" (D 217). Indeed, all forms of the argument of design, purely analogical as well as causal, seem resurrected in Part XII, although they were one and all hanged and buried in Parts I-XI. Moreover, it seems that in Part XII Hume via Philo is saying that science itself leads us "to acknowledge a first intelligent Author" (D 214-215). Before proceeding to deal with certain other incoherencies with which Part XII seems to confront us let us address ourselves to the two that I have so far...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 347-371
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.