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120 A WORD ON BEHALF OF DEMEA Little attention has been given to the a priori argument for God's existence espoused by Demea in Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. This circumstance is neither surprising nor unjustified. Given Hume's well-known theological sympathies, certainly no one would be tempted to regard Demea as Hume's spokesman. Demea's argument plays so small a role in the Dialogues as to suggest that Hume does not take it at all seriously. He may present it only to establish that he is aware of alternative arguments for God's existence, but thinks them even less successful than the design argument and hence undeserving of extensive critique. Yet, if a philosopher criticizes an argument he deems unworthy of respect, he should still provide sound, not spurious, reasons for rejecting it. This is exactly what D. C. Stove has argued that Hume fails to do in Part IX of the Dialogues, assuming, as is generally done, that the speeches of Cleanthes and Philo present reasoning that Hume would personally endorse. Stove argues that most of the criticisms of Demea's argument are "extremely defective, and that they even include an inconsistency" (Stove, p. 300). This contention has been challenged by Donald Stahl, who has published a succinct point by point rebuttal of Stove's contentions.3 The Stove-Stahl controversy only deals with the reasoning presented in paragraphs 5, 6, 7, and 10 of Part IX because those are the contentions Stove attacks. He has "nothing to say against" the criticisms presented in paragraphs 8 and 9, which he assumes will be generally agreed to be 121 less important than the others (Stove, p. 308). He totally ignores the argument of paragraph 11. However, I am not convinced that the criticisms of these paragraphs are less important and I do have something to say against them. Consequently, instead of intervening directly on either side of the dispute between Professors Stove and Stahl, I shall attend principally to the argumentation of paragraphs 8, 9, and 11. I shall (1) summarize Demea's argument, (2) argue for the significance of the criticisms of paragraphs 8-9, (3) examine those criticisms, and (4) assess the role of Philo's concluding remarks in paragraphs 10-11. 1 . Demea ' s Argument Early on Hume has Demea speak so obviously inconsistently as to make the reader wonder whether this character is supposed to think at all about the implications of the claims he espouses. At the beginning of Part II, he proclaims that God's existence is surely not at issue, since no one of common sense . . . ever entertained a serious doubt with regard to a truth so certain and self-evident." The nature of God is the only proper object of theological inquiry, and that is "altogether incomprehensible and unknown to us" (D 141)! Given such a radically apophatic position (Hume calls it "mystical"), it is hardly surprising that the sceptical Philo readily concurs, once he specifies that he takes 'God' to mean just "the original cause of this universe (whatever it be)" (D 142). But Demea immediately buttresses his alleged self-evident truth by appealing to the authority of Father Malebranche and the whole tradition of Christian theology, apparently oblivious to the impropriety of 122 supporting an indubitable truth by citing authorities (D 141-142). Further, scarcely more than a page later, after Cleanthes has sketched out the design argument, this same Demea is horrified that Cleanthes gives no abstract arguments or a priori proofs and calls for a "demonstration of the being of a God" (D 143). When, in Part IX, Demea himself undertakes to provide the "simple and sublime argument a priori" (D 188) he expected from Cleanthes, he characterizes the argument as "the common one," which suggests he is more engaged in paraphrasing authority than in thoughtfully arguing. The argument, in fact, as has been generally recognized, closely follows one given by Samuel Clarke in the Boyle Lectures of 1704. 5 Demea begins by assuming that "whatever exists must have a cause or reason of its existence," (D 188) since nothing can cause itself to exist. He then states a dilemma: in tracing the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 120-140
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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