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220 THEATRE AND RELIGIOUS HYPOTHESIS* We are placed in this world, as in a great theatre, where the true springs and causes of every event are entirely concealed from us.... David Hume La collection des idées s'appelle imagination, dans la mesure où celleci désigne, non pas une faculté, mais un ensemble des choses, au sens le plus vague du mot, qui sont ce qu'elles paraissent: collection sans album, pièce sans théâtre, ou flux des perceptions.. Gilles Deleuze In Part III of Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion the character Demea contests the analogy drawn by Cleanthes between an orderly world and a coherent, articulate speech, stating that, When I read a volume, I enter into the mind and intention of the author: I become him, in a manner, for the instant; and have an immediate feeling and conception of those ideas, which revolved in his imagination, while employed in that composition. To begin reading Hume's Dialogues with such false and naive premises would inevitably result in a failure to pick up on all the different voices in this text. In fact, no written text can really enable a reader "to enter into the mind and intention of the author." Moreover, such a predisposition on behalf of a naive reader will become further complicated by the processes of 'distanciation' and avoidance of a central point of view, which are brought into play by Hume in this text, where religion is being considered from a purely speculative point of view. Hume has in fact given the reader a clue in the introduction as to how 221 to approach reading the Dialogues . when Pamphilus, the narrator, expounds to his friend Hermippus the advantages of presenting a discussion in the form of a dialogue rather than as a direct statement. He argues that by using a dialogue it is possible to avoid any overtones of an author addressing his reader, or a pedagogue his pupil (D 127). Confronted with a text that is paradoxically both lucid and unclear, any reader whose attitude is still limited by certain metaphysical categories might very well want to know who is actually Hume's spokesman and who he is really addressing in this discussion on the nature and existence of God. These questions are in fact related to traditional oppositions, such as that between a central and subsidiary point of view in a dialogue; between the essential and non-essential of a discussion. In his Dialogues, Hume creates a second degree of separation between himself and the characters involved in the discussion by using the literary process of 'distanciation', when he introduces the fictitious character Pamphilus, who tells Hermippus of the discussions he has heard. From this point of view the style of the text is immediately more disconcerting than Cicero's De Natura Deorum, (which inspired Hume's text), as Cicero does identify himself with his narrator, such that any effect of distanciation is far smaller. Cicero's narrator does, however, emphasize that the multiplicity of points of view in this text results in a certain degree of scepticism and suspension of judgement: "Though it is possible that they are all of them false, it is impossible that more than one of them is true" (p. 71). As Hume does in his Dialogues , Cicero here tries to avoid imposing a 222 central point of view or a single authoritative angle to his discussions, as if given by a teacher; in fact, "in a discussion of this kind our interest should be centred not on the weight of the authority but on the weight of the argument" (p. 73). Thus, wearing the mask of Pamphilus, Hume can play an ironic role, without having to give a central point of view, by having his character present the idea that "reasonable men may be allowed to differ, where no one can reasonably be positive" (D 128). These two texts therefore use the same process of disassociation from a central truth by using a supposedly neutral narrator. When reading the Dialogues one can rely neither on the authority of the author, as he has hidden himself away in the shadows backstage, nor on that...


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pp. 220-235
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