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19. HUME AND BARKER ON THE LOGIC OF DESIGN I find myself in complete agreement with what I take to be the main thesis of Stephen Barker's paper. It is certainly a mistake to concentrate our attention on the negative critique which Hume directed at the modes of argument of his rationalist predecessors and contemporaries and directed even more at the mode of certain conviction with which they presented conclusions arrived at by arguments that did not have a logically compelling force. Hume was very much concerned with the problem of just what kind of force an argument that was not logically compelling could have; and he was even more concerned (perhaps) with the problem of how the logical structure of non-compelling argument could best be exhibited so that the logic of the argument would not be confused with its force. He made significant contributions to both of these problems; and I think he knew what he was doing well enough not to deserve the charge of inconsistency which Barker seems inclined to bring against him. There are some questions which he did not address, for the very good reason that they could only arise, or at least they could only be formulated clearly, as a result of the clarification of our ideas and our situation that Hume himself achieved. His distinction between "relations of ideas" and "matters of fact" may be overly simplistic. But in all its simplicity this distinction is powerful enough to enable Hume to deal quite shortly with any claim that it is inconsistent to want to achieve this goal of knowing and saying what is true, just because we have shown that we have no logical guarantee that we shall achieve it. Christian orthodoxy has always maintained that we are all of us equally "sinners"; but no orthodox Christian moralist has ever maintained the Stoic paradox that all sins are equal. It is precisely because we know that we cannot achieve Stoic wisdom that we cannot possibly be tempted to 20. accept that paradox. Hume's achievement was to show that (in spite of the serpent's false promise) our situation with respect to knowledge has always been just as parlous as our situation with respect to action. But even in these unhappy circumstances it is not inconsistent to strive for whatever measure of truth we can achieve; and to strive at the same time for absolute logical clarity about the limits of our insight and about the comparative merits of all proposed approaches to the goal. But I must not devote my time to an issue that Barker wisely asks us to keep an open mind about. I want to discuss the form and substance of the arguments with which Barker supports the thesis that I do agree with, rather than take up an aside of his that I happen not to agree with. So then, first, let us consider the fault that he finds in the "fifth way" of Thomas. He says that it "begs the question". It "obscures the nexus of controversy" because the first premiss of the syllogism makes a crucial assumption that needs to be proved. Now I deny that the "fifth way" obscures the nexus of controversy in that way. Thomas (and all of his competent hearers) knew perfectly well that his first premiss had not been universally accepted. He was stating the view of Aristotle about the generally purposive character of nature, and he knew that it had been doubted. But he did not think that a rational believer could hesitate about the choice between Aristotle's position and that of the atheist defenders of chance. Anyone who did hesitate was a fool, and arguments could not touch him. That some men were fools, and could "say in their heart, 'There is no God'", was part of the "problem of evil" which we must consign trustfully to the inscrutable wisdom of God (save in so far as Scripture reveals to us the origin of and reason for our fallen condition) . In Hume's world, Aristotle's conception of the orderliness of Nature had been supplanted by Newton's. Newton accepted the atomist view that "natural bodies...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 19-24
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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