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INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY
Philosophy 104 — Fall Term 2021
Second Writing Assignment Topics: 1. The Problem of Induction In a clear, careful, sharply focused essay, explain Hume’s argument for the conclusion that inductive arguments provide no justification at all for accepting their conclusion. Do you think Hume’s argument is convincing? Explain why, or why not? Give a clear, careful, sharply focused explanation of what you take to be the best response to Hume’s argument. Do you think the response you have discussed is convincing? Explain why, or why not. Hume, and many other philosophers, found Hume’s argument to be very disturbing. Explain in detail how you think we should react to Hume’s argument. 2. Free Will In a clear, careful, sharply focused essay, explain what determinism claims, then explain the additional claims made by “hard determinism”. Many philosophers have thought that hard determinism is very disturbing; explain why. “Soft determinists” think that free will is possible even in a completely deterministic universe. Give a clear, careful, sharply focused explanation of what you take to be the best version of soft determinism. Do you think that version of soft determinism is convincing? Explain why, or why not. Explain “scientific libertarianism”. Do you think that scientific libertarianism is less disturbing than determinism? Explain why, or why not. Due Date: The first draft of your paper is due on Nov. 10. Approximate length: 1800 words You should use your own words, rather than quoting or closely paraphrasing other writers.
Introduction to Philosophy (Writing Intensive)
An Explanation of How Paper Grades Are Determined
Here are the general criteria that we use for evaluating your papers:
Clarity and relevance. Is it clear, at every point in the paper, exactly what the author is
claiming, and how the points s/he makes and the examples s/he uses are supposed to
support that claim?
Conciseness. Is everything in the paper strictly relevant to the claim the author is trying
to make? Does the author make his/her points efficiently?
Logical precision. Is the structure of the author’s argument completely clear? For
example, does the author appropriately distinguish: premises vs. conclusions; necessary
vs. sufficient conditions; objections vs. replies; positive arguments vs. defensive moves?
Insight and originality. Is the author merely repeating points made in the lectures and
readings, or has s/he thought deeply about the issue for him/herself?
Adherence to requirements. Is the paper of appropriate length? Has the student
consulted appropriate sources and properly cited references in the body of the paper?
Numerical grades are assigned using the scoring table below. Please understand that
grading is an inexact science. Actual papers often do not exhibit all the strengths and
weaknesses that we have associated with a particular grade below; thus, particular
judgments are required for each individual work. These guidelines should give you,
however, some idea of how we interpret the different grades and what we expect from
your papers. We hope that this helps to demystify the grading process.
Work of exceptional quality. The paper demonstrates deep and precise
understanding and originality of thought, with a consistent precision of ideas and
elegance of expression. The paper is logically flawless and extremely well-
Work of excellent quality. The paper contains a clearly defined thesis, and a
clear, reasonable and logical argument supporting it. The exploration of the issue
is articulate and thorough, and demonstrates clear understanding. The
organization is very good. The paper shows insight and independence of thought.
“Almost there.” Exhibits all of the qualities required for an A paper, but
something is missing. E.g., some small errors in argumentation, organization,
grammar, or a lack of independent thought in an otherwise flawless paper.
Lacks one or two major criteria. For example: a well written and organized
paper, with an argument that lacks sophistication; a paper with very good and
creative ideas, but lacking in organization, presentation or development of those
ideas; a paper that consistently makes minor logical mistakes.
A C+ paper is like a B paper, but with more flaws.
A paper with some significant errors, typically in argumentation, or containing
important factual errors. Alternately, papers with several issues such as:
seriously flawed organization; paper is unclear; few or weak transitions;
To earn a D, the paper must contain more errors than a C paper. For example, if
there is little evidence that you understand the topic and/or your writing is so
muddled that it is difficult to trace any line of argumentation through the paper,
you will probably score in this range.
You will score in the 0-64 range if your paper is barely (or not) even on the topic
(or if you didn’t submit a paper at all).
Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding1 By David Hume
Section 4: Sceptical doubts about the operations of the understanding Part 1
All the objects of human reason or enquiry fall naturally into two kinds, namely relations of ideas and matters of fact. The first kind include geome‐ try, algebra, and arithmetic, and indeed every statement that is either intui‐ tively or demonstratively certain. That the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the squares of the other two sides expresses a relation between those figures. That three times five equals half of thirty expresses a relation between those numbers. Propositions of this kind can be discovered purely by thinking, with no need to attend to anything that actually exists anywhere in the uni‐ verse. The truths that Euclid demonstrated would still be certain and self‐ evident even if there never were a circle or triangle in nature.
Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not estab‐ lished in the same way; and we cannot have such strong grounds for think‐ ing them true. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible, because it doesn’t imply a contradiction and is conceived by the mind as easily and clearly as if it conformed perfectly to reality. That the sun will not rise tomorrow is just as intelligible as ‐ and no more contradictory than ‐ the proposition that the sun will rise tomorrow. It would therefore be a waste of time to try to demonstrate [= ‘prove absolutely rigorously’] its falsehood. If it were demon‐ stratively false, it would imply a contradiction and so could never be clearly conceived by the mind.
1 This document has been excerpted by Kevan Edwards, with permission, from a manuscript translated and edited by Jonathan Bennett. Bennett’s translations of this and other early modern texts can be found online at: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com. Bennett uses square [brackets] to enclose edito‐ rial explanations and small ∙dots∙ to indicate material that has been added to the original text, but can be read as though it were part of the original text. The present editor has also used square brackets to indicate omissions of material from Bennett’s text ([…]). Bennett indents some passages that are not quotations in order to facili‐ tate comprehension of the text. The present editor has added a paragraph break and has put several important terms and passages in bold font.
So it may be worth our time and trouble to try to answer this: What sorts of grounds do we have for being sure of matters of fact ‐ propositions about what exists and what is the case ‐ that are not attested by our present senses or the records of our memory? […]
All reasonings about matters of fact seem to be based on the relation of cause and effect, which is the only relation that can take us beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. If you ask someone why he believes some matter of fact which is not now present to him ‐ for instance that his friend is now in France ‐ he will give you a reason; and this reason will be some other fact, such as that he has received a letter from his friend or that his friend had planned to go to France. Someone who finds a watch or other machine on a desert island will conclude that there have been men on that island. All our reasonings concerning fact are like this. When we reason in this way, we suppose that the present fact is connected with the one that we infer from it. If there were nothing to bind the two facts together, the inference of one from the other would be utterly shaky. […]
So if we want to understand the basis of our confidence about matters of fact, we must find out how we come to know about cause and effect.
I venture to assert, as true without exception, that knowledge about causes is never acquired through a priori reasoning, and always comes from our ex‐ perience of finding that particular objects are constantly associated with one other. [When Hume is discussing cause and effect, his word ‘object’ often covers events as well as things.] Present an object to a man whose skill and intelligence are as great as you like; if the object is of a kind that is entirely new to him, no amount of studying of its perceptible qualities will enable him to discover any of its causes or effects. Adam, even if his reasoning abili‐ ties were perfect from the start, could not have inferred from the fluidity and transparency of water that it could drown him, or from the light and warmth of fire that it could burn him. The qualities of an object that appear to the senses never reveal the causes that produced the object or the effects that it will have; nor can our reason, unaided by experience, ever draw any conclu‐ sion about real existence and matters of fact.
The proposition that causes and effects are discoverable not by reason but by ex‐ perience will be freely granted (1) with regard to objects that we remember having once been altogether unknown to us; for in those cases we remember the time when we were quite unable to tell what would arise from those ob‐ jects. Present two smooth pieces of marble to a man who has no knowledge
of physics ‐ he will not be able to work out that they will stick together in such a way that it takes great force to separate them by pulling them directly away from one another, while it will be easy to slide them apart. (2) Events that are not much like the common course of nature are also readily agreed to be known only by experience; and nobody thinks that the explosion of gunpowder, or the attraction of a magnet, could ever be discovered by ar‐ guments a priori ‐ ∙that is, by simply thinking about the matter, without bringing in anything known from experience∙. (3) Similarly, when an effect is thought to depend on an intricate machinery or secret structure of parts we don’t hesitate to attribute all our knowledge of it to experience. No‐one would assert that he can give the ultimate reason why milk or bread is nour‐ ishing for a man but not for a lion or a tiger.
If you are not yet convinced that absolutely all the laws of nature and opera‐ tions of bodies can be known only by experience, consider the following. If we are asked to say what the effects will be of some object, without consult‐ ing past experience of it, how can the mind go about doing this? It must in‐ vent or imagine some event as being the object’s effect; and clearly this in‐ vention must be entirely arbitrary. The mind can’t possibly find the effect in the supposed cause, however carefully we examine it, for the effect is totally different from the cause and therefore can never be discovered in it. Motion in the second billiard ball is a distinct event from motion in the first, and nothing in the first ball’s motion even hints at motion in the second. A stone raised into the air and left without any support immediately falls; but if we consider this situation a priori we shall find nothing that generates the idea of a downward rather than an upward or some other motion in the stone.
In short, every effect is a distinct event from its cause. So it can’t be discov‐ ered in the cause, and the first invention or conception of it a priori must be wholly arbitrary. Furthermore, even after it has been suggested, the linking of it with the cause must still appear as arbitrary, because plenty of other possible effects must seem just as consistent and natural from reason’s point of view. So there isn’t the slightest hope of reaching any conclusions about causes and effects without the help of experience.
Part 2 (of Section 4)
But we haven’t yet found an acceptable answer to the question that I initially asked. Each solution raises new questions that are as hard to answer as the first one was, and that lead us on to further enquiries. To the question, What is the nature of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact? the proper answer seems to be that they are based on the relation of cause and effect. When it is further asked, What is the foundation of all our reasonings about cause and effect? we can answer in one word, experience. But if we persist with questions, and ask, What are inferences from experience based on? this raises a new question that may be harder still. […]
In this section I shall settle for something easy, offering only a negative an‐ swer to the question I have raised ∙about what inferences from experience are based on∙. It is this: even after we have experience of the operations of cause and effect, the conclusions we draw from that experience are not based on reasoning or on any process of the understanding. I shall try to explain and defend this answer.
[…] All that past experience can tell us, directly and for sure, concerns the behaviour of the particular objects we observed, at the particular time when we observed them. ∙My experience directly and certainly informs me that that fire consumed coal then; but it is silent about the behaviour of the same fire a few minutes later, and about other fires at any time∙. Why should this experience be extended to future times and to other objects, which for all we know may only seem similar? ‐ that is what I want to know. The bread that I formerly ate nourished me; that is, a body with such and such sensible quali‐ ties did at that time have such and such secret powers. [By ‘sensible qualities’ Hume means properties that can be directly experienced with the senses.] But does it follow that other bread must also nourish me at other times, and that the same perceptible qualities must always be accompanied by the same secret powers? It does not seem to follow necessarily. Anyway, it must be admitted that in such a case as this the mind draws a conclusion; it takes a certain step, goes through a process of thought or inference, which needs to be explained. These two propositions are far from being the same:
I have found that such and such an object has always had such and such an effect.
I foresee that other objects which appear similar will have similar ef‐ fects.
The second proposition is always inferred from the first; and if you wish I shall grant that it is rightly inferred. But if you insist that the inference is made by a chain of reasoning, I challenge you to produce the reasoning. The connection between these propositions is not intuitive [that is, the second does not self‐evidently and immediately follow from the first]. If the inference is to be conducted through reason alone, it must be with help from some in‐ termediate step. But when I try to think what that intermediate step might be, I am defeated. Those who assert that it really exists and is the origin of all our conclusions about matters of fact owe us an account of what it is.
∙They haven’t given any account of this, which I take to be evidence that none can be given∙. If many penetrating and able philosophers try and fail to discover a connecting proposition or intermediate step through which the understanding can perform this inference from past effects to future ones, my negative line of thought about this will eventually be found entirely con‐ vincing. But as the question is still new, the reader may not trust his own abilities enough to conclude that because he can’t find a certain argument it doesn’t exist. In that case I need to tackle a harder task than I have so far un‐ dertaken ‐ namely, going through all the branches of human knowledge one by one, trying to show that none can give us such an argument.
All reasonings fall into two kinds: (1) demonstrative reasoning, or that con‐ cerning relations of ideas, and (2) factual reasoning, or that concerning mat‐ ters of fact and existence. That no demonstrative arguments are involved in (2) seems evident; since there is no outright contradiction in supposing that the course of nature will change so that an object that seems like ones we have experienced will have different or contrary effects from theirs. Can’t I clearly and distinctly conceive that snowy stuff falling from the clouds might taste salty or feel hot? Is there anything unintelligible about supposing that all the trees will flourish in December and lose their leaves in June? Now, if something is intelligible and can be distinctly conceived, it implies no con‐ tradiction and can never be proved false by any demonstrative argument or abstract a priori reasoning.
So if there are arguments to justify us in trusting past experience and making it the standard of our future judgment, these arguments must concern mat‐ ters of fact and real existence, to put it in terms of the classification I have given. But reasoning about matters of fact, if I have described it accurately, can’t provide us with the argument we are looking for. According to my ac‐ count, all arguments about existence are based on the relation of cause and
effect; our knowledge of that relation is derived entirely from experience; and in drawing conclusions from experience we assume that the future will be like the past. So if we try to prove this assumption by [reasoning based on matters of fact], i.e. arguments regarding existence, we shall ob‐ viously be going in a circle, taking for granted the very point that is in question.2
[…] All inferences from experience are based on the assumption that the fu‐ ture will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be combined with similar sensible qualities. As soon as the suspicion is planted that the course of nature may change, so that the past stops being a guide to the future, all experience becomes useless and can’t support any inference or conclusion. So no arguments from experience can support this resemblance of the past to the future, because all such arguments are based on the assumption of that resemblance. However regular the course of things has been, that fact on its own doesn’t prove that the future will also be regular.
It’s no use your claiming to have learned the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and consequently all their effects and influ‐ ence, may change without any change in their sensible qualities. This hap‐ pens sometimes with regard to some objects: Why couldn’t it happen always with regard to all? What logic, what process of argument, secures you against this? You may say that I don’t behave as though I had doubts about this; but that would reflect a misunderstanding of why I am raising these questions. When I am considering how to act, I am quite satisfied that the fu‐ ture will be like the past; but as a philosopher with an enquiring ‐ I won’t say sceptical ‐ turn of mind, I want to know what this confidence is based on. Nothing I have read, no research I have done, has yet been able to remove my difficulty. Can I do better than to put the difficulty before the public, even though I may not have much hope of being given a solution? In this way we shall at least be aware of our ignorance, even if we don’t increase our knowledge.
It would be inexcusably arrogant to conclude that because I haven’t discov‐ ered a certain argument it doesn’t really exist. Even if learned men down the
2 The present editor has made several minor omissions/modifications in this para‐ graph that are not indicated with parentheses.
centuries have searched for something without finding it, perhaps it would still be rash to conclude with confidence that the subject must surpass human understanding. Even though we examine all the sources of our knowledge and conclude that they are unfit for a given subject, we may still suspect that the list of sources is not complete or our examination of them not accurate. With regard to our present subject, however, there are reasons to think that my conclusion is certainly right and that I am not arrogant in thinking so.
Section 5: Sceptical solution of these doubts Part 1
Suppose that a highly intelligent and thoughtful person were suddenly brought into this world; he would immediately observe one event following another, but that is all he could discover. He would not be able by any rea‐ soning to reach the idea of cause and effect, because (firstly) the particular powers by which all natural operations are performed are never perceived through the senses, and (secondly) there is no reason to conclude that one event causes another merely because it precedes it. Their occurring together may be arbitrary and casual, with no causal connection between them. In short, until such a person had more experience he could never reason about any matter of fact, or be sure of anything beyond what was immediately pre‐ sent to his memory and senses.
Now suppose that our person gains more experience, and lives long enough in the world to observe similar objects or events occurring together con‐ stantly; now what conclusion does he draw from this experience? He imme‐ diately infers the existence of one object from the appearance of the other! Yet all his experience has not given him any idea or knowledge of the secret power by which one object produces another; nor can any process of reason‐ ing have led him to draw this inference. But he finds that he can’t help draw‐ ing it: and he will not be swayed from this even if he becomes convinced that there is no intellectual support for the inference. Something else is at work, compelling him to go through with it.
It is custom or habit. When we are inclined to behave or think in some way, not because it can be justified by reasoning or some process of the under‐ standing but just because we have behaved or thought like that so often in the past, we always say that this inclination is the effect of ‘custom’. In using
that word we don’t claim to give the basic reason for the inclination. All we are doing is to point out a fundamental feature of human nature which eve‐ ryone agrees is there, and which is well known by its effects. Perhaps that is as far as we can go. Perhaps, that is, we can’t discover the cause of this cause, and must rest content with it as the deepest we can go in explaining our con‐ clusions from experience. Our ability to go that far should satisfy us; we oughtn’t to complain about the narrowness of our faculties because they won’t take us any further. We do at least have here a very intelligible propo‐ sition and perhaps a true one: After the constant conjunction of two objects ‐ heat and flame, for instance, or weight and solidity ‐ sheer habit makes us expect the one when we experience the other. Indeed, this hypothesis seems to be the only one that could explain why we draw from a thousand instances an inference which we can’t draw from a single one that is exactly like each of the thou‐ sand. Reason isn’t like that. The conclusions it draws from considering one circle are the same as it would form after surveying all the circles in the uni‐ verse. But no man, having seen only one body move after being pushed by another, could infer that every other body will move after a similar collision. All inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom and not of reasoning.
What are we to conclude from all this? Something that is far removed from the common theories of philosophy, yet is very simple:
All beliefs about matters of fact or real existence are derived merely from something that is present to the memory or senses, and a customary association of that with some other thing.
Or in other words: having found in many cases that two kinds of objects ‐ flame and heat, snow and cold ‐ have always gone together, and being pre‐ sented with a new instance of flame or snow, the mind’s habits lead it to ex‐ pect heat or cold and to believe that heat or cold exists now and will be ex‐ perienced if one comes closer. This belief is the inevitable result of placing the mind in such circumstances. That our minds should react in that way in those circumstances is as unavoidable as that we should feel love when we receive benefits, or hatred when we are deliberately harmed. These opera‐ tions of the soul are a kind of natural instinct, which no reasoning or process of the thought and understanding can either produce or prevent.
DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION1
By David Hume PART 10
It is my opinion, I admit, replied Demea, that each man somehow feels in his heart the truth of religion, and that what leads him to seek protection from · God· , the being on whom he and all nature depend, is not any reasoning but rather his consciousness of his own weakness and misery. Even the best scenes of life are so troubling or so unpleasant that all our hopes and fears look to the future. We incessantly look forward, and try through prayers, adoration and sacrifice to appease those unknown powers who, we find by experience, can so thoroughly afflict and oppress us. Wretched creatures that we are! What help would there be for us amid the innumerable ills of life if religion didn’t suggest some ways of reconciling ourselves with God and soothe those terrors with which we are incessantly agitated and tormented?
I am indeed convinced, said Philo, that the best and indeed the only method of bringing everyone to a proper sense of religion is by making them see clearly the misery and wickedness of men. And for that purpose a talent for eloquence and strong imagery is more needed than a talent for reasoning and argument. What need is there to prove something that everyone feels within himself? It is only necessary to make us feel it, if possible, more strongly and intimately.
Indeed, replied Demea, the people are sufficiently convinced of this great and melancholy truth. These phrases:
the miseries of life the unhappiness of man
1 This document has been excerpted, with permission, from a manuscript translated and edited by Jonathan Bennett. Bennett’s translations of this and other early modern texts can be found online at: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com. Bennett’s text includes the following introductory comments: “Square [brackets] enclose editorial explanations. Small · dots· enclose material that has been added, but can be read as though it were part of the original text. Occasional bullets, and also indenting of passages that are not quotations, are meant as aids to grasping the structure of a sentence or a thought.”
the general corruptions of our nature the unsatisfactory enjoyment of pleasures, riches, honours
have become almost proverbial in all languages. And who can doubt something that all men declare from their own immediate feeling and experience?
On this point, said Philo, the learned are in perfect agreement with the common people; and in all literature, religious and otherwise, the topic of human misery has been stressed with the most pathetic eloquence that sorrow and melancholy could inspire. The works of the poets – whose testimony has extra authority because they speak from feeling, without a system – abound in images of this sort. From Homer down to Dr. Edward Young, the whole inspired tribe · of poets· have always been aware that if they are to present human life in a way that fits what each individual person sees and feels it as being like, they will have to represent it in that way.
As for authorities, replied Demea, you need not hunt for them. Look around this library of Cleanthes. I venture to guess that – except for authors of particular sciences such as chemistry or botany, who have no occasion to treat of human life – almost every one of those innumerable writers has, somewhere or other, been led by his sense of human misery to testify to it and complain of it. At any rate, the odds are that almost all of them have written in that way; and as far as I can remember no author has gone to the opposite extreme of denying human misery.
There you must excuse me, said Philo: Leibniz has denied it. He is perhaps the first who ventured on such a bold and paradoxical opinion; or, anyway, the first who made it essential to his philosophical system.2
Given that he was the first, replied Demea, mightn’t that very fact have made him realize that he was wrong? For is this a subject on which philosophers can claim to make discoveries, especially as late in history as this? And can any man hope by a simple denial to outweigh the united testimony of mankind, based on sense and consciousness? (I say ‘a simple denial’ because the subject scarcely admits of reasoning.)
And, he added, why should man claim to be exempt from the fate of all the other animals? The whole earth, believe me, Philo, is cursed
2 It was maintained by Dr. King and a few others, before Leibniz, but not by any as famous as that German philosopher.
and polluted. A perpetual war goes on among all living creatures. Need, hunger, and deprivation stimulate the strong and courageous: fear, anxiety and terror agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into life brings distress to the new-born infant and to its wretched mother; weakness, impotence and distress accompany each stage of that life: and eventually it reaches its end in agony and horror.
Observe too, says Philo, nature’s intricate devices for embittering the life of every living being. The stronger ones prey on the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker, in their turn, often prey on the stronger, and vex and trouble them, giving them no respite. Think of the innumerable race of insects which either are bred on the body of an animal or, flying about, put their stings into him These insects are themselves tormented by others that are even smaller. And thus on every hand, before and behind, above and below, every animal is surrounded by enemies which constantly seek his misery and destruction.
Man alone, said Demea, seems to be a partial exception to this rule. For by coming together in society men can easily master lions, tigers, and bears, whose greater strength and agility naturally enable them to prey upon him.
On the contrary, exclaimed Philo, it is just here that we can most clearly see how uniform and equal nature’s maxims are! It is true that man can by combining surmount all his real enemies and become master of the whole animal kingdom; but doesn’t he immediately conjure up imaginary enemies, the demons of his imagination, who haunt him with superstitious terrors and blast every enjoyment of life? He imagines that they see his pleasure as a crime, and that his food and rest annoy and offend them. Even his sleep and dreams bring him new materials for anxious fear; and death, his refuge from every other ill, presents only the dread of endless and innumerable woes. The wolf’s molestation of the timid flock is no worse than what superstition does to the anxious feelings of wretched mortals.
Besides, Demea, think about this very society through which we get the upper hand over those wild beasts, our natural enemies: what new enemies it raise against us! What woe and misery it causes! Man is the greatest enemy of man. Oppression, injustice, contempt, disrespect, violence, sedition, war, slander, treachery, fraud – men use these to torment one another, and they would soon dissolve the society they had formed if they were not afraid that even greater ills would come from their doing so.
These external injuries, said Demea, that we suffer from animals, from men, and from all the elements, do indeed form a frightful catalogue of woes; but they are nothing in comparison to the ones that arise within ourselves from the illnesses of our mind and body. How many people lie under the lingering torment of diseases? Hear the pathetic list of the great poet.
Intestine stone and ulcer, colic-pangs, Demoniac frenzy, moping melancholy, And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy, Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence. Dire was the tossing, deep the groans: DESPAIR Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch. And over them triumphant DEATH his dart Shook: but delay’d to strike, though oft invok’d With vows, as their chief good and final hope.
[Milton, Paradise Lost 11]
The disorders of the mind, continued Demea, though they are more secret may be no less dismal and vexatious. Remorse, shame, anguish, rage, disappointment, anxiety, fear, dejection, despair; who has ever passed through life without cruel attacks from these tormentors? Many people have scarcely ever felt any better sensations than those! Labour and poverty, so hated by everyone, are the certain fate of the vast majority, and the privileged few who enjoy leisure and wealth never reach contentment or true happiness. All the goods of life put together would not make a very happy man; but all the ills together would make a wretch indeed! Indeed life can be made unsatisfactory by almost any one of the ills (and who can be free from every one?), or indeed by the lack of any one good (and who can possess all?).
If an alien suddenly arrived in this world, I would show him, as a specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with criminals and debtors, a field of battle with corpses all over it, a fleet of ships sinking in the ocean, a nation suffering under tyranny, famine, or plague. To turn the cheerful side of life to him and give him a notion of its pleasures, where should I take him? to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might reasonably think that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow.
There is no way to escape such striking instances, said Philo,
except by explaining them away – and that makes the indictment even more severe. Why, I ask, have all men in all ages complained incessantly of the miseries of life? Someone replies: ‘They have no good reason: they complain only because they are disposed to be discontented, regretful, anxious.’ I reply: what greater guarantee of misery could there be than to have such a wretched temperament?
‘But if they were really as unhappy as they claim,’ says my antagonist, ‘why do they stay alive?’
Not satisfied with life, afraid of death. [Milton, Paradise Lost 11]
This is the secret chain that holds us, I reply. We are terrified, not bribed, into continuing our existence.
‘It is only a false delicacy’, he may insist, ‘which a few refined spirits permit themselves, and which has spread these complaints among the whole race of mankind.’ And what is this delicacy, I ask, which you blame? Isn’t it just a greater awareness of all the pleasures and pains of life? And if the man of a delicate, refined cast of mind, by being so much more alive than the rest of the world, is only made so much more unhappy, what conclusion should we reach about human life in general?
‘If men remained at rest’, says our adversary, ‘they would be at ease. · Through all their busy, ambitious activity· they are willing makers of their own misery.’ No! I reply: leisure makes them anxious and slack. · Not that it would do any good for them to give up leisure, for· activity and ambition bring disappointment, vexation, and trouble.
I can see something like what you have described in some others, replied Cleanthes: but I confess that I feel little or nothing of it in myself, and I hope it is not as common as you make it out to be.
If you don’t feel human misery yourself, exclaimed Demea, I congratulate you on your happy uniqueness! Others, seemingly the most prosperous, have not been ashamed to give voice to their complaints in the saddest tones. Let us attend to the great, the fortunate emperor Charles V when, tired with human grandeur, he resigned all his extensive dominions into the hands of his son. In the last speech he made on that memorable occasion, he publicly testified that the greatest prosperities he had ever enjoyed had been mixed with so many adversities that he could truly say that he had never enjoyed any satisfaction or contentment. But did the retired life in which he hoped to shelter give him any greater
happiness? If we can believe his son’s account, he started to regret his abdication on the very day he abdicated.
Cicero’s fortune rose from small beginnings to the greatest glory and fame; yet his letters to friends as well as his philosophical discourses contain ever so many pathetic complaints about the ills of life. And suitably to his own experience, he introduces Cato – the great, the fortunate Cato – protesting in his old age that if a new life were his for the asking, he would turn it down.
Ask yourself, ask anyone you know, whether they would be willing to live over again the last ten or twenty years of their lives. No! but the next twenty, they say, will be better;
And from the dregs of life, hope to receive What the first sprightly running could not give. [Dryden]
Human misery is so great that it reconciles even contradictions! And so people eventually come to complain about the shortness of life and, in the same breath, complaining of its pointlessness and sorrow.
And is it possible, Cleanthes, said Philo, that after all these reflections, and countless others that might be suggested, you still stick to your anthropomorphism, and assert that the moral attributes of God – his justice, benevolence, mercy, and uprightness – are of the same nature as these virtues in human creatures? We grant that his power is infinite: whatever he wills to happen does happen. But neither man nor any other animal is happy; therefore God does not will their happiness. His knowledge is infinite: he is never mistaken in his choice of means to any end. But the course of nature doesn’t lead to human or animal happiness; therefore nature is not established for that purpose. Through the whole range of human knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these. Well, then, in what respect do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?
Epicurus’s old questions have still not been answered. Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. üIs he both able and willing? then where does evil come from?
You ascribe a purpose and intention to nature, Cleanthes, and I think you are right about that. But what, I ask you, is the aim of all the intricately designed machinery that nature has displayed in all animals? · Here is my answer to that· . The aim is simply the preservation of individuals, and the continuance of the species. It seems enough for
nature’s purpose if the species is merely enabled to stay in existence, without any care or concern for the happiness of its individual members. No means for this are provided, no machinery aimed purely at giving pleasure or ease, no store of pure joy and contentment, no gratification without some lack or need to go with it. · Or perhaps not quite none, but· at least the few phenomena of this nature are outweighed by opposite phenomena of still greater importance.
Our sense of music, harmony, and indeed beauty of all kinds, gives satisfaction without being absolutely necessary to the preservation and propagation of the species. But contrast that with the racking pains that arise from gouts, gravels, migraines, toothaches, rheumatisms, where the injury to the animal machinery is either small or incurable! Joy, laughter, play, frolic, seem to be gratuitous satisfactions which don’t lead to anything further; and spleen, melancholy, discontent, superstition, are pains which also lead nowhere. How then does God’s benevolence display itself according to you anthropomorphites? It is only we ‘mystics’ (as you were pleased to call us) who can account for this strange mixture of phenomena, by deriving it from divine attributes that are infinitely perfect but incomprehensible.
At last, Philo, said Cleanthes with a smile, you have let us see what you have been up to! Your long agreement with Demea surprised me a little, but now I see that all along you were preparing to train your guns on me. And I must admit that you have now come to a subject that is worthy of your notable spirit of opposition and controversy. If you can make good on your present point, and prove mankind to be unhappy or corrupted, there is an immediate end to all religion. For what is the point of establishing the natural attributes of God while his moral attributes are still doubtful and uncertain?
You are very quick to object, replied Demea, to innocent opinions that are the most widely accepted, even among religious and devout people. themselves. I am immensely surprised to find this theme of the wickedness and misery of man being charged with, of all things, atheism and profaneness. Haven’t all pious divines and preachers who have indulged their rhetoric on this rich topic given a solution for any difficulties that may come with it? This world is a mere point in comparison with the universe; this life is a mere moment in comparison with eternity. The present evil phenomena, therefore, are set right in other regions and at some future time. And · when that happens· the eyes of men, being then opened to broader views of things, · will· see the whole connection of general laws, and with adoration trace God’s benevolence and justice through all the mazes and intricacies of his
No! replied Cleanthes, No! These arbitrary suppositions can never be admitted; they are contrary to visible and unchallenged facts. How can any cause be known except from its known effects? How can any hypothesis be proved except from the experienced phenomena? To base one hypothesis on another is to build entirely in the air; and the most we ever achieve through these conjectures and fictions is to show that our opinion is possible; we can never in this way establish that it is true.
The only way to support divine benevolence – and it is what I willingly accept – is to deny absolutely the misery and wickedness of man. Your pictures · of the human condition· are exaggerated; your melancholy views are mostly fictitious; your conclusions are contrary to fact and experience. Health is more common than sickness; pleasure than pain; happiness than misery. I calculate that for each vexation that we meet with we get a hundred enjoyments.
Your position is extremely doubtful, replied Philo, but even if we allow it you must at the same time admit that if pain is less frequent than pleasure it is infinitely more violent and lasting. One hour of pain is often able to outweigh a day, a week, a month of our ordinary tepid enjoyments; and some people pass days, weeks, and months in the most acute torments! Pleasure hardly ever rises to the height of ecstasy and rapture; and it can never continue for any time at its highest pitch and altitude. The spirits evaporate, the nerves relax, the body is out of order, and the enjoyment quickly degenerates into fatigue and uneasiness. But pain often – good God, how often! – rises to torture and agony; and the longer it continues the more thoroughly it becomes genuine agony and torture. Patience is exhausted, courage languishes, melancholy seizes us, and nothing puts an end to our misery except the removal of its cause – or another event which is the sole cure of all evil, but which our natural foolishness leads us to regard with still greater horror and consternation.
All this is obvious, certain, and important, continued Philo, but I shan’t go on about it. I do take the opportunity to warn you, Cleanthes, that you have taken your stand on most dangerous ground, and without realizing it have introduced a total scepticism into the most essential articles of natural and revealed theology. What! no way to give religion a sound basis unless we allow the happiness of human life, and maintain that a continued existence even in this world – with all our actual pains, infirmities, vexations, and follies – is satisfactory and desirable! This is contrary to everyone’s feeling and experience; · which
means that· it is contrary to an authority so well established that nothing can undercut it. No decisive proofs can ever be produced against this authority; nor is it possible for you to compute, estimate, and compare all the pains and all the pleasures in the lives of all men and of all animals; and so when you rest the whole system of religion on a claim which from its very nature must for ever be uncertain, you tacitly admit that that system is equally uncertain.
Animal happiness, or at least human happiness, in this life exceeds its misery – no one will ever believe this, or at any rate you’ll never be able to prove it. But even if we grant it to you, your argument has still achieved nothing; for this is far from what we expect from infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite goodness. Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance, surely. From some cause, then. Is it from the intention of God? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive – unless we say that these subjects exceed all human capacity, and that our common measures of truth and falsehood are not applicable to them; a thesis I have all along insisted on, but which you have from the outset rejected with scorn and indignation.
But I will be contented to shift back from this position – · doing this voluntarily· , for I deny that you can ever force me out of it. I will allow · for purposes of argument· that pain or misery in man is compatible with infinite power and goodness in God, even when these attributes are understood in your way: what help do all these concessions give to your position? A mere possible compatibility is not sufficient. You must prove · the existence of· these pure, unmixed, and uncontrollable attributes from the present mixed and confused phenomena, and from these alone. A hopeful undertaking! Even if the phenomena were ever so pure and unmixed, because they are finite they would be insufficient for your purpose. How much more · inadequate· when they are also so jarring and discordant!
Here, Cleanthes, I find I can relax in my argument. Here I triumph! When we argued earlier about the natural attributes of intelligence and design, I needed all my sceptical and metaphysical subtlety to escape your grasp. In many views of the universe and of its parts, particularly its parts, the beauty and fitness of final causes strike us with such irresistible force that all objections seem to be (as I think they really are) mere fault-finding and trickery; and then we can’t imagine how we could ever give weight to them. But there is no view of human life or of the condition of mankind from which we can smoothly infer the moral
attributes · of God· , or learn about that infinite benevolence, conjoined with infinite power and infinite wisdom, which we must discover by the eyes of faith alone. · But now the tables are turned!· It is now your turn to tug the labouring oar, and to defend your philosophical subtleties against the dictates of plain reason and experience.
DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION1
By David Hume
I shan’t beat about the bush, said Cleanthes, addressing himself to Demea. […] What I shall do is to explain briefly how I conceive this matter. Look round the world, contemplating the whole thing and every part of it; you will find that it is nothing but one big machine subdivided into an infinite number of smaller ones, which in their turn could be subdivided to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other so precisely that everyone who has ever contemplated them is filled with wonder. The intricate fitting of means to ends throughout all nature is just like (though more wonderful than) the fitting of means to ends in things that have been produced by us – products of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer by all the rules of analogy that the causes are also alike, and that the author of nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though he has much larger faculties to go with the grandeur of the work he has carried out. By this argument a posteriori, and by this argument alone, do we prove both that there is a God and that he resembles human mind and intelligence.
I have to tell you, Cleanthes, said Demea, that from the beginning, I could not approve of your conclusion about the similarity of God to men; still less can I approve of your ways of trying to establish it. What! No demonstration that God exists! No abstract arguments! No a priori proofs! [An a priori argument is one that proceeds by sheer thinking,
1 This document has been excerpted, with permission, from a manuscript translated and edited by Jonathan Bennett. Bennett’s translations of this and other early modern texts can be found online at: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com. Bennett’s text includes the following introductory comments: “Square [brackets] enclose editorial explanations. Small · dots· enclose material that has been added, but can be read as though it were part of the original text. Occasional bullets, and also indenting of passages that are not quotations, are meant as aids to grasping the structure of a sentence or a thought.”
making no use of contingent facts about what the world is like. An argument that does appeal to such facts is called a posteriori, which is what Cleanthes says that his argument is.] What about the ones that have in the past been so much insisted on by philosophers – are they all fallacious, all mere tricks? Do experience and probability mark the limit to how far we can go in this subject? I will not say that this is betraying the cause of a God: but, surely, by this show of even-handedness you provide atheists with advantages that they could never have obtained purely through argument and reasoning.
My main reservation about what Cleanthes has said, Philo remarked, is not so much that he bases all religious arguments on experience as that his arguments seem not to be the most certain and unbreakable even of that inferior · experience-based· kind. That a stone will fall, that fire will burn, that the earth has solidity, we have observed thousands of times; and when any new instance of this sort is presented we don’t hesitate to draw the usual conclusion – · this stone will fall, this fire will burn, the earth that I am about to put my right foot on is solid· . The exact similarity of the cases gives us a perfect assurance of a similar outcome; and we never want or look for stronger evidence than that. But the evidence is less strong when the cases are less than perfectly alike; any reduction in similarity, however tiny, brings a corresponding reduction in the strength of the evidence; and as we move down that scale we may eventually reach a very weak analogy, · leading to a conclusion· which is confessedly liable to error and uncertainty. After having observed the circulation of the blood in human creatures, we have no doubt that it circulates in Titius and Maevius. But from its circulation in frogs and fishes it is only a presumption – though a strong one, from analogy – that blood circulates in men and other animals. The analogical reasoning is even weaker when we infer the circulation of the sap in plants from our experience that the blood circulates in animals; and those who hastily followed that imperfect analogy between plants and animals have been found by more accurate experiments to have been mistaken.
If we see a house, Cleanthes, we conclude with the greatest certainty that it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely the kind of effect that we have experienced as coming from that kind of cause. But surely you will not say that the universe is so like a house that we can with the same certainty infer a similar cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect. The unlikeness in this case is so striking that the most you can offer · on the basis of it· is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption about a similar cause; and I leave it to you to
consider how that offering will be received in the world!
If I granted that the proofs of the existence of a God amount to no more than a guess or conjecture, replied Cleanthes, that would not be well received, and I would deservedly be blamed and detested. But is it such a slight resemblance between how means are fitted to ends in a house and how they are fitted in the universe? The way things are fitted to their purposes? The order, proportion, and arrangement of every part? Steps of a staircase are plainly designed so that human legs can use them in climbing; and this inference · from how the steps can be used to their purpose· is certain and infallible. Human legs are also designed for walking and climbing; and this inference · from how legs can be used to their purpose· , I admit, is not quite so certain, because of the dissimilarity you have pointed out; but does that downgrade it to mere presumption or conjecture?
Good God! exclaimed Demea, interrupting him, what have we come to? Earnest defenders of religion admitting that the proofs of a God fall short of being perfectly evident! And you, Philo, whose help I depended on in proving the worshipful mysteriousness of God’s nature – do you assent to all these extreme opinions of Cleanthes? For how else can I describe them? And why should I tone down my criticism when such principles are advanced, supported by such an authority · as Cleanthes· , in the presence of such a young man as Pamphilus?
You seem not to grasp, replied Philo, that I argue with Cleanthes in his own way: I hope that by showing him the dangerous consequences of his views I shall finally bring him to share our opinion. But what bothers you most, I notice, is Cleanthes’ account of the argument a posteriori. You find that that argument · in his version of it· is likely to slip out of your grasp and vanish into thin air; you think Cleanthes has so disguised it that you can hardly believe he has presented it properly. Now, however much I may disagree in other ways with the dangerous principles of Cleanthes, I must admit that he has fairly presented that argument; and I shall try to set it out for you in such a way that you will no longer view it with suspicion.
If a man were to set aside everything he knows or has seen, he would be entirely unable to work out, merely from his own ideas, what the universe must be like, or to think one state of affairs to be more likely than another. Nothing that he clearly conceives could be thought to be impossible or to imply a contradiction, so every fanciful story his imagination comes up with would be upon an equal footing with every other; and he could give no valid reason for sticking to one idea or
system and rejecting the others which are equally possible.
Next step in the argument: after he opens his eyes and sees the world as it really is, he cannot at first tell what the cause was of any one event, much less of the totality of things or of the universe. He might start his imagination rambling, and it might bring in to him an infinite variety of reports and stories. These would all be possible, but because they would all be equally possible he could never from his own resources explain satisfactorily why he prefers one of them to the rest. Experience alone can point out to him the true cause of anything that happens.
Now, Demea, this method of reasoning leads to something that Cleanthes himself has tacitly admitted, namely: order, arrangement, or the suitability of things for various purposes (like the suitability of legs for walking) is not of itself any proof that a designer has been at work, except in cases where experience has shown us that such order, arrangement, etc. is due to a designer. For all we can know a priori, matter may have a source of order within it, just as mind does, having it inherently, basically, · not acquired from somewhere else· . When a number of elements come together in an exquisite arrangement, · you may think it harder to conceive that they do this of their own accord than to conceive that some designer put them into that arrangement. But that is too quick and careless. Think about what is involved in a designer’s arranging them: it means that he creates the arrangement in his mind, assembling in the appropriate way the ideas of the elements in question. But, then, how does that happen? I put it to you, it is no harder to conceive that the elements are caused to come together into this arrangement by some unknown cause that is internal to them, than to conceive that the ideas of these elements come together in that arrangement in the great universal mind, being caused to do so by a similarly unknown cause that is internal to that great mind. These two suppositions are agreed to be equally possible; but according to Cleanthes experience shows us a difference between them. Throw several pieces of steel together, without shape or form: they will never arrange themselves so as to compose a watch. Stone, and mortar, and wood, without an architect, never erect a house. But we see that the ideas in a human mind arrange themselves so as to form the plan of a watch or house, though we haven’t the faintest notion of how they do this. So experience shows that minds – and not matter – have a built-in principle of order. From similar effects we infer similar causes. The way means are fitted to ends in the universe at large is like the way means are fitted to ends in machine designed by a human being. The cause of the machine, therefore, must be similar to the cause of the universe.
I was, I admit, shocked by this assertion of a resemblance between God and human creatures. I can’t help seeing it as implying such a lowering of the supreme being that no right-thinking Theist could put up with it. With your assistance, therefore, Demea, I shall try to defend what you justly call the worshipful mysteriousness of God’s nature, and shall refute this reasoning of Cleanthes, provided he agrees that I have presented it fairly.
When Cleanthes had agreed to this, Philo, after a short pause, proceeded in the following manner.
In the meantime I shall not disagree much with your theses that all inferences concerning matters of fact are based on experience, and that all experimental reasoning is based on the supposition that similar causes prove similar effects, and similar effects similar causes. But please notice how extremely cautious good thinkers are in transferring a discovered result to a similar case. These thinkers are not perfectly confident in applying their past observation to some other particular phenomenon, unless the · old and new· cases are exactly similar. Every alteration in the circumstances · of the cause· raises a doubt about the outcome; and it requires new experiments to prove for sure that the new circumstances have no causal significance. A change in size, position, arrangement, age, disposition of the air or of surrounding bodies – any of these may bring with it the most unexpected consequences. Unless the objects are quite familiar to us, it is much too bold to expect confidently that when a cause has been found to have a certain effect another cause, differing from the earlier one in one of these ways, will have the same effect. The slow and deliberate steps of scientists, here if anywhere, are in contrast with the precipitate march of common men who, hurried along by the smallest similarity, are incapable of pondering or making distinctions.
· Which group, Cleanthes, have you just shown yourself to belong to?· You are usually cool and philosophical in these matters, but has your usual attitude been preserved in the stride you have taken in likening the universe to houses, ships, furniture, machines, and from their similarity in some respects inferred a similarity in their causes? Thought, design, intelligence, such as we discover in men and other animals, is just one of the springs and principles of the universe, along with heat and cold, attraction and repulsion, and a hundred others that we observe daily. It is an active cause through which (we find) certain particular parts of nature produce alterations in other parts. But can it be proper to argue from parts to the whole? Does not the great disproportion · between part and whole· bar all comparison and
inference? From observing the growth of a hair, can we learn anything about how men come into being? Would the way a leaf blows – even if we knew this perfectly – teach us anything about how a tree grows?
Anyway, even if we do take the operations of one part of nature on another as our basis for a judgment about the origin of the whole (which is something we should never do), why would be select as our basis such a tiny, weak, limited cause as the reason and design of animals upon this planet seems to be? What special privilege has this little agitation of the brain that we call ‘thought’, that entitles it to serve as the model of the whole universe? It looms large for us because we are always in the presence of it; but sound philosophy ought carefully to guard against this kind of natural illusion.
So far from admitting, continued Philo, that the operations of a part entitle us to draw any conclusion about the origin of the whole, I will not even allow any one part to justify conclusions about another part, if the two are very unlike one another. Is there any reasonable ground to conclude that the inhabitants of other planets have thought, intelligence, reason, or anything similar to these faculties that men have? When nature has operated in such a wide variety of ways on this small planet, can we think that she incessantly copies herself throughout the rest of this immense universe? Also, it seems likely enough that thought occurs only in this narrow corner, and even here its sphere of action is very limited – · namely, to affecting the movements of the bodies of some animals· . So what can justify taking thought to be the original cause of everything? Such a jump is worse than that of a peasant whose idea of the government of kingdoms is based on how he runs his own household!
But even if we were perfectly sure that thought and reason similar to ours is to be found throughout the whole universe, and even if its activity elsewhere in the universe is vastly greater in scope and more powerful than it appears to be on this planet, still I cannot see that the operations of a world that is fully constituted, arranged and adjusted can properly be extended to a world that is in its embryo state, and is still moving towards that finished constitution and arrangement. By observation we know a certain amount about how a finished animal moves, is nourished, stays alive; but we should be cautious about transferring that knowledge speculatively to the growth of a foetus in the womb, and still more to the formation of an animalcule in the testes of its male parent. [‘animalcule’ = ‘tiny animal’. It was commonly thought that the animal is formed in miniature in the father’s body, the mother’s contribution being merely to provide it with somewhere to
grow.] Even our limited experience shows us that nature has an infinite number of causes and principles which incessantly reveal themselves as circumstances change. It would be absurdly rash of us to claim to know what new and unknown principles would be at work in such a new and unknown situation as that of the formation of a universe.
A very small part of this great system of the universe, during a very short time, is very imperfectly revealed to us, Do we then pronounce confidently about the origin of the whole?
Admirable conclusion! At this time on this little planet. stone, wood, brick, iron, brass are not ordered or arranged except through human artifice and contrivance; therefore the universe could not originally attain its order and arrangement without something similar to human artifice. But is a part of nature a rule for another part that is very different from it? Is it a rule for the whole? Is a very small part a rule for the universe? Is nature in one situation a certain rule for nature in another situation vastly different from the former? · Is nature at work in our considerably developed universe a certain rule for nature at work in starting a universe?·
And can you blame me, Cleanthes, if I here imitate the wise caution of Simonides? According to the famous story, Hiero asked him ‘What is God?’, and Simonides asked for a day to think about it, and then two days more; and in that way he continually prolonged his time for thinking about it, without ever producing a definition or description. Could you even blame me if I answered straight off that I did not know what God is, and was aware that this subject lies vastly beyond the reach of my faculties? You might cry ‘Sceptic!’ and ‘Tease!’ as much as you pleased; but having found the imperfections and even contradictions of human reason when it is exercised on so many other subjects that are much more familiar than this one, I would never expect any success from reason’s feeble conjectures concerning a subject that is so elevated and so remote from the sphere of our observation. When two sorts of objects have always been observed to be conjoined together, custom leads me to infer the existence of · an object of· one · sort· wherever I see the existence of · an object of· the other · sort· ; and I call this an argument from experience. But it is hard to see how this · pattern of· argument be appropriate in our present case, where the objects · we are considering do not fall into sorts, but· are single, individual, without parallel or specific resemblance. And will anyone tell me with a straight face that an orderly universe must arise from some thought and artifice like human thought and artifice, because we have experience of it? To make this reasoning secure, we would need to have had experience of
the origins of worlds; it is not sufficient, surely, to have seen ships and cities arise from human artifice and contrivance.
But to show you still more inconveniences in your anthropomorphism, continued Philo, please look again at your principles. Like effects prove like causes. This is the · basis for every· empirical argument, and you say that it is also the only · basis for the· theological argument. Now, it is certain that the more similar the observed effects, and the more similar the causes that are inferred, the stronger is the argument. Every move away from similarity, between the effects or between the causes, diminishes the probability and makes the empirical argument less conclusive. You cannot doubt the principle; so you ought not to reject its consequences.
According to the true system of theism, all the new discoveries in astronomy, which prove the immense grandeur and magnificence of the works of nature, are further arguments for the existence of a God; according to your hypothesis of empirical theism they become objections, by moving the universe still further from all resemblance to the effects of human skill and contrivance. If the argument for genuine theism had force in earlier times, how much more force it must have now, when the bounds of nature are so infinitely enlarged and such a magnificent scene is opened to us? [As evidence of its support in ancient times, Philo quotes (in Latin) from Lucretius and Cicero.] It is still more unreasonable to form our idea of the cause of such an unlimited effect on the basis of our experience of · the causes of· the narrow products of human design and invention.
The discoveries by microscopes, as they open a new universe in miniature, are arguments · for theism· according to me, whereas to you they are objections to it. The further we push our researches of this kind, the more we are led to infer that the universal cause of it all is vastly different from mankind, and from anything of which we have empirical knowledge.
And what say you to the discoveries in anatomy, chemistry, botany?…
Those surely are not objections, interrupted Cleanthes; they only reveal new instances of skill and contrivance. It is still the image of mind reflected on us from innumerable objects. Add, a mind like the human,
said Philo. That’s the only kind I know, replied Cleanthes. And the more like the better, insisted Philo. To be sure, said Cleanthes.
Now, Cleanthes, said Philo, pouncing with an air of triumph, note the consequences! First, by this method of reasoning, you give up all claim to infinity in any of the attributes of God. For, as the cause ought to be proportioned to the effect, and the effect – so far as we know – is not infinite, what right have we (on your theory) to ascribe infinity to God? You will still have to say that when we remove him so far from similarity to human creatures, we give in to the most arbitrary hypothesis and at the same time weaken all proofs of his existence.
Secondly, your theory gives you no reason to ascribe perfection to God even in his capacity as a finite being, or to suppose him to be free from every error, mistake, or incoherence in his activities. Consider the many inexplicable difficulties in the works of nature – · illnesses, earthquakes, natural calamities of all kinds· . If we think we can prove a priori that the world has a perfect creator, all these calamities become unproblematic: we can say that they only seem to us to be difficulties, because we with our limited intellects cannot follow all the infinitely complex details of which they are a part. But according to your line of argument these difficulties are real; indeed they might be emphasized as new instances of the world’s likeness to the products of human skill and contrivance! You must, at least, admit that we with our limited knowledge cannot possible tell whether this system contains any great faults, or deserves any considerable praise, when compared to other possible systems and perhaps even when compared to real ones. If the Aeneid were read to a peasant, could he judge it to absolutely faultless? Could he even give it proper place in a ranking of the products of human wit – he who had never seen any of the others?
Even if this world were a perfect product, we still couldn’t be sure whether all the excellences of the work could justly be ascribed to the workman. When we survey a ship, we may get an exalted idea of the ingenuity of the carpenter who built such a complicated, useful, and beautiful machine. But then we shall be surprised to find that the carpenter is a stupid tradesman who imitated others, and followed a trade which has gradually improved down the centuries, after multiplied trials, mistakes, corrections, deliberations, and controversies. · Perhaps our world is like that ship· . It may be that many worlds were botched and bungled, throughout an eternity, before our present system was built; much labour lost, many useless trials made, and a slow but continued improvement carried on during infinite ages in the world- making trade. In such subjects as this, who can determine what is true –
who indeed can even guess what is probable – when so many hypotheses can be put forward, and even more can be imagined?
And what shadow of an argument, continued Philo, can you produce, from your hypothesis, to prove that God is one being? A great many men join together to build a house or ship, to found and develop a city, to create a commonwealth; why couldn’t several gods combine in designing and making a world? This would only serve to make divine activities more like human ones. By sharing the work among several gods we can reduce still further the attributes of each one of them; we can get rid of that extensive power and knowledge which we have to suppose the one God to possess (if there is only one) – that extent of power and knowledge which, according to you, serves merely to weaken the argument for God’s existence. And if such foolish, vicious creatures as men can often unite in forming and carrying out one plan, how much could that be done by those gods or semi-gods whom we may suppose to be quite a lot more perfect than we are?
To multiply causes without necessity is indeed contrary to true philosophy; but that principle doesn’t apply to our present case. If your theory had already established that there is one God who had every attribute needed for the production of the universe, then, I admit, it would be needless (though not absurd) to suppose that any other god existed. But while we are still confronting the question:
Are all these attributes united in one thing that has them all, or are they shared out among several independent beings?
What phenomena in nature can we point to as supplying the answer? When we see a body raised in a scale, we are sure that in the opposite scale – even if we cannot see it – there is some counterbalancing weight equal to it; but we can still question whether that weight is a heap of many distinct bodies, or rather one uniform united mass; · for example, whether it is a heap of stones or a lead weight· . And if the weight needed for the counterbalancing is very much greater than we have ever seen any single body to possess, the former supposition becomes still more probable and natural · than the latter. As with weights, so with creators· . An intelligent being of such vast power and ability as is necessary to produce the universe – or, to speak in the language of ancient philosophy, so prodigious an animal – goes beyond any analogy with ourselves, and indeed goes beyond what we can understand.
Furthermore, Cleanthes: men are mortal, and renew their species by generation, and so do all living creatures. The two great sexes of
male and female, says Milton, animate the world. Why shouldn’t this universal and essential feature of our condition also apply to those numerous and limited gods · that I am saying you should argue for· ? And that brings us back to the ancient tales about the birth of the gods.
Indeed, why not become a perfect anthropomorphite? Why not assert that God is – or that each god is – corporeal, having eyes, a nose, mouth, ears, etc.? Epicurus maintained that no man has ever seen reason except in someone of human shape, and that therefore the gods must have that shape. This inference was deservedly ridiculed by Cicero, but by your standards it is solid and philosophical.
In a word, Cleanthes, someone who follows your hypothesis can perhaps assert or conjecture that,
The universe at some time arose from something like design.
But beyond that he cannot make a case for any further details, and is left to fill in his theology by wildly imagining or guessing the rest. For all he knows, the world is very faulty and imperfect by certain higher standards, · which opens the doors to all sorts of ‘theologies’, no one of which he can refute. Here are just three of them· . This world was only the first rough attempt of some infant god, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his poor performance; it is the work of some dependent, inferior god, whose superiors hold it up for ridicule; it was produced by some god in his old age and near-senility, and ever since his death the world has continued without further guidance, activated by the first shove he gave to it and the active force that he built into it. You rightly give signs of horror, Demea, at these strange suppositions; but these – and a thousand more like them are Cleanthes’ suppositions, not mine. As soon as the attributes of God are supposed to be finite, all these suppositions get a foot-hold. Speaking for myself, I cannot see that having such a wild and unsettled a system of theology is in any way preferable to having none at all – · that is, being an atheist· .
I absolutely disown these suppositions, exclaimed Cleanthes; but they don’t fill me with horror, especially when put forward in the casual way in which you throw them off. On the contrary, they give me pleasure when I see that even when giving your imagination completely free rein, you do not get rid of the hypothesis of design in the universe, but are obliged rely on it at every turn. That concession is what I stick to; and I regard it as a sufficient foundation for religion.
But if there are so many difficulties in the a posteriori argument, said Demea, hadn’t we better stay with the simple and sublime a priori argument which cuts off all doubt and difficulty with a single blow, by offering to us an infallible knock-down proof? Furthermore, this argument lets us prove the infinity of God’s attributes – · that he infinitely wise, infinitely good, infinitely powerful, and so on· – which, I am afraid, can never be established with certainty in any other manner. For how can an infinite cause be inferred from an effect which is finite, or which may be finite for all we know to the contrary? The unity of God’s nature, also, is very hard – if not absolutely impossible – to infer merely from observing the works of nature; even if it is granted that the plan of the universe is all of a piece, that is not enough to ensure us of God’s unity. Whereas the a priori argument . . .
Cleanthes interrupted: You seem to reason, Demea, as if those advantages and conveniences in the abstract · a priori· argument were full proofs of its soundness. But in my opinion we should first settle what argument with all these advantages you choose to insist on; and then we can try to decide what value we ought to put upon it – doing this better by looking at the argument itself than by considering its useful consequences.
The argument that I would insist on, replied Demea, is the common one:- Whatever exists must have a cause or reason for its existence, as it is absolutely impossible for anything to produce itself, or be the cause of its own existence. In working back, therefore, from effects to causes, we must either (1) go on tracing causes to infinity, without any ultimate cause at all, or (2) at last have recourse to some ultimate cause that is necessarily existent · and therefore does not need an external cause· . Supposition (1) is absurd, as I now prove:
In the · supposed· infinite chain or series of causes and effects, each single effect is made to exist by the power and efficacy of the cause that immediately preceded it; but the whole eternal chain or series, considered as a whole, is not caused by anything; and yet it obviously requires a cause or reason, as much as any particular thing that begins to exist in time. We are entitled to ask why this particular series of causes existed from eternity, and not some other series, or no series at all. If there is no necessarily existent being, all the suppositions we can make about this are equally possible; and there is no more absurdity in nothing’s having
existed from eternity than there is in the series of causes that constitutes the universe. What was it, then, that made something exist rather than nothing, and gave existence to one particular possibility as against any of the others? External causes? We are supposing that there are none. Chance? That is a word without a meaning. Was it Nothing? But that can never produce anything.
So we must · adopt supposition (2), and· have recourse to a necessarily existent being, who carries the reason of his existence in himself and cannot be supposed not to exist without an express contradiction. So there is such a being; that is, there is a God.
I know that Philo loves raising objections, said Cleanthes, but I shan’t leave it to him to point out the weakness of your metaphysical reasoning. Your argument seems to me so obviously ill-grounded, and · even if it succeeded· to offer so little help to the cause of true piety and religion, that I shall myself venture to show what is wrong with it.
I start by remarking that there is an evident absurdity in claiming to demonstrate – or to prove by any a priori arguments – any matter of fact.
Nothing is demonstrable unless its contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing that is distinctly conceivable implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. So there is no being whose non-existence implies a contradiction. So there is no being whose existence is demonstrable.
I offer this argument as entirely decisive, and am willing to rest the whole controversy upon it.
You claim that God is a necessarily existent being; and the friends of your line of argument try to explain this necessity of his existence by saying that if we knew his whole essence or nature, we would perceive it to be as impossible for him not to exist as for twice two not to be four. But obviously this can never happen, while our faculties remain the same as they are now. It will always be possible for us at any time to conceive the nonexistence of something we formerly conceived to exist; the mind can never have to suppose some object to remain always in existence, in the way in which we always have to conceive twice two to be four. So the words ‘necessary existence’ have no meaning – or (the same thing) no meaning that is consistent.
Furthermore, if we do go along with this claimed explanation of necessary existence, why shouldn’t the material universe be the necessarily existent being? We dare not claim to know all the qualities of matter; and for all we can tell matter may have some qualities which, if we knew them, would make matter’s non-existence appear as great a contradiction as twice two’s being five. I have found only one argument trying to prove that the material world is not the necessarily existent being; and this argument is derived from the contingency both of the matter and the form of the world. ‘Any particle of matter’, Dr Clarke has said, ‘can be conceived to be annihilated; and any form can be conceived to be altered. Such an annihilation or alteration, therefore, is not impossible.’ But it seems very biased not to see that the same argument applies just as well to God, so far as we have any conception of him; and that our mind can at least imagine God to be non-existent or his attributes to be altered. If something is to make his non-existence appear impossible, or his attributes unalterable, it must be some qualities of his that we don’t know and can’t conceive; but then no reason can be given why these qualities may not belong to matter. As they are altogether unknown and inconceivable, they can never be proved incompatible with · the nature of matter as we know· it. A further objection: in tracing an eternal series of items, it seems absurd to ask for a general cause or first author · of the entire series· . How can something that exists from eternity have a cause, since the causal relation implies priority in time and a beginning of existence? Also, in such a chain or series of items, each part is caused by the part that preceded it, and causes the one that follows. So where is the difficulty? But the whole needs a cause! you say. I answer that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one organic body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind and has no influence on the nature of things. If I showed you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I would think it very unreasonable if you then asked me what was the cause of the whole twenty. The cause of the whole is sufficiently explained by explaining the cause of the parts.
- PART 2
- PART 5