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IV: Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion




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Lecture 21

Argument From Design—Ontological Arguments for Ultimates

The chief argument considered in the Dialogues is the argument from design, the question of what can be inferred from the existence of design in nature. This is brought forward as an argument distinct from the traditional arguments in natural religion, the traditional proofs of the existence of God, particularly the ontological and cosmological proofs. And special insistence is laid on the contention that whereas these are arguments a priori this is an argument a posteriori or from experience.

Now one of the most important points demonstrated by Kant is that this is not so, that what he calls the “physical-theological argument” is as much of an ontological or a priori character as any of the others, that is, that it depends on the conception of that which is ultimate or which establishes itself. But in this connection it is worth noting that ontological arguments are not confined to proofs of the existence of God or of something which we can call the Absolute, but are the means of establishing all ultimates, even in nominally pluralistic theories, that it is really by a species of ontological argument that the Pythagoreans establish their units or that Socrates establishes his forms: the question is of things which are by their own nature.

It may, of course, be asked whether, if there were one of these things, there could be more than one, and it seems to be shown by the Eleatic criticism of the Pythagoreans and similarly by Spinoza's criticism of Descartes that there cannot be more than one ultimate; but the more important question is whether there can be one at all, and that there cannot, is indicated in the way in which the Eleatic arguments can be turned against Eleaticism itself, or by the general weakness of the theory of self-subsistence with its


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implicit distinction between that which supports and that which is supported.

This is again connected with the fact that the ontological and the cosmological arguments stand or fall together, in fact, that they are refuted together. Kant shows that the cosmological argument depends on the ontological argument, that that on which all other things are supposed to depend is taken to be that which establishes itself and cannot be taken in any other way. But also that which establishes itself has to be taken as that on which things depend because in its very conception there is this distinction between the supporting and the supported and thus there is the conception of some empirical entity which requires to be supported. In fact, no argument of any kind can be put forward which does not introduce a certain amount of empirical material since otherwise it would be utterly without significance, so that even if in putting forward the ontological argument we do not introduce the conception of a universe which has to be supported by some first principle the cosmological is already there in the distinction between the two functions. And again, of course, there is no clear line of division between the cosmological and the teleological argument since in each case the question is of the relation between the absolute and the relative, between that which is in itself causal or exerts power, and that which is in itself an effect or is operated upon.

We find, in fact, that all arguments of this kind involve the logical dualism of the absolute and the relative and, at the same time, that no such theory can be stable or consistent because it can describe the absolute only in terms of empirical


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material which it has itself taken to be relative; so that the question is of clearing away all absolutes, all products of “vicious intellectualism”, in James' phrase, or, in the Socratic formulation in the Republic, of “removing hypotheses”, that is, in particular, hypotheses of any higher entity, of any difference of logical order.

Now in spite of the defects of Berkeley's theory, we find that in this respect he does proceed philosophically in removing Locke's hypothesis of matter as that which has certain powers whereby we get our ideas. Certainly the hypothesis of the idea as that whose nature it is to be known also requires to be removed, but at least Berkeley's criticism of Locke's doctrine is philosophically sound, and he brings out, in connection with Locke's theory of matter, precisely this point of the use of empirical material for the explanation of the supposed non-empirical or trans-empirical.

As Berkeley points out, we understand what is meant by “supporting”, as when we speak of one observable thing supporting another, and it is only on that account that there seems to be any meaning in Locke's doctrine of matter supporting qualities; but when we come to consider exactly what is meant in this case, we find that we are not acquainted with the allegedly supporting thing, that we cannot say what it is that supports qualities, and thus we cannot really justify the use of the term “supporting” in this connection. And, of course, similar arguments apply to all theories of self-supporting entities, of things which have ultimate reality or which have their reality in themselves.

At the same time, Berkeley adopts the philosophical theory of the purely active and the purely passive and thus


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substantially he adopts a theory of design because, however the matter may be expressed in detail, the question is of that which has its nature through something else, that whose nature it is to be thought about or that whose nature it is to be conceived, the position being logically similar to that of the Socratic particulars which have their reality in the forms.

In Berkeley's theory of significance we have a doctrine of the same sort as the design theory, a doctrine of things whose meaning lies in the activity of their creator or controller or anything at all distinct from themselves; and one main objection to this sort of theory is that we cannot tell what it is whose nature it is to be contrived or controlled, that we cannot find “being contrived” or “being controlled” as an actual mark of certain things whereby we could distinguish them from other things. In fact, in order to know that certain things are contrived we have to know them in their own character, also to know the character of the contriver and to know the relation between the two.




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Thus, as Philo in the Dialogues points out, when we see a house we infer that it was built by man, but this is only because we have known actual men going through certain operations whereby an actual house came into existence; it is not that we find “man-made” or “mentally contrived” as a character of the house itself; and hence there is no character which we can recognise in other things in connection with which we have not experienced such a relation, no character which would enable us to say that this also was mentally contrived.

There is also the difficulty in connection with the argument of Cleanthes on this point, namely, that if his conclusion


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were correct, there would be no question of an argument from analogy, that we should see this designed character in anything at all that we liked to consider just as much as we can see it in houses that we know to have been made by men. Then the point may be made that if there were a character of “being designed” in all things and if on that account we were able to say of each of them that it had a designer, then when we came upon anything of one of the kinds that we consider to be man-made, a house or a ship, we should not conclude, as we do conclude, that it was made by some man or men; we should be just as ready to imagine that it was made by the contriver of things in general and that no man had a hand in it. Now the fact that we do not do this shows that we do not recognise contrivance in things in general but recognise it only as a known relation between certain types of known things.

Also, in connection with this theory of contrivance, there is a difficulty similar to Berkeley's difficulty in connection with the theory of finite minds, that is, that these minds would also have to be regarded as contrivances of the original contriver and therefore not as themselves contrivers; that is, we should have the reduction of things in general, the so-called “universe”, to a system of ideas in a single infinite mind or else we should have to admit that there is no incompatibility between contriving and being contrived, and thus there would be no need for any pure or original contriver; it would be enough to say that so long as there are contrivers there can be contrived things. And apart from the particular question of contriving, there is the fact that we cannot separate the active from the passive or causes from effects.




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Again, in connection with the conception of the world as God's ideas, apart from any conception of another mind there is the same sort of difficulty in any design argument as there is in Berkeley's theory, namely, that “designing” or “making” or even “having things as objects” are definite relations or are asserted as relations and must be taken to hold between definite things; and the related things as well as the relation must be taken to be on the same level.

Lecture 22

Cleanthes Argument—Need for Empirical Support—Alexander's Conception of Assurance

Cleanthes says in Part II of the Dialogues where the general question is of an a posteriori proof of the existence of God:

“Look round the World, contemplate the Whole and every Part of it; and You will find it to be nothing but one great Machine subdivided into a finite Number of lesser machines, which again admit of Subdivisions 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 with an Accuracy, which ravishes into Admiration all Men, who have ever contemplated them. The curious adaptation of Means to Ends throughout all Nature resembles exactly tho' it much exceeds, the Productions of human Contrivance, of human Design, Thought, Wisdom and Intelligence. Since therefore, the Effects resemble one another, we are led to infer by all the Rules of Analogy that the Causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the Mind of Man tho' possess'd of much larger Faculties proportion'd to the Grandeur of the Work which he has executed. By this Argument a posteriori and by this Argument alone do we prove at once the Existence of a Deity and his similarity to human Mind and Intelligence.” (D., pp. 161–62.)

Now in criticism of these contentions we can say, first of all, and this is the main point, that Cleanthes makes an


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admission which robs his argument of all value when he says that contrivance is discoverable throughout all nature, or that there is nothing which does not bear the same marks as are borne by the productions of human contrivance. Now that means that we cannot distinguish the contrived from the uncontrived so as to ascribe certain peculiar marks to the former. If everything bears these marks, then naturally human contrivances will bear these marks, but that will be no argument in support of the view that these are marks of contrivance. As far as the human operations are concerned, the materials worked upon, the things not humanly contrived, bear the same marks as the things produced or humanly contrived, and thus if all things have these characters, then whether a thing was contrived or not it would have these characters; and the argument really is not an a posteriori argument from the special mode of operation of human contrivance conceived as the introduction of marks of design, but is rather an a priori argument, an argument of the cosmological type to the effect that everything in nature, whether it is worked upon by human beings or not, is necessarily dependent on some creator or source or has a certain subordinate form of existence.

Even such contentions, as we have seen, require a certain empirical support or require certain empirical knowledge if they are to be intelligible; that is, even to think of this dependent existence we must have some experience of the occasioning of one thing by another whether the latter is a mind or not. But there is nothing in this experience to warrant the conception of dependent or relative existence and of a corresponding self-subsistence.




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The position is, then, that the things we call machines and the things we do not call machines alike exhibit the adjustments that Cleanthes speaks of, and consequently we cannot trace this adjustment in the former case to the fact of their being machines and then conclude that the latter are machines produced by some non-human contrivance. If human beings produce certain things, then these things will have the marks, if there are marks, of things in general; and while it may be that these things, ships, houses, watches and the like are produced only by human beings, this will mean not that human beings produce things of a


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peculiarly designed, or contrived character but simply that they produce certain special classes of things, and this, as Philo points out, will be a matter of experience. That is, we shall know about ships not that they are in some peculiar way contrivances, or that they exhibit design or adjustment, but simply that they actually are produced by human beings. And what Cleanthes takes as the marks of design, are certain marks of things in general, things as such, namely, that they have certain ways of operating, and certain ways of reacting to their surroundings.

The adjustment of means to ends signifies simply that when something happens to these things, they do something else; when we wind a watch it goes, but this is no reason at all for calling “winding” in some peculiar sense a means and “going” an end. It is simply a question of the natural operations of things, and of their causal interactions with one another, so that the fundamental point here is a logical point, that is, it is a question of the conditions of existence as is indicated by the statements of Cleanthes himself, and although Philo does make the appeal to


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experience which helps to show the weakness of the position of Cleanthes, he does not definitely make the logical point, he does not challenge, in this fundamental way, the theory of marks of design, and it is on this account that at the end of the argument design is still assumed to be a mark of things even if it is contended that what we can infer from that fact is strictly limited.

Another important logical point arises in connection with the conception of the universe as a machine and a machine naturally of a grander type than any human contrivances. Now the general argument is: “All machines are designed by minds” (an assumption which we have seen to be unfounded if by a machine is merely meant “that which has characteristic modes of operation under various conditions”); “the universe is a machine not designed by human mind”, therefore, “the universe is designed by a non-human mind”.

Now apart from the conception of the universe, one objection to this argument is that unless there is independent evidence of the existence of a non-human mind, the example of a universe would lead us to doubt the first premise, namely, that “All machines are designed by minds”; that is, we should require to have some acquaintance with non-human minds before this argument would produce conviction, and consequently, we cannot take it as a proof of the existence of non-human minds, or a means whereby we could be led for the first time to suppose a non-human mind to exist.

The position is similar to that which arises in


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Alexander's article regarding our knowledge of minds other than our own. He criticises the ordinary analogical arguments, namely, that since we know that “Certain bodily processes are associated with certain mental operations of our own”, then when we find “Such bodily processes not associated with our own mental processes”, we assume that “They are associated with some other mental processes”, and thus we establish the existence of other minds. Alexander contends that we could not in this way arrive at the conception of another mind, and that unless we had independent knowledge of other minds, knowledge, which he describes by the term “assurance”, we should not make the inferences we do make in the case of observed bodily behaviour. This argument, of course, is quite independent of Alexander's special conception of assurance. All that is required is the admission of our acquaintance with other minds, and the position is that if we are not acquainted with other minds then we should simply assume that the bodily behaviour in question is not associated with any mind.

A similar criticism, of course, applies to Berkeley's theory of sensations which, because they are not under our control as he takes images to be, he infers to be under the control of another mind; and similarly with his theory of the things which can exist when we are not perceiving them because they are perceived by some other spirit. The point is that unless we are acquainted with spirits, and that would mean that they are on the same level


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as ideas and yet are independent things, we can formulate no theory of the controlling or sustaining of ideas by spirits.

This, then, is one line of objection to the argument that the universe is designed by a non-human mind, a mind which must have abilities equal to this great task, and this argument again takes the form of an appeal to experience. But, of course, there is also the argument not merely against the conception of the universe as a machine but against any conception of the universe as a specific and recognisable object. We are certainly not acquainted with any totality of operations or of adjustments of means to ends, let alone finding one great design in such a totality. We are acquainted not with nature but with things, and, observing the operations of things upon one another we have no need to suppose any general relations of contrivance, let alone one great author.

And there is the further point connected with the point already made in connection with Berkeley's theory of spirits and ideas, namely, that on his view we could not speak of anything as an idea; the least we could speak about would be a spirit having ideas, and we should be quite unable to say what it was that the spirit had. There is also the further point that if we are to speak of a universe or totality of things, then anything which could be spoken of as an author would be part of this totality, that is, would be one particular thing operating among others, producing various effects in them and also being operated on by them.




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Lecture 23

Occasioned and Contrived—The Conception of Totality—Complexity

If everything bears what Cleanthes regards as marks of contrivance and if these really are such as could only be imposed upon them by a contriver, then everything will be contrived, in fact, occasioning and contriving will be the same thing. But this raises the question, afterwards raised in another way by Philo, and being one of the commonest difficulties of such theories as this, of the contrivance of the contrivers, that is, how they in turn are contrived and by what, because unless


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we are going to have a logical dualism of contrivers and contrived, in which case we have to deny that “being contrived” is a feature of existing things and we should have to compare contrived things with uncontrived things, that is, things which we knew independently to be so, in order to see what marks the former had, or else we should have to say that every contriver is contrived; and at least the notion of one great contriver would have to be abandoned. And we certainly do find the very same characteristics, those which have been taken as the marks of contrivance, in things which contrive just as in things which are contrived; that is, when we think of minds, in particular, we think of them as having certain parts and aspects which all work together in certain ways so as to make possible the ways of operating that we recognise in minds. In order to be able to say that that is a mind we must recognise certain regular ways of behaving on its part and that means the fitting together of certain aspects or attitudes in a certain pattern.

If, then, this regularity and order, this possession of character, in a word, were a sign of being contrived, then all things, including all contrivers, would be contrived and there would be no question of the original contriver of the totality of things.




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Again, as we have already noted, any definite being that we could refer to as the original contriver would be part of the totality of things, and thus, anything that he could contrive, and anything that he contrived, would be less than the totality. That is, apart from the question of things surrounding that situation and showing that it is not a totality, the whole situation, “this contriver and his contrivances”, contains these two distinct elements, and these two elements themselves have to exist in the same way; and consequently any argument, from regular ways of working or the fitting together of parts, for one of them having a contriver, would likewise be an argument for the other having a contriver.

Now this is the line of argument that Cleanthes dismisses at a later stage in the discussion when he says that if he has found God as the contriver of things he does not require to concern himself with how God came to be. It is, of course, perfectly true that when we have found the cause of something we do not require to discover the cause of the cause, but we have a piece of perfectly definite information whatever information we might subsequently acquire. But while that is allowable in the treatment of causal relations in general, with the admission that the cause of the cause or of any event whatever could always be inquired into, it is another matter when the question is of the cause of things in general, because to say that it was caused is to say that there is something, which must, of course, be similarly among things in general, which it did not cause, apart from the fact that it itself is similarly among things in general and yet did not cause itself. To say, then, as Cleanthes does, that things together


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constitute one great machine and that there is a maker of that machine is to say that there is a thing that is not a thing. If, then, there were a totality it would have to include literally everything and there could be nothing outside it to make it.

That brings us to the question of what is meant when we say that there is a totality. We see that Cleanthes, by thinking of the maker of the universe, is not seriously thinking of it as a totality; and it is no more possible, even if we could distinguish between things passive and things active, to think of a totality of created things, or of creation as it is called, than to think of the totality of things in general. In fact, it is a mere assumption without any experience or serious argument to back it, because if we do think about something we call “creation” or the “world” then we can only think of it as certain things acting in certain ways, and consequently we could not make the logical distinction required.

And taking the things which are called machines, taking the things to which we should not attribute any power of contriving, we do not find that they constitute one great machine; that is, there is no situation which we could describe as the “world” or the total situation; there is no way of working which we could recognise as the way of working of the whole. If we had presented to us one total machine, then we could conceivably raise the question of how that machine came to be, just as we could raise the question of how other machines came to be, except that, as we have noted in contemplating it in this way, and in thinking of it as having conditions, we are already thinking of it as other than a totality. But actually there is no object to which Cleanthes can point and


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of which he can say “that is the world with all its parts and characters adjusted to each other”; there is no observable situation of all things working together, whether for good or for anything else. On the contrary, in any scientific inquiry, while we find adjustment, while we find certain ways of working, there is no formula that we can find that will cover all the phenomena in question, there is no law for every action of any thing or system that we like to take, but there is always diversity and there is always accident, that is, the influence of the working of other things which is not covered by the knowledge of a given number of ways of working; that is, there is always complexity and interaction, and so there is no possibility of recognising one great machine or one total way of working.

Not only so, but the complexity of each thing prevents us from regarding it as a mere machine. When we contrive anything there are always characters of the contrived thing which we did not anticipate, that is, there may be characters which we expected not to be there; but besides that, there are always characters which we were simply unaware of, and yet they are as much characters of the thing that we contrived as


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are any characters that we did anticipate.

Now the same applies to our voluntary actions, there being always characters of these actions which we were not aware of when we willed them. But in order to say that there is something more than we contrived about the things that we made, we have to recognise that, although we did make them or contrive them, they are independent things. And if it is argued that although this may be the case with human contrivances there is nothing at all


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about God's contrivances of God's creation of which God was not aware when he created it, then it can be answered, in the first place, that this destroys all analogy between God's contrivance and our contrivance and, in the second place, that it is a mere assumption that there could be a contriver who knew everything about his contrivances and that there can be nothing in his contrivances to prove that he did; again, that if he did know them he had to know something, that is, that the two terms in this relation of knowledge had to have independent existence; and thus the theory that anything at all could be a mere contrivance breaks down as we have seen any theory of relative existence to do.

Now in connection with this question, there is the further point raised by Philo of the order and connection of God's ideas that he put into effect in creating the world. It is not a sound objection to Philo's argument here to say that the theory of ideas is false because if we admit that certain beings contrive a certain order or arrangement of things, then we have to admit a certain order in them, even if we do not call this an arrangement of ideas. That is, in order to intend to create an ordered world, God would have to have a certain arrangement of intentions, a certain arrangement of gestures, towards the thing that he was going to create, and even if we take terms like “intention” and “gesture” simply as statements of relations, there is still implied a certain order of the related things, that is, of the things which intend as well as of the things which are intended. Consequently Philo's line of argument is sound, even if we reject the theory of ideas, namely, that complexity and order in the thing contrived imply complexity and order in the thing contriving and


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hence, if order required a contriver there would, Philo shows, have to be a contriver of the contriver.

What this general line of argument amounts to is, of course, simply the necessity of recognising the independent existence of things and at the same time their relations to other things, and a corresponding necessity of rejecting any conception of a thing that we could call the “whole”, with which goes the rejection of anything that we could call the “source” of things.

We see, then, that Philo approaches some of the main logical arguments against Cleanthes; but he does not succeed in establishing an independent logic which would really settle the question, and he is concerned for the most part with minor arguments, with pointing out the weaknesses of the analogies drawn by Cleanthes and indicating some of the difficulties regarding our detailed conception of a designer. But we can also say that Cleanthes himself approaches the logical position in rejecting the a priori arguments of Demea; but he also does not realise the consequences of his line of argument, or he would see that his own argument from design has a similar a priori basis, in other words, as Kant showed, that the physical-theological argument is reducible to the cosmological and ontological arguments.

Lecture 24

Totality continued—Single or Multiple Designer—Deity and Perfection

The fundamental difficulties, then, are connected with the notion of contrivance, the suggestion that there are certain peculiar marks of design and that there is a division of things into those which have the character of being contrived and those which have the character of contriving. But apart from a direct attack


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on that division, it can be pointed out that if we knew things only in that relative way, then even assuming that there are such things, we are still unable to say what precisely are their characters. And this is connected with the difficulty that Philo raises regarding anthropomorphism, that is, regarding the extent to which the contriver of things in general may be said to resemble human beings.

It is admitted by Cleanthes that while nature resembles human contrivances in certain respects it differs from them in other respects, and consequently we should have difficulty in determining just in what way the contriver of nature resembles and differs from the human contriver. Cleanthes makes the difference in the contrivances one of degree and consequently he says that the contriver of nature is possessed of larger faculties than man; but unless we have a direct acquaintance with the contriver of nature, we shall be quite unable to say what faculties are larger than man's faculties. In fact, our conception of these larger faculties will simply be based on our recognition of one man's having larger faculties than another, of his being a better and more intelligent contriver, and then we shall have to try to think of a being who is still better and more intelligent in proportion to the better working of his contrivances; and that means that we shall have to try to argue from the special characters of those contrivances to special characters of the contriver without having any notion in advance of what the latter characters could be like. And if this were so, we should, as Philo contends, have to end in a sceptical position; we should have to say that we could never be quite sure what the universal contriver was like, unless we are to contend that he is somehow bound up with his contrivances, that a knowledge of the


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character of the one is somehow at the same time a knowledge of the character of the other, just as in attempting to make Berkeley's theory consistent we should have to say that knowledge of ideas


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is at the same time knowledge of minds, or that the least that we could know was a mind having an idea, in which case we could not talk about a single idea at all.

Now if we consider human contrivances we find that it is not the case that we cannot think of them without thinking of their contrivers, and it is not the case that the characters of machines tell us of themselves about the characters of their makers. Similarly, then, it is not the case that nature tells us of itself about the character of its maker; it is not the case that in knowing nature we are at the same time knowing its maker; and if it were the case, there would be no question of an argument, analogical or any other, from nature to its maker or from certain of its characters to certain of his characters.

As before, all these arguments are seen to depend on experience; that is, we have to find out that a certain sort of thing is made by a certain sort of being, and we can as readily hold that certain things are not made at all as that they are not made by a certain kind of designer and therefore must be made by some other kind of designer. We hold, of course, that everything is made in the sense of being caused, but we do not find in this any indication of a totality of things made or any peculiarity of things made by design; and if we did, it could only be by contrasting them with things not made by design. And as we have already noted in connection with the notion of design or purpose, there are always characters of the designed thing that the designer was unaware of,


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and yet that he brought about just as definitely as those characters which he anticipated; and this indicates that whatever may be peculiar about the working of purpose or intention, it is not anything of a special logical type, not any peculiar kind of causality.

Now a further point in criticism of the argument of Cleanthes regarding the grandeur of the author of nature as compared with human designers is that, to establish his theory, he would require to show not merely a difference of degree as between the two different designers corresponding to the difference in grandeur of the things designed, but a difference of kind, and indeed a difference of order as the totality of things differs from individual things; and, of course, as we have already seen the totality of things would have to include not merely the human designers, who would thus themselves be simple contrivances, but also the original contriver, who thus could not be distinguished from his contrivance.

This point comes out in a rather obscure way in connection with Philo's contention that the universe may be God's body and thus may not be temporally subsequent to him and so would not be contrived by him. Also we find Cleanthes really going back on his position when he says that he would be quite satisfied with a theory of many gods operating as various men do, that is, that God may be finite, imperfect and many, just as men are, since it is on the analogy of men that we are arguing. Cleanthes says he would be quite satisfied so long as it was still admitted that there was design everywhere; but actually on that view he would be dropping his theory of the world as a total machine, and substituting for it a theory of various single contrivances which then would interact


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with one another in a perfectly natural manner without any reference to these interactions being contrived; so that there would not be design everywhere, and this is only another way of saying that even to think of a designed thing is to think of an independent thing, something which exists in itself and has its own ways of acting.

It also helps to bring out the point that we cannot think of a totality of things, and thus when Demea, as the more consistent logician, refuses to make the admission that Cleanthes had made, this only serves to bring out the point that Demea can give no account whatever of his all-causing deity, that his position is really a sceptical one, because he has to say that we can know only of the existence of God or that we must postulate his existence without knowing anything of his nature which is, in fact, incomprehensible to us. But, of course, if we know nothing of his nature, then we do not know what it is that exists, and consequently Demea's position is quite an empty one.

It is worth noting, however, that Cleanthes argues in a similar manner in a later part of the discussion, that is, after the argument about the existence of evil. It has been recognised that while nature exhibits the characters of the products of the most intelligent human beings, and in fact has these to an even higher degree, it does not exhibit the characters of the products of the most moral of human beings but has such characters to a lower degree. That is, the deity appears not to have human goodness to the same extent as he has human intelligence; and the conclusion is that man has greater intelligence than he has goodness, that is, that there is something not quite good enough about human goodness.


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(Philo actually draws this conclusion, but it is not rejected by Cleanthes; the point is that it is just as sceptical a view as that of Demea because it means that we can come to conclusions about things that we know by comparing them with standards which we do not know, or that we gain greater understanding of things by reference to the incomprehensible).

Nevertheless, this is quite a common type of argument, the type of argument which tries to make out that God's goodness is of a higher nature than our goodness, and that we cannot fully comprehend his design, or we should see that all that we reckon evil has a place in this total design; and meanwhile, we have to take it as a matter of faith, which simply means that we are to reject the knowledge that we do possess


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in favour of this postulate of a total and perfect design. Descartes argues in a somewhat similar manner in comparing the perfection of deity with the imperfections of human beings and the errors that they fall into on account of their finite intelligence. And, of course, one definite objection to all such arguments concerning our limited intelligence is that it is our limited intelligence that is putting forward these arguments, and if there is any dubiety about our ability to understand these matters, then there is equal dubiety about this particular theory; and the same applies to any criticism of the instrument or doubt as to our capacity for knowing.

The general position is, then, not that we must assume that there is a total design which we cannot adequately comprehend but that we do not find any such total design and, if the matter is argued out logically, that we do not even know what can be meant by a total design. As far as concerns Philo's part in the argument


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we must remember that he has a certain satirical purpose, but considering the dialogues as a treatment of certain philosophical questions, we can say that their main weakness is precisely that the questions are not argued out to their logical conclusion and that the fundamental logical issues are frequently lost sight of.

Lecture 25

Totality continued—The Question of Evil—Hume's Concern for Minor Points—Main Logical Argument Ignored

As we saw, Cleanthes is prepared even to allow the conclusion that the contriver of things is finite and imperfect, and even many just as the contrivers of works of human skill are; he will be satisfied, he says, provided that we do admit design as a general character of things. But, of course, this does not really satisfy the requirements of a theistic argument, as Demea points out. That is, if it is the case that everything has its contriver, then again we are in the position to recognise that these contrivers have contrivers and in the end the notion will be reduced to that of causation and so we shall have the ordinary pluralistic theory of things.

But there is still the main implication that we cannot argue to a single contriver of things unless we have a single thing or a total order to argue from, and if Cleanthes admits that there is no such total order, then he is admitting that there is not design everywhere, an admission which is implied in saying that various things called contrivances have relations and interactions which are not contrived as well as having characters which are not contrived, even if it were only those characters which they acquire through such interactions.

And then there is also the point that even the most


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extensive contrivance that we can recognise, even what Cleanthes might choose to call the total order or scheme of things, has to be distinguished from its contriver, and therefore is not total and therefore, again interacts with the being who is said to have contrived it; so that on no showing can we find contrivance to be a character of things in general. We must always recognise these accidental or contingent characters, as they may be called. In other words, we must recognise natural action, and this is an objection not merely to the special notion of design, but to the general notion of creation.

Now we find that Philo, at the end of Part VIII of the Dialogues, actually raises this issue and questions the conception of creation as when he says that

“the Equality of Action and Reaction seems to be a Universal Law of Nature; But your [Cleanthes'] Theory implies a Contradiction to this Experience.” (D., p. 213.)

But having raised this question which goes to the root of the whole matter, Philo immediately falls back on scepticism and calls for suspense of judgment, which is only to say that he is unwilling to press his arguments to their logical conclusion or that he does not see that his criticisms of Cleanthes themselves imply a logical position.

We see, then, his concern with minor points, or Hume's concern with minor points, in the discussion of generation as opposed to design as the principle of things and the discussion of evils, although we must remember that the attempt is being made to cover the general ground of theological argument. In the matter of the suggestion of generation as the principle of the universe,


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it has to be pointed out that this is really begging the question, that is, that the argument from design implies the finding of marks or alleged marks of design in generation as well as in anything else. It is, of course, contended that the world resembles the things produced by generation more than the things produced by design, that is, produced by human foresight. But this is to imply that we begin by contrasting things produced by design with things produced not by design, in which case the argument from design would be without foundation. On the other hand, as we have already seen, if we cannot make that distinction, then we are taking as marks of design certain characters of all existing things, and here the fundamental weakness of the argument comes out.

The particular question of evil is approached by a discussion regarding the a priori arguments, a discussion introduced by Demea, and the rejection by Cleanthes of arguments of the ontological type. The contention that nothing is demonstrable unless the contrary implies a contradiction, is, of course, in accordance with the position taken up by Hume himself in the Treatise.

Now the position of Demea is easily seen to be a sceptical one because it implies the acceptance of something which we do not understand as giving a general explanation of things, this being somewhat similar to Kant's theory of the regulative principle governing the operations of understanding; that is, the ways in which we are compelled to think, even if we cannot find the empirical basis for doing so. To say, then, that if we could fully understand God's designs we could see the place of evils in the scheme of things, and that meanwhile we should believe that such an explanation can be given, and that in the end all evils will


  ― 145 ―
be rectified or compensated for; that is an attempt to base knowledge on ignorance, and to give as an explanation of the facts what is really a denial of the facts, because if great evils do exist, then they cannot be compensated for, and no wider knowledge would enable us to see that they are not really evil after all.

The position of Cleanthes is, of course, that the evils which exist are not great, but Philo points out that a benevolent and omnipotent God could have accomplished his designs without introducing any evil at all, and thus we find Philo, although he gives up his objections to design in general, maintaining that arguments from experience do not prove the existence of a morally good architect or designer, that such arguments,


  ― 38 ―
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arguments for natural religion, can only prove the existence of a designer who is not morally good. Such arguments, or the system of natural religion, would, of course, then be contrasted with revelation; that is, with a direct knowledge of a good God, or a God with certain positive characters apart from any argument from nature.

And Philo, in thus expressing a preference for revealed as against natural religion is again bringing out one of the fundamental difficulties of natural religion or of any representational theory, any theory according to which we have got to acquire knowledge of a certain sort of being indirectly, the main objection being that if we did not have direct knowledge of that sort of thing, then we cannot say that that sort of thing would have the given effects or the given manifestations; we cannot even say what sort of thing it is, and so Demea is right in saying that we are appealing to something incomprehensible even if he is wrong in believing that such a theory can be supported.




  ― 146 ―
But as regards the general relation between natural and revealed religion it may be said that they stand or fall together, that in natural religion there must be the suggestion of some object of which we have direct knowledge, apart from the difficulty of regarding revelation as a peculiar sort of direct knowledge, or else we could not know what conclusion to draw from the arguments for natural religion or what sort of thing was supposed to be established. On the other hand, revealed religion must depend on some of the arguments of natural theology because if we had direct acquaintance with any particular thing, then we should think of it as one natural thing among others, and in order to assign to it any special function, in order to say that it was really a religious object, we should require already to have developed a theory of such function, creation or design or what not; otherwise there would be no question of calling the experience a peculiarly religious experience; that is, the two types of argument hang together just as the ontological and the cosmological arguments do, the ontological being for something of a peculiarly supporting character, and thus being cosmological, and the cosmological being for something which exists in itself and thus being ontological.

And if we have observed the logical confusions of these two arguments, then we find that if anything at all can be said about religious objects, it can only be that they are a class of things having some special character just as human beings have a certain special character or any other class of things and that these things exist among other things and have interactions with them, so that the question is simply that of the possibility of pointing to certain objects and saying these have the religious


  ― 147 ―
character, and not of the assigning of any higher order of existence to such objects than to others.

But, of course, nothing is said in the Dialogues to indicate what these objects could be or where they are to be found. The attempt is simply made to base a theory of such objects on an analysis of the characters of things; that is, the attempt is made to derive a theory of different orders of existence from a theory of the conditions of existence in general, and such arguments are bound to be illogical.

That, then, is apart from any special difficulties regarding an analogy between human contrivances and other things which may or may not be contrivances, and regarding the possibility of arguing from the character of things contrived to the character of the contriver. Philo shows the inconclusiveness of some of these arguments, but this demonstration does not really add to the force of the main logical arguments employed, the arguments, that is, concerning the conditions of existence and the possibility of conceiving a totality of things.

Lecture 26

Incoherence of Scepticism—Hume's Appeal to Custom—Implies Objective Truth—Rationalistic Conception of Distinct Existence—What Exists are Situations or Propositions

We have seen, in connection with the Dialogues, that while, in a number of cases Philo presents arguments which are such as to bring out the untenability of the position of Cleanthes, he does not work out these arguments to their logical conclusion; that is, he does not build upon the basis of these arguments a logical position, a theory of the conditions of existence which would definitely settle the kind of question that Cleanthes is


  ― 148 ―
raising; and we note that, in particular, in the end of Part VIII of the Dialogues, Philo, after putting forward views which would cut at the root of the whole theory of creation, falls back on the sceptical position, on the suggestion that there is no way in which these questions can be finally settled and that we must suspend our judgment.

Now if that were so, it would be equally necessary for us to suspend our judgment on the particular argument that Philo has put forward; in fact, it would be impossible for us to put forward any such argument. To put forward an argument of any kind is to recognise that there are objective truths and that there are conditions of proof whether our particular argument satisfies them or not, and that is possible only if there are conditions of existence; and if we considered exactly what was implied in the conditions of proof or in any particular proof offered, we should see what are the conditions of existence; in other words, a sceptical position is connected with a failure to work out arguments to their logical conclusion, and the sceptic is a person who wishes to be in a position to accept proofs or to reject them just as it suits him, in other words, one who adopts an opportunist position.

This position can be found exemplified in Hume's attitude in the Treatise as well as in Philo's attitude in the Dialogues; for example, in the discussion of scepticism in Part IV of Book I of the Treatise and again in the sceptical conclusion in the appendix to the Treatise, at the end of Volume II. Thus in Section I of Part IV dealing with scepticism with regard to reason, Hume again affirms the truth of his hypothesis:




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“that all our reasonings concerning causes and effects are deriv'd from nothing but custom; and that belief is more properly an act of the sensitive, than of the cogitative part of our natures.” T., p. 183.

Now this, while being a sceptical, is an incoherent position because Hume professes to have objective knowledge of the different parts of our natures, that is, he professes to have true beliefs on those subjects, and thus he implies that there can be a logical treatment of beliefs according as they are true of false, as they are proved or disproved, independent of a psychological treatment, or a consideration of how we come to hold the beliefs.

Incidentally, it is only on a basis of confusion of these questions that it could be thought that there is a sensitive as contrasted with a cogitative part of our natures; that is, there is nothing in the fact that what believes consists of feelings or emotions to suggest that what is believed


  ― 39 ―
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cannot be true or cannot be well founded; and therefore there is no ground for the suggestion that there is a purely cogitative part of our nature, that is, one which is defined by reference to its object and not in its own character, as if because certain activities of ours had characters of their own, they could not be interested in or directed to objective facts.

So, again, in speaking about custom, Hume assumes the objective operation of causality, and the fact that our reasonings concerning causality are themselves caused is nothing against our recognition of actual causal relations or the existence of these relations themselves but rather implies it. As we noted in dealing with Hume's theory of necessary connection, Hume speaks of a mental transition without recognising the fact that what we say is that


  ― 150 ―
there is an actual transition, that is, that the question is of our making assertions of the form “A, and consequently B”, that is, of our recognition of this relation of consequence as part of the objective situation, and not of our recognising A and consequently or subsequently recognising B. That is, we do make statements of the form “A causes B”, and Hume's theory is insufficient to account for our making such statements. Even then if it was because we became accustomed to a certain sequence that we came to believe the proposition “A causes B” this does not explain the meaning of the proposition and, in particular, it does not make the relation of causing any less objective than A and B. Thus if we work out the implications of Hume's own statements we see that they imply an objective truth which he fails consistently to uphold.

Thus when he asks how it happens that after all we retain a degree of belief which is sufficient for our purpose either in philosophy or in common life, the answer is that he has said nothing to occasion us to weaken any of our beliefs, and that if he had, it would only be because we believed what he said, and thus it would not affect the question of belief in general. But this, of course, is opposed to the theory of suspension of judgment or to the acceptance of inclining reasons as against impeding reasons, because even to say that an argument has a tendency to make us believe some proposition is to imply that there are actual relations


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of implication. That is, it indicates not that there are relations of partial implication, but that we are not quite sure whether there is implication or not. But if there is and if we accept the premises, then we have to accept the conclusion; and if there is not, or if we do not accept the premises, then no reason whatever, not even an “inclining” reason, has been given for our accepting the conclusion. Since, then, there is no such thing as half proof, there is no reason for suspension of judgment; we cannot say that Philo's arguments are very persuasive and so are the arguments of Cleanthes, and so it is impossible for us to make up our mind on the subject, though this is the attitude many people do take up. But if Philo and Cleanthes come to opposite conclusions, then that shows that there is something wrong with the argument of one or the other, and it should be our concern to find out what is wrong in either case.

The same sort of question arises in Kant's antinomies. Kant cannot reasonably say that reason is compelled to argue in these opposite ways; if that were so, he could not go on to criticise the antithetical arguments; on the contrary, if we accept the argument on one side of the antinomy, we are bound to say that the argument on the other side is unsound. Thus no support has been found for the demand for suspension of judgment.

Now similar considerations apply to Hume's discussion of “scepticism with regard to the senses”. Thus he says

“We may quite well ask, What causes induce us to believe in the existence of body? but 'tis in vain to ask, Whether there be body or not? That is a point which we must take for granted in all our reasonings” T., p. 187.

But if it had to be merely taken for granted, if we had no direct


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acquaintance with bodies, then we should be entitled, as Berkeley shows, to reject the whole conception of body and we should have to develop a theory of ideas without reference to bodies at all.

Thus the sceptical position here is a merely confused one, and if Hume were correct in his initial theory of impressions and ideas, then the term “body” would be one to which we could attach no meaning at all. In fact, as we have seen by an analysis of Hume's arguments, any theory that we can propound, even the theory of ideas, implies not that we have to take body for granted or assume any other problematical theory of the source of ideas, but that we have a direct acquaintance with independent existence.

Now Hume says that “as to the independency of our perceptions on ourselves…can never be an object of the senses” (T., p. 191), our perception there meaning what we perceive. Hume implies, then, not merely that the things we perceive are dependent on our senses, but that they are perceived to be so, and cannot be perceived otherwise. Now this is simply false; what we perceive, we do not perceive as dependent on us, and of course even if a thing did depend on us in the sense of being determined by our action, it would still not have an existence relative to us, but would exist independently in the way that our action had determined; and it is only by knowing it in that way and knowing our action in the same way, that is, as an independent thing, that we would be in a position to say that we had determined it. But this recognition of independent existence on the part of ourselves and of the things we act on is quite incompatible with Hume's theory of perceptions, according to which we have no direct acquaintance with body, and


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according to which we should have no acquaintance with mind, not even in Hume's terms as a heap or collection of different perceptions.

If we consider the logical consequences of this recognition of aggregation, or of things being together, then we shall see that this also implies independent existence, and thus cuts at the root of Hume's theory of perceptions. It is not clearly then, that Hume, as he himself admits, cannot account for personal identity; it is that he cannot account for any existence at all in terms of his relativism.

Again, as regards Hume's sceptical conclusion in the Appendix, where he says that

“there are two principles which I cannot render consistent, nor is it in my power to renounce either of them, namely, that All our distinct perceptions are distinct existences and that the mind never perceives any real connection between distinct existences” (T., p. 636)

we see that in speaking of consistency and of the possible renunciation of views, Hume again implies objective truth; and if these principles really are inconsistent, then one or other of them must be ill-founded and a theory which implies them both cannot be accepted. Thus the problem is to find what is wrong with these principles, and what is fundamentally wrong with them is this rationalistic conception of a distinct existence. As against that, we have to say that what exists is situations or propositions, something involving distinctions and connections, and which, when we


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are aware of it, has always further distinctions and connections that we are unaware of, something, in fact, having spatio-temporal occurrence.

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