Hume Texts Online

PART I.

D 1.1, KS 130

AFterTER I joined the company, whom I found sitting in Cleanthes's library, Demea paid Cleanthes some compliments, on the great care, which he took of my education, and on his unwearied perseverance and constancy in all his friendships. The father of Pamphilus, said he, was your intimate friend: The son is your pupil, and may indeed be regarded as your adopted son; were we to judge by the pains which you bestow in conveying to him every useful branch of literature and science. You are no more wanting, I am persuaded, in prudence than in industry. I shall, therefore, communicate to you a maxim which I have observed with regard to my own children, that I may learn how far it agrees with your practice. The method I follow in their education is founded on the saying of an ancient, That students of philosophy ought first to learn Logics, then Ethics, next Physics, last of all, the Nature of the gods[1]. This science of Natural Theology, according to him, being the most profound and abstruse of any, required the maturest judgement in its students; and none but a mind, enriched with all the other sciences, can safely be entrusted with it.

D 1.2, KS 130-1

Are you so late, says Philo, in teaching your children the principles of religion? Is there no danger of their neglecting or rejecting altogether those opinions, of which they have heard so little, during the whole course of their education? It is only as a science, replied Demea, subjected to human reasoning and disputation, that I postpone the study of Natural Theology. To season their minds with early piety is my chief care; and by continual precept and instruction, and I hope too, by example, I imprint deeply on their tender minds an habitual reverence for all the principles of religion. While they pass through every other science, I still remark the uncertainty of each part, the eternal disputations of men, the obscurity of all philosophy, and the strange, ridiculous conclusions, which some of the greatest geniuses have derived from the principles of mere human reason. Having thus tamed |their mind to a proper submission and self-diffidence, I have no longer any scruple of opening to them the greatest mysteries of religion, nor apprehend any danger from that assuming arrogance of philosophy, which may lead them to reject the most established doctrines and opinions.

D 1.3, KS 131-2

Your precaution, says Philo, of seasoning your childrenschildren's minds with early piety, is certainly very reasonable; and no more than is requisite, in this profane and irreligious age. But what I chiefly admire in your plan of education, is your method of drawing advantage from the very principles of philosophy and learning, which, by inspiring pride and self-sufficiency, have commonly, in all ages, been found so destructive to the principles of religion. The vulgar, indeed, we may remark, who are unacquainted with science and profound enquiry, observing the endless disputes of the learned, have commonly a thorough contempt for Philosophy; and rivet themselves the faster, by that means, in the great points of Theology, which have been taught them. Those, who enter a little into study and enquiry, finding many appearances of evidence in doctrines the newest and most extraordinary, think nothing too difficult for human reason; and presumptuously breaking through all fences, profane the inmost sanctuaries of the temple. But Cleanthes will, I hope, agree with me, that, after we have abandoned ignorance, the surest remedy, there is still one expedient left to prevent this profane liberty. Let Demea's principles be improved and cultivated: Let us become thoroughly sensible of the weakness, blindness, and narrow limits of human reason: Let us duly consider its uncertainty and endless contrarieties, even in subjects of common life and practice: Let the errors and deceits of our very senses be set before us; the insuperable difficulties, which attend first principles in all systems; the contradictions, which adhere to the very ideas of matter, cause and effect, extension, space, time, motion; and in a word, quantity of all kinds, the object of the only science, that can fairly pretend to any certainty or evidence. When these topics are displayed in their full light, as they are by some philosophers and almost all divines; who can retain such confidence in this frail faculty of reason as to pay any regard to its determinations in points so sublime, so abstruse, so remote from common life and experience? When the |coherence of the parts of a stone, or even that composition of parts, which renders it extended; when these familiar objects, I say, are so inexplicable, and contain circumstances so repugnant and contradictory; with what assurance can we decide concerning the origin of worlds, or trace their history from eternity to eternity?

D 1.4, KS 132

While Philo pronounced these words, I could observe a smile in the countenance both of Demea and Cleanthes. That of Demea seemed to imply an unreserved satisfaction in the doctrines delivered: But in Cleanthes's features, I could distinguish an air of finesse; as if he perceived some raillery or artificial malice in the reasonings of Philo.

D 1.5, KS 132

You propose then, Philo, said Cleanthes, to erect religious faith on philosophical scepticism; and you think, that if certainty or evidence be expelled from every other subject of enquiry, it will all retire to these theological doctrines, and there acquire a superior force and authority. Whether your scepticism be as absolute and sincere as you pretend, we shall learn by and by, when the company breaks up: We shall then see, whether you go out at the door or the window; and whether you really doubt, if your body has gravity, or can be injured by its fall; according to popular opinion, derived from our fallacious senses and more fallacious experience. And this consideration, Demea, may, I think, fairly serve to abate our ill-will to this humorous sect of the sceptics. If they be thoroughly in earnest, they will not long trouble the world with their doubts, cavils, and disputes: If they be only in jest, they are, perhaps, bad ralliers, but can never be very dangerous, either to the state, to philosophy, or to religion.

D 1.6, KS 132-3

In reality, Philo, continued he, it seems certain, that though a man, in a flush of humour, after intense reflection on the many contradictions and imperfections of human reason, may entirely renounce all belief and opinion; it is impossible for him to persevere in this total scepticism, or make it appear in his conduct for a few hours. External objects press in upon him: Passions solicit him: His philosophical melancholy dissipates; and even the utmost violence upon his own temper will not be able, during any time, to preserve the poor appearance of scepticism. And for what |reason impose on himself such a violence? This is a point, in which it will be impossible for him ever to satisfy himself, consistently with his sceptical principles: So that upon the whole nothing could be more ridiculous than the principles of the ancient Pyrrhonians; if in reality they endeavoured, as is pretended, to extend throughout, the same scepticism, which they had learned from the declamations of their schools, and which they ought to have confined to them.

D 1.7, KS 133

In this view, there appears a great resemblance between the sects of the Stoics and Pyrrhonians, though perpetual antagonists: and both of them seem founded on this erroneous maxim, That what a man can perform sometimes, and in some dispositions, he can perform always, and in every disposition. When the mind, by Stoical reflections, is elevated into a sublime enthusiasm of virtue, and strongly smit with any species of honour or public good, the utmost bodily pain and sufferance will not prevail over such a high sense of duty; and 'tis possible, perhaps, by its means, even to smile and exult in the midst of tortures. If this sometimes may be the case in fact and reality, much more may a philosopher, in his school, or even in his closet, work himself up to such an enthusiasm, and support in imagination the acutest pain or most calamitous event, which he can possibly conceive. But how shall he support this enthusiasm itself? The bent of his mind relaxes, and cannot be recalled at pleasure: Avocations lead him astray: Misfortunes attack him unawares: And the philosopher sinks by degrees into the plebeian.

D 1.8, KS 133-4

I allow of your comparison between the Stoics and Sceptics, replied Philo. But you may observe, at the same time, that though the mind cannot, in Stoicism, support the highest flights of philosophy, yet even when it sinks lower, it still retains somewhat of its former disposition; and the effects of the Stoic's reasoning will appear in his conduct in common life, and through the whole tenor of his actions. The ancient schools, particularly that of ZENO, produced examples of virtue and constancy, which seem astonishing to present times. |

Vain Wisdom all and false Philosophy.
Yet with a pleasing sorcery could charm
Pain, for a while, or anguish, and excite
Fallacious Hope, or arm the obdurate breast
With stubborn Patience, as with triple steel.

In like manner, if a man has accustomed himself to sceptical considerations on the uncertainty and narrow limits of reason, he will not entirely forget them when he turns his reflection on other subjects; but in all his philosophical principles and reasoning, I dare not say, in his common conduct, he will be found different from those, who either never formed any opinions in the case, or have entertained sentiments more favourable to human reason.

D 1.9, KS 134

To whatever length any one may push his speculative principles of scepticism, he must act, I own, and live, and converse like other men; and for this conduct he is not obliged to give any other reason, than the absolute necessity he lies under of so doing. If he ever carries his speculations farther than this necessity constrains him, and philosophises, either on natural or moral subjects, he is allured by a certain pleasure and satisfaction, which he finds in employing himself after that manner. He considers besides, that every one, even in common life, is constrained to have more or less of this philosophy; that from our earliest infancy we make continual advances in forming more general principles of conduct and reasoning; that the larger experience we acquire, and the stronger reason we are endued with, we always render our principles the more general and comprehensive; and that what we call philosophy is nothing but a more regular and methodical operation of the same kind. To philosophise on such subjects is nothing essentially different from reasoning on common life; and we may only expect greater stability, if not greater truth, from our philosophy, on account of its exacter and more scrupulous method of proceeding.

D 1.10, KS 134-5

But when we look beyond human affairs and the properties of the surrounding bodies: When we carry our speculations into the two eternities, before and after the present state of |things; into the creation and formation of the universe; the existence and properties of spirits; the powers and operations of one universal spirit, existing without beginning and without end; omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, infinite, and incomprehensible: We must be far removed from the smallest tendency to scepticism not to be apprehensive, that we have here got quite beyond the reach of our faculties. So long as we confine our speculations to trade, or morals, or politics, or criticism, we make appeals, every moment, to common sense and experience, which strengthen our philosophical conclusions, and remove (at least, in part) the suspicion, which we so justly entertain with regard to every reasoning, that is very subtile and refined. But in theological reasonings, we have not this advantage; while at the same time we are employed upon objects, which, we must be sensible, are too large for our grasp, and of all others, require most to be familiarised to our apprehension. We are like foreigners in a strange country, to whom every thing must seem suspicious, and who are in danger every moment of transgressing against the laws and customs of the people, with whom they live and converse. We know not how far we ought to trust our vulgar methods of reasoning in such a subject; since, even in common life and in that province, which is peculiarly appropriated to them, we cannot account for them, and are entirely guided by a kind of instinct or necessity in employing them.

D 1.11, KS 135-6

All sceptics pretend, that, if reason be considered in an abstract view, it furnishes invincible arguments against itself, and that we could never retain any conviction or assurance, on any subject, were not the sceptical reasonings so refined and subtile, that they are not able to counterpoise the more solid and more natural arguments, derived from the senses and experience. But it is evident, whenever our arguments lose this advantage, and run wide of common life, that the most refined scepticism comes to be upon a footing with them, and is able to oppose and counterbalance them. The one has no more weight than the other. The mind must remain in |suspense between them; and it is that very suspense or balance, which is the triumph of scepticism.

D 1.12, KS 136

But I observe, says Cleanthes, with regard to you, Philo, and all speculative sceptics, that your doctrine and practice are as much at variance in the most abstruse points of theory as in the conduct of common life. Where-ever evidence discovers itself, you adhere to it, notwithstanding your pretended scepticism; and I can observe too some of your sect to be as decisive as those, who make greater professions of certainty and assurance. In reality, would not a man be ridiculous, who pretended to reject Newton's explication of the wonderful phenomenon of the rainbow, because that explication gives a minute anatomy of the rays of light; a subject, forsooth, too refined for human comprehension? And what would you say to one, who having nothing particular to object to the arguments of Copernicus and Galilæo for the motion of the earth, should with-hold his assent, on that general principle, That these subjects were too magnificent and remote to be explained by the narrow and fallacious reason of mankind?

D 1.13, KS 136-7

There is indeed a kind of brutish and ignorant scepticism, as you well observed, which gives the vulgar a general prejudice against what they do not easily understand, and makes them reject every principle, which requires elaborate reasoning to prove and establish it. This species of scepticism is fatal to knowledge, not to religion; since we find, that those who make greatest profession of it, give often their assent, not only to the great truths of Theism, and natural theology, but even to the most absurd tenets, which a traditional superstition has recommended to them. They firmly believe in witches; though they will not believe nor attend to the most simple proposition of Euclid. But the refined and philosophical sceptics fall into an inconsistence of an opposite nature. They push their researches into the most abstruse corners of science; and their assent attends them in every step, proportioned to the evidence, which they meet with. They are even obliged to acknowledge, that the most abstruse and remote objects are those, which are best explained by philosophy. Light is in reality anatomized: The true system of the heavenly bodies is discovered and ascertained. But the nourishment of bodies by food is still |an inexplicable mystery: The cohesion of the parts of matter is still incomprehensible. These sceptics, therefore, are obliged, in every question, to consider each particular evidence apart, and proportion their assent to the precise degree of evidence, which occurs. This is their practice in all natural, mathematical, moral, and political science. And why not the same, I ask, in the theological and religious? Why must conclusions of this nature be alone rejected on the general presumption of the insufficiency of human reason, without any particular discussion of the evidence? Is not such an unequal conduct a plain proof of prejudice and passion?

D 1.14, KS 137

Our senses, you say, are fallacious, our understanding erroneous, our ideas even of the most familiar objects, extension, duration, motion, full of absurdities and contradictions. You defy me to solve the difficulties, or reconcile the repugnancies, which you discover in them. I have not capacity for so great an undertaking: I have not leisure for it: I perceive it to be superfluous. Your own conduct, in every circumstance, refutes your principles; and shows the firmest reliance on all the received maxims of science, morals, prudence, and behaviour.

D 1.15, KS 137

I shall never assent to so harsh an opinion as that of a celebrated writer[2], who says, that the sceptics are not a sect of philosophers: They are only a sect of liars. I may, however, affirm, (I hope, without offence) that they are a sect of jesters or ralliers. But for my part, whenever I find myself disposed to mirth and amusement, I shall certainly chuse my entertainment of a less perplexing and abstruse nature. A comedy, a novel, or at most a history, seems a more natural recreation than such metaphysical subtilties and abstractions.

D 1.16, KS 137-8

In vain would the sceptic make a distinction between science and common life, or between one science and another. The arguments, employed in all, if just, are of a similar nature, and contain the same force and evidence. Or if there be any difference among them, the advantage lies entirely on the side of theology and natural religion. Many principles of mechanics |are founded on very abstruse reasoning; yet no man, who has any pretensions to science, even no speculative sceptic, pretends to entertain the least doubt with regard to them. The Copernican system contains the most surprising paradox, and the most contrary to our natural conceptions, to appearances, and to our very senses: yet even monks and inquisitors are now constrained to withdraw their opposition to it. And shall Philo, a man of so liberal a genius, and extensive knowledge, entertain any general undistinguished scruples with regard to the religious hypothesis, which is founded on the simplest and most obvious arguments, and, unless it meets with artificial obstacles, has such easy access and admission into the mind of man?

D 1.17, KS 138-9

And here we may observe, continued he, turning himself towards Demea, a pretty curious circumstance in the history of the sciences. After the union of philosophy with the popular religion, upon the first establishment of Christianity, nothing was more usual, among all religious teachers, than declamations against reason, against the senses, against every principle, derived merely from human research and enquiry. All the topics of the ancient Academics were adopted by the Fathers; and thence propagated for several ages in every school and pulpit throughout Christendom. The Reformers embraced the same principles of reasoning, or rather declamation; and all panegyrics on the excellency of faith were sure to be interlarded with some severe strokes of satire against natural reason. A celebrated prelate too[3], of the Romish communion, a man of the most extensive learning, who wrote a demonstration of Christianity, has also composed a treatise, which contains all the cavils of the boldest and most determined Pyrrhonism. Locke seems to have been the first Christian, who ventured openly to assert, that faith was nothing but a species of reason, that religion was only a branch of philosophy, and that a chain of arguments, similar to that which established any truth in morals, politics, or physics, was always employed in discovering all the principles of theology, natural and revealed. The ill use, which Bayle and other libertines made of the philosophical scepticism of the fathers and first reformers, |still farther propagated the judicious sentiment of Mr Locke: and it is now, in a manner, avowed, by all pretenders to reasoning and philosophy, that Atheist and Sceptic are almost synonymous. And as it is certain, that no man is in earnest, when he professes the latter principle; I would fain hope, that there are as few, who seriously maintain the former.

D 1.18, KS 139

Don't you remember, said Philo, the excellent saying of Lord Bacon on this head? That a little philosophy, replied Cleanthes, makes a man an Atheist: a great deal converts him to religion. That is a very judicious remark too, said Philo. But what I have in my eye is another passage, where, having mentioned David's fool, who said in his heart there is no God, this great philosopher observes, that the Atheists now-a-days have a double share of folly: for they are not contented to say in their hearts there is no God, but they also utter that impiety with their lips, and are thereby guilty of multiplied indiscretion and imprudence. Such people, though they were ever so much in earnest, cannot, methinks, be very formidable.

D 1.19, KS 139-40

But though you should rank me in this class of fools, I cannot forbear communicating a remark, that occurs to me from the history of the religious and irreligious scepticism, with which you have entertained us. It appears to me, that there are strong symptoms of priestcraft in the whole progress of this affair. During ignorant ages, such as those which followed the dissolution of the ancient schools, the priests perceived, that Atheism, Deism, or heresy of any kind, could only proceed from the presumptuous questioning of received opinions, and from a belief, that human reason was equal to every thing. Education had then a mighty influence over the minds of men, and was almost equal in force to those suggestions of the senses and common understanding, by which the most determined sceptic must allow himself to be governed. But at present, when the influence of education is much diminished, and men, from a more open commerce of the world, have learned to compare the popular principles of different nations and ages, our sagacious divines have changed their whole system of philosophy, and talk the language of Stoics, Platonists, and Peripatetics, not that of Pyrrhonians and Academics. If we distrust human reason, we have now no other principle to lead us into religion. Thus, sceptics in one age, dogmatists |in another; whichever system best suits the purpose of these reverend gentlemen, in giving them an ascendant over mankind, they are sure to make it their favorite principle, and established tenet.

D 1.20, KS 140

It is very natural, said Cleanthes, for men to embrace those principles, by which they find they can best defend their doctrines; nor need we have any recourse to priestcraft to account for so reasonable an expedient. And surely, nothing can afford a stronger presumption, that any set of principles are true, and ought to be embraced, than to observe, that they tend to the confirmation of true religion, and serve to confound the cavils of Atheists, Libertines, and Freethinkers of all denominations.


D 1.n1, KS 130
1.

Chrysippus apud Plut. de repug. Stoicorum.

D 1.n2, KS 137
2.

L'Art de penser.

D 1.n3, KS 138
3.

Mons. Huet.

image of manuscript page 5 image of manuscript page 6 image of manuscript page 7 image of manuscript page 8 image of manuscript page 9 image of manuscript page 10 image of manuscript page 11 image of manuscript page 12 image of manuscript page 13 image of manuscript page 14

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779)

prepared by Peter Millican

Hume’s final masterpiece was mostly written in 1751-2, apparently revised around 1757 and again in 1761, with the last revision taking place only in 1776 when he was very close to death (the timing of these revisions is carefully discussed by M. A. Stewart, “The Dating of Hume’s Manuscripts”, in Paul B. Wood, The Scottish Enlightenment: Essays in Reinterpretation, University of Rochester Press, 2000, chapter 9). Dissuaded by friends from publishing such a controversial work in his lifetime, Hume planned to leave the manuscript to one of his closest, Adam Smith. But Smith was clearly reluctant to publish, so the dying Hume decided instead to entrust it to William Strahan, his printer, through a codicil to his will dated 7th August 1776 (he died on 25th August): “I … leave my Manuscripts to the Care of Mr William Strahan … I desire, that my Dialogues concerning Natural Religion may be printed and published any time within two Years after my Death; … I also ordain, that if my Dialogues from whatever Cause, be not published within two Years and a half after my Death … the Property shall return to my Nephew, David, whose Duty, in publishing them as the last Request of his Uncle, must be approved of by all the World.” Meanwhile he ordered two copies to be made, one of them to remain with his nephew, who in the event kept the original manuscript from which he ultimately brought the work to publication in 1779. The text here follows that first 1779 edition, with a minimal number of editorial changes where clear mistakes can be identified (consulting the manuscript in appropriate cases).

Uniquely amongst Hume’s major philosophical works, we still possess the entire original manuscript, preserved by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and housed in the National Library of Scotland (to both of which we are very grateful for providing such excellent images). It is made public for the first time on this website, and provides intriguing clues to both the composition and interpretation of a work whose very dialogue form serves to camouflage Hume’s intentions. It is divided into 12 parts (after a short introduction), involving three main characters, and mostly consists of an analysis and critical discussion of the popular Design Argument for God’s existence, at the time widely considered the decisive proof of theism. Just as in Section 11 of the first Enquiry, this dialogue form allows Hume to canvass “dangerous” opinions without committing himself to them, resulting in much debate as to which of the characters—or what combination of their views—best reflects his own position.

After a few preliminaries, Part 1 provides a discussion of scepticism that gives valuable insights into the “mitigated scepticism” which Hume had reached as the concluding position of his first Enquiry (E 12.24-34). The Design Argument is presented in Part 2 by Cleanthes, the advocate for “experimental Theism” (D 5.2), who appeals to the analogy between the intricately ordered universe and a complex machine. Philo—the “careless sceptic” (D Intro.6) who is generally thought to be Hume’s main spokesman—goes on to attack this argument, objecting that the supposed analogy is too distant to sustain any reliable inference (D 2.17-24). The third main character Demea—introduced as a believer of “rigid orthodoxy” (D Intro.6)—joins with Philo in attacking Cleanthes’ “anthropomorphism”, but is himself taken to task by Cleanthes for the opposite vice of “mysticism”, which by insisting that God is entirely incomprehensible in human terms, becomes indistinguishable from atheism (D 4.1-3).

Parts 5 to 8 are mostly taken up with Philo’s inventive proferring of numerous alternative analogies, by which he effectively ridicules Cleathes’ Design Argument. Rather than a machine, the universe might more properly be compared to a ship or city, produced not by a single perfect designer, but by a succession of many fallible workers who slowly learn their craft by trial and error (D 5.7-12). Its intricate order, so far from being like that of “a watch or a knitting-loom” (D 7.3), is more like that of an animal or plant, which derive from generation or vegetation rather than design (D 6-7). Philo even suggests reviving “the old Epicurean hypothesis” (D 8.2), accounting for the universe’s apparent order in terms of stable patterns that arise purely by chance — many of Hume’s readers have seen here a possible foreshadowing of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In Part 9, Demea recommends abandoning Cleathes’ “argument a posteriori” in favour of “the simple and sublime argument a priori” which is strongly reminiscent of Samuel Clarke. Now it is Cleanthes’ turn to attack, efficiently dismissing Demea’s argument in an entirely Humean spirit (compare D 9.5 with E 12.28). Demea’s reaction is to admit that his belief in God is based not on reasoning but on “a consciousness of his imbecility and misery … Wretched creatures that we are! what resource for us amidst the innumerable ills of life, did not Religion … appease those terrors …” (D 10.1). Philo now joins with Demea in emphasising the horrors of the world (Parts 11 and 12 together constituting one of the classic discussions of the Problem of Evil), but he ultimately presses the argument well beyond the boundaries that Demea has in mind, towards the conclusion that any creator is likely to be morally indifferent (D 11.15) or even immoral (D 11.16-17). Demea, clearly upset by this turn of events, “took occasion soon after, on some pretence or other, to leave the company” (D 11.21), leaving Cleanthes and Philo to finish the discussion in the famously perplexing Part 12.

The notorious puzzle of the Dialogues is how to make sense of Philo’s apparent volte-face in which, having criticised the Design Argument so heavily in the earlier parts, he ends up advocating the argument himself (e.g. D 12.2-4), and ultimately accepting on this basis “That the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence” (D 12.33), a passage commonly known as “Philo’s confession”. There are several themes running through Part 12 that might help to explain (or explain away) this apparent inconsistency, for example Philo’s suggestion at D 12.6-7 that the level of analogy between the human mind and the supposed divine mind is a matter of degree, making the debate between theists and atheists largely verbal. If this is really the ultimate upshot of the debate — as might seem to be confirmed by the authorial footnote 11 (although that concerns “the dispute between the Sceptics and Dogmatists”, and makes no mention of religion) — then Philo’s apparent confession of faith amounts to virtually nothing at all. Nevertheless his overt expression of “veneration for true religion” (D 12.9) has a point within the dialogue, by giving him licence to launch a fierce attack on the contrasting moral corruptions of “vulgar superstition” (D 12.11-21). “True religion, I allow, has no such pernicious consequences” (D 12.23), he says, but one has to wonder whether his appeal to “true religion” here is mere window-dressing, a way of avoiding universal censure and rejection of the views that he is expressing, by purporting to stand up for a virtuous form of religion which supposedly encapsulates “genuine Theism” (D 12.24), but which is in fact conspicuous by its absence in the real world of religious practice. Philo’s unflattering picture of popular religion portrays it as corrupting morality by “raising up a new and frivolous species of merit”, tending to “weaken … men’s attachment to the natural motives of justice and humanity”, and promoting hypocrisy (D 12.16-17). So far from being founded on reason, its psychological basis lies in fear and misery (D 12.25-30), and Philo again emphasises the contrast between such vulgar superstition and the minimal abstract true religion of “philosophical Theists” (D 12.32) before delivering his somewhat surprising confession. He ends on an even more surprising note, remarking that because reason is unable to establish more than a minimal theism, “A person, seasoned with a just sense of the imperfections of natural reason, will fly to revealed truth with the greatest avidity … To be a philosophical Sceptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian” (D 12.33).

Those familiar with Hume’s rejection of “revealed truth” (e.g. E 10.40) and his penchant for “theological lying” (as perhaps exemplified most clearly in the first and last paragraphs of his essay Of the Immortality of the Soul) might well consider that Philo is being patently insincere in his final flourish of devout fideism. But Philo is not Hume, and it is therefore possible that his intended role is to portray a genuine sceptical fideist on the model of Pierre Bayle. Hume’s message must then be read not directly from what Philo says, but from the artfully constructed Dialogues as a whole. And this is where the value of his physical manuscript becomes most apparent, enabling us to see some of the stages by which that artful construction took place. Those wanting to follow this up in detail are advised to consult Stewart’s article mentioned above, and one illustration must suffice here.

If you go to Page 79 of the manuscript, on the right-hand side of the sreen you will see the printed text of the Dialogues (as in the first 1779 edition), and on the left-hand side, Hume’s handwritten page. Many traces of revision and deletion are evident, and about halfway down a sign “BB” indicating a place for insertion (just after the line “he is justly suppos’d to bear a considerable Resemblance?”). Looking back now to the text at the left of the screen, scroll down until you come to the corresponding point in the printed version, where “BB” is highlighted in blue to show that it is an active link. Clicking on this blue text will now bring up manuscript page 87 on the left of the screen, showing the “BB” insertion as written by Hume. The “AA” insertion (containing footnote 11 mentioned above) is also on this page, but notice how different the two passages look. This is because the “BB” insertion, which extends over to the last page of the manuscript (click on the “next page” button at the top right) was added as Hume was dying, and the deterioration in his handwriting is very evident. The text around the page break here is highly significant: “… I ask [the Atheist], whether, from the coherence and apparent Sympathy in all the parts of this world, there be not a certain degree of analogy among all the operations of Nature, in every situation and in every age; whether the rotting of a Turnip, the generation of an animal, and the structure of human thought be not energies that probably bear some remote analogy to each other: It is impossible he can deny it … Having obtain’d this Concession, I push him still farther in his retreat; and I ask him, if it be not probable, that the Principle which first arrang’d, and still maintains order in this universe, bears not also some remote inconceivable analogy to the other operations of Nature, and among the rest to the Oeconomy of human Mind and Thought. However reluctant, he must give his Assent. …” Note how this passage (which Stewart calls Hume’s “dying testament to posterity”), while purporting to put pressure on the atheist, in fact serves to undermine completely the force of Philo’s celebrated “confession”: the cause or causes of order in the universe might indeed bear some remote analogy to human intelligence, but no more than to the rotting of a turnip, and this clearly does not amount to any theism worthy of the name! Moreover these are the only two passages in all of Hume’s writings to use the phrase “remote analogy” — and they share the entire phrase “probably bear some remote analogy” — so it seems overwhelmingly likely that they are intended to be read together. Here we have a wonderful example of Hume’s clever composition, hiding a message within the very last paragraph that he ever wrote for publication, so that it might later be discovered and appropriately understood by his discerning readers. That message is Hume’s, but not apparently Philo’s, for Philo remains a Baylean fideist, but this evidence strongly suggests that Hume was far closer to what we would call atheism.

Display Options

By default, the edited version of the text is shown (see the notes on the Edited Versions). When displaying the edited text, check the “Show Changes” option to see the editorial interventions we have made. Deletions will appear with a line through them, and additions underlined; by hovering your mouse over the change, you will see a brief explanation of the edit. Our interventions are minimal, consisting mostly of changes sanctioned by Hume himself, together with corrections of just a few very obvious errors.

Alternatively, you can deselect the “Edited Version” option to see the original edition, a faithful reproduction of the copytext save for some systematic and insignificant changes intended to make the text easier to read and navigate (see the notes on the Original Editions). Note that this affects the text against which your search queries are tested as well, though the option can also be set on the Search page.

Page numbers from standard editions are shown alongside each paragraph. For paragraphs that range over more than one page, page breaks can be displayed in the text as a pipe symbol (|), by checking “Show Page Breaks”.