I scruple not to allow, said Cleanthes, that I have been apt to suspect the frequent repetition of the word, infinite, which we meet with in all theological writers, to savour more of panegyric than of philosophy, and that any purposes of reasoning, and even of religion, would be better served, were we to rest contented with more accurate and more moderate expressions. The terms, admirable, excellent, superlatively great, wise, and holy; these sufficiently fill the imaginations of men; and any thing beyond, besides that it leads into absurdities, has no influence on the affections or sentiments. Thus, in the present subject, if we abandon all human analogy, as seems your intention, Demea, I am afraid we abandon all religion, and retain no conception of the great object of our adoration. If we preserve human analogy, we must for ever find it impossible to reconcile any mixture of evil in the universe with infinite attributes; much less, can we ever prove the latter from the former. But supposing the Author of Nature to be finitely perfect, though far exceeding mankind; a satisfactory account may then be given of natural and moral evil, and every untoward phenomenon be explained and adjusted. A less evil may then be chosen, in order to avoid a greater: Inconveniencies be submitted to, in order to reach a desirable end: And in a word, benevolence, regulated by wisdom, and limited by necessity, may produce just such a world as the present. You, Philo, who are so prompt at starting views, and reflections, and analogies; I would gladly hear, at length, without interruption, your opinion of this new theory; and if it deserve our attention, we may afterwards, at more leisure, reduce it into form.
My sentiments, replied Philo, are not worth being made a mystery of; and therefore, without any ceremony, I shall deliver what occurs to me, with regard to the present subject. It must, I think, be allowed, that, if a very limited intelligence, whom we shall suppose utterly unacquainted with the universe, were assured, that it were the production of a very good, wise, and powerful being, however finite, he would, from his conjectures, form beforehand a different notion of it from what we |find it to be by experience; nor would he ever imagine, merely from these attributes of the cause, of which he is informed, that the effect could be so full of vice and misery and disorder, as it appears in this life. Supposing now, that this person were brought into the world, still assured, that it was the workmanship of such a sublime and benevolent Being; he might, perhaps, be surprised at the disappointment; but would never retract his former belief, if founded on any very solid argument; since such a limited intelligence must be sensible of his own blindness and ignorance, and must allow, that there may be many solutions of those phenomena, which will for ever escape his comprehension. But supposing, which is the real case with regard to man, that this creature is not antecedently convinced of a supreme intelligence, benevolent, and powerful, but is left to gather such a belief from the appearances of things; this entirely alters the case, nor will he ever find any reason for such a conclusion. He may be fully convinced of the narrow limits of his understanding; but this will not help him in forming an inference concerning the goodness of superior powers, since he must form that inference from what he knows, not from what he is ignorant of. The more you exaggerate his weakness and ignorance, the more diffident you render him, and give him the greater suspicion, that such subjects are beyond the reach of his faculties. You are obliged, therefore, to reason with him merely from the known phenomena, and to drop every arbitrary supposition or conjecture.
Did I show you a house or palace, where there was not one apartment convenient or agreeable; where the windows, doors, fires, passages, stairs, and the whole œconomy of the building were the source of noise, confusion, fatigue, darkness, and the extremes of heat and cold; you would certainly blame the contrivance, without any farther examination. The architect would in vain display his subtilty, and prove to you, that if this door or that window were altered, greater ills would ensue. What he says, may be strictly true: The alteration of one particular, while the other parts of the building remain, may only augment the inconveniencies. But still you would assert in general, that, if the architect had had skill and good intentions, he might have formed such a plan of the whole, and might have adjusted the parts in such a manner, as would have remedied all or most of these inconveniencies. His |ignorance, or even your own ignorance of such a plan, will never convince you of the impossibility of it. If you find many inconveniencies and deformities in the building, you will always, without entering into any detail, condemn the architect.
In short, I repeat the question: Is the world, considered in general, and as it appears to us in this life, different from what a man or such a limited Being would, beforehand, expect from a very powerful, wise, and benevolent Deity? It must be strange prejudice to assert the contrary. And from thence I conclude, that, however consistent the world may be, allowing certain suppositions and conjectures, with the idea of such a Deity, it can never afford us an inference concerning his existence. The consistence is not absolutely denied, only the inference. Conjectures, especially where infinity is excluded from the divine attributes, may, perhaps, be sufficient to prove a consistence; but can never be foundations for any inference.
There seem to be four circumstances, on which depend all, or the greatest part of the ills, that molest sensible creatures; and it is not impossible but all these circumstances may be necessary and unavoidable. We know so little beyond common life, or even of common life, that, with regard to the œconomy of a universe, there is no conjecture, however wild, which may not be just; nor any one, however plausible, which may not be erroneous. All that belongs to human understanding, in this deep ignorance and obscurity, is to be sceptical, or at least cautious; and not to admit of any hypothesis, whatever; much less, of any which is supported by no appearance of probability. Now this I assert to be the case with regard to all the causes of evil, and the circumstances, on which it depends. None of them appear to human reason, in the least degree, necessary or unavoidable; nor can we suppose them such, without the utmost licence of imagination.
The first circumstance which introduces evil, is that contrivance or œconomy of the animal creation, by which pains, as well as pleasures, are employed to excite all creatures to action, and make them vigilant in the great work of self-preservation. Now pleasure alone, in its various degrees, seems to human understanding sufficient for this purpose. All animals might be constantly in a state of enjoyment; but when urged by any of the necessities of nature, such as thirst, hunger, |weariness; instead of pain, they might feel a diminution of pleasure, by which they might be prompted to seek that object, which is necessary to their subsistence. Men pursue pleasure as eagerly as they avoid pain; at least, might have been so constituted. It seems, therefore, plainly possible to carry on the business of life without any pain. Why then is any animal ever rendered susceptible of such a sensation? If animals can be free from it an hour, they might enjoy a perpetual exemption from it; and it required as particular a contrivance of their organs to produce that feeling, as to endow them with sight, hearing, or any of the senses. Shall we conjecture, that such a contrivance was necessary, without any appearance of reason? and shall we build on that conjecture as on the most certain truth?
But a capacity of pain would not alone produce pain, were it not for the second circumstance, viz. the conducting of the world by general laws; and this seems no wise necessary to a very perfect being. It is true; if every thing were conducted by particular volitions, the course of nature would be perpetually broken, and no man could employ his reason in the conduct of life. But might not other particular volitions remedy this inconvenience? In short, might not the Deity exterminate all ill, where-ever it were to be found; and produce all good, without any preparation or long progress of causes and effects?
Besides, we must consider, that, according to the present œconomy of the world, the course of Nature, though supposed exactly regular, yet to us appears not so, and many events are uncertain, and many disappoint our expectations. Health and sickness, calm and tempest, with an infinite number of other accidents, whose causes are unknown and variable, have a great influence both on the fortunes of particular persons and on the prosperity of public societies: and indeed all human life, in a manner, depends on such accidents. A being, therefore, who knows the secret springs of the universe, might easily, by particular volitions, turn all these accidents to the good of mankind, and render the whole world happy, without discovering himself in any operation. A fleet, whose purposes were salutary to society, might always meet with a fair wind: Good princes enjoy sound health and long life: Persons, born to power and authority, be framed with good tempers and virtuous dispositions. A few such events as these, regularly |and wisely conducted, would change the face of the world; and yet would no more seem to disturb the course of Nature or confound human conduct, than the present œconomy of things, where the causes are secret, and variable, and compounded. Some small touches, given to Caligula's brain in his infancy, might have converted him into a Trajan: one wave, a little higher than the rest, by burying Cæsar and his fortune in the bottom of the ocean, might have restored liberty to a considerable part of mankind. There may, for aught we know, be good reasons, why Providence interposes not in this manner; but they are unknown to us: and though the mere supposition, that such reasons exist, may be sufficient to save the conclusion concerning the divine attributes, yet surely it can never be sufficient to establish that conclusion.
If every thing in the universe be conducted by general laws, and if animals be rendered susceptible of pain, it scarcely seems possible but some ill must arise in the various shocks of matter, and the various concurrence and opposition of general laws: But this ill would be very rare, were it not for the third circumstance, which I proposed to mention, viz. the great frugality, with which all powers and faculties are distributed to every particular being. So well adjusted are the organs and capacities of all animals, and so well fitted to their preservation, that, as far as history or tradition reaches, there appears not to be any single species, which has yet been extinguished in the universe. Every animal has the requisite endowments; but these endowments are bestowed with so scrupulous an œconomy, that any considerable diminution must entirely destroy the creature. Where-ever one power is encreased, there is a proportional abatement in the others. Animals, which excel in swiftness, are commonly defective in force. Those, which possess both, are either imperfect in some of their senses, or are oppressed with the most craving wants. The human species, whose chief excellency is reason and sagacity, is of all others the most necessitous, and the most |deficient in bodily advantages; without cloaths, without arms, without food, without lodging, without any convenience of life, except what they owe to their own skill and industry. In short, Nature seems to have formed an exact calculation of the necessities of her creatures; and like a rigid master, has afforded them little more powers or endowments, than what are strictly sufficient to supply those necessities. An indulgent parent would have bestowed a large stock, in order to guard against accidents, and secure the happiness and welfare of the creature, in the most unfortunate concurrence of circumstances. Every course of life would not have been so surrounded with precipices, that the least departure from the true path, by mistake or necessity, must involve us in misery and ruin. Some reserve, some fund would have been provided to ensure happiness; nor would the powers and the necessities have been adjusted with so rigid an œconomy. The author of Nature is inconceivably powerful: his force is supposed great, if not altogether inexhaustible: nor is there any reason, as far as we can judge, to make him observe this strict frugality in his dealings with his creatures. It would have been better, were his power extremely limited, to have created fewer animals, and to have endowed these with more faculties for their happiness and preservation. A builder is never esteemed prudent, who undertakes a plan, beyond what his stock will enable him to finish.
In order to cure most of the ills of human life, I require not that man should have the wings of the eagle, the swiftness of the stag, the force of the ox, the arms of the lion, the scales of the crocodile or rhinoceros; much less do I demand the sagacity of an angel or cherubim. I am contented to take an encrease in one single power or faculty of his soul. Let him be endowed with a greater propensity to industry and labour; a more vigorous spring and activity of mind; a more constant bent to business and application. Let the whole species possess naturally an equal diligence with that which many individuals are able to attain by habit and reflection; and the most beneficial consequences, without any allay of ill, |is the immediate and necessary result of this endowment. Almost all the moral, as well as natural evils of human life arise from idleness; and were our species, by the original constitution of their frame, exempt from this vice or infirmity, the perfect cultivation of land, the improvement of arts and manufactures, the exact execution of every office and duty, immediately follow; and men at once may fully reach that state of society, which is so imperfectly attained by the best-regulated government. But as industry is a power, and the most valuable of any, Nature seems determined, suitably to her usual maxims, to bestow it on men with a very sparing hand; and rather to punish him severely for his deficiency in it, than to reward him for his attainments. She has so contrived his frame, that nothing but the most violent necessity can oblige him to labour; and she employs all his other wants to overcome, at least in part, the want of diligence, and to endow him with some share of a faculty, of which she has thought fit naturally to bereave him. Here our demands may be allowed very humble, and therefore the more reasonable. If we required the endowments of superior penetration and judgement, of a more delicate taste of beauty, of a nicer sensibility to benevolence and friendship; we might be told, that we impiously pretend to break the order of Nature, that we want to exalt ourselves into a higher rank of being, that the presents which we require, not being suitable to our state and condition, would only be pernicious to us. But it is hard; I dare to repeat it, it is hard, that being placed in a world so full of wants and necessities; where almost every being and element is either our foe or refuses its assistance - - - we should also have our own temper to struggle with, and should be deprived of that faculty, which can alone fence against these multiplied evils.
The fourth circumstance, whence arises the misery and ill of the universe, is the inaccurate workmanship of all the springs and principles of the great machine of nature. It must be acknowledged, that there are few parts of the universe, which seem not to serve some purpose, and whose removal would not produce a visible defect and disorder in the whole. The parts hang all together; nor can one be touched without affecting the rest, in a greater or less degree. But at the same |time, it must be observed, that none of these parts or principles, however useful, are so accurately adjusted, as to keep precisely within those bounds, in which their utility consists; but they are, all of them, apt, on every occasion, to run into the one extreme or the other. One would imagine, that this grand production had not received the last hand of the maker; so little finished is every part, and so coarse are the strokes, with which it is executed. Thus, the winds are requisite to convey the vapours along the surface of the globe, and to assist men in navigation: but how oft, rising up to tempests and hurricanes, do they become pernicious? Rains are necessary to nourish all the plants and animals of the earth: but how often are they defective? how often excessive? Heat is requisite to all life and vegetation; but is not always found in the due proportion. On the mixture and secretion of the humours and juices of the body depend the health and prosperity of the animal: but the parts perform not regularly their proper function. What more useful than all the passions of the mind, ambition, vanity, love, anger? But how oft do they break their bounds, and cause the greatest convulsions in society? There is nothing so advantageous in the universe, but what frequently becomes pernicious, by its excess or defect; nor has Nature guarded, with the requisite accuracy, against all disorder or confusion. The irregularity is never, perhaps, so great as to destroy any species; but is often sufficient to involve the individuals in ruin and misery.
On the concurrence, then, of these four circumstances does all, or the greatest part of natural evil depend. Were all living creatures incapable of pain, or were the world administered by particular volitions, evil never could have found access into the universe: and were animals endowed with a large stock of powers and faculties, beyond what strict necessity requires; or were the several springs and principles of the universe so accurately framed as to preserve always the just temperament and medium; there must have been very little ill in comparison of what we feel at present. What then shall we pronounce on this occasion? Shall we say, that these circumstances are not necessary, and that they might easily have been altered in the contrivance of the universe? This decision seems too presumptuous for creatures, so blind and ignorant. Let |us be more modest in our conclusions. Let us allow, that, if the goodness of the Deity (I mean a goodness like the human) could be established on any tolerable reasons a priori, these phenomena, however untoward, would not be sufficient to subvert that principle; but might easily, in some unknown manner, be reconcilable to it. But let us still assert, that as this goodness is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can be no grounds for such an inference, while there are so many ills in the universe, and while these ills might so easily have been remedied, as far as human understanding can be allowed to judge on such a subject. I am Sceptic enough to allow, that the bad appearances, notwithstanding all my reasonings, may be compatible with such attributes as you suppose: But surely they can never prove these attributes. Such a conclusion cannot result from Scepticism; but must arise from the phenomena, and from our confidence in the reasonings, which we deduce from these phenomena.
Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organized, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children.
Here the Manichæan system occurs as a proper hypothesis to solve the difficulty: and no doubt, in some respects, it is very specious, and has more probability than the common hypothesis, by giving a plausible account of the strange mixture of good and ill, which appears in life. But if we consider, on the other hand, the perfect uniformity and agreement of the parts of the universe, we shall not discover in it any marks of the combat of a malevolent with a benevolent being. There |is indeed an opposition of pains and pleasures in the feelings of sensible creatures: but are not all the operations of Nature carried on by an opposition of principles, of hot and cold, moist and dry, light and heavy? The true conclusion is, that the original source of all things is entirely indifferent to all these principles, and has no more regard to good above ill than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light above heavy.
There may four hypotheses be framed concerning the first causes of the universe; that they are endowed with perfect goodness, that they have perfect malice, that they are opposite and have both goodness and malice, that they have neither goodness nor malice. Mixt phenomena can never prove the two former unmixt principles. And the uniformity and steadiness of general laws seem to oppose the third. The fourth, therefore, seems by far the most probable.
What I have said concerning natural evil will apply to moral, with little or no variation; and we have no more reason to infer, that the rectitude of the supreme Being resembles human rectitude than that his benevolence resembles the human. Nay, it will be thought, that we have still greater cause to exclude from him moral sentiments, such as we feel them; since moral evil, in the opinion of many, is much more predominant above moral good than natural evil above natural good.
But even though this should not be allowed, and though the virtue, which is in mankind, should be acknowledged much superior to the vice; yet so long as there is any vice at all in the universe, it will very much puzzle you Anthropomorphites, how to account for it. You must assign a cause for it, without having recourse to the first cause. But as every effect must have a cause, and that cause another; you must either carry on the progression in infinitum, or rest on that original principle, who is the ultimate cause of all things - - - - - -
Hold! Hold! cried Demea: Whither does your imagination hurry you? I joined in alliance with you, in order to prove the incomprehensible nature of the divine Being, and refute the principles of Cleanthes, who would measure every thing by a human rule and standard. But I now find you |running into all the topics of the greatest libertines and infidels; and betraying that holy cause, which you seemingly espoused. Are you secretly, then, a more dangerous enemy than Cleanthes himself?
And are you so late in perceiving it? replied Cleanthes. Believe me, Demea; your friend Philo, from the beginning, has been amusing himself at both our expence; and it must be confessed, that the injudicious reasoning of our vulgar theology has given him but too just a handle of ridicule. The total infirmity of human reason, the absolute incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature, the great and universal misery and still greater wickedness of men; these are strange topics surely to be so fondly cherished by orthodox divines and doctors. In ages of stupidity and ignorance, indeed, these principles may safely be espoused; and perhaps, no views of things are more proper to promote superstition, than such as encourage the blind amazement, the diffidence, and melancholy of mankind. But at present - - - - - -
Blame not so much, interposed Philo, the ignorance of these reverend gentlemen. They know how to change their style with the times. Formerly it was a most popular theological topic to maintain, that human life was vanity and misery, and to exaggerate all the ills and pains, which are incident to men. But of late years, divines, we find, begin to retract this position, and maintain, though still with some hesitation, that there are more goods than evils, more pleasures than pains, even in this life. When religion stood entirely upon temper and education, it was thought proper to encourage melancholy; as indeed, mankind never have recourse to superior powers so readily as in that disposition. But as men have now learned to form principles, and to draw consequences, it is necessary to change the batteries, and to make use of such arguments as will endure, at least some scrutiny and examination. This variation is the same (and from the same causes) with that which I formerly remarked with regard to Scepticism.
Thus Philo continued to the last his spirit of opposition, and his censure of established opinions. But I could observe, that Demea did not at all relish the latter part of the discourse; and he took occasion soon after, on some pretence or other, to leave the company.
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.
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