The Dialogues concerning Natural Religion — Long consideration and repeated revision of them — Their publication Hume's anxiety for his friends' difficulties with — Style Cicero — Words and things Quintilian — Styles old and new — The earlier works — The Treatise — The Enquiry Rosenkranz — Hume's provision — Locke Berkeley — Ideas — Connection in them — Applied to the question of a Deity — Of a Particular Providence — Extension of the cause inferred to he proportioned only to that of the given effect — Applied to the cause of the world — Natural theology to Hume — Chrysippus in Plutarch — Greek — The order of argumentation — The ontological — Matter the necessary existence — The cosmological answers that — Infinite contingencies insufficient for one necessity — The teleological — Analogy inapplicable — Hume's own example.
Gifford Lecture the Thirteenth.
IN passing now to those works of Hume which more especially regard our precise subject we are naturally led in so far as literary considerations still influence us to the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. At the time of his death these Dialogues it seems had been under their author's hands for no less than twenty-seven years—exactly the judicial nine years three times over!—twenty-seven years during which they had been the subjects of innumerable revisions corrections alterations emendations and modifications of all kinds. I daresay we do not doubt now that what was principally concerned in these was the matter of style. “Stylus est optimus magister eloquentiae style is the supreme master of eloquence” a quotation of his own from Quintilian seems to have been ever present to Hume's mind as his constant guide in writing. So it is we find that these twenty-seven years have eventuated in effecting for the Dialogues in question a perfect finish and a polish ultimate. Doubtless it is in his belief of this that their author manifests so much anxiety in regard to their posthumous publication. In his will he leaves his manuscripts to the care of Adam Smith with power to judge in respect of the whole of them the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion alone excepted: these Dialogues are to be published absolutely. It would appear now that in Hume's circle these dispositions of his will leaked out somehow and became known; for already before his death there is question of these Dialogues between Hume and his friends. His biographer Burton (ii. 491) says “Elliot was opposed to the publication of this work; Blair pleaded strongly for its suppression; and Smith who had made up his mind that he would not edit the work seems to have desired that the testamentary injunction laid on him might be revoked.” Hume was not to be baulked. He becomes sensitive on this subject of his Dialogues: “If I live a few years longer I shall publish them myself” he says; and after various rejected propositions losing patience even with Smith he by a codicil to his will retracts his previous destinations and leaves his “manuscripts to the care of Mr. “William Strahan of London” with the express condition that the Dialogues on Religion shall be “printed and published any time within two years after his death.” But the anxieties of Hume even after signature of this codicil were not yet at an end. He is found to have returned to it and to have tacked on to it a paragraph—to the effect that if his Dialogues were not published within two years and a half after his death he “ordained” the property to return to his “nephew David whose duty in publishing them as the last request of his uncle must be approved of by all the world.” And this David it was who did in the end publish the work; for Strahan too had found it prudent to flinch. After so much gingerliness on the part of so many of the dearest friends of Hume one expects to find something very dreadful in the book. So far however as I may judge Hume to use the phrase had written much more dreadfully on the same subject before. The essay Of a Particular Providence in the Enquiry for example certainly seems to me to have left the Dialogues relatively nothing of any importance to add.
What strikes us at once in these is as I have said the style. One would think that Hume in his admiration of Cicero whether in point of matter or in point of form had taken Cicero's various dialogues mostly written in his own academic spirit into serious study and emulation; and had pleased himself with the idea that as he resorted to the Latin of Cicero so in a far distant future with deaths of nations perhaps men would resort to his English—for a like enlightenment of opinion and even purity of prose! For indeed it is Cicero that is the model to these writings of Hume and not Plato; though the simplicity of the latter may seem to have no less place in them than the ineffaceable labour of the former. It is really as Cicero has his Cotta and his Velleius his Varro and his Atticus and not as Plato has his Socrates and his Hippias and the rest that Hume has his young man Pamphilus writing didactically to his young friend Hermippus of what Philo and Demea and his guardian Cleanthes said to each other in the library of the last. “My youth rendered me a mere auditor of their disputes” says Pamphilus; “and that curiosity natural to the early season of life has so deeply imprinted in my memory the whole chain and connection of their arguments that I hope I shall not omit or confound any considerable part of them in the recital” That sentence in a way is a specimen of the whole; every word in it has been anxiously chosen; and every clause has received its place from a sufficient trial of the ear. The actual dialogue proceeds altogether as the circumstances suggest: we are in the society of the refined of the polite who are perfect in their consideration each of the other and whose lips drop pearls. All here indeed is so very fine that every the least particular of it seems to have been cut by hand—to have been pared polished trimmed—nay actually to have been smoothed and finished off with morsels of window-glass and relays of sand-paper. But it remains a question whether Hume has not precisely made a mistake in what was so very dear to him. Even Lord Brougham who was the last man I suppose that wrote such things dropped the Hermippus's and the Pamphilus's and took to the Althorps the Greys and others the like around him. It is to be feared that Hume here and elsewhere indeed has in despite of his well-thumbed Quintilian sinned precisely in the way which Quintilian reprobates—maintaining this namely that insist on words as you may you must not in the first place for all that neglect things which are as the nerves in causes verbal eloquence being a very good thing certainly in the second place “but only when it comes naturally and is not affected” (Quintil. viii. Introd. 18). It is to be feared I say that Hume has not been sufficiently on his guard in this respect; for all here is all too fine; all here is truly so very fine that it largely fails to impress. They will always no doubt maintain their historical place and importance; but I know not that there are many in these days who make much case of these Dialogues. The Ciceronian set of them—the turns “Said Cleanthes with a smile” or “Here Philo was a little embarrassed but Demea broke in upon the discourse and saved his countenance”—I know not that any one since Lord Brougham has cared for that kind of thing. The names Cleanthes Philo Demea etc. are no longer to our taste. Now-a-days it is on the whole the material contribution what Quintilian means as the “things” the “nerves” and not the mere verbal form that is the main desideratum. For that part indeed after the more pointed forceful pictorial less intentional and laboured style to which we have been accustomed by our later writers of all kinds novelists historians critics publicists the older so very smoothly flowing well-balanced style rather affects us as opaque. We lose ourselves as it were in the murmur of it. In Hume too the well-bred Philister in his super-refinement of craze is too constantly betrayed to us. “The book” he tells us with such a proper air “carries us in a manner into company and unites the two greatest and purest pleasures of human life study and society!” One could hope for Hume's sake that all would turn out to his wish to leave something classical behind him that as such would be cherished by posterity and ever by the young as standard consulted. But it is time to refer to the “nerves” the matter of the book. Profitably to do this however it appears to me necessary that we should first know something of this matter in the form it took in its author's earlier works.
The Treatise of Human Nature is a work in three volumes of which the first and second when first published in 1739 fell its author avows “dead-born from the press.” Hume however pocketed fifty guineas for these two volumes; and it is pretty certain he would not have pocketed fifty shillings for them had his publisher then been as most publishers now. As for the third volume we learn that it was published a year later by another publisher; and that is all! At present I do not think it is ever read. There are some readable passages in it on political subjects; but as for the general text on morals one reads and reads—at least I read and read and wonder what it is all about—wonder is there any meaning in that cheerful endless prolixity that will not enter one's mind and give itself a place there! Indeed if others are as I am then I fear the second volume may not generally interest more than the third. But with the first volume it is altogether otherwise. That volume with its Book on the Understanding is full of interest and will always command the attention of the philosophical student. Here Hume is really in earnest and always saying something unless perhaps in the mathematical part where indeed his ideas—crude callow wild—fall on the whole hopelessly wide. Hume's style is always excellent where he has as generally in this Book business before him. Where that is the case—business reality—Hume discards all unnecessary ambages; the softness looseness of uncertainty disappears and in its place we have the force and the stroke and the feeling of decision. No publicist now could write a better style than the young Hume then. Every word is clear flexible in shape to the meaning and the mood. I am not sure but that it is a better style than when in his Essays a year or two later he adds to those qualities—by express effort adds to these qualities what is to him elegance; and I am quite sure that when some six years later still judging that his unsuccess in the Treatise had as he says “proceeded more from the manner than the matter” he “cast the first part of that work anew” and published it as the Enquiry—I am quite sure that then in contradiction of himself it was not the manner but the matter he improved. The new manner in fact strikes as something disimproved; as something that has been artificially taken in hand and only unsuccessfully re-made; as something externally introduced and that seems affected. It is certainly that that has been in the mind of Rosenkranz when he had to apply the term “redselige” to these essays—dub them that is “talkative” or as we might say verbose. In matter however the later work really is an improvement on the earlier which with its ability of any kind always suggested the idea young! At the same time it is to be said mainly of Hume's specially metaphysical efforts and in his own words to Francis Hutcheson at the very time he published the Treatise that his “reasonings will be more useful by furnishing hints and exciting people's curiosity than as containing any principles that will augment the stock of knowledge.” How accurately Hume judged of himself then we are only getting more and more clearly to understand now after a hundred and fifty years! Hume was original on a very small provision—from without namely. In effect it appears to have been the fashion then to read beforehand little more than contemporaries. It would go hard to tell what John Locke had read before he wrote his Essay. With all his Greek in the end too Berkeley seems only to have read Locke at first. Now these two writers are really library enough for all Hume's metaphysics. Rather we may say that in that reference it was with what he took from Berkeley that Hume started as his whole stock-in-trade. Not but that again and again we may read Locke as Hume and Hume as Locke. Berkeley conceived all to consist of two sorts of spirits with what he called ideas between them. To finite spirits an infinite spirit gave ideas; and these were the universe. The ideas between the two spirits constituted the universe. Hume now was completely taken by this thought; he was absorbed into it. And he issued from this absorption with his own rearrangements. It appeared to him in the end that the ideas were the only facts; that so they were evidence for themselves but for nothing further. The spirit that gave the spirit that received: the one as well as the other was a gratuitous hypothesis. The sole evidence that could be alleged for either was the ideas themselves. But that the ideas were and were together was no reason for assuming quite another and peculiar entity in which they were; and if we were to start with a presupposition we might as well start with the ideas at first hand as with only a presupposed presupposition at second hand. No doubt said Hume to that presupposed presupposition to the infinite Spirit to God it was what was called reasoned from the ideas and specially from the connection of the ideas. But had they then this connection these ideas? This was the question Hume here put to himself; and into that question pretty well his whole metaphysic summed itself. It is not necessary that we should enter at full into the resultant theory of cause and effect. One can see at once from the materials as put how it would all go. There were the ideas; and they were said to be connected; but what did that mean? They certainly came in conjunctions; but if we examined them the one with the other individually even as in conjunction not one of them showed a reason a tie that bound it to the other. They were associated; no doubt that was the fact; but we knew no more than that. We found the associations to be such and such; and just so we expected them as such and such. Even by the habit of the association the one member of it suggested the other; and that alone was the connection that alone was the reason the sole tie that bound them together. There was no ground for the necessity under the name of power even which we feigned or believed to exist in the association but as now fully explained habit custom. There were certainly two kinds of ideas. There were ideas mediate and there were ideas immediate; the latter in two distinctions the former only in one. The double distinction was named of externality and internality. Internal immediate ideas were all our feelings within as at first hand or directly experienced; while external immediate ideas were what come before us as the world of objects perceived of things seen. Both classes of immediate ideas whether within or without were naturally to be named impressions; while the single class of mediate ideas were just as commonly regarded ideas—ideas proper. They were but reflections or copies of the impressions. What is then as it all lies there now before the eye of Hume may be pictured as an infinitely minute but sole-existent prism the light on one side of which shall represent the impressions as the resultant colours on the other shall be surrogates of the ideas. Ideas and impressions are but the same thing twice. With Locke and Berkeley therefore they may be all called ideas; and there seems no reason for making a separate entity of the spot the personality the mere locus in which they meet. That they meet is the sole fact; nor has the meeting-point any substantiality further. Ideas and ideas alone constitute the universe. This is what Hume has made of the stock of thought he received from Berkeley and he is wholly dominated by it; he implicitly believes in it; it constitutes truth for him—philosophical truth that is; for Hume makes the distinction between natural and philosophical instinct and reason. As David Hume his mother's son he is quite as you or I; sees all things around him just as we do; and has no doubt whatever but that there is that in the cause—an agency an efficacy a power—which by very nature necessitates the effect; but as a philosopher he challenges you and me and all mankind if an intellectual reason—an insight an understanding not a mere instinct not a mere blind unintelligible mechanical force—if an intellectual reason can be given for the necessity of the effect ensuing on the cause he challenges you and me and all mankind to produce it—“show” he says “one instance of a cause where we discover the power or operating principle.”
We have probably as much of Hume's reasonings before us now as is necessary and may proceed to apply it to the question of a God. In this he takes full advantage of our demonstrated inability as he thinks to give a philosophical reason for the admitted necessity of cause and effect. He thinks he has proved to a certainty that as he says “the supposition of an efficacy in any of the known qualities of matter is entirely without foundation;” that “all objects which are found to be constantly conjoined are upon that account only to be regarded as causes and effects;” that “as all objects which are not contrary are susceptible of a constant conjunction and as no real objects are contrary it follows that for aught we can determine by the mere ideas anything may be the cause or effect of anything;” “creation annihilation motion reason volition—all these may arise from one another or from any other object we can imagine;” that “the necessity of the cause to its effect is but the determination of the mind by custom;” that this necessity therefore is something that exists in the mind and not in the objects;” that “the connection between cause and effect the tie or energy by which the cause operates its effect lies merely in ourselves and is nothing but the determination of the mind from one object to another object acquired by custom.” Hume now in the light of these conclusions has as little difficulty in emptying God of all efficacy as any the most common and everyday agent fire and water or earth and air; for as he says “anything may be cause or effect of anything!” “Thought is in no case any more active (operative) than matter;” “we have no idea of a Being endowed with any power much less of one endowed with infinite power;” so far as “our idea of that supreme Being is derived from particular impressions none of which contain any efficacy there is no such thing in the universe as a cause or productive principle not even the Deity Himself.” If any one will take the trouble to read parts three and four of the first book of the Treatise he will find such phrases as these that I have quoted without difficulty almost upon every page. In these respects the Enquiry if more measured and somewhat less direct is on the whole fuller and quite as explicit; and our reference in it apart from the express consideration of causality is the section Of a Particular Providence. There he puts the argument which he engages to refute thus: “From the order of the work you infer that there must have been project and forethought in the workman;” “the argument for a divine existence is derived from the order of nature the marks of intelligence and design in it;” “this is an argument drawn from effects to causes.” Now that being so says Hume “we must proportion the one to the other; we can never be allowed to ascribe to the cause any qualities but what are exactly sufficient to produce the effect.” And that is the single fulcrum on which the entire course of the subsequent argumentation rests. That argumentation we must see; but may we not say at once that on Hume's own premises any such argumentation must find itself in the air for he himself has already withdrawn beforehand its single basis of support? The one absolute fulcrum is to be an equality of qualities in the two terms of the relation; the qualities in the cause must be proportional to the qualities in the effect; we must ascribe to the cause only such qualities as are sufficient to account for the qualities in the effect. I daresay we are all directly not a little surprised at this. Qualities! qualities that have efficacy! we think to ourselves—why Hume has just told us that in the matter of causation we must not think of qualities at all! “The supposition of an efficacy in any of the known qualities of matter is entirely without foundation!” And that means though he says “known qualities” any qualities as implied by his own expressions now. That means too not “matter” alone but anything whatever; for he has already said that so far as qualities are concerned anything may be the cause of anything. We can only secure to Hume some measure of consistency here in his demand to proportionate the qualities in the cause to those in the effect by regarding the qualities as themselves objects by assuming out of the plurality of qualities in the cause and in the effect one quality in the one to have always been respectively conjoined with a correspondent quality in the other—a plurality and an assumption plainly which will still bring Hume each its own difficulties. But that apart what of the subsequent argumentation? Now that still depends on the presupposed fulcrum the intention of which we must see to have been this: In reasoning from the world to God and so reaching God we must not proceed to dwell on the idea reached and so expand it in our imaginations beyond what constituted it as reached and when reached. Really in that lies the whole subsequent argumentation itself just as in what was said of proportionate qualities in the cause and the effect we saw the one fulcrum in support of such argumentation. “The same rule holds” Hume says “whether the cause assigned be brute unconscious matter or a rational intelligent being: if the cause be known only by the effect we never ought to assign to it any qualities beyond what are precisely requisite to produce the effect; nor can we by any rules of just reasoning return back from the cause and infer other effects from it beyond those by which alone it is known to us.” And this here evidently means that if the order in nature entitles us to infer an artificer of great power and great wisdom it is inadequate to the conclusion of almighty power and almighty wisdom and may not improbably suggest other very different attributes from those of all-justice and all-goodness. In point of fact it is precisely of such propos on the part of Hume that the whole subsequent argumentation consists. It seems to have been summed up by some writers in this way that they supposed Hume to say that the world was a “singular effect.” That is true however only in so far as singular shall be allowed to be equal to particular so that we are to infer a particular cause from the particular effect that the world is. If Hume uses singular of the world the word does not mean for him then unexampled unprecedented incommensurable transcendent beyond all relation or comparison but simply as I have said and in the sense I have said particular. Even when a doubt is expressed whether it be possible for a cause to be known “only by (that is only so far as) its effect or to be of so singular and particular a nature as to have no parallel and no similarity with any other cause or object that has ever fallen under our observation” what is really meant is precisely what I mean by particular: the effect of the doubt is to a singularity or particularity that would bind down the reasoning to itself alone which doubt moreover is put into the mouth of the opponent to the argument who however is represented to acknowledge in the end that the previous reasonings on the supposition of a singular effect warranting no more than an equally singular cause “seem at least to merit our attention. There is I own” (he concludes) “some difficulty how we can ever return from the cause to the effect and reasoning from our ideas of the former infer any alteration on the latter or any addition to it;” and these are the very last words of the whole section. To say then that Hume calls the world a “singular” effect means only Hume holds the world to be a particular effect referring only to a proportionately particular cause.
We have now seen as much as I think it was necessary to see of the Treatise and the Enquiry and I return to the consideration of the Dialogues. They are laid out into twelve parts but one cannot say that so much externality has any hearing on the internality of the development and exposition of the subject. While the ontological and cosmological arguments if touched at all are no more than touched the teleological argument is on its side only most inefficiently and disappointingly scattered in a mere miscellany of remark over the whole dozen dialogues or so-called parts. This argument though all but exclusively the single subject of consideration is indeed most confusedly presented to us and in a mass simply of unmethodized objections. Not but that Hume has in his secret self all his life dwelt on the question of a God and gives here now most respectful voice to his estimation of it. “What truth” he says (and these are about his first words)—“what truth so important as this (the Being of a God namely) which is the ground of all our hopes the surest foundation of morality the firmest support of society and the only principle which ought never to be a moment absent from our thoughts and meditations?” Why that is a sentence which Lord Gifford himself might have included without a jar among his own so very similar sentences in the body of his Bequest. And in regard to the subject itself even as named Natural Theology Hume speaks always not less with the most impressive respect. It is “the saying of an ancient” he remarks not far from the sentence quoted “‘That students of philosophy ought first to learn Logics then Ethics next Physics last of all the Nature of the Gods.’ This science of Natura Theology according to him being the most profound and abstruse of any required the maturest judgment in its students and none but a mind enriched with all the other sciences can safely be entrusted with it.” This position assigned to our subject Natural Theology is probably no more than in itself it deserves; but it is not so certain that Hume is correct in his interpretation of the authority he quotes. That authority he names Chrysippus in a certain passage of Plutarch's. Hume now in his Autobiography takes credit to himself as we know for having recovered while living with his mother and brother in the country “the knowledge of the Greek language which he had too much neglected in his early youth.” David's Greek I fear might have stood a little more recovery. In his own editions of his books it has mostly a very shabby look; and certainly here so far as the translation goes it does not come well to proof. Hume does not give the original but I have looked up the Greek and transcribed it here (πρω̑τον μϵ̀ν οὐ̑ν δοκϵι̑ μοι κατὰ τὰὀρθω̑ς ὑπὸ τω̑ν ἀρχαίων ϵἰρημϵ́να τρία γϵ́νη τω̑ν του̑ φιλοσόφον θϵωρημάτων ϵἰ̑ναι· τὰ μϵ̀ν λογικά τὰ δϵ̀ ἠθικά τὰ δϵ̀ φυσικά· τω̑ν δϵ̀ φυσικω̑ν ϵ̓́σχατον ϵἰ̑ναι τὸν πϵρὶ τω̑ν θϵω̑ν λόγον). Literally translated it runs thus: “First then it seems to me as was rightly said by the ancients that there are three kinds of theorizings of the philosopher Logics Ethics Physics and that of Physics the last part is that concerning the Gods.” We have thus three sciences and in a certain succession but it is not intimated that they are to be so studied and still less that what concerns the Gods is a fourth study and one which is to be taken alone after the other three. On the contrary what concerns the Gods is only termed the last part of physics. Nay if the good David had only read further he would have found the Greek going on to speak of physics and specially that last part of physics not as dependent on and following ethics but as precedent to and conditioning ethics (Plut. de repug. Stoicorum or de stoic. paradox Opp. i. p. 1035 A). And it stands to reason that the practical moral should postulate beforehand all that can he theoretically known. The passage however gives certainly an eminent place to what concerns the Gods; and Hume let his Greek he what it may is to be justified in referring to it in support of the supremacy as a study of Natural Theology. It is not a little to his praise indeed that after Paris and D'Holbach and the seventeen atheists who surrounded him—after these experiences and no less than twenty-seven years of labour and reflection he should so unequivocally declare himself.
If as regards the Dialogues we take Hume's immethodical miscellany interrogatively in hand and introduce such order and arrangement into it as shall enable us with confidence and ease to grasp its reasonings we shall find these susceptible of falling into such a scheme as this:—Taking advantage of expressions of Hume's own we may say that the arguments in question are first of all either à priori or à posteriori; and then that while in the latter class the teleological stands alone both the ontological and the cosmological are by Hume conjoined in the former. It cannot be said however that the cosmological argument is strictly or purely à priori; for in reality it involves an empirical fulcrum an empirical basis of support. Nevertheless as any further it may be named abstract only the cosmological argument may be regarded as constituting from its peculiarity an exact mean between the two other arguments.
Taking the ontological argument first then we find that it can hardly be more perfectly and concisely expressed than by Hume himself. In an early memorandum book of his copied out by Burton it appears thus: “The idea of infinite perfection implies that of actual existence.” Of the very idea of God namely existence is a necessary complement. Hume in his Dialogues quotes Malebranche to the effect that Being simply Being existence is the very nature of God—“His true name is He that is or in other words Being without restriction All Being the Being infinite and universal.” In Part IX. however where the à priori argument is expressly placed Hume has already dismissed this idea of Malebranche from his mind and perhaps quite forgotten his own early statement. There his statement now of the ontological argument is that it regards God as the “necessarily existent Being who carries the reason of His existence in Himself and who cannot be supposed not to exist without an express contradiction;” but of “this metaphysical reasoning” as he names it Hume who characterizes it also as obviously ill-grounded and of “little consequence” will show he says the “weakness” and the “fallacy.” “I shall begin with observing” he declares “that there is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact.” Nothing is demonstrable unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing that is distinctly conceivable implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being therefore whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being whose existence is demonstrable. I propose this argument as entirely decisive and am willing to rest the whole controversy upon it.” The reply to this of course is that God as the Infinite Being is above and beyond all such reasoning limited and restricted as it is only to what is finite. God as the Infinite Being implies existence: to deny His existence negates his very idea and is a direct self-contradiction. But we have to see more of this later when we come to Kant.
Hume continues “Why may not the material universe be the necessarily-existent Being?” “It may contain some qualities which would make its non-existence appear as great a contradiction as that twice two is five.” “No reason can be assigned why these qualities may not belong to matter; as they are altogether unknown and inconceivable they can never be proved incompatible with it.” I fancy we will all allow the irrefragableness of that reasoning: it would be a hard matter for any of us to prove that whatever is utterly unknown and inconceivable is incompatible with anything whatever! To talk of the inconceivable as a possible fulcrum of proof is surely peculiar to Hume. He says himself that “to establish one hypothesis upon another is building entirely in the air:” to build upon the inconceivable is hardly different or better. But why the material universe may not be the necessarily-existent Being is precisely the cosmological argument which comes now in its turn. Hume himself mentions this argument as “derived from the contingency both of the matter and the form of the world;” nevertheless as he seems to found his notion of contingency only on Dr. Clarke's representation that “any particle of matter may be conceived to be annihilated and any form may be conceived to be altered” we cannot feel sure that what he has got hold of is the quite adequate notion. That notion however is simply to the effect that contingent existence by very name means what is what exists simply as supported and as unsupported sinks falls—must sink must fall and drop out of being. That is the contingent; while e contrario the necessary is the self-supported the self-subsistent or the self-existent the complete in itself and sufficient of itself. By very definition then or by very nature it follows that the former implies the latter. The contingent infers the necessary the accidental the substantial by which or in which it is. That simple notion now is the fulcrum of the cosmological argument; yet simple as it is Hume on the whole does not quite seem at home in it. While it is his single purpose in Part IX. for example to dispute controvert and refute it; he had already passed his own deep imprimatur upon it in the second part when he said “nothing exists without a cause; and the original cause of this universe we call God: Whoever scruples this fundamental truth deserves every punishment” etc. But as much as this it is not difficult to see constitutes the whole cosmological argument for it simply refers what is contingent what is insufficient of itself to God to that cause which is alone necessary alone ultimate and final in itself. In Part IX. however somewhat contradictorily Hume argues against this reasoning in some such strain as follows:—
He starts as already referred to with the question “Why may not the material universe be the necessarily-existent Being?” and when he is answered by the cosmological argument which rests on the necessity of a regress through a whole possible chain of contingent causes back to a single absolute cause he rejoins: “In such a chain each part is caused by that which preceded it and causes that which succeeds it—where then is the difficulty? But the whole you say wants a cause. I answer—this is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts—add to this that in tracing an eternal succession of objects it seems absurd to ask for a general cause or first author.” That as one sees is not profound argumentation; and it will be sufficient to remark for the present that no multiplication of parts will make a whole potent if each part is impotent. You will hardly reach a valid conclusion where your every step is invalid. Will you ever fill one full with nothing but empties or put together a single significant figure with a million millions of ciphers? It will be in vain to extract one necessity out of a whole infinitude of contingencies. Nor is it at all possible for such infinitude of contingencies to be even conceivable of reason. If each link of the chain hangs on another the whole will hang and only hang even in eternity unsupported like some stark serpent—unless you find a hook for it. Add weakness to weakness in any quantity you will never make strength; if you totter already the tottering against you of ever so many totterers will only floor you.
But on the whole Hume may be said only to mention and not seriously to meet what are to him the à priori arguments. On the à posteriori argument it is that he puts forth all his strength. Even here however his strength is but a sceptical play; for it is at least as a sincere Deist that he takes up his position before the curtain in the end. Nevertheless when one considers how Adam Smith and the rest were glad to escape any responsibility here our curiosity is roused and we would fain see for ourselves the terrible argumentation that had so frightened them. Allowing for the ninth part which we have just seen for the first and last parts as only the one introductory and the other concluding and for two other parts which are taken up with little more than tirades on the evils of existence there remain seven parts in which the strict teleological argument is alone considered. As I have said the conduct of the dialogue is so miscellaneous in these parts that for one's ease even for one's intelligence one is glad to turn to some principle of arrangement. Now what is considered here is God on one side and man on the other with the analogy of design “between them; and it is with such scheme we may conceive Hume to open. Accordingly the omnipotence of God even as in supposition is described at great length on the one side as the impotence of man at equal length on the other and it is asked Can there be any analogy between them? Man's sentiments are “calculated for promoting the activity and preserving the existence” of such a finite being; his ideas “derived from the senses are confusedly (confessedly?) false and illusive;” and as these “compose the whole furniture of the human understanding” how can such materials be “in any respect similar in the human and in the divine intelligence”? Are we not “guilty of the grossest and most narrow partiality when we make ourselves the model of the whole universe”? Of course the reply to such objections is obvious. In arguing from design we simply use the reason which is our very power and our very selves; and in which with whatever accidents we have all history and all science to support and encourage our trust. Nor do we desire in the smallest degree to push our reason beyond what bounds it can itself realize. We may presume that reply sufficient for Hume himself even on his own principles; for he will be found to grant us the right of speculation and inquiry to any extent and into any region which the desire of knowledge the love of truth or even mere human curiosity may suggest. To as much as that indeed his own example would warrant not only liberty but one might even say licence. We turn now then to the third consideration which we have indicated here the middle that lies between the two extremes of God on the one side and man on the other the argument from design itself. That we shall see again. Meantime I may seem so far to have been only cursory—to have remarked little and to have quoted less. But I have really given all that there is in Hume as regards either the ontological or the cosmological argument; and perhaps in other respects I shall be found in the end even to have hit the truth of the position which conditions Hume's whole way of looking
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