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David Hume

David Hume

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Introduction to Philosophy

David Hume, "Design Argument: Critique"

Abstract: David Hume's version of the design argument from Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is presented and his objections to that argument are summarized. Hume's analysis shows the disanalogy between the features of the universe and features of the purported Deity.

  1. Explain the meaning of the phrase, "as the cause ought only be proportioned to the effect…" Aren't the effects of causes often surprising? How do you think the notion of cause is related to scientific law?
  2. List the analogical respects, pointed out by Philo, between the characteristics of the world and the inferred characteristics of the Deity.
  1. David Hume (1711-1776) formulated a clear and succinct version of the design argument.
    1. Hume cites the following objections to the design argument quoted below in 2a.
      1. It
    2. Generally speaking, Hume's criticism is devastating for the design argument concluding in an anthropomorphic conception of God
    3. The main general objection given by Hume is as follows: “But as all perfection is entirely relative, we ought never to imagine, that we comprehend the attributes of this divine Being, or to suppose, that his perfections have any analogy or likeness to the perfections of a human creature.” Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779) in Dialogues and Natural History of Religion, ed. by J.A.C. Gaskin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 44.
    1. Title 
		Page from Hume's second edition 1779 Dialogues concerning 
		Natural Religion, adapted from The James Willard Oliver David 
		Hume Collection at the University of South Carolina.Notes are arranged in response to the questions stated above in reference to chapter "Critique of the Design Argument" from Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume in Reading for Philosophical Inquiry.
      1. Explain the meaning of the phrase, "as the cause ought only be proportioned to the effect…" Aren't the effects of causes often surprising? How do you think the notion of cause is related to scientific law?
        1. Hume assumes that similar effects result from similar causes.
        2. This assumption follows from straight-forward inductive reasoning: If we seen many events of kind E₁ followed by events of the kind E₂, then we conclude with some probability that events of kind E₁ cause or are constantly conjoined with events of the kind E₂.
        3. Events of kinds E₁ and E₂ are assumed to be ontologically similar—i.e., they are subject to normal conditions of experience.
        4. If Hume's notion of proportionality of cause and effect were correct, laws involving different levels of phenomena would not have meaning. I.e., consider the ideal gas law.
          1. PV = nRT
          2. The ideal gas law states the Pressure of a gas multiplied times the Volume it occupies is equal to the number of moles of gas times the universal gas constant R and the Temperature Kelvin.
          3. An ideal gas is not “proportioned” to actual temperature, pressure, or volume.
        5. In general, causality is viewed by Hume as uniform constant conjunction or regularity of succession of events, and a scientific law is a statement of that regularity.
      2. List the analogical respects, pointed out by Philo, between the characteristics of the world and the inferred characteristics of the Deity.
        1. First, David Hume's interlocutor Cleanthes presents a clear and succinct formulation of the design argument:
          • “Look round the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work which he has executed. By this argument é posteriori, and by this argument alone, do we prove at once the existence of a Deity, and his similarity to human mind and intelligence.”
        2. The analogical respects pointed out include the following:
          1. Just as designed machines are created by human beings, so likewise the designed universe is made by a creator.
            1. adaptation of ends to means in a machine : human designer :: adaptation of ends to means in the world : world designer
            2. effect of the machine : caused by human maker :: effect of the universe : caused by universe maker
    2. 3
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”[Hume's] reply to the teleological argument may appear conclusive. Yet some of the argument's proponets have responded that the existence of God is not implied merely by the order in the world but, as George Berkeley put it, by the ‘surprising magnificence, beauty , and perfection’ of that order. In other words, such a perfect world as ours could not be either the work of an inferior deity or the outcome of impersonal natural processes. Only an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing creator could have produced such a flawless masterpiece.” Steven M. Cahn, Puzzles & Perplexities: Collected Essays (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007), 35.

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