Infomotions, Inc.Dialogues concerning natural religion; with an introduction by Bruce M'Ewen. / Hume, David, 1711-1776

Author: Hume, David, 1711-1776
Title: Dialogues concerning natural religion; with an introduction by Bruce M'Ewen.
Publisher: Edinburgh, Blackwood, 1907.
Tag(s): religion philosophy; philo; demea; hume; dialogues; dialogues concerning; demy; crown; religion; deity; natural religion; william blackwood; blackwood sons; argument; cheap edition; introduction
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Identifier: dialoguesnatural00humeuoft
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PART I. . . . . . .6 

ii II. . . . . . .26 

.1 III 49 

i IV 60 

ii V. . . . . .72 

.i VI 81 

ii VII 92 

M VIII 103 

.. IX. . . . . . 114 

nX 123 

ii XL .... 142 

n XII. 164 


IN professing to call attention to this often 
forgotten work of the great Scottish phil 
osopher, one cannot help noticing how very 
similar the reception accorded to it by the 
outside world has been to its treatment at 
the hands of the author himself. During his 
lifetime he kept it in the safe obscurity of his 
study drawer, where it lay until the day of 
his death. The plan of the Dialogues had been 
clearly thought out by Hume as early as 1750, 
and the active period of his contribution to 
philosophy proper having closed almost in the 
same year, this excursion of his into natural 
theology might most fitly have been pre 
sented to his readers at once, especially if, 
as it seems to us now, it may be rightly 
regarded as the crown and consummation of 
his earlier speculations. Indeed some such 



conception of the relation of the Dialogues 
to his other works underlies the outlining of 
his scheme upon its first page, where he founds 
his method "on the saying of an ancient 
[Chrysippus], That students of philosophy ought 
first to learn Logics, then Ethics, next Physics, 
last of all the nature of the Gods." 

From that year onwards, however, his 
literary activity was directed into other and 
less speculative channels, and though the book 
undoubtedly existed in manuscript, and was 
from time to time submitted to his philo 
sophical friends for their opinion, it was as 
good as lost for the estimating of his whole 
position by his contemporaries. In the inner 
circle of savants, who were vaguely aware 
of its existence, considerable fear prevailed 
as to what approaching cataclysm the ap 
pearance of the "terrible David" upon the 
theological horizon might portend ; and as 
year after year passed safely by, their dis 
trust of the threatened publication of his 
meaning only increased the more. When 
a book has such a history behind it, there 
is naturally every reason to expect that its 
contents may have been varied considerably 
by corrections, omissions, and insertions from 


the author s own hand. But provided always 
that the manuscript copy (now preserved in 
the library of the Royal Society of Edin 
burgh) from which it was first published in 
1779, was the original draft, there can have 
been only the most trivial amendments, and 
the main lines of the argument were left 
untouched, Mr Hill Burton s verdict 1 on this 
point is that, " while the sentiments appear 
to be substantially the same as when they 
were first set down, the alterations in the 
method of announcing them are a register of 
the improvements in their author s style for 
a period apparently of twenty - seven years." 
From what I have seen of the manuscript 
I should say, first, that the alterations upon 
the face of it are largely verbal ; and secondly, 
that this particular copy is of later date 
than that which Hume invited his friend, 
Sir Gilbert Elliott, to criticise in 1751. 

The question whether the whole work was 
ever substantially recast in the years during 
which Hume kept it by him cannot be 
definitely answered here. If, however, in 
at least one letter, the author asks for as 
sistance and advice in the endeavour to 
1 Life of Hume, i. 328. 


render the argument on one side or the 
other "quite formal and regular," the pos 
sibility of a more or less thorough redaction 
having taken place must not be overlooked. 1 
So much is certain, that by retaining the book 
unpublished he had opportunity of bringing it 
to a higher pitch of perfection, and that, ac 
cordingly, its sentiments may safely be regarded 
as the mature expression of his religious and 
theological opinions in strict accordance with 
his empirical philosophy. 

The motive that prevailed with him to 
hinder publication seems to have been a 
strong sense of the incompleteness of his 
arguments, and, more particularly, the feel 
ing often voiced by him that he had not 
done justice to that "genuine Theism, the 
most agreeable reflection which it is possible 
for human imagination to suggest." He speaks 
of the "natural propensity of the mind" 
towards the theistic argument from design 
in terms as warm as those of Kant, who 
called it the "oldest, the clearest argument, 
and most in conformity with the common 
reason of humanity." He had played the 
sceptic too long in the public eye to care 
1 Dugald Stewart s Works, i. 603. 


very much for the popular verdict, or to 
share his friends fear that he might incur 
increasing odium and obloquy. He knew 
that any orthodox conclusions he could offer 
in this theological essay of his would appear 
to zealous defenders of the faith only as 
Greek gifts ; any that might seem in the 
light of current opinions to be unorthodox 
could make him no new enemies. His ab 
stract speculations on the logical methods 
of reason had ended in his advocating "a 
mitigated scepticism," or, as it is also desig 
nated, " an academical philosophy," l and when 
himself was forced to become the pioneer culti 
vator of the broad field of human knowledge 
with the untried implement which he had long 
chosen for his own, the promise of a harvest 
of positive results seems to have been diffi 
cult of realisation. Whether Hume feared 
that the Dialogues would offend his readers 
need not be discussed when we know, beyond 
doubt, that they disappointed his own ex 
pectations. Many an opus magnum has been 
utterly lost to the history of literature from 
considerations exactly similar to those which 
weighed heavily upon Hume. 

1 Enquiry, XII., iii. 


So much is conjecture, but whatever the 
reason may have been, publication was de 
layed until death overtook the author in 
1776. In his will it was found that careful 
directions were given, first to Adam Smith, 
Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow, 
and afterwards by a codicil to William Strahan, 
Publisher in London, to secure the bringing 
of the book to the light a sum of 200 being 
set aside for the necessary expenses. Both 
these gentlemen were so much averse to ac 
cepting the charge, that finally Hume s 
nephew, as residuary legatee, took it in hand. 
" His testamentary injunction directing their 
publication was declined by Adam Smith. 
But it was too peremptory not to be obeyed 
by a kinsman whom he had in some measure 
adopted." 1 And so in 1779 these long matured 
Dialogues at last became part of the common 
inheritance of philosophers. 

It is not necessary in this present Introduc 
tion to give either particular or general 
details of Hume s life and philosophy ; enough 
has been said to show how precarious a chance 
of existence this posthumous literary child 
of his had, and how tedious the labour was 

1 Edinburgh Review, Ixxxv. 4. 


that gave it birth. And the place it was 
to take in the history of philosophy sub 
sequent to 1779 was entirely in accordance 
with its past. 

The first edition, appearing early in that 
year from the press of Robinson in London, 
was rapidly followed by another reprint, with 
corrections. In 1788 the book was appended 
to a new edition of Hume s collected Essays 
printed for Cadell and Elliot, and thereafter 
it has been frequently republished along with 
these or other parts of his writings. As a 
separate work it has appeared once in England, 
in 1875, when it was used as one of a series of 
brochures issued privately in London by a Mr 
T. Scott in the interests of a Society of Free 
thinkers. It is not too much to say that, with 
the exception of this reprint, unworthy in itself, 
and by reason of the strongly biassed remarks 
which introduce it "to the reading public," it 
has been completely ignored by those who 
have undertaken to supply English libraries 
of the past century with ready means of access 
to Hume s far-reaching speculations. In the 
standard edition of Hume s Works by Green and 
Grose the only analytic notice of the Dialogues 
is contained in one singularly unsatisfactory 


sentence : l " Although perhaps the most fin 
ished of its author s productions, it has not 
excited general attention. There seems to be 
a deep-seated reluctance to discuss such funda 
mental questions." This curt dismissal of the 
Dialogues constitutes a verdict upon students 
of Hume rather than upon their master, but 
as a verdict it has ample justification in his 
tory. In England it has been generally felt 
that there is pressing need of an " answer to 
Hume" in this particular connection, but the 
temper of the early nineteenth century inclined 
to be impatient of such a thorough investiga 
tion of the deepest principles of natural the 
ology as was necessary after the sifting criti 
cism to which they had been subjected by the 
great Scottish sceptic. The watch-dogs of the 
orthodox temple often bark at friends as well 
as foes ; and to express sympathy with the 
sentiments of Hume, even those admittedly 
unanswerable, was to incur popular suspicion 
such as always clings to the name of inquiry. 
In works professing to be animated with the 
genuine positive spirit, the easy, well-worn 
way of dealing with Hume s theology has been 
to rank his speculations as a side issue, to dub 
1 Vol. iii. p. 80 (1898). 


them "Absolute Agnosticism" or "Universal 
Scepticism," and the reader, having been safely 
conducted up to the end of this philosophical 
cul-de-sac, is invited to retrace his steps and 
pursue his light-hearted journey by some other 

The attack upon the Dialogues we shall 
have to consider later, but the curious reader 
may observe here of the timorous method of 
grappling with Hume s problems, that it pre 
vails as much with his friends as his foes. 
Thus in 1818 a series of " Dialogues on Natural 
and Revealed Religion," with the avowed object 
of defending, supplementing, and enlarging the 
conclusions of Hume on principles similar to 
his, was advertised to appear in Blackwood s 
Magazine 1 for the month of April. These Dia 
logues are represented as being conducted by 
the same Cleanthes, Philo, and Demea who 
figure in Hume s work. The anonymous 
author is described (falsely) as one "who died 
in youth, not without high distinction among 
his contemporaries." His papers have come 
into the editor s hands, and it is promised that 
their publication " shall be continued regularly 
through twelve numbers of the Magazine." 
1 Blackwood, 1818 : April and May. 


Only two parts had appeared, when, on ac 
count of the uneasiness they caused, the editor 
saw fit to retract his promise, and, without 
one word of explanation or apology to his 
readers, their place in the next issue of the 
periodical was filled up with other matter. 
Twelve years later the subterfuge of anonymity 
was cast aside, and the Rev. Dr Robert More- 
head l published these supplementary dialogues 
complete in book form, with his own name on 
the title-page. 

1 Dialogues on Natural and Kevealed Religion, by 
Robert Morehead, D.D., Edin., 1830. (In twelve parts : 
Nos. I. and II. almost literally from Blackwood, April 
and May 1818.) This book deserves notice as a good com 
mentary upon Hume s Dialogues, the only attempt of the 
kind known to the present writer. The scope of the argu 
ment from design is greatly extended. To the data allowed 
by Hume there are added as evidencing design " the laws 
of the procedure of the knowing mind as well as the laws 
visible in creation," " the formation of general notions and 
associations," and even the bare facts of what Dr More- 
head calls " external perception." While with Hume there 
is evidence for the " natural attributes " of God and little 
or none for the moral, the Philo and Cleanthes of this later 
book are made to agree "to lay the foundations of the 
argument for the moral attributes of the Divine Nature 
in the moral perceptions of the human mind." A few 
years later further Dialogues appeared from the same 
pen, but their tone is entirely apologetic and not at all 


When Hume s Dialogues appeared in 1779 
his philosophy had already found many ad 
mirers in Germany and interrupted other 
slumbers than those of Kant. To quite a 
large circle of thinkers there this posthumous 
book was an unexpected but most welcome 
revelation. One in particular, Professor Ernst 
Platner, afterwards best known for his pung 
ent criticisms of the Kantian doctrines, under 
took a translation into the German language 
immediately, and published it with the ex 
planation that it had been forwarded to him 
anonymously in 1781. The air of mystery so 
unfortunately associated with this book was 
increased by his following it in 1783 with a 
Discourse on Atheism, 1 which is intended to 
mitigate the consequences of his translation. 
In the meantime another translation of im 
portance in the history of philosophy had been 
prepared by J. A. Hamann. From his corre 
spondence with his publisher we learn that 
it 2 was begun on 21st July 1780 and finished 
on 8th August. 

1 Gesprach iiber den Atheismus, E. Platner, 1783. The 
preface runs : The occasion of this Dialogue is the pub 
lication of Hume s Dialogues : its intention, to provide 
a reply and perhaps to reply to atheism generally. 

2 Hamann s Schriften, edited by Roth, 1821-43, vi. 158. 


About this time, too, he heard of the other 
intended translation, and the news caused him 
to delay. Before September, however, of 1780, 
the manuscript of this translation had been 
submitted to Kant, who was greatly struck 
with it and urged the sending of it to press 
at once. 1 As time went on he wrote deplor 
ing its non-appearance, but now Hamann had 
taken fright at the prospect of his name being 
connected with such an infidel book, and after 
suggesting one or two fanciful descriptions of 
himself for the title-page, he finally intimated 
to Kant his withdrawal, because he felt another 
was undertaking " the difficult, dangerous, and 
unpopular task." Only a few days after the 
passing of this correspondence Kant began the 
composition of his Critique of Pure Reason, 
and through the history of this suppressed 
manuscript, taken in conjunction with Kant s 
express references to the Dialogues in the 
Prolegomena, 2 the historical connection be 
tween Hume s Sceptical Theology and the 
famous criticism of Rational Theology in the 
Transcendental Dialectic of the great Critique 
is thoroughly well established. In this latter 

1 Hamann, vi. 190. 

* Prolegomena, 57, 58, 59, et passim. 


we shall see how a great many of Hume s posi 
tions are restated and his conclusions accepted 
according to Kant s understanding of them, 
only, however, to be circumvented in the 
peculiar fashion of his new philosophy. And 
although Kant s reconstruction of theology be 
considered ever so unsatisfactory, it is because 
of the thorough way in which he and Hume 
before him had cleared the ground and showed 
men the " real point at issue " 1 that the phil 
osophy of either became the starting-point for 
theistic speculation in the subsequent century 
and a half. Therefore, just as it is possible in 
Germany for a cry to be raised from time to 
time of a "return to Kant," so in Scotland 
there is always opportunity for a return to 
Hume. 2 The result in the two cases will 
always be widely different, for this reason, that 
the Copernican revolution in thought, initiated 
by Kant, makes it possible to break entirely 
with the past. It opened up the way to a 
brilliant series of speculative deductions in 
metaphysics and theology which all proceed 

1 Kant and Hume compared in this respect. Flint s 
Theism, p. 389. 

2 The question in Germany is, Was uns Kant sein kann ? 
The popular question in English refers to the past rather 
than the present, What has Hume been? 


alike upon one and the same method namely, 
a mapping out of the different spheres of 
consciousness, moral or theoretical, cognitive 
or religious, as the case may be. 

With the Critique of Pure Reason an epoch 
begins for philosophy, in which every such 
investigation into the problems of natural 
theology as is contained in the Dialogues is 
at once pronounced to be incapable of produc 
ing any fruit, and the whole argument appears 
as a beating of the empty air of illusion. But 
however closely every positive result for the 
ology may be whittled down before the edge 
of Hume s scepticism, he still stops short of 
Kant s Transcendentalism just in refusing to 
make that distinction in our cognitive faculties 
which places theology on a different plane from 
all other knowledge, and enables Kant to dis 
miss the question in its older form on the 
ground of its being misconceived and insoluble, 
even while in the same moment he addresses 
himself to its solution under his own restate 
ment. Hume is concerned merely to sift the 
results of natural theology on his own prin 
ciples, and not to enter upon what Kant, in 
contrasting his own treatment of the theolog 
ical Idea with the Dialogues, calls "a careful 


critique guarding the bounds of our reason 
with respect to its empirical use and setting 
limits to its pretensions." To be sure, Hume s 
work limits the results of such use strictly 
enough ; but Kant limits the use itself by 
denying it in theology altogether. 

It is true that one of the interlocutors in 
the Dialogues contends directly for the in 
adequacy of human reason to the apprehension 
of God s Being. 1 But this, the extreme position, 
is attributed it seems designedly to the weak 
est of the three disputants, and it would be 
hermeneutically impossible to read the whole 
book as if it led up to an absolute negation 
in this form. For although, with the exception 
of the argument in the Dialogues, Hume does 
almost nothing to illustrate at length his 
already expressed idea of that system of 
"Divinity or Theology" which he would save 
from the flames when running over the 
libraries of the past, he prescribes the condi 
tions of such a system in words which are 

1 Demea : " The nature of God, I affirm, from the infir 
mities of human understanding, to be altogether incom 
prehensible and unknown to us ; " " The infirmities of our 
nature do not permit us to reach any ideas which in the 
least correspond to the ineffable sublimity of the divine 


perfectly definite, and which there is no good 
reason to regard otherwise than as sincere. 1 
"It has a foundation in reason so far as it is 
supported by experience; but its best and 
most solid foundation is faith and divine rev 
elation." It is only in strict accordance with 
the first of these conditions that in this later 
work of his we expect to find an honest en 
deavour to determine how great or how small 
is the residuum of theological truth to which 
Hume will admit that the natural reason 
working within the sphere of experience can 
attain. The second, again shadowed forth 
in its closing lines, remains altogether unful 
filled, and indeed the appeal to faith and 
revelation, which he more than once voices 
in passages where scepticism seems to hold 
undisputed sway over his formal reasonings 
on theological subjects, must only be taken 
to express just such "a natural sentiment" 
or "propensity" of feeling as may always 
maintain its place in the clearest mind along 
with an utterly opposed conviction of the 
understanding. The inconsistency from a 
logical point of view may be admitted by 
others ; it may be explicitly present with the 
1 Enquiry, iv. 135. 


author in person as it probably was with 
Hume. 1 But if that be so, it can hardly be set 
down as a futile concession to popular ortho 
doxy, least of all in the Dialogues, and .it re 
mains a fact to be reckoned with seriously 
in any comprehensive estimate of Hume s 
opinions. Still, in the book itself the action 
of the dialogue proper stands altogether apart 
from this short, ill-defined, and perhaps mis 
leading reference to faith and a "revelation" 
of some sort beyond ; it is a plain, painstaking 
attempt on Hume s part to discover what 
reasoned foundation, if any, he could allow 
for religion. 

The literary form into which the argument is 
cast that of dialogue though once a favourite 
method of conveying philosophical instruction, 
has not always been imitated successfully in 
later times. Two reasons are stated by Hume 
for its adoption in the treatment of his 
subject : first, that the conversational method 
sheds a variety of lights upon a truth " so 
obvious," " so certain," and " so important " as 

1 Enquiry, iv. 154, on Faith as a miracle "which subverts 
all the principles of a man s understanding and gives him 
a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom 
and experience." 



that of "the Being of a God"; second, that 
it allows the utmost play to opposing senti 
ments in dealing with questions so obscure, 
doubtful, and uncertain as those of His nature 
and attributes. Both reasons can easily be 
illustrated and paralleled from numerous 
passages in Hume s writings. In the Dia 
logues all parties to the argument agree in 
holding that of the existence of God there 
is no question whatever. Even the sceptical 
Philo, following Lord Bacon, compares the 
atheists of his time unfavourably with David s 
fool, who said in his heart, " There is no God," 
for they are not contented to say it in their 
hearts, 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." 1 After 
the same fashion the friend "who loves scep 
tical paradoxes," and takes the burden of 
maintaining the antitheistic argument in 
Hume s Enquiry, says, 2 "The chief or sole argu 
ment for a divine existence (which I never 
questioned) is derived from the order of 
nature." In a private letter as early as 1744 
1 Dialogues, Part II. * Works, iv. 112. 


he had defined his conception of religion as 
being, 1 " The practice of morality and the 
assent of the understanding to the proposition 
that God exists." That may be culpably scanty 
as a definition, but in all his writings, without 
exception, this one proposition is always ad 
hered to and often affirmed to be, in Hume s 
view, a possibly sufficient foundation for re 
ligion. For example, in a comparison of 
historical religions he says, " The only point < 
of theology in which we shall find a consent 
of mankind almost universal, is that there is 
invisible intelligent power in the world." 2 This 
last quotation rounds off the other references 
by introducing a new point of view ; but many 
other parallel passages drawn from Hume s 
writings might be used to show how firmly 
rooted is his purpose of making no question 
of the Being of a God. The theory of existence 
which underlies them all was first propounded 
in the Treatise of Human Nature : " Tis evid 
ent that all reasonings from causes or effects 
terminate in conclusions concerning matter of 

1 Burton s Life, i. 162. 

2 Natural History of Religion, sect. 4 ; cf. also sect. 15, 
" The universal propensity to believe in invisible intelligent 


fact : that is, concerning the existence of objects 
or of their qualities. Tis also evident that the 
idea of existence is nothing different ;from the 
idea of any object, and that when after the 
simple conception of anything we would con 
ceive it as existent, we in reality make no 
addition to or alteration on our first idea. 
Thus, when we affirm that God is existent we 
simply form the idea of such a being as He 
j is represented to us. . . . When I think of 
God, when I think of Him as existent, and 
when I believe Him to be existent, my idea 
of Him neither increases nor diminishes." l In 
thus distinguishing all other attributes from 
the one attribute of existence on the ground 
that the latter is no new or distinct idea in 
the object, Hume may be understood to 

1 Works, i. 394, 395. The word God occurs twice in the 
text of the whole Treatise, in the two sentences given 
above, and once in a note. The phrases Deity, Divine 
Being, and Supreme Being are used only in discussing the 
Cartesian certainty of perception, and Spinoza s Pantheism. 
A great deal of comment on the Treatise can be cast away 
at once by remembering this fact e.g., Green s Introduc 
tion, 339, beginning " From the point that our enquiry has 
reached we can anticipate the line which Hume could not 
but take in regard to self and God." The truth is, a dis j 
cussion of the theology of the Treatise would be quite con 
jectural and always has been such. 


minimise the theoretical importance of every 
proposition concerning existence. When there 
fore the distinction is applied specially to the 
Being and attributes of God, it undoubtedly 
lessens the positive significance of the assurance 
so often reaffirmed in his latest work that at 
least there is a God. But whatever explana 
tion Hume might have at hand to place upon 
these simple words, his first reason for using 
the form of Dialogue is amply justified within 
his own philosophy. 

While then our author postulates in this 
way the validity of a belief in God s existence, 
he finds that questions of His attributes and 
His plan of providence in the world lend 
themselves most easily to argument and dis 
cussion. "These," he says, "have been always 
subjected to the disputations of men." This 
historical reflection forms the second reason 
for his composing the Dialogues. Its sting lies 
in the truth of it. It came in the middle of 
a century fruitful in "proofs" of the Divine 
attributes, from the pen of one who had made 
a careful comparison of the religious tenets 
of men in ancient, in classical, and in modern 
times. The conclusion of his Natural History 
of Religion shows how Hume grasped the fact 


of a widespread divergence of opinion, so that 
it is possible, by " opposing one species of super 
stition to another, to set them a-quarrelling : 
while we ourselves, during their fury and con 
tention, happily make our escape into the calm 
though obscure regions of philosophy." Per 
haps there is a strain of malicious mockery in 
these words, but they point to the possibility 
of such contrary views as had come under 
Hume s notice being set forth just as they are 
in the Dialogues with himself to pronounce a 
judicial verdict upon the merits of each. 

These then are the fundamental presuppos 
itions of the whole book : first, the certainty 
of God s existence ; and secondly, the right of 
philosophy to discuss questions of His attri 
butes. 1 The two are perfectly consistent with 
his attitude to both points in his other works, 
and at the same time they are in themselves 
complementary to each other. In a note added 
in the Appendix to the Treatise of Human 
Nature both principles may be clearly traced, 
already present with the author and enabling 

1 Cf. the two presuppositions of Butler s Analogy : 
"Taking for proved that there is an intelligent Author 
of Nature and natural Governor of the world ; " " My 
design is to apply analogy to the subject of religion both 
natural and revealed." Introduction. 


him, after a fashion peculiarly satisfactory to 
himself, to claim to be a believer even in his 
most agnostic attitude towards God s attri 
butes, "The order of the universe proves an 
omnipotent mind. Nothing more is requisite 
to give a foundation to all the articles of 
religion, nor is it necessary we should form a 
distinct idea of the force and energy of the 
Supreme Being." 1 

For the task of advancing from these presup 
positions to the systematic criticism of natural 
theology, Hume introduces to his reader no 
fewer than three imaginary friends Philo, 
Cleanthes, and Demea whose conversation 
upon the theme of natural religion he records. 
Whatever classical reference there may orig 
inally have been in the names is entirely lost 
in the essentially modern drama in which 
they play their part. 2 In form, also, the Dia- 

1 Works, i. 456. Green and Grose. 

1 Thus Cleanthes has nothing in common with Zeno s 
pupil of that name, who presided over the Stoic School in 
the third century, B.C. Almost the only allusion to the 
nomenclature of the Dialogues occurs in a playful pass 
age of Hamann s Golgotha (1784), where he speaks of 
" Philo the Pharisee " having conspired with " Cleanthes 
the Hypocrite, to deny all possibility of understanding 
God s nature. They looked for a new Paraclete, the adven 
titious instructor, to dispel their ignorance by Revelation." 


logues have diverged widely from any class 
ical model. Though an echo of Cicero s De 
Natura Deorum is occasionally heard in 
Hume s language, 1 and the subjects are really 
akin, Hume s plan of having each of the dis 
putants to unfold at length a tenable and 
complete system precludes the use of that 
characteristic device by which the Greek and 
Latin dialecticians punctuate the arguments 
of their leading figures with the assents and 
simple questions of a learner, whose experi 
ence of being led on irresistibly from point 
to point by the master-mind is supposed to 
represent the reader s own. In Hume s book 
Cleanthes, Philo, and Demea do not yield to 
one another indiscriminately on the essential 
points of the argument. When they agree in 
their views they say so, when they differ they 
expound their differences, but none of them 
succeeds altogether in convincing either of 
the others ; and therefore at the close of the 

1 Cicero sums up thus : " Velleius held Cotta s argu 
ments to be the truest ; to me those of Balbus seemed 
more probable." And Hume s closing sentence is similar : 
" I confess that upon a serious review of the whole, I 
cannot but think that Philo s principles are more probable 
than Demea s, but that those of Cleanthes approach still 
nearer to the truth." 


Dialogues the reader is left with an uneasy f 
feeling that none of the great questions raised , 
have really received an answer. When many 
diverse views are propounded, each so power 
fully and all with so little agreement, it is ; 
difficult to say precisely which is meant to 
carry conviction. In consequence of this fact, 
many critics of the Dialogues have not hesi 
tated to ascribe to its author only some mis 
chievous purpose of casting all fixed religious 
opinions into inextricable confusion, and avoid 
ing every expression of his own. Thus Pro 
fessor Huxley, whose weakness for fathering 
his own agnosticism upon the great Scottish 
philosopher is predominant in his analysis of 
the Dialogues, says, 1 " One can but suspect 
that Hume s shadowy and inconsistent theism 
was the expression of his desire to rest in a 
state of mind which distinctly excluded nega 
tion, while it included as little as possible of 
affirmation respecting a problem which he 
felt to be hopelessly insoluble." 

There can be no doubt that the Dialogues, 
contain materials for constructing three per 
fectly distinct schemes of reflection on the 
Nature of God, each more or less exclusive of 
1 Hume, p. 157. 


the others ; and inasmuch as it is, humanly 
speaking, impossible for them all to spring 
from one brain without their having thoughts 
and ideas in common, it is easy to see that 
"the author had a certain amount of sym 
pathy with all the characters, and that each 
of them alternately mirrored his own ever- 
changing mood." Parts, too, of his general 
doctrines are worked in at length into the 
utterances of all three, as was indeed unavoid 
able. Hume himself, however, helps the in 
quisitive reader somewhat farther than this. 
He invites him at the outset to contrast "the 
accurate philosophical turn of Cleanthes " with 
" the careless scepticism of Philo," and both of 
these "with the rigid inflexible orthodoxy of 
Demea." At the close in the passage already 
quoted (note, p. xxx) he puts into the mouth 
of Pamphilus, who reports the whole conversa 
tion, an explanatory statement that he agrees 
with Cleanthes rather than Philo, and with 
Demea least of all. Still it is only by follow 
ing the argument from point to point, and 
noting just how much is distinctly admitted on 
each side, that the question of interpretation 
can ever be satisfactorily solved. 

From the very first it has been the usual 


view of critics to identify the author s theo 
logical position with Philo s scepticism, and 
perhaps only with the most virulently scepti 
cal parts of it. The notice of the book in 
the Gentleman s Magazine of October 1779, 
after mentioning the names of the characters, 
runs: "We need not say on which side this 
sceptical metaphysician inclines the balance, 
but must observe that the weapons with 
which Philo attacks the moral attributes of 
the Deity are the same with those which were 
employed by Lord Bolingbroke, and were most 
ably parried by Bishop Warburton." The 
polemical Priestley, in Letter IX. of his Letters 
to a Philosophical Unbeliever, published in 
1780, quotes "Philo who evidently speaks the 
sentiment of the writer." Kant, in his Pro 
legomena of 1784, regards Hume as speaking 
"in the person of Philo against Clean thes," 
and holds that view throughout. And a 
passage 1 from a once popular book may be 
quoted at length to show as early as 1781 
how strongly preconceived ideas of Hume s 
agnosticism had influenced current verdicts on 
the Dialogues. " In his dialogues concerning 
natural religion we have the substance of all 
1 Milner, Answer to Gibbon and Hume (1781). 


his sceptical essays, and notwithstanding his 
declaration at the close in favour of Cleanthes, 
the natural religionist, it is evident from the 
whole tenor of the book, and still more so 
from the entire scepticism of his former publi 
cations, that Philo is his favourite. Sincerity 
constitutes no part of a philosopher s virtue." 
This is in that same vein of rejecting Hume s 
own evidence which prevails generally in criti 
cisms of the self -revealed declarations of his 
position that abound in his writings and letters. 
Mr Balfour, in his Foundations of Belief, 
considers him an absolute sceptic, and when 
confronted with utterances that point the 
other way, he summarises in one sentence the 
difficulty a whole century of philosophers have 
experienced in trying to believe him, "I think 
too well of Hume s speculative genius and too 
ill of his speculative sincerity." The meaning 
read into the Dialogues by an exclusive identi 
fication of Hume with Philo has maintained 
its place in the history of philosophy, and may 
safely be said to be the only one that finds 
acceptance to-day. Once or twice a voice has 
been raised to protest against it. Dugald 
Stewart aptly remarks that "the reasonings 
of Philo have often been quoted as parts of 


Hume s philosophical system, although the 
words of Shylock or Caliban might with equal 
justice be quoted as speaking the real senti 
ments of Shakespeare." l Professor Campbell 
Fraser also finds in the Dialogues a groping 
after a final theistic faith such as he himself 
advocates. 2 But these partial acknowledgments 
of the unfairness of prejudging the effect of 
Hume s latest and most mature philosophical 
work stand in almost complete isolation from 
all other references to him and his specula 
tions : they may serve here as a preliminary 
warning to the reader that, along with much 
matter easily recognised to be a recapitulation 
of the author s earlier opinions, he may find 
in the Dialogues considerable modifications in 
their restatement. 

The three characters introduced in the Dia 
logues can be easily defined and classified 
without identifying any of them with any 
particular philosophical system known in 
history. Demea belongs to the class of 
orthodox theologians who distrust or dis 
credit all attempts to rationalise the existence 
of God. He praises piety and disparages phil- 

1 Dissertation note, C.C.C. 

2 Theism, pp. 7-10, 115 flf. 


osophy. He can cite all the divines, almost, 
from the foundation of Christianity to support 
the adorably mysterious and incomprehensible 
nature of the Supreme Being. Human minds 
are finite, weak, and blind, and therefore with 
regard to reason he is a Sceptic holding fast 
always to a peculiar religious Sense which 
alone gives us Truth. With Malebranche he 
calls God a spirit, not so much in order to 
express positively what he is, as in order to 
signify that he is not Matter. Language which 
has a plain reference to the state and situation 
of man ceases to have its earthy meaning when 
applied to the Deity, and therefore in religion 
he is a Mystic. He accepts the ontological 
proof of an infinite Deity in the form which 
proceeds by analysing the idea of necessary 
existence, and he accepts also the cosmological 
proof in that attenuated form which Kant 
rightly reduced to the same elements as the 
other. In his presentation of both there is no 
specification of the world that actually exists : 
the premises of his arguments are the abstract 
ideas of existence in general, which lead the 
mind back irresistibly, in Demea s logic, to first 
ideas as blank and colourless as themselves. 
For on his view the present actual order of 


things could not possibly serve as premise for 
any reasonable argument. It is nothing but 
vanity, imbecility, and misery ; it exists only 
to be rectified under other dispensations and 
in some future period of existence, and so 
with regard to it he is a Pessimist. 

This character is perhaps the most perfectly 
delineated of all three ; nevertheless, it is 
not the favourite by any means with the 
author, and indeed it serves "mainly as a 
foil to the other two disputants." 1 Hume 
chooses to regard Demea as a type of the 
popular philosophiser of his own day, and 
the pictures drawn of him in that role may 
safely be taken to be historically accurate. 
With consummate literary skill Hume lays 
special emphasis upon point after point of 
his self-complacent orthodoxy, in which he 
is implicitly a complete agnostic. 

Cleanthes is a rationalist in the sense that 
he has confidence in the natural operations 
of reason, and believes in its capacity of 
attaining truth, provided it confines itself to 
the sphere of ordinary experience and the in 
terpretation of that experience. When he is 

1 Orr, Hume s Influence on Theology and Philosophy, 
p. 201. 


confronted, as he inevitably is in Hume s plan 
of the drama, with the sceptical theory that 
all human knowledge is nescience, that "our 
senses are fallacious," " our understanding 
erroneous," "our ideas full of absurdities and 
contradictions," he reverts to the common- 
sense point of view that its refutation must 
be sought by an appeal to the procedure of 
ordinary life and practice. For such specula 
tive reasoning undermines all positive scientific 
truths alike. It is sceptical of every received 
maxim whatever. Therefore Cleanthes brushes 
it aside in the present task of examining the 
grounds of a natural theology. For him any 
system is better than no system at all. At 
every stage of knowledge belief must be pro 
portioned to the precise degree of evidence 
available, and "natural propensity" will always 
incline his assent towards an affirmation when 
there are some reasonable grounds for mak 
ing it, rather than towards a suspense of 
judgment recommended only by an abstract 
and general distrust in reason. Having thus 
grasped the nettle firmly, he turns away from 
these preliminary questions with an obvious 
measure of confidence to consider the outside 
world. In its workmanship he finds evidence 


of design clear and distinct, not dependent 
upon or needing demonstration, because it 
is as immediately given as the most vivid 
impression of the senses. He considers it 
proof of the existence of a designing mind, 
which is a sufficient object to satisfy his 
religious wants. He has found a Deity, and 
therefore he claims to be a theist. 1 His 
natural desire is to predicate infinite benevo 
lence and love of his God, and to this end, 
when he surveys the present order of things, 
he would fain close his eyes and deny ab 
solutely the misery and wickedness of man. 
By choice, therefore, he would, if possible, 
be a thorough - going optimist, but the facts 
are too hard for him, and in the end he 
modifies his conception of God s goodness in 
creation, and falls back upon the pious hope 
that in other scenes the ills of the present 
may be rectified, and the full fruition of 
human happiness and good may be attained. 
Throughout the book the speeches of Cleanthes 
are touched by a genuine emotion and en 
thusiasm for his cause, which apparently re 
flect the feelings with which Hume himself 
professes to regard him. 

1 Cleanthes Theism is really a form of Deism. 



For constructing the character of Philo, 
Hume, in the first place, has recourse to all 
the more sceptical elements which characterise 
his analysis of the human mind in his earlier 
works. To him the natural reason is an 
object of distrust : it furnishes invincible 
arguments against itself and all its own 
conclusions. It has especial difficulties in 
theology, because arguments there run wide 
of common life, get beyond the reach of our 
faculties, and strive after conclusions which, 
unlike those of political economy, ethics, and 
"criticism" the topics of Hume s later life, 
be it noted cannot be verified and tested 
by the senses and experience. A natural 
theology, therefore, is impossible. Moreover, 
it is meaningless. For it claims to make 
intelligible in the divine mind an ordering 
power which, as far as our knowledge of 
human reason goes, is not known to be in 
herent in reason itself, but may be derived 
from external principles of orderly arrange 
ment. Other natural powers, too, that are 
altogether irrational are observed daily to 
issue in order, so that it smacks of partiality 
to ascribe the origin and maintenance of the 
universe to any one of them rather than to 



the others. To Philo it appears at times that 
the order in Nature is much more easily 
explicable by natural powers than the design 
in reason by rational powers, and an orderly 
system therefore leads us to seek its cause 
in itself, not in a designing mind. So far he 
is a "naturalist," and the question of a theol 
ogy does not arise for him. Neither does that 
of a theodicy. For in viewing the created 
world he holds the balance evenly between 
regarding it as good or as evil. He leans 
to no extreme view either of itself or its 
causes. Morally they are indifferent, right 
and wrong are illusions ; goodness or malice 
cannot be affirmed of either one or the other. 
But this description of Philo s position is 
quite insufficient to account for the con 
clusions to which he eventually comes, it 
may be inconsistently. Throughout the last 
three sections of the argument, he expressly 
makes repeated admissions that there is evi 
dence for a design, purpose, or intention in 
Nature. "It strikes everywhere the most 
careless, the most stupid thinker." "The sus 
pense of judgment," which is the triumph of 
scepticism, "is in this case impossible." "All 
the sciences almost lead us insensibly to ac- 


knowledge a first intelligent author, and their 
authority is often so much the greater as 
they do not directly profess that intention." 
"Here, then, the existence of a DEITY is 
plainly ascertained by reason." These and 
other sentences are not the strictly logical 
result of Philo s original position : in the 
Dialogues, considered as a single book, they 
plainly signify his partial acquiescence in the 
contentions of Cleanthes. They are not the 
results we should naturally expect to be pro 
pounded by Hume from the standpoint of 
the Treatise or the Inquiry ; therefore, in 
his general philosophy, if they are to be 
taken as the sincere expression (and I think 
they must be) of his last word in developing 
his own doctrine, they denote in Hume a 
slackening of his earlier scepticism whether 
through the mellowing influence of time, or 
natural inclination, or reasoned conviction, it 
is hard to say. In any case, both Cleanthes 
and Philo converge upon this measure of 
positive assertion and agreement of course 
from opposite sides, and to Philo it is the 
maximum he will allow in natural religion. 
With the popular faith of his own time Philo 
has no sympathy whatever, and in this re- 


spect, too, he has Cleanthes with him, both 
again representing the life -long attitude of 
Hume to what he always terms " false 

From what has just been said, the Dia 
logues obviously afford a very pretty question 
of interpretation. The problem, however, is 
simplified in the end by Demea s abrupt dis 
appearance from the stage, leaving the argu 
ment between Cleanthes and Philo. The initial 
alliance between Demea and Philo was one 
that could only endure so long as the former 
remained blind to the consequences which his 
friend would infer from their common prin 
ciples. A theology which starts from a doc 
trine of human ignorance, adds to that the 
doctrine that the present order is one of un 
mitigated evil and illusion, and then concludes 
by affirming the Deity to be absolutely tran 
scendent, is reduced at once under Hume s 
canons of truth to absolute scepticism. It is 
usually unaware of its own implications, and 
Hume represents it so ; therefore, in any 
philosophical writing it would naturally be 
regarded as an imperfect and incomplete vari 
ation of a more reasoned theory : in dialogue 
it can be developed into its final form with 


especial ease. This is exactly what happens 
in Hume s treatment of the subject: Demea 
is a mere puppet in the hands of the more 
systematic sceptic, and the issue of the whole 
argument may be said to lie between Philo 
and Cleanthes. 

From this general statement there must 
always be excepted that section of the Dia 
logues which deals with the a priori proofs 
of God s Nature. Part IX. of the book is an 
interlude in the dramatic action, much shorter 
than the other parts, and quite distinct from 
them in every way. Its omission would not 
detract in the least degree from the continuity 
of the argument ; it is complete in itself, and 
may properly be considered and disposed of 
separately. The a priori proofs are put into 
Demea s mouth, and on this one point he 
receives no support whatever from Philo. He 
is left alone to defend what is even for him 
an obviously ill-grounded inconsistency. And 
in a very few, clear, and pithy sentences Hume 
makes Cleanthes and Philo give the whole sub 
stance of all the criticisms that have since been 
directed against the use of a pt^iori reasoning 
in speculative theology. 

Of the usefulness of such reasoning could it 


be validly admitted there is no real doubt, and 
two points with regard to it are absolutely 
determined in Hume s analysis. It proves the 
unity of God s Nature and the infinity of His 
attributes with a directness not to be found in 
any other topic. At the same time, it requires 
a habit of thinking so special that it neither 
commands general assent nor awakens strictly 
religious feeling. Accordingly, there are ad 
vantages and conveniences in it for theology, 
if the solidity of its argument be left out of 
question ; nevertheless, even on that supposi 
tion, it is too much out of touch with ordinary 
life to be very convincing or to buttress up 
practical religion. 

Hume leaves the dissection of the a priori 
arguments in the hands of Cleanthes. In the 
speech of Demea, setting them forth, two lines 
of proof are inextricably jumbled together, one 
from the contingency of existence which impels 
the mind to trace back the series of causes to 
a first, which is its own cause; and another, 
expounding the implications of the idea of a 
first cause, who carries the reason of His exist 
ence in Himself, whose non-existence, therefore, 
is expressly contradictory. This conjoining of 
the arguments, commonly distinguished as the 


cosmological and the ontological proofs of God s 
existence, foreshadows the Kantian procedure, 
the ways of stating them being identical, and 
the criticisms passed upon them having con 
siderable analogy in the two philosophers of 
Scotland and Germany. 1 Hume, however, so 
far from introducing any particular precon- 
stituted theory of the causal nexus into his 
argument, as Kant does, treats the question 
in the Dialogues without reference to his own 
analysis of causes and effects, or to any other. 
On the path of all causal reasoning, which 
abstracts from the particular and seeks to 
predicate a cause for existence (or its equiv 
alent the world), he establishes one grand 
dilemma which bars that path effectually and 
finally. Two metaphysical presuppositions are 
possible to him who would prepare premisses 
for the cosmological argument, and each is an 
abstraction from experience. Let that pass. 
On the first the world is conceived as an 
eternal succession of objects, linked together 
temporally by a chain of relation in which 
each is at once effect of a preceding cause 
and cause of a succeeding effect. To this 

1 Vide Caldecott and Mackintosh, Theism, pp. 193, 203. 
Also specially Kant s First and Fourth Antinomies. 


Hume objects that it leaves no room for a 
prius, and therefore it seems absurd to inquire 
for a primum. The regular process of tracing 
natural causes, which in the Dialogues at least 
is recognised as quite legitimate, is under this 
presupposition taken to have universal appli 
cation, while at the same time it is for theo 
logical purposes abandoned ; and the maxim, 
every effect must have a cause, is in the end 
pronounced self-contradictory. 

On the other presupposition, what Hume 
calls an arbitrary act of the mind unites all 
the particular parts of the temporal succession 
into a whole, which is then said to want a 
cause. " Did I show you," says Cleanthes, 
"the particular causes of each individual in 
a collection of twenty particles of matter, I 
should think it very unreasonable should you 
afterwards ask me what was the cause of the 
whole twenty. That is sufficiently explained, 
in explaining the cause of the parts." This 
impugns directly the logical possibility of con 
ceiving the world as a unity. It is the same 
argument as occurs in the Treatise. 1 " Twenty 
men may be considered as an unite. The whole 
globe of the earth, nay, the whole universe, 
1 Works, i. 338, Part II. 2. 


may be considered as an unite. That term of 
unity is merely a fictitious denomination." 
For Hume, therefore, this form of cosmo- 
logical argument begins by putting forward 
most questionable premisses, and in addition 
to this objection, which is urged from his own 
peculiar standpoint, he proceeds to attack its 
method of drawing conclusions from them. 
The object of the argument expressly is to 
establish the Infinity and Unity of the Deity. 
But these two qualities are in the first instance 
surreptitiously ascribed to the created world, 
which, accordingly, might perfectly well be the 
only self-existent Being. Whatever argument 
for the existence of God adopts as its method 
the ordinary category of cause, is bound to 
assume for the world the very qualities it 
wishes to prove for the Deity ; and to Hume, 
in his most agnostic mood, all such argu 
ments appear reducible to pure naturalism or 

In the Dialogues, therefore, the cosmological 
argument which, as Kant says, professes "to 
begin with experience and is not completely 
a pi^iori" is shown to derive all its nerve and 
force not from its supposed solid basis in a 
reference to the real world, but from meta- 


physical presuppositions which have trans 
formed that reference into abstractions that 
seem to Hume altogether apart from experi 
ence and imaginary. He is not content, how 
ever, with merely detecting this sophistical 
illusion in the argument, but proceeds to give 
it a turn that is distinctly antitheistical. In 
endeavouring to link God and the world to 
gether as cause and eifect, the mind wavers 
between two views of that relationship as it 
is evidenced in creation. Either the present 
order is equated mechanically to its cause, in 
which case, being the better known, it merits 
the more adoration in itself, and can be so 
regarded as to exclude any inference to God, 
or else it is arbitrarily taken to be contingent 
and insufficient in its existence to be real ; and 
then Hume holds that this arbitrary judgment 
may as easily be passed upon God s Being as 
upon that of the world. In both respects 
Hume s trenchant criticism is most effective, 
and while it will still be possible to inquire 
whether the more refined analysis of the con 
cept of cause in modern times has enabled 
theology to rehabilitate such argument, it is 
necessary here once more to emphasise the 
fact that Hume s treatment of it is in no 


way dependent upon the limitations, either of 
his own outlook or of that of his time. 

The remaining parts of Demea s argument 
make no pretence of appealing to our experi 
ence, and are purely a priori. In very few 
words his reasoning runs: "We must have 
recourse to a necessarily existent Being, who 
carries the REASON of His existence in Him 
self, and who cannot be supposed not to exist 
without an express contradiction. There is 
consequently such a Being that is, there is a 
Deity." This process of speculation is dealt with 
in the most summary fashion by Cleanthes 
whose words so obviously express all that 
Hume has to say on the matter, that they may 
be quoted in full: "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-exist 
ence implies a contradiction. Consequently 
there is no being whose existence is demon 
strable. I propose this argument as entirely 
decisive, and am willing to rest the whole con 
troversy upon it." 

The method, therefore, of such argument is 


rejected by Hume, almost contemptuously : he 
is altogether out of sympathy with the very 
possibility of it. But he also brings his own 
theory of "necessity" to bear upon the idea 
of necessary existence as it is predicated of the 
Deity, his purpose being to prove how natur 
ally it affords an inference directly opposite to 
the religious hypothesis. Mathematical neces 
sity depends upon ideal relations, and for 
Hume is more easily ascribed to the proposi 
tions of algebra (and arithmetic), where the 
mind deals with its own abstractions, than to 
those of geometry, for which Hume could ac 
count only with great difficulty. 1 And "neces 
sity" in mathematics is so obviously independ 
ent of the question of the existence of objects, 
that the theological use of that idea to illus 
trate some occult quality in God involves an 
application of the term that is altogether 
new. Both Cleanthes and Philo take their 
stand upon the nature of mathematical neces 
sity, which Kant in a parallel passage calls 
"this logical necessity, the source of the 
greatest delusions." Cleanthes is content to 
point out that " necessity " is a term valid only 
in defining the relations of ideas : " We lie 
1 Treatise, Part iii. sect. 1. 


under a necessity of always conceiving twice 
two to be four." Existence is a term, used 
only in dealing with "matters of fact." The 
words, therefore, necessary existence, have no 
meaning, or, which is the same thing, none 
that is "consistent." Philo goes on to point 
out the danger of introducing the idea of 
necessity at all into our cosmology, where it 
may lead as easily to a naturalism of necessary 
laws as to a theism. In mathematics every 
theorem that is proved states a necessary 
property of the objects to which it applies, 
and therefore, however much regularity and 
order and beauty there may be in any of its 
problems, it is always possible to demonstrate 
that every appearance of design is in reality 
the work of blind necessity. It might easily 
be the case that just as the most complex 
arithmetical series to a skilled calculator is 
an immediate deduction from the simple unin 
spiring rule that one and one make two, so 
the whole economy of the universe, if we are 
to ask why it must be as it is and not other 
wise, can be referred back to previous states 
which for natural science render it absolutely 
impossible that any other disposition than the 
present should ever have come to pass. 


And because science has a perfect right to 
subject all its objects without exception to the 
power of thus deducing their necessity, it may, 
with some appearance of justice, convert this 
principle of its own method into a universally 
valid postulate. A mathematician who ob 
serves that the diagonal of a square or the 
circumference of a circle bear a fixed relation 
to the magnitude of the circle or the diameter 
respectively, and are at the same time incom 
mensurable with these latter, considers him 
self justified in taking this relation to be a 
necessary one, and sets about proving it with 
out any further preliminaries. If, as in the 
a priori argument, this same idea of a neces 
sary existence be introduced in a scientific 
view of the created world, Hume points out 
that no room whatever is left for a hypothesis 
of design. This hypothesis being all-important 
for an empirical or natural theology, Hume 
rejects the ontological argument on every 
point: his explanation of its common accept 
ance simply is that "a habit of thinking," 
appropriate in mathematics, has been "trans 
ferred to subjects where it ought not to have 

Such is Hume s criticism of the cosmological 


and ontological arguments as he conceived 
either them or the principles on which they 
rest. The subsequent history of philosophy 
may be searched in vain for any attempt to 
meet it fairly and squarely. It is the final 
and irrevocable judgment of empiricism upon 
a priori arguments in theology, and even when 
his general principles, or even when other of 
his conclusions, have failed to commend them 
selves to a later age, it at least has never 
been formally appealed against. "Theism," 
says Professor Flint, "is not vitally interested 
in the fate of the so-called a priori or onto 
logical arguments," l and this remark well de 
scribes the resignation with which modern 
thought has viewed their disappearance. 

Since Hume wrote his Dialogues, argument 
of an ontological type has been concerned with 
a question at once more comprehensive in its 
bearings and more definite in its formulation 
namely, the investigation of the fundamental 
relations of all thought and all existence. The 
primary and necessary principles of knowledge 
have to be reconciled at every point with the 
self-existence of reality, if knowledge is to be 
accepted as true and not illusory. This ques- 
1 Theism, p. 267. 


tion includes the older inquiry as to the exist 
ence of a Deity corresponding to the ideals of 
reason, and like it demands an answer from 
the analysis of the implications of thought 
itself, not from anything that is given in 
sense or comprehended by understanding. It 
is more concerned, however, to spiritualise the 
universe as an object of knowledge than to 
cognise an individual or personal spirit in it. 
Hume s difficulties for theistic speculation are 
circumvented, therefore, by stating them on 
the grand scale as objections to the apprehen 
sion of the most simple matters of fact. When 
this is done a dilemma is established between 
our believing the mind to have a natural credi 
bility in virtue of its own essence, and our 
affirming it dogmatically to be without rela 
tion to any real Being whatever. And so all 
the points touched upon by Hume receive one 
by one a solution in which his distinctions 
between "ideas" and "facts," between "prin 
ciples of union among ideas" and "natural 
relations" disappear. Thus for Herbart causal 
connection reduces to a purely logical form ; 
for Lotze it is the evidence directly given of a 
"supernatural sustaining power, immanent in 
all existence and operative in all change," in 



the revealing activity of one person to another : 
and so for these and all similar systems the 
whole of the theory of knowledge depends 
upon ontological argument. The idea of God, 
like other ultimate truths, is intuitive ; it is 
the work of " objective reason " ; it is a pre 
supposition of thought; or it is the unity of 
thought and being on which all individual 
thought and existence rest. There are many 
possible alternatives for such speculation when 
it takes upon itself to become theological, but 
all are linked together through their common 
starting-point in the endeavour to prove con 
sciousness and its real content to be a har 
monious and indivisible whole. Suppose now 
that this basis be granted, and that it be found 
sufficiently trustworthy, then the argument to 
the existence of God does proceed upon the 
familiar lines of the old cosmological and on 
tological proofs, and resembles them closely 
enough to pass for a serious attempt at recon 
struction. It proves God s existence by invok 
ing the necessities of human reason ; it deduces 
His Personality from the needed completion of 
all our conceptions ; and it ascribes attributes to 
Him which are not by any means to be veri 
fied in our passive experience of any known 


objects (the created world), but are implied in 
our outgoing self-realising activity. And once 
this stream of a priori reasoning is in full 
flood, it were, in Hume s own vivid phrase, "to 
stop the ocean with a bulrush" to urge the 
considerations which had sufficed in the Dia 
logues for diverting its first course. Never 
theless, whenever any serious attempt is made 
to expound or illustrate or defend the unity 
and harmony of the ideal with the real, the 
argument cannot but take upon itself a teleo- 
logical form. It can easily be classified under 
this heading, and probably such reasoning is 
invested with its peculiar charm for specula 
tive thought solely through the considerations 
of design in mind and external reality which 
it undoubtedly contains. 

In the Dialogues, 1 with the exception of the 
few sentences of Part IX., which deals ex 
pressly with the a priori arguments, the treat 
ment of Hume s subject is concerned entirely 
with an analysis of the teleological argument. 
The a priori proofs being ruled out, the whole 
book is dominated by Cleanthes steady insist 
ence upon this one foundation for his theism. 

1 From this point references to the Dialogues will be 
given to the paging in the present edition. 


" By this argument a posteriori, and by this 
"* argument alone, do we prove at once the 
existence of a Deity, and His similarity to 
human mind and inteligence," (p. 31) ; accord 
ingly the sole question is as to the possibility 
and accuracy of this proof. If, however, 
Cleanthes admits only one form of argument, 
he represents it to be so wide as to be all- 
inclusive. In different passages he appeals to 
"the whole world and every part of it" "the 
image of mind reflected on us from innumer 
able objects," "our immeasurable desires of 
good," "the operations of reason," and in fact 
to all actual phenomena of experience, external 
and internal alike, as affording material for 
his hypothesis of design. To begin with, there 
fore, the scope of his proposed theme knows 
no limits. 

Again, an obvious consequence of the book 
falling into the literary form of dialogue is, 
that the argument for a natural religion in 
it undergoes a process of gradual development 
and refinement in the course of the conversa 
tion. Simple and ill -defined conceptions are 
succeeded by others more complex and more 
accurate as the conversation proceeds, each of 
the speakers contributing something to the 


final result. On Cleanthes alone lies the burden 
of maintaining the positive conclusion. The 
other two are on the negative side. If there 
is any continuity in the book, an impartial 
analysis ought not to be adversely affected by 
the progressive restatement which naturally 
ensues of the position of each. Cleanthes, for 
example, gives up a notable part of his original 
scheme when he abandons the possibility of 
tracing design in the moral world. Philo in 
turn, by reason of the admission he makes 
to him at the close of the argument, cannot 
be supposed to retain his scepticism unbroken. 
Each of the two is in many different points 
corrected by the other. 

The drama opens with a very complete X 
statement of the purely sceptical theory of 
human knowledge from Philo and Demea. 
Our natural reason is subject to " uncertainty 
and endless contrarieties," not only in science 
but "even in subjects of common life and 
practice " (p. 9). The science of quantity alone 
has any pretence of certainty, and even in 
it error and contradictions are more abundant 
than truth. These are the old commonplaces 
of Hume in the Treatise when he takes that 
intense view of reason to which he is impelled 


as a philosopher, and in opposition to it 
Cleanthes reminds him of the sentiments of 
his spleen and indolence which he had there 
confessed to govern his life as a man ; how 
"it is impossible for him to persevere in this 
total scepticism or make it appear in his con 
duct for a few hours." The bent of his mind 
relaxes, and his conduct is so obviously subject 
to a necessity to believe, that his scepticism 
appears to others pretended and insincere. 

Here, then, in the Dialogues the two opposing 
elements in which Hume s theory of knowledge 
had ended, the enthusiasm of abstract specula 
tive negation and the instinctive determination . 
to live and act by ordinary maxims, are re 
stated exactly almost in the same language 
as in the last section of the Treatise on the 
Understanding. There Hume in his single 
person makes no choice, and indeed prides 
himself upon the fact that because it is a 
choice "betwixt a false reason and none at 
all," he can regard it with indifference. But 
here and now the choice is made definitely 
by Philo the sceptic himself, and the balance 
on which judgment formerly was suspended 
inclines ever so little to the side of belief 
" in common life." It is necessary to note 


exactly how much he will admit, because it is 
through the very first chink in the sceptical 
armour, so perfect before, that Cleanthes 
pushes home his thrusts. The words of Philo s 
present confession are : " To whatever length 
any one may push his speculative principles 
of scepticism, he must act, I own, and live, 
and converse ; and for this conduct he is not 
obliged to give any other reason than the 
absolute necessity he lies under of so doing " 
(p. 14). "The sceptical reasonings" are "so 
refined and subtile that they are not able to 
counterpoise the more solid and more natural 
arguments derived from the senses and ex 
perience." Philo therefore lays aside the 
pretence of absolute scepticism for practical 
life and conduct, and also, what is more im 
portant, for his consideration of the sciences 
commonly called " natural." " 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." 
And a few pages later, after Cleanthes had 


clinched this concession, he refers more boldly 
still to " those suggestions of the senses and 
common understanding by which the most 
determined sceptic must allow himself to be 
governed" (p. 24). One cannot help feeling 
that Hume is here allowing that very ground 
for an answer to himself which was almost 
simultaneously being occupied by Reid for his 
Philosophy of Common-Sense. 

It is, however, unnecessary to ask how far. 
this position differs from the doctrine of. 
the Treatise, because it appears that Phik\ 
having admitted this much positively in the 
Dialogues, is immediately carried one step 
farther. For a single moment he excludes 
theology from the favour yielded to other 
sciences. In theological reasonings we have 
not the advantage of an appeal to sense and 
experience. " 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 appropri 
ated to them, we cannot account for them, 
and are entirely guided by a kind of instinct 
or necessity in employing them." 

Cleanthes at once questions the validity of 
this distinction. For him a "natural religion" 


is bound to put itself strictly into line with 
all natural sciences whatever. " 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 

He divides the various systems of scepticism 
that seem possible to him into three classes. 
One is fatal to "all knowledge," and not to 
religion specially. It is absolute agnosticism 
which discusses no evidence in any particular 
case, but dismisses everything as uncertain or 
insoluble. Without any breach of courtesy 
to his companions he can liken this way of 
thinking to the brutal and ignorant prejudice 
which the vulgar entertain to everything they 
do not easily understand. The most generally 
accepted results in science depend upon elabor 
ate trains of minute reasoning, and yet because 
they are so abstruse, they are not one whit 
less securely established than the plainest 
experimental deduction. And for his own 
argument he promises by anticipation that 


it will be of the simplest and most obvious 
kind. If "the general presumption against 
human reason " be made a plea against natural 
religion, there is neither need nor opportunity 
to proceed further; but this is the very pre 
sumption which Philo has put away from him 
self, and therefore the only possible method for 
"the most refined and philosophical sceptics" 
is to consider each particular evidence "apart, 
and proportion their assent to the particular 
degree of evidence which occurs." To the 
general question of the bare credibility of our 
knowing faculties, Cleanthes has his own 
answer. If that be allowed to arise, a problem 
is set of which he says, "I have not capacity 
for so great an undertaking : I have not leisure 
for it : I perceive it to be superfluous." Super 
fluous it certainly was in the discussion between 
himself and Philo, if the latter was willing to 
abide by the statements he had already made. 

Besides this form of total unbelief, Cleanthes, 
in considering the possibilities of scepticism, 
makes a distinction between two other forms 
of it, very aptly described by Philo as "re 
ligious" and "irreligious," or, as the modern 
phrase is, " anti-religious " scepticism. The first, 
which exalts the certainty of theology, and 


distrusts the common sciences, is the most 
objectionable to Hume. It lends itself easily 
to priestcraft, which he held in steady ab 
horrence, and so far as it is the motive of 
Demea s contentions in the Dialogues, it issues 
in irrational obscurantism and receives the 
full force of Hume s satire. Philo sums up 
the verdict for Cleanthes in one sentence, "If 
we distrust human reason, we have now no 
other principle to lead us into religion." 

There now remains the third form, namely, 
that of "irreligious" scepticism, which may 
depend upon the most varied grounds, but 
must at least give its reasons when called 
for. To it Philo declares himself to adhere, 
and he states the considerations which deter 
mine him to it as plainly as possible. "In 
reality, Cleanthes, there is no need to have 
recourse to that affected scepticism, so dis 
pleasing to you, in order to come at this deter 
mination. Our ideas reach no farther than 
our experience. We have no experience of 
divine attributes and operations. I need not 
conclude my syllogism. You can draw the 
inference yourself" (p. 30). With this ac 
knowledgment the preliminaries may be con 
sidered settled by mutual consent, and the 


ground is cleared between the two principal 
disputants. The question of the natural falli 
bility of human reason is waived and remains 
so, even when at various points later Philo 
indicates implicitly the possibility of reviving 
it. What remains to be argued is whether 
experience, the sole fountain of truth, yields 
any evidence whatever apposite to the theo 
logical inference, and the question if such 
evidence can be legitimately converted into 

For a starting-point in his construction of 
a teleological view of the world, Cleanthes 
adopts one of the popular deistical conceptions 
of the eighteenth century. The universe is 
"nothing but one great machine, subdivided 
into an infinite number of lesser machines, 
which again admit of subdivisions," apparently 
to an unlimited degree. This familiar figure 
of speech is not intended to express more 
than the fact of ubiquitous order, and because 
of its common use in contemporary theological 
essays, both Cleanthes and Philo set themselves 
to the task of stating the argument depending 
upon it before the discussion begins. Each 
gives a short summary, and each agrees that 
the other has not done injustice to its ordinary 


statement, Philo saying (p. 35), "I must allow 
that he [Cleanthes] has fairly represented that 
argument," while Cleanthes assents (p. 38) 
that Philo "has made a fair representation of 
it." We can therefore draw upon the speeches 
of both for a formal analysis of its successive 
steps. The fact of order in the world is ad 
mitted; but this is "not of itself any proof 
of design." We can only say that as it occurs 
throughout all nature, order or adaptation or 
adjustment resembles the productions of human 
contrivance. Only experience can inform us 
at all of the causes of such order ; and as we 
find by experience that the plan of any work 
of human art a watch, a ship, a house is 
first formed in the mind, so we conclude that 
without this preparation such things would 
for ever remain uncreated and unknown. 
Therefore by analogy we conclude that the 
original principle of the universe lies in a 
designing mind. The causes in each case must 
be of the same kind, only proportioned each 
to its several effect. 1 The whole argument 

1 This representation of analogy as involving "a pro 
portion" is borrowed from Butler. Kant also, speaking 
of the physico-theological argument in the Critique, says, 
"We infer from the order and design visible in the universe 
as a disposition of a thoroughly contingent character the 


undergoes considerable development in Hume s 
hands, and obviously it is stated only as a 
convenient and easily recognised scheme upon 
which he can graft his own criticisms. In 
particular, the questions of the nature of 
"analogy" and of the "proportion" it involves 
are left open, and admit discussion at once. 

The unavoidable uncertainty of analogy in 
every science is an immediate objection to 
its use. No stronger evidence than perfect 
similarity in two cases of the same nature is 
" ever desired or sought after," but wherever 
there is difference and alteration analogy is 
weakened, and its conclusions do not com 
mand confidence in the same degree. It 
demonstrates only probabilities, and therefore 
it is essentially a method of . deduction to be 
entered upon with the slow and deliberate 
step of philosophy, and not in uncritical haste. 
Philo questions its validity in the present case 
for three distinct reasons, stated briefly in 
Part II. of the Dialogues. In the first place, 

existence of a cause proportioned thereto." In a note to 
the prolegomena ( 58 dealing directly with the Dialogues), 
analogy is treated in a formal illustration, " As the welfare 
of children (=a) is to the love of parents ( = l>\ so is the 
welf.are of men ( = c) to the unknown in God (=x) which 
we call love. 


there is no proof offered of the similarity 
between the universe and the productions of 
human contrivance, as there ought to be in 
face of apparent dissimilitude. In the second 
place, other natural powers than reason are 
observed at work in the mechanism of the 
universe, and therefore, unless something de 
termines us in favour of one particular 
principle, we could not pretend to draw an 
analogy from the operations of any natural 
power in its own peculiar sphere, or infer it 
to be the first cause of all. And lastly, our 
experience extends only to a small part of 
the universe, and to a very short period of 
its existence : the inference sought to be 
drawn in theology is one as to the cause of 
the whole from the beginning of all time. 

The second objection, very briefly stated 
here, contains the nerve of all Philo s argu 
ment in Parts IV. -VIII., and if its considera 
tion be deferred until we treat of them, we 
only follow Hume s own plan. The last objec 
tion receives its answer at once ; for, as it is 
worded in the Dialogues, Hume describes it, 
quite justly, to be brought forward " some 
what between jest and earnest." 

Philo has reached the point of saying that 


for his opponent "it were requisite that we 
had experience of the origin of worlds ; it is 
not sufficient, surely, that we have seen ships 
and cities arise from human contrivance," and 
demanding how the theistic inference can be 
confirmed by repetition of instances and ex 
periment. But the conditions imposed by this 
demand are obviously incapable of fulfilment: 
they put an impossible meaning upon the 
word experience, and Cleanthes points this 
out perfectly clearly in reply, "To prove by 
experience the origin of the world, is not 
more contrary to common speech than to 
prove the motion of the earth from the same 
principle." Our experience is limited in space 
and in time and in extent, we cannot better 
it; but this fact alone cannot invalidate our 
right to infer a meaning in what we do know. 
Philo, like Hume s imaginary opponent in the 
Essay on Providence and a Future State, has 
insisted that the singular and unparalleled 
nature of the act of creation bars all pos 
sibility of drawing any analogy between it 
and other events ; and Hume, in the first 
person, had already met the difficulty by a 
direct negative. " In a word, I much doubt 
whether it is possible for a cause to be known 


only by 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 observ 
ation." And accordingly, when stripped of 
the impossible demand for infinite experience, 
the third objection of Philo to the analogical 
argument returns upon the first, and becomes 
a call for further explanation of the alleged 
similarity between human productive activity, 
as we observe it, and the generation of an 
orderly universe. The "reasonings of too 
nice and delicate a nature," upon which Hume 
had declined to enter in the Inquiry, are 
forced upon him now, when the whole ques 
tion is being treated expressly. 

The method which Cleanthes adopts for 
overcoming his opponent s first objection is 
to minimise it. "It is by no means neces 
sary that theists should prove the similarity 
of the works of Nature to those of art, be 
cause this similarity is self-evident and un 
deniable." The proof which Philo asks for 
is not one that can be reduced to the forms 
of logic : the first step towards the inference 
of design must be intuitive. The possibility 
of arguments of this logically irregular nature 


is proved, says Cleanthes, by their universal 
and irresistible influence. If, in the simplest 
inference from perception, for example, if, 
when we infer from hearing a speech the 
fact that there was a speaker expressing his 
meaning in what we hear, it then be ob 
jected that our inference cannot be expressed 
in accordance with the principles of logic, 
and must therefore be rejected, nothing re 
mains but that form of absolute scepticism 
which both have already agreed to abjure. 
All conclusions concerning fact are founded 
upon experience, and accordingly the possible 
validity of intuitive deductions from it, such 
as are every day drawn in common life, must 
be admitted by all who take up the positions 
held by the two leaders in the Dialogues. 
Self-evident intuition always accompanies ex 
perience, and Cleanthes holds that his op 
ponent s demand for proof of the similarity 
between creation and a work of human art 
implies a misapprehension of the essential 
nature of the only possible assurance on that 

He gives two examples of immediate de 
ductions which resemble the theistic inference. 
A voice being heard which is not mere sound, 


but is articulate with meaning and instruc 
tion, and rational, wise, coherent ; we at once 
conclude that it proceeds from reason and 
intelligence, and in our conclusion it is a 
matter of indifference whether the sound be 
extraordinarily loud and widespread, or whether 
it be of the commonest kind. Again, we read 
a book, and find it conveys a meaning and in 
tention ; we conclude that it sprang from de 
sign. Let it be supposed that books could be 
propagated by natural generation and descent, 
as plants and animals are ; even then our 
reading still justifies our conclusion. Nature 
is like a library of books addressed to our 
minds in a universal language. " When it 
reasons and discourses ; when it expostulates, 
argues, and enforces its views and topics ; 
when it applies sometimes to the pure in 
tellect, sometimes to the affections ; when it 
collects, disposes, and adorns every considera 
tion suited to the subject : could you persist 
in asserting that all this at the bottom had 
really no meaning, and that the first forma 
tion of this volume in the loins of its original 
parent proceeded not from thought and de 
sign?" (p. 52). To demand "proof" of the 
similarity of the meaning of Nature to the 


meaning of language is to demand the im 
possible. The self-evident is indemonstrable. 
"Consider, anatomise the eye," says Cleanthes, 
" survey its structure and contrivance, and 
tell me, from your own feeling, if the idea 
of a contriver does not immediately flow in 
upon you with a force like that of sensation." 
And whatever object we set before ourselves 
teleologically, it is the same idea with the 
same force that it suggests. The crucial diffi 
culty for Cleanthes is just the one to which 
this ultimate position is a complete answer 
in the Dialogues. So far, the general current 
of the conversation, as the present writer 
conceives it, has been concerned with the 
important question of the correct method in 
teleological argument. And Hume, in his 
treatment of the old well-worn demonstration 
of God s existence from the mechanism of 
the universe, represents one at least of the 
three disputants to have penetrated to the 
fundamental point on which it all depends. 
An immediate self-evident intuition with the 
same force as sensation cannot be demon 
strated by the principles of logic, and Cleanthes 
seems to have grasped to the full all the 
bearings of his position, just as they were 


afterwards grasped, in treating of the theory 
of knowledge generally by those who replied 
to Hume. The power of conviction, where 
evidence of this kind is adduced, is so great 
that logic is required not to dispute it but 
to account for it, or admit it as best logic 
can. The only question applicable to such 
evidence as Cleanthes pins his faith to is 
that of its occurrence or non-occurrence in con 
sciousness, and if we carry our survey of the 
development of the argument to the close of 
the whole book, we shall find that this partic 
ular question is always answered in an affirm 
ative way. Cleanthes points out repeatedly 
that the hypothesis of design cannot be got 
rid of at any turn, and in the end Philo 
adopts it himself for his own conclusions. 
The conclusion to design is exceedingly plain 
and simple according to Cleanthes; it may 
on ly give foundation for a very slight fabric 
of superadded truth: but again, even on that 
supposition, both disputants declare themselves 
satisfied of its sufficiency. 

At the point in the Dialogues where this 
position is reached (in the end of Part III.) 
Philo is represented "as a little embarrassed 
and confounded," and makes no reply to 


Cleanthes final statement of his meaning : 
the questions which intervene between it and 
the resumption in the concluding part of the 
thread of argument here dropped deal with 
other issues. In the letter to Sir Gilbert 
Elliott already quoted, Hume himself divides 
the Dialogues at this point, and advises his 
friend that he need go no farther in order 
to apprehend his true meaning. 

We have already seen that it is Demea 
who diverts the continuity of the argument 
at another point, by introducing as a side 
issue the discussion on the a priori proofs of 
God s Being ; so, also, it is he who gives the 
opening later on to the consideration of the 
moral argument. And at the present juncture 
it was Demea again who "broke in upon the 
discourse " and saved Philo s countenance. The 
interruption which is put into his mouth re 
vives Philo s second objection to the design 
argument, exactly as it had already been ex 
pressed by him, and to the exposition of it 
the sceptic naturally turns the whole course 
of the debate ; but with Demea s disappear 
ance at the close of Part XL he joins hands 
again with Cleanthes upon the conclusions 
reached thus early in the book. If, then, 


we are to interpret the Dialogues as express 
ing any settled opinions at all of the author, 
we must infer that he considered the ex 
istence of design in Nature to be established 
either certainly, or at least sufficiently, by 
the appeal to what is self-evident. 
/ So far, then, the author s procedure has been 
directed simply to prove that design is traced 
in Nature by one of the simplest and most 
direct inferences of which the human mind is 
capable. However, no sooner has Cleaiithes 
gained this first and most essential point than 
the difficulties which follow it are brought up 
with all the force of the author s best style. 
They are many and very diverse, and some of 
them are so evidently true to Hume s general 
attitude on common subjects, they are treated 
at such length and with so much dialectical 
skill, that they do undoubtedly constitute a 
formidable attack from him upon the whole 
design argument, and thus far justify the view 
ordinarily taken that the Dialogues are directly 
antitheistical in their tendency. Still, it is 
only by selecting the finest and most subtle 
doubts which the hypothesis of design suggests 
to Philo, by ignoring any positive truths that 
both he and Cleanthes profess to accept about 


creating intelligence, and by overlooking alto 
gether the argument which leads up to them, 
that most of the references to the book in the 
history of philosophy interpret it in the purely 
sceptical sense. An impartial verdict ought to 
hold both the positive affirmations, at least 
so far as they seem agreed upon, and the 
negative criticisms together for a proper esti 
mate of this contribution of Hume to the 
philosophy of theology. 

For the teleological argument, as Hume con 
ceived it, really involves two distinct move 
ments of thought. The first is the argument 
to, or towards, design ; which is meant to prove 
no more than that design, and a designing 
intelligence of some sort, must exist in the 
universe. The second is the argument from 
design; which follows the first and depends 
upon it, which seeks to define further the con 
ception of designing intelligence by help of its 
works, and in particular proceeds to inquire 
whether or not such intelligence can legiti 
mately have predicated of it such attributes 
as personality and unity, perfection and in 
finity, or self-existence and omnipotence. The 
first movement may be exceedingly simple, the 
second always is exceedingly involved. That 


Hume should have distinguished the two, and 
approved of the first while treating the second 
in a thoroughly sceptical manner, does not 
seem to have occurred even as a possibility 
either to friendly or unfriendly critics. 

Accordingly, no sooner has Cleanthes ex 
pounded what he calls his "hypothesis of 
design" than Demea inquires whether it may 
not "render us presumptuous by making us 
imagine we comprehend the Deity, and have 
some adequate idea of His nature and attri 
butes?" He restates Hume s own doctrine of 
the human mind just as Philo had done in 
the as yet undiscussed objection to the design 
argument which we have already noticed. The 
human mind is nothing more than a succession 
of ideas united in one subject yet distinct, 
arranged for one moment yet constantly fleet 
ing away: if Hume can explain it at all, it is 
the product of natural forces. In its beginning 
it is observed daily to originate in generation 
and birth, in its course the machinery of 
thought is altered and even controlled by 
external causes and accidental impression ; all 
that we know of its essence is that it seems 
dependent, and not original or self-supporting. 
If, then, Cleanthes maintains that there is 


evidence of the existence of a designing in 
telligence, both Demea and Philo are quite 
entitled, on Hume s principles, to ask how we 
can possibly suppose this divine mind of his 
to be "the model of the universe" (pp. 40 and 
57). Cleanthes is quite willing to be tied down 
to affirming the similarity between the divine 
mind and the human, and says so with no 
uncertain voice. The creating intelligence is 
"like the human," and "the liker the better"; 
twice he declares "I know no other" (p. 74), 
and courageously taking up this position with 
all the difficulties attaching to it, he allows 
the epithet of anthropomorphism to be applied 
to his doctrine with indifference or even with 
his express approval. He holds fast to his 
"first inferences," as Philo terms them later 
(p, 92), and without reservation declares 
always for the positive consequences of the 
resemblance of the divine to the human, even 
to the length of affirming of God weaknesses 
and imperfections, and limitations by necessity, 
such as constantly are experienced in man. 

Philo, on the other hand, has no difficult task 
on the negative side in showing "the incon 
veniences of that anthropomorphism" which 
his opponent has embraced. It is here that 


the destructive criticism of the Dialogues is 
really to be found, and here that it is based 
upon Hume s own settled opinions. It was 
Kant s accurate and most just verdict upon the 
book 1 that "all the arguments in it dangerous 
to theism centre round this one point of 
anthropomorphism," and yet the danger from 
Philo is not so much to Cleanthes method of 
proof as to the meaning to be read into the 
conclusion. In the winding up of the argu 
ment, where Philo acknowledges that the 
" existence of a Deity is plainly ascertained 
by reason," he states quite clearly how much 
scope he will finally allow to the argument 
from design. " If we are not contented with 
calling the first and supreme cause a GOD or 
DEITY, but desire to vary the expression, what 
can we call Him but MIND or THOUGHT, to 
which He is justly supposed to bear a consid 
erable resemblance?" (p. 170). This clearly is 
to admit the bare elements of his opponent s 
second contention that the designing intelli 
gence is like in kind to the human mind, and 
Philo goes on to define the question between 
them as one of the degree of resemblance. 
This presents itself to him conveniently as a 
1 Prolegomena, 57 . 


species of verbal controversy " which, from the 
very nature of language and of human ideas, 
is involved in perpetual ambiguity, and can 
never, by any precaution or any definitions, be 
able to reach a reasonable certainty or pre 
cision." 1 It is generally admitted that in 
the history of the teleological argument, the 
greatest error of its exponents has been their 
uncritical tendency to press the anthropo 
morphic analogy to unreasonable lengths, and 
in this respect their licence requires always 
to be curtailed. When Philo in the Dialogues 
undertakes this task, it is done thoroughly 
enough, the argument is confined within limits 
narrower than those it commonly is inflated 
to fill ; but that process of compression is by 
no means one of annihilation, although by 
entering upon a question of degree as "incur 
ably ambiguous" as those referred to by 
Hume, any one may easily persuade himself 
of the contrary. It is just in conceiving the 
Deity after the likeness of man that the 
strength of the teleological argument lies, and 

1 For this doctrine in a modern form, cf. Bradley, 
Appearance and Reality, p. 533. "It is better to affirm 
personality than to call the Absolute impersonal. But 
neither mistake should be necessary." 


its weakness. For its proper treatment it is 
essential that both sides should be accurately 
displayed, and in this respect the Dialogues 
seem to afford an excellent example of 
systematic analysis. 

The first inconvenience of the anthropomor 
phic explanation of order in the universe is 
that it need not be taken to be final or com 
plete. Human reason itself is held by Philo 
not to be self-dependent. We may not know 
or be able to explain the causes why its ideas 
arrange themselves in order to form plans 
towards its ends, but we have no more right 
to attribute that power of arranging to a 
rational faculty inherent in mind than we 
have to attribute order to an orderly faculty 
in other natural powers. Philo, therefore, 
having no theory of reason as a real entity, 
independent of the ideas, passions, and sensa 
tions which "succeed each other" in it, has 
no theory to account for the falling into 
order of "the different ideas which compose 
the reason of the Supreme Being" (p. 67). 
Their order or arrangement require and de 
mand an explanation just as much as the 
order in the visible world. "The first step 
we take leads us on for ever. When you go 


one step beyond the mundane system, you 
only excite an inquisitive humour which it is 
impossible ever to satisfy." To him Cleanthes 
explanation of the form of the world by a 
divine intelligence appears only "to shove off 
the difficulty" for a moment, and to account 
for what we observe by means of a cause 
itself unaccountable. It sets up an infinite 
series of deductions in which the same thing 
always remains unexplained. "If the material 
world rests upon a similar ideal world, this 
ideal world must rest upon some other, and 
so on without end." 

Cleanthes, however, refuses to be drawn into 
this discussion of the possibility of an infinite 
tracing out of the causes of design. "Even 
in common life, if I assign a cause for any 
event, is it any objection that I cannot assign 
the cause of that cause, and answer every new 
question which may incessantly be started?" 
(p. 69). His first step is not the beginning 
of an endless journey from hypothesis to 
hypothesis "entirely in the air," as he terms 
such procedure in another connection (p. 137), 
it is an immediate inference to design and 
a designing mind ; and with an obvious hit at 
his opponent, he asks what philosophers could 


possibly insist upon demanding the cause of 
every cause, "philosophers who confess ulti 
mate causes to be totally unknown." Cleanthes 
does not attempt to give a theory of reason in 
opposition to Philo s, no doubt the author felt 
the impossibility of representing him in that 
role, he only denies that there is any need for 
him to do so. "You ask me the cause of my 
intelligent cause." "I know not; I care not; 
that concerns not me. I have found a Deity, 
and here I stop my inquiry. Let those go 
farther who are wiser or more enterprising." 

Philo therefore quits this ground of objec 
tion in the Dialogues, and a little later, in 
the course of his own attempt to give a 
naturalistic theory of order, when he is asked 
by Demea to offer some ultimate explanation 
of the vegetative principle which he prefers 
to the intelligent cause of all (p. 98), he 
explicitly refers to the nature of the agree 
ment reached by Cleanthes and himself. For 
Cleanthes it was considered sufficient if the 
first step is supported by experience. He him 
self takes the same ground, and maintains that 
it is undeniable that vegetation and generation 
as well as reason are experienced to be prin 
ciples of order in nature. " If I rest my system 


of cosmogony on the former preferably to the 
latter, tis at my choice. The matter seems 
entirely arbitrary. And when Cleanthes asks 
me (which of course he has not done) the cause 
of my great vegetative or generative faculty, 
I am equally entitled to ask him the cause of 
his great reasoning principle. These questions 
we have agreed to forbear on both sides, and 
it is chiefly his interest on the present occa 
sion to stick to this agreement." The dispute 
between pure naturalism and theism is not 
to be decided against, either by the respective 
difficulties of explaining the essential opera 
tions and internal structure of natural forces 
on the one hand, or of reason on the other. 
In both cases there is the same inconvenience ; 
and while Philo is left to say that "an ideal 
system arranged of itself without a precedent 
design is not a whit more explicable than a 
material one," the dispute is not made one 
whit clearer by this particular method of 
comparing their merits. 

The battle on this point, then, is left drawn, 
and a lasting truce called by mutual consent. 
But with the suggestion of the possibility of 
a naturalistic derivation of reason, the way is 
open for a pure naturalism to claim an equal 


right with the most refined spiritual interpre 
tation of the world, and the discussion in 
the Dialogues gradually veers round to a 
balancing of these two alternatives. 

The argument from design is, first of all, 
considerably reduced in its weight by the 
losses which its conception of the Deity under 
goes in direct consequence of its anthropo 
morphic method of conceiving Him. Infinity, 
perfection, unity, and omnipotence, in f act, 
all the transcendent attributes usually connected 
with the idea of God, are implicitly denied in 
affirming His likeness to man ; and in fact no 
part of the design argument is directed to 
prove them. It proceeds upon the strictly 
empirical method, and therefore is doomed 
from the first to fall short of attributes which 
apply to nothing we experience in observing 
real things. No combination of the evidences 
of design can ever prove the "unity" of the 
designer, that very term " unity " being a 
"fictitious denomination," and no addition of 
them can reach to His infinity. To all Philo s 
suppositions of possible ways of conceiving 
the Deity, or deities, without these attributes, 
Cleanthes accordingly has no answer, save to 
point out that none of them "get rid of the 



hypothesis of design." He never abuses his 
argument by pretending that it proves more 
than it can reach ; indeed he has his own 
objections to using the word infinite, which 
savours more of panegyric than of philosophy, 
and should be replaced by more accurate and 
more moderate expressions (p. 142), in which 
our knowledge of God approximates to the 
comprehension of His perfection, representing 
His wisdom and power as greater than any 
other that we know, without proceeding to 
define them as infinitely great. 1 The argument 
from design reaches a conception of God that 
may be lofty, yet it can never attain to the 
conception of an Infinite. It defines His quali 
ties by similarity with finite things, and that 
being its professed aim it accepts cheerfully 
those inconveniences which arise from its not 
attaining a fuller result than it actually seeks 
after. At this stage of the argument 2 Philo 
touches upon the alternative of having recourse 
to a pantheism, not so much as a possibility 

1 An empirical philosophy must always take the idea 
of infinity to be reached by way of approximation, 
a method which derives confirmation from its use in 
Euclidean geometry. 

2 Part VI. 


for himself as for his opponent. He expresses 
himself unwilling to defend any particular 
system of this nature, yet because it is "at 
least a theory that we must, sooner or later, 
have recourse to whatever system we em 
brace," it cannot be overlooked. The classical 
notion of the soul of the world is introduced 
because it has the apparent advantage of rep 
resenting the form and order of the universe 
to be coeval and conterminous with the matter. 
It has, therefore, many points of kinship with 
Cleanthes teleological theism, and is, indeed, 
as Philo remarks, "a new species of anthropo 
morphism." It excels just in emphasising the 
inherent nature of the eternal principles of 
order in the world, and in treating their 
connection with it organically rather than 

But Hume does not discuss the possibilities of 
a spiritual pantheism at any length ; he makes 
Philo accept the suggestion of Cleanthes, that 
"the world seems to bear a stronger resem 
blance to a vegetable than to an animal " ; and 
because it is to the former a matter of indif 
ference whether we hold the original inherent 
principle of order to be in thought or in 
matter, he abandons at once the only part 


which, in the doctrine of a world-soul, attrib 
utes reason to it. A spiritual pantheism 
always suggests itself as an easy variation 
upon theism, and we may shrewdly suspect 
it was introduced in the Dialogues only as 
a temporary suggestion in order to lead up 
to pan-materialism. 

Hitherto Philo has confined himself to point 
ing out "the inconveniences" 1 of his friend s 
anthropomorphism, but now, in expounding a 
purely naturalistic or materialistic hypothesis 
of order, he recognises that his attack is no 
longer upon "the consequences" of the design 
argument, but upon "the first inferences," 
from which it all depends. The real enemy 
of theism is naturalism. Both start from 
the same base in the observed fact of the 
presence of order in the world, but from this 
common point of agreement they derive prin 
ciples that are altogether irreconcilable. For 
one party, the first step is to prove that 
order implies design ; for the other, it is to 
point out that order is derived from purely 
irrational principles, and the divergence which 
commences with the first step leads on to 
complete opposition. The two views cannot 
1 Pp. 64, 72. 


possibly be combined one must be allowed 
and the other denied ; and yet the careful 
reader of the Dialogues will not find them 
brought forward with the aim of having their 
respective merits decided. Naturalism is not 
a system to which Philo is at all inclined to 
commit himself unreservedly, and his method 
of discussing it is to point out how very 
similar its analogies and inferences are to 
those of theism, and how little argument the 
adherents of one theory can bring against the 
other without destroying the validity of their 
own reasonings. In his conclusions on this 
point his inconsistency is more plainly marked 
than elsewhere in the whole book ; for while 
in holding the balance even between natural 
ism and theism he maintains that "a total 
suspense of judgment is here our only reason 
able resource" (112), and prides himself on 
having no fixed station or abiding city to 
defend, his judgment in the end is given, 
without further trial, in favour of one side. 

The parallel which Philo draws between 
methods and grounds of the two opposing 
schemes is most complete. We have experi 
ence not only of reason as a principle of 
order in the world, but of other principles 


such as instinct, generation, vegetation, and 
perhaps a hundred more, which undoubtedly 
exist, and also do certainly have some degree 
of a conserving and developing power, such as 
is required to maintain the great fabric of 
the whole. The universe resembles a machine, 
but it also resembles countless objects which 
are independent of human agency, a spider s 
web spun by instinct, a vegetable sprouting 
up from its seed, an animal developing out 
of an egg. The resemblances in each case 
are striking : all of them have commended 
themselves to the judgment of mankind in his 
tory ; who, then, shall decide between them ? 
None of the analogies drawn from them pre 
tend to be final, but stop short of defining the 
ultimate causes of the world. Reason, instinct, 
vegetation, even Nature, are all alike inexplic 
able, and no one principle can justly claim a 
preference to the others. 

Philo, therefore, claims the right to be 
indifferent in choosing whether he will ascribe 
priority to thought or to matter. Experi 
ence can hardly decide the question : abstract 
reason is not to be trusted, because it is not 
an impartial judge ; no possible touchstone can 
be brought to bear upon what we observe, 


and therefore we ought to ban all speculation, 
theistic and naturalistic alike. 

This negative conclusion of itself sets limits 
to pure naturalism, but Hume proceeds to 
show how cautiously, even in the most 
speculative mood, any advocate of naturalism 
must approach his questions, and how many 
dangers beset his most familiar paths. Philo 
undertakes for a moment to expound that evo 
lutionary theory of order on which modern 
naturalism is most commonly based one with 
which in every age naturalism has been so 
closely connected as even to be wholly 
identified with it. It is attempted to ascribe 
all the multiplicity and adjustment now ob 
servable in the world to an origin in the 
simplest elements possible, and while Philo 
allows only "a faint appearance of probabil 
ity" to such a theory, he anticipates its most 
systematic statement so completely as to ex 
pound probably all the essential points in it. 

Order is to be evolved out of disorder by 
blind unreasoning force, and if this can be 
done the grounds of the theistic inference 
from design disappear altogether, and only a 
naturalism or a materialism remains. 

Only three elements are demanded for his 


new hypothesis of " cosmogony " matter, 
motion, and eternity in time. The first two, 
all sciences hold to be constant in their 
quantity; we turn to experience, and "there 
is not probably, at present, in the whole 
universe, one particle of matter at absolute 
rest." An infinite duration in time is perhaps 
only a supposition, but it is a possible one. 
We turn again to experience, and find that 
there actually is a system, an order, "an 
economy of things by which matter can pre 
serve that perpetual agitation which seems 
essential to it, and yet maintain a constancy 
in the forms which it produces." With the 
possibility of infinite transpositions all orders 
are possible, unstable positions pass away 
and decay, total or partial chaos ensues, "till 
finite, though innumerable, revolutions produce 
at last some forms whose parts and organs 
are so adjusted as to support the forms amidst 
a continued succession of matter " : the present 
world, therefore, can be conceived as a stage 
in the history of matter - seeking form, and 
" by its very nature that order, when once 
established, supports itself for many ages, if 
not to eternity." Possibility and actuality 
therefore agree ; the conclusion is simple. 


"Wherever matter is so poised, arranged, and 
adjusted as to continue in perpetual motion, 
and yet preserve a constancy in the forms, 
its situation must of necessity have all the 
same appearance of art and contrivance which 
we observe." If we turn from the inorganic 
to the organic in Nature, Hume has no theory 
such as later was used to account for the 
development of species ; but Philo shadows 
forth that very idea which lies at the root of 
it, of order being "requisite for the subsist 
ence " of the individual. " It is in vain to 
insist upon the uses of the parts in animals 
or vegetables and their curious adjustment to 
each other. I would fain know how an animal 
could subsist unless its parts were so adjusted ? 
Do we not find that it immediately perishes 
whenever this adjustment ceases, and that its 
matter corrupting tries some new form?" 

On this line of argument the theory of the 
evolution of order in the universe by natural 
laws of self -development must inevitably dis 
pense with a reference to design, and probably 
would do so altogether in modern times were 
it not the case that modern teleology has 
widened her outlook upon creation, is willing 
to walk in imagination as far backward along 


the course of the world s development as the 
evolutionist is able to lead her, but only de 
mands that he shall not minimise the nature 
of the primitive elements, nor ignore the fact 
that they really involve all the multiplicity 
of adjustment in themselves as truly as their 
latest combinations do. But whatever may be 
the true way of reconciling the evolutionary 
and naturalistic explanation of order with 
the inference to design, the Dialogues indi 
cate one possible reply to the evolutionary 
theory by which the need for a reconciliation 
may be avoided altogether. And because the 
hypothesis of evolution in the Dialogues is 
admittedly "incomplete and imperfect," being 
a side issue " suggested on a sudden in the 
course of the argument," we have only to state 
Hume s partial reply to it, a reply which is 
perfectly valid in its own place after a century 
and a half of steady advance in speculation. 

The proposition that everything which exists 
must be subject to order is not convertible 
directly into this other, that the only purpose 
of order is to conserve existence. The first is 
obviously within experience ; the second would 
require confirmation from an analysis of each 
individual instance of order, and could be dis- 


proved by one single case in which order is 
not an indispensable condition of bare life. 
Such cases, says Hume, though in general very 
frugal in Nature, "are far from being rare." 
He mentions only the physical conveniences and 
advantages which men possess, but one might 
add all the aesthetic and intellectual pleasures 
so profitable, so necessary for the perfection of 
man s nature, and then ask his question, With 
out all these "would human society and the 
human kind have been immediately extin 
guished?" And one proved instance of order 
where existence is not made more secure but 
rather more pleasurable and more complete by 
it, " is a sufficient proof of design, and of a 
benevolent design which gave rise to the order 
and arrangement of the universe." But the 
whole tenor of the evolutionary hypothesis is 
that all order, without exception, arises from 
the natural predisposition of all species that 
are generative towards the securing of life. 
Cleanthes does not question that such a power 
does operate in the world he only denies that 
it is sufficient to account for all of the in 
numerable forms that are made known to us 
in experience ; and Philo allows his contention 
without hesitation. 


With this partial vindication of design 
against pure naturalism, Hume leaves the 
question between them apparently undecided. 
It is not further argued ; indeed, Philo s view 
of it is that no amount of argument can ever 
completely prove the one or completely dis 
credit the other. If it comes to a question 
of probability, of balancing the reasons for 
either side, if it is possible in his own phrase 
to "believe that the arguments on which a 
theory of design is established exceed the 
objections which lie against it," if, in fact, a 
definite conclusion is demanded for common 
life, as conclusions are demanded every mo 
ment on questions less lofty than theology, 
then Philo s judgment is not suspended, but 
becomes a "plain philosophical assent." But 
that the assent should be so plainly given 
from the sceptic s side, as it is in the Dialogues, 
is in itself proof of a distinct positive advance 
on the speculations of Hume s early years. 

There is, however, one point on which the 
Dialogues yield only a negative result, and 
strangely enough it is the very argument 
from the idea of morality which Kant alsop 
excepted from the remainder of his critique 
of theology, treating it favourably, and en- 


deavouring to give it a deeper setting among 
the necessary postulates of reason. Hume 
recognises quite fully the need for a con 
ception of God which will harmonise with 
our highest ethical standards. Cleanthes is 
made to say expressly, "To what purpose 
establish the natural attributes of the Deity 
while the moral are still doubtful and un 
certain ? " In his desire to complete his theme 
he would willingly embrace the only method 
of supporting divine benevolence which he 
can conceive possible namely, "to deny ab 
solutely the misery and wickedness of men." 
But optimism is not a cloak that will fit 
Hume as it did Leibnitz. The world never 
presents itself to him at any time as a scene 
in which the good preponderates over the 
evil, even in the least degree, much less is 
it purely and unmixedly good.v It is not a 
picture in which unpleasant shadows and 
jarring contrasts are used only in order to 
accentuate the brightness and harmony of the f 
main subject, so that the whole work is one 
of beauty; it is rather an unfinished daub, 
parts of which might possibly be praised in 
isolation, but the greater proportion of its 
surface ought to be covered up. And there- 


fore Cleanthes abandons all claim of moral 
perfection for God. He is "regulated by 
wisdom," desires to be benevolent, but is 
" limited by necessity." The natural operations 
that we observe at work in life might easily 
have been bettered by omnipotent goodness, 
and made more conformable to" our concep 
tions of right without any loss to the other 
products of design. Four ways of morally 
amending the present order suggest them 
selves to our author. Pleasure might be 
employed to excite all creatures to self- 
preservation in every case where the present 
means is pain ; l general laws might be made 
less rigid where their effects are cruel and 
unfair; the powers and faculties for good and 
happiness might be increased ; excessive pas 
sions in man and unbridled power in Nature 
might be regulated and controlled so that all 
convulsions and revolutions should be impos 
sible. As we read the pages of the Dialogues 
we seem to hear an echo of the ironical 

1 Only a Paley could base any argument upon the in 
verse consideration that pleasure seems superadded for 
purposes which "might have been effected by the opera 
tion of pain." Nat. Theol., chap, xxvi., which is small 
consolation for the ills of life. 


pessimism of Voltaire and Bolingbroke, and 
they evidently express Hume s confirmed and 
settled attitude to the worth of life in his 
mature as in his early years. And Hume 
saw in the light of dispassionate reason how 
little there is to suggest the existence of an in 
dulgent fatherly love, ruling the universe with 
a direct interest in the welfare of its creatures : 
it is rather "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." So 
far as our experience of reality goes, we can 
not lean to any extreme theory of the moral 
qualities it expresses. We cannot suppose 
them perfectly good or perfectly bad ; we dare 
not suppose them mixed and opposite, for 
that means conflict and contradiction ; we can 
only suppose that good and evil are illusions, 
and that all real things are indifferent. 

This antitheistic conclusion (for Hume admits 
it to be so) is entirely in accordance with his 
general theory of morals, and his contempor 
aries were not slow to lay their finger upon 
the point at issue. All moral judgments for 
Hume depend upon the natural psychology of 
man. In political and social ethics we con- 


ceive right and wrong only because certain 
ends are agreed upon, have been customary, 
and are accepted as such. Certain rules of 
conduct appear "useful" for these ends, and 
therefore we distinguish them as being right. 
In the ethics of the individual, also, we have 
no reason for making any judgment, except 
through the arbitrary constitution of the 
human mind ; so that, as Reid says, 1 " by a 
change in our structure what is immoral 
might become moral, virtue might be turned 
into vice, and vice into virtue." The un 
essential nature of moral distinctions for 
Hume had already been illustrated in his 
other writings, notably in that one which 
bears the title " A Dialogue," and therefore Reid 
adds justly, "Mr Hume seems perfectly con 
sistent with himself in allowing of no evidence 
for the moral attributes of the Supreme Being, 
whatever there may be for His natural attri 
butes." And therefore it is to the nature of his 
theory of morals that we must trace the motive 
of his main objection to natural religion. 

If, then, in beholding the natural order of 
the world, Hume is moved to despair, the in 
ward moral order in man cannot bring him 
1 Active Powers, Essay V., chap. vii. 


relief. For it, according to him, is arbitrary 
and fluctuating, and has no independent au 
thority. "What I have said concerning nat 
ural 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 His benevol 
ence resembles the human." And so his nega 
tive to the moral argument in natural religion 
is complete. Probably had his scepticism here 
been less unmistakably his own reasoned ver 
dict, it might have been taken for a grand 
satire upon the popular theology of his own 
day. In it the wretchedness and wickedness 
of men were favourite topics, and the darkest 
shadows in Hume s pessimism are bright in 
comparison to the absolute blackness pictured 
by orthodox divines when they referred to the 
estate of sin and misery that resulted from 
the fall. It was only Hume s fearless logic 
that warned them of the atheism implied 
in their meanings : he himself seems content 
to rest in the conclusion he had drawn from 
premisses which at least were his own, whether 
others shared them or not. 

In whatever way it may be possible to re 
state the moral argument, Hume s judgment 



of it in the form in which he conceived it is 
unfavourable. Even the earliest direct reply 
to the Dialogues, that of Milner in 1781, points 
out how far Hume s general position in ethics 
is accountable for this phase of his speculation. 
Conscience and the very intuitive nature of 
the moral sense are not taken into his view 
at all, and yet there are "final causes in the 
moral world as obvious as in the administra 
tion of the natural world." 1 And with the 
deepening sense of the reality of moral dis 
tinctions and moral laws, the nature of the 
moral argument has changed rapidly in modern 
times, and the ascription of ethical perfection 
to God is on every side considered to be an 
indispensable and essential condition of any 
expression of belief in Him. 

With Hume the consciousness of such a 
necessity is not present, and in summing up 
briefly the net result of the Dialogues, we 
must bear his difficulty carefully in mind. The 
total of agreement between the two principals 
is not very great in extent. They both accept 
the argument from design, and it alone, for all 
we know of God. They find evidence every 
where of the presence of an active ordering 
1 Milner s Answer, sect. 12. 


intelligence, a creative reason, a mind. This 
is all we know of God, and therefore in this 
form it is we must worship Him. If we are 
pleased to call Him good, it is with this reserva 
tion, that goodness in God is less like goodness 
as we know it than His reason is like ours. 
" The moral qualities in man are more defect 
ive in their kind than his natural abilities." 
Analogy, which formerly enabled us to dis 
cover the admitted truth, fails us now to de 
scribe the moral qualities of God : there is no 
evidence for them as there undoubtedly is for 
His designing intelligence. Let us, therefore, 
call Him Mind, and for the rest keep silence 
and believe. This is the final message of 
Hume s latest utterance on the greatest ques 
tion of the ages. We should be wrong if we 
claimed that it contained more unjust if we 
supposed it contained less. 

In their closing paragraphs the Dialogues 
call us away from the speculations of pure 
theology to the practical application of divine 
truth in life. He had as little sympathy as his 
contemporary, the poet Burns, with the awful 
doctrines of a God all power and fore-know 
ledge, ruling by terror of hell and hope of 
heaven, with " devils and torrents of fire and 


brimstone," in which " the damned are infinitely 
superior in number to the elect," all the 
crude Calvinistic dogma, so prevalent among 
his fellow-countrymen, from which they hoped 
to derive some guidance for their conduct in 
the way. In his opinion it overlooked the 
importance of the ordinary virtues, neglecting 
them in order to concentrate attention upon 
eternal salvation, even holding that they are 
unessential and unmeaning. To him it serves 
only as an example of false religion, with con 
sequences pernicious in society and utterly 
demoralising in the individual ; only a little 
better than no religion at all; a superstition, 
with a kernel of truth encased in a shell of 
doctrines that can and ought to be cast away. 
For the false Hume would substitute now as 
the true that conception of religion running 
through all his writings from the earliest to 
the latest, according to which we assent to the 
existence of God, and for the rest give all our 
energies to the practice of morality. "The 
proper office of religion is to regulate the 
heart of men, humanise their conduct, infuse 
the spirit of temperance, order, and obedience ; 
and as its operation is silent, and only enforces 
the motives of morality and justice, it is in 


danger of being overlooked and confounded with 
these other motives. When it distinguishes 
itself, and acts as a separate principle over 
men, it has departed from its proper sphere, 
and has become only a cover to faction and 
ambition." 1 Not concerned with dogmatising 
about the many and mysterious attributes of 
God or the incomprehensible decrees of His 
Providence, as though some necessity lay upon 
us to profess complete knowledge of Him, re 
ligion is for Hume, in the first place, a simple 
faith and a present rule of conduct in the 
present life. It has a certain limited know 
ledge of God derived by reason working in the 
realm of experience. No doubts can take that 
much away ; but out beyond there always lies 
for Hume, when he goes deepest in his search 
for truth, the realm of faith and revelation. 
The last word of the Dialogues is a cry for it, 
the only refuge for human reason from its 
ignorance and imperfections. So also ends the 
Inquiry, so also the Essay on the Immortality 

1 P. 176. Compare with this passage of the Dialogues the 
following from The History of Great Britain, vii. 450 : 
"The proper office of religion is to reform men s lives, to 
purify their hearts, to enforce all moral duties, and to 
secure obedience to the laws of the civil magistrate." 


of the Soul. For religion that has to do with 
concrete life, lived in the clear sense of God s 
existence, must surely end either in a claim of 
perfect knowledge or else in just such a cry. 
Though Hume nowhere defines these terms of 
faith and revelation, and nowhere gives an 
analysis of their use, I see no reason why, in 
choosing the second of these alternatives, he 
should be deemed inconsistent or insincere. 

And if from the purely historical point of 
view the closing lines of the Dialogues be 
considered their author s last utterance in 
speculation, they may be taken to indicate 
how, to the very end, the natural man strove 
with the philosopher in Hume s thought and 
left him dissatisfied still. 








IT has been remarked, my Hermippus, that, 
though the ancient philosophers conveyed most 
of their instruction in the form of dialogue, 
this method of composition has been little prac 
tised in later ages, and has seldom succeeded 
in the hands of those, who have attempted it. 
Accurate and regular argument, indeed, such 
as is now expected of philosophical enquirers, 
naturally throws a man into the methodical 
and didactic manner ; where he can immedi 
ately, without preparation, explain the point, at 
which he aims ; and thence proceed, without 
interruption, to deduce the proofs, on which 
it is established. To deliver a SYSTEM in con- 



versation scarcely appears natural ; and while 
the dialogue-writer desires, by departing from 
the direct style of composition, to give a freer 
air to his performance, and avoid the appear 
ance of Author and Reader, he is apt to run 
into a worse inconvenience, and convey the 
image of Pedagogue and Pupil. Or if he 
carries on the dispute in the natural spirit of 
good company, by throwing in a variety of 
topics, and preserving a proper balance among 
the speakers ; he often loses so much time in 
preparations and transitions, that the reader 
will scarcely think himself compensated, by all 
the graces of dialogue, for the order, brevity, 
and precision, which are sacrificed to them. 

There are some subjects, however, to which 
dialogue - writing is peculiarly adapted, and 
where it is still preferable to the direct and 
simple method of composition. 

Any point of doctrine, which is so obvious, 
that it scarcely admits of dispute, but at the 
same time so important, that it cannot be too 
often inculcated, seems to require some such 
method of handling it ; where the novelty of 
the manner may compensate the triteness of 
the subject, where the vivacity of conversa 
tion may enforce the precept, and where the 


variety of lights, presented by various per 
sonages and characters, may appear neither 
tedious nor redundant. 

Any question of philosophy, on the other 
hand, which is so obscure and uncertain, that 
human reason can reach no fixed determina 
tion with regard to it ; if it should be treated 
at all; seems to lead us naturally into the 
style of dialogue and conversation. Reason 
able men may be allowed to differ, where no 
one can reasonably be positive: Opposite sen 
timents, even without any decision, afford an 
agreeable amusement: and if the subject be 
curious and interesting, the book carries us, 
in a manner, into company; and unites the 
two greatest and purest pleasures of human 
life, study and society. 

Happily, these circumstances are all to be 
found in the subject of NATURAL RELIGION. 
What truth so obvious, so certain, as the 
BEING of a God, which the most ignorant ages 
have acknowledged, for which the most refined 
geniuses have ambitiously striven to produce 
new proofs and arguments? What truth so 
important as this, 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? 
But in treating of this obvious and important 
truth ; what obscure questions occur, concern 
ing the NATURE of that divine being ; his attri 
butes, his decrees, his plan of providence? 
These have been always subjected to the dis 
putations of men : Concerning these, human 
reason has not reached any certain determina 
tion : But these are topics so interesting, that 
we cannot restrain our restless enquiry with 
regard to them ; though nothing but doubt, un 
certainty and contradiction, have, as yet, been 
the result of our most accurate researches. 

This I had lately occasion to observe, while 
I passed, as usual, part of the summer season 
with CLEANTHES, and was present at those 
conversations of his with PHILO and DEMEA, 
of which I gave you lately some imperfect 
account. Your curiosity, you then told me, 
was so excited, that I must of necessity enter 
into a more exact detail of their reasonings, 
and display those various systems, which they 
advanced with regard to so delicate a subject 
as that of Natural Religion. The remarkable 
contrast in their characters still farther raised 
your expectations ; while you opposed the ac- 


curate philosophical turn of CLEANTHES to the 
careless scepticism of PHILO, or compared 
either of their dispositions with the rigid in 
flexible orthodoxy of DEMEA. My youth ren 
dered me a mere auditor of their disputes ; 
and that curiosity, natural to the early season 
of life, has so deeply imprinted in my memory 
the whole chain and connection of their argu 
ments, that, I hope, I shall not omit or con 
found any considerable part of them in the 



AFTER 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 prac 
tice. 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, 


of 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 judgment in its students ; and 
none but a mind, enriched with all the other 
sciences, can safely be entrusted with it. 

Are you so late, says PHILO, in teaching 
your children the principles of religion? Is 
there no danger of their neglecting or reject 
ing 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 con 
tinual precept and instruction, and I hope too, 
by example, I imprint deeply on their tender 
minds an habitual reverence for all the prin 
ciples of religion. While they pass through 
every other science, I still remark the uncer 
tainty 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 
1 Chrysippus apud Plut. de repug. Stoicorum. 


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 doc 
trines and opinions. 

Your precaution, says PHILO, of seasoning 
your children 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 advan 
tage 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 pro 
found inquiry, observing the endless disputes 
of the learned, have commonly a thorough con 
tempt 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 extra- 


ordinary, 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 ignor 
ance, the surest remedy, there is still one ex 
pedient left to prevent this profane liberty. 
Let DEMEA S principles be improved and culti 
vated : Let us become thoroughly sensible of 
the weakness, blindness, and narrow limits of 
human reason : Let us duly consider its un 
certainty 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 con 
tradictions, 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 confi 
dence 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 inex 
plicable, and contain circumstances so repug 
nant and contradictory ; with what assurance 
can we decide concerning the origin of worlds, 
or trace their history from eternity to eternity ? 

While PHILO pronounced these words, I 
could observe a smile in the countenances both 
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. 

You propose then, PHILO, said CLEANTHES, 
to erect religious faith 011 philosophical scepti 
cism ; 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 ; accord 
ing to popular opinion, derived from our 
fallacious senses and more fallacious experi 
ence. And this consideration, DEMEA, may, I 
think, fairly serve to abate our ill-will to this 
humourous 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 phil 
osophy, or to religion. 

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, consistent 
with his sceptical principles : So that upon the 
whole nothing could be more ridiculous than 
the principles of the ancient PYBRHONIANS ; if 
in reality they endeavoured, as is pretended, 
to extend throughout, the same scepticism, 
which they had learned from the declama 
tions of their schools, and which they ought 
to have confined to them. 

In this view, there appears a great resem 
blance between the sects of the STOICS and 
PYRBHONIANS, though perpetual antagonists : 
and both of them seem founded on this erro 
neous 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. 

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 high 
est flights of philosophy, yet even when it sinks 
lower, it still retains somewhat of its former dis 
position ; and the effects of the Stoic s reason 
ing 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. 1 

1 Paradise Lost, II. 


In like manner, if a man has accustomed 
himself to sceptical considerations on the un 
certainty 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. 

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 ad 
vances in forming more general principles of 


conduct and reasoning ; that the larger expe 
rience we acquire, and the stronger reason 
we are endued with, we always render our 
principles the more general and comprehen 
sive ; 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 

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, im 
mutable, infinite, and incomprehensible : We 
must be far removed from the smallest tend 
ency to scepticism not to be apprehensive, that 
we have here got quite beyond the reach of 
our faculties. So long as we confine our specu- 


lations 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 everything must seem suspicious, and 
who are in danger every moment of trans 
gressing 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. 

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, de 
rived 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. 

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. 
Wherever evidence discovers itself, you ad 
here 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 anat 
omy 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 GALILEO for the motion of 
the earth, should withhold 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 ? 

There is indeed a kind of brutish and ignor 
ant 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 incon- 
sistence 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 ex 
plained 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 inex 
plicable mystery : The cohesion of the parts 
of matter is still incomprehensible. These 
sceptics, therefore, are obliged, in every ques 
tion, to consider each particular evidence 
apart, and proportion their assent to the pre 
cise 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? 


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 recon 
cile the repugnances, 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 con 
duct, in every circumstance, refutes your prin 
ciples ; and shows the firmest reliance on all 
the received maxims of science, morals, pru 
dence, and behaviour. 

I shall never assent to so harsh an opinion 
as that of a celebrated writer, 1 who says, that 
the sceptics are not a sect of philosophers : 
They are only a sect of liars. I may, how 
ever, 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 en 
tertainment of a less perplexing and abstruse 
nature. A comedy, a novel, or at most a his 
tory, seems a more natural recreation than 
such metaphysical subtilties and abstractions. 

In vain would the sceptic make a distinction 
1 L art de penser. 


between science and common life, or between 
one science and another. The arguments, em 
ployed 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 ad 
vantage lies entirely on the side of theology 
and natural religion. Many principles of me 
chanics are founded on very abstruse reasoning ; 
yet no man, who has any pretensions to science, 
even no speculative sceptic, pretends to enter 
tain the least doubt with regard to them. The 
COPERNICAN system contains the most sur 
prising 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 oppo 
sition to it. And shall PHILO, a man of so 
liberal a genius, and extensive knowledge, en 
tertain any general undistinguished scruples 
with regard to the religious hypothesis, which 
is founded on the simplest and most obvious 
arguments, and, unless it meet with artificial 
obstacles, has such easy access and admission 
into the mind of man? 

And here we may observe, continued he, 
turning himself towards DEMEA, a pretty curi 
ous circumstance in the history of the sciences. 


After the union of philosophy with the pop 
ular religion, upon the first establishment of 
Christianity, nothing was more usual, among 
all religious teachers, than declamations against 
reason, against the senses, against every prin 
ciple, 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, 1 of the Romish communion, a 
man of the most extensive learning, who wrote 
a demonstration of Christianity, has also com 
posed a treatise, which contains all the cavils 
of the boldest and most determined PYR 
RHONISM. 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, 
1 Mons. Huet. 


or physics, was always employed in discover 
ing 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 synony 
mous. And as it is certain, that no man is 
in earnest, when he professes the latter prin 
ciple ; I would fain hope that there are as 
few, who seriously maintain the former. 

Don t you remember, said PHILO, the ex 
cellent 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 indiscre- 


tion and imprudence. Such people, though 
they were ever so much in earnest, cannot, 
methinks, be very formidable. 

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 priest 
craft 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 everything. Education had then 
a mighty influence over the minds of men, 
and was almost equal in force to those sug 
gestions of the senses and common under 
standing, 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 com 
pare the popular principles of different nations 
and ages, our sagacious divines have changed 


their whole system of philosophy, and talk the 
TETICS, not that of PYBRHONIANS and ACA 
DEMICS. 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 favourite principle, and established 

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. 



I MUST own, CLEANTHES, said DEMEA, that 
nothing can more surprise me, than the light, 
in which you have, all along, put this argu 
ment. By the whole tenor of your discourse, 
one would imagine that you were maintaining 
the Being of a God, against the cavils of 
Atheists and Infidels ; and were necessitated 
to become a champion for that fundamental 
principle of all religion. But this, I hope, is 
not by any means a question among us. No 
man ; no man, at least, of common sense, I am 
persuaded, ever entertained a serious doubt 
with regard to a truth, so certain and self- 

f-evident. The question is not concerning the 
BEING, but the NATURE of GOD. This, I affirm, 
from the infirmities of human understanding, 
to be altogether incomprehensible and un- 

\known to us. The essence of that supreme 
mind, his attributes, the manner of his exist 
ence, the very nature of his duration ; these 


and every particular, which regards so divine 
a Being, are mysterious to men. Finite, weak, 
and blind creatures, we ought to humble our 
selves in his august presence, and, conscious 
of our frailties, adore in silence his infinite 
perfections, which eye hath not seen, ear hath 
not heard, neither hath it entered into the 
heart of man to conceive them. They are 
covered in a deep cloud from human curi 
osity : It is profaneness to attempt penetrating 
through these sacred obscurities : And next to 
the impiety of denying his existence, is the 
temerity of prying into his nature and essence, 
decrees and attributes. 

But lest you should think, that my piety has 
here got the better of my philosophy, I shall 
support my opinion, if it needs any support, 
by a very great authority. I might cite all 
the divines almost, from the foundation of 
Christianity, who have ever treated of this 
or any other theological subject : But I shall 
confine myself, at present, to one equally cele 
brated for piety and philosophy. It is Father 
MALEBRANCHE, who, I remember, thus expresses 
himself. 1 One ought not so much (says he) to 
call God a spirit, in order to express positively 
1 Recherche de la Verite, liv. 3, chap. 9. 


what he is, as in order to signify that he is not 
matter. He is a Being infinitely perfect: Of 
this we cannot doubt. But in the same manner 
as we ought not to imagine, even supposing 
him corporeal, that he is clothed with a human 
body, as the ANTHROPOMOBPHITES asserted, 
under colour that that figure was the most 
perfect of any ; so neither ought we to imagine, 
that the Spirit of God has human ideas, or 
bears any resemblance to our spirit ; under 
colour that we know nothing more perfect 
than a human mind. We ought rather to 
believe, that as he comprehends the perfec 
tions of matter without being material . . . 
he comprehends also the perfections of created 
spirits, without being spirit, in the manner we 
conceive spirit : That his true name is, He that 
is, or, in other words, Being without restriction, 
All Being, the Being infinite and universal. 

After so great an authority, DEMEA, replied 
PHILO, as that which you have produced, and 
a thousand more, which you might produce, 
it would appear ridiculous in me to add my 
sentiment, or express my approbation of your 
doctrine. But surely, where reasonable men 
treat these subjects, the question can never be 
concerning the Being, but only the Nature of 


the Deity. The former truth, as you well 
observe, is unquestionable and self-evident. 
Nothing exists without a cause ; and the 
original cause of this universe (whatever it 
be) we call GOD ; and piously ascribe to him 
every species of perfection. Whoever scruples 
this fundamental truth, deserves every pun 
ishment, which can be inflicted among phil 
osophers, to wit, the greatest ridicule, contempt 
and disapprobation. 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 perfec 
tions have any analogy or likeness to the 
perfections of a human creature. Wisdom, 
Thought, Design, Knowledge ; these we justly 
ascribe to him ; because these words are 
honourable among men, and we have no other 
language or other conceptions, by which we 
can express our adoration of him. But let us 
beware, lest we think, that our ideas any wise 
correspond to his perfections, or that his attri 
butes have any resemblance to these qualities 
among men. He is infinitely superior to our 
limited view and comprehension ; and is more 
the object of worship in the temple, than of 
disputation in the schools. 


In reality, CLEANTHES, continued he, there 
is no need of having recourse to that affected 
scepticism, so displeasing to you, in order to 
come at this determination. Our ideas reach 
no farther than our experience : We have no 
experience of divine attributes and operations : 
I need not conclude my syllogism : You can 
draw the inference yourself. And it is a 
pleasure to me (and I hope to you too) that 
just reasoning and sound piety here concur in 
the same conclusion, and both of them estab 
lish the adorably mysterious and incompre 
hensible nature of the Supreme Being. 

Not to lose any time in circumlocutions, said 
CLEANTHES, addressing himself to DEMEA, much 
less in replying to the pious declamations of 
PHILO ; I shall briefly explain how I conceive 
this matter. Look round the world : contem-T 
plate 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, through 
out all nature, resembles exactly, though it 
much exceeds, the productions of human con 
trivance ; of human design, 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, propor 
tioned to the grandeur of the work, which he 
has executed. By this argument a posteriori, 
and by this argument alone, do we prove at 
once the existence of a Deity, and his similar 
ity to human mind and intelligence. 

I shall be so free, CLEANTHES, said DEMEA, 
as to tell you, that from the beginning, I could 
not approve of your conclusion concerning the 
similarity of the Deity to men ; still less can 
I approve of the mediums, by which you en 
deavour to establish it. What ! No demonstra 
tion of the Being of a God ! No abstract argu 
ments ! No proofs a pt^iori I Are these, which 
have hitherto been so much insisted on by 
philosophers, all fallacy, all sophism? Can 
we reach no farther in this subject than ex- 


perience and probability? I will not say, that 
this is betraying the cause of a deity: But 
surely, by this affected candour, you give ad 
vantage to Atheists, which they never could 
obtain, by the mere dint of argument and 

What I chiefly scruple in this subject, said 
PHILO, is not so much, that all religious argu 
ments are by CLEANTHES reduced to experi 
ence, as that they appear not to be even the 
most certain and irrefragable of that inferior 
kind. That a stone will fall, that fire will 
burn, that the earth has solidity, we have ob 
served a thousand and a thousand times ; and 
when any new instance of this nature is pre 
sented, we draw without hesitation the accus 
tomed inference. The exact similarity of the 
cases gives us a perfect assurance of a similar 
event ; and a stronger evidence is never desired 
nor sought after. But wherever you depart, 
in the least, from the similarity of the cases, 
you dimmish proportionably the evidence ; and 
may at last bring it to a very weak analogy, 
which is confessedly liable to error and un 
certainty. After having experienced the cir 
culation of the blood in human creatures, we 
make no doubt that it takes place in Titius 


and Maevius : but from its circulation in frogs 
and fishes, it is only a presumption, though a 
strong one, from analogy, that it takes place 
in men and other animals. The analogical 
reasoning is much weaker, when we infer the 
circulation of the sap in vegetables from our 
experience, that the blood circulates in animals ; 
and those, who hastily followed that imperfect 
analogy, are found, by more accurate experi 
ments, to have been mistaken. 

If we see a house, CLEANTHES, we conclude, 
with the greatest certainty, that it had an 
architect or builder ; because this is precisely 
that species of effect, which we have experi 
enced to proceed from that species of cause. 
But surely you will not affirm, that the 
universe bears such a resemblance to a house, 
that we can with the same certainty infer a 
similar cause, or that the analogy is here 
entire and perfect. The dissimilitude is so 
striking, that the utmost you can here pre 
tend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption 
concerning a similar cause ; and how that pre 
tension will be received in the world, I leave 
you to consider. 

It would surely be very ill received, replied 
CLEANTHES ; and I should be deservedly blamed 



and detested, did I allow, that the proofs of a 
Deity amounted to no more than a guess or 
conjecture. But is the whole adjustment of 
means to ends in a house and in the universe 
so slight a resemblance? The ceconomy of 
final causes? The order, proportion, and 
arrangement of every part? Steps of a stair 
are plainly contrived, that human legs may 
use them in mounting ; and this inference is 
certain and infallible. Human legs are also 
contrived for walking and mounting ; and this 
inference, I allow, is not altogether so certain, 
because of the dissimilarity which you remark ; 
but does it, therefore, deserve the name only 
of presumption or conjecture? 

Good God! cried DEMEA, interrupting him, 
where are we? Zealous defenders of religion 
allow, that the proofs of a Deity fall short of 
perfect evidence ! And you, PHILO, on whose 
assistance I depended, in proving the adorable 
mysteriousness of the Divine Nature, do you 
assent to all these extravagant opinions of 
CLEANTHES? For what other name can I 
give them? Or why spare my censure, when 
such principles are advanced, supported by 
such an authority, before so young a man as 


You seem not to apprehend, replied PHILO, 
that I argue with CLEANTHES in his own way ; 
and by showing him the dangerous conse 
quences of his tenets, hope at last to reduce 
him to our opinion. But what sticks most 
with you, I observe, is the representation 
which CLEANTHES has made of the argument 
a posteriori; and finding, that that argument 
is likely to escape your hold and vanish into 
air, you think it so disguised, that you can 
scarcely believe it to be set in its true light. 
Now, however much I may dissent, in other 
respects, from the dangerous principles of 
CLEANTHES, I must allow, that he has fairly 
represented that argument ; and I shall en 
deavour so to state the matter to you, that 
you will entertain no farther scruples with 
regard to it. 

Were a man to abstract from every thing 
which he knows or has seen, he would be 
altogether incapable, merely from his own 
ideas, to determine what kind of scene the 
universe must be, or to give the preference 
to one state or situation of things above 
another. For as nothing which he clearly 
conceives, could be esteemed impossible or 
implying a contradiction, every chimera of 


his fancy would be upon an equal footing ; 
nor could he assign any just reason, why he 
adheres to one idea or system, and rejects the 
others, which are equally possible. 

Again ; after he opens his eyes, and con 
templates the world, as it really is, it would 
be impossible for him, at first, to assign the 
cause of any one event; much less, of the 
whole of things or of the universe. He might 
set his Fancy a rambling ; and she might bring 
him in an infinite variety of reports and repre 
sentations. These would all be possible ; but 
being all equally possible, he would never, of 
himself, give a satisfactory account for his 
preferring one of them to the rest. Experi 
ence alone can point out to him the true 
cause of any phenomenon. 

Now, according to this method of reasoning, 
DEMEA, it follows (and is, indeed, tacitly 
allowed by CLEANTHES himself) that order, 
arrangement, or the adjustment of final causes 
is not, of itself, any proof of design; but only 
so far as it has been experienced to proceed 
from that principle. For aught we can know 
a priori, matter may contain the source or 
spring of order originally, within itself, as 
well as mind does; and there is no more 


difficulty in conceiving, that the several ele 
ments, from an internal unknown cause, may 
fall into the most exquisite arrangement, than 
to conceive that their ideas, in the great, 
universal mind, from a like internal, un 
known cause, fall into that arrangement. The 
equal possibility of both these suppositions is 
allowed. But by experience we find (accord 
ing to CLEANTHES), that there is a difference 
between them. Throw several pieces of steel 
together, without shape or form ; they will 
never arrange themselves so as to compose a 
watch : Stone, and mortar, and wood, with 
out an architect, never erect a house. But 
the ideas in a human mind, we see, by an un 
known, inexplicable ceconomy, arrange them 
selves so as to form the plan of a watch or 
house. Experience, therefore, proves, that 
there is an original principle of order in 
mind, not in matter. From similar effects 
we infer similar causes. The adjustment of 
means to ends is alike in the universe, as in 
a machine of human contrivance. The causes, 
therefore, must be resembling. 

I was from the beginning scandalised, I 
must own, with this resemblance, which is 
asserted, between the Deity and human 


creatures ; and must conceive it to imply such 
a degradation of the Supreme Being as no 
sound Theist could endure. With your assist 
ance, therefore, Demea, I shall endeavour to 
defend what you justly called the adorable 
mysteriousness of the Divine Nature, and shall 
refute this reasoning of CLEANTHES, provided 
he allows, that I have made a fair representa 
tion of it. 

When CLEANTHES had assented, PHILO, after 
a short pause, proceeded in the following 

That all inferences, CLEANTHES, concerning 
fact, are founded on experience, and that all 
experimental reasonings are founded on the 
supposition, that similar causes prove similar 
effects, and similar effects similar causes ; I 
shall not, at present, much dispute with you. 
But observe, I entreat you, with what extreme 
caution all just reasoners proceed in the trans 
ferring of experiments to similar cases. Un 
less ^he cases be exactly similar, they repose 
no perfect confidence in applying their past 
observation to any particular phenomenon. 
Every alteration of circumstances occasions a 
doubt concerning the event; and it requires 
new experiments to prove certainly, that the 


new circumstances are of no moment or 
importance. A change in bulk, situation, 
arrangement, age, disposition of the air, or 
surrounding bodies ; any of these particulars 
may be attended with the most unexpected 
consequences : And unless the objects be quite 
familiar to us, it is the highest temerity to 
expect with assurance, after any of these 
changes, an event similar to that which be 
fore fell under oiir observation. The slow and 
deliberate steps of philosophers, here, if any 
where, are distinguished from the precipitate 
march of the vulgar, who, hurried on by the 
smallest similitudes, are incapable of all dis 
cernment or consideration. 

But can you think, CLEANTHES, that your 
usual phlegm and philosophy have been pre 
served in so wide a step as you have taken, 
when you compared to the universe, houses, 
ships, furniture, machines ; and from their 
similarity in some circumstances inferred a 
similarity in their causes? Thought, design, 
intelligence, such as we discover in men and 
other animals, is no more than one of the 
springs and principles of the universe, as well 
as heat or cold, attraction or repulsion, and a 
hundred others, which fall under daily observa- 


tion. It is an active cause, by which some 
particular parts of nature, we find, produce 
alterations on other parts. But can a con 
clusion, with any propriety, be transferred 
from parts to the whole? Does not the great 
disproportion bar all comparison and infer 
ence? From observing the growth of a hair, 
can we learn any thing concerning the genera 
tion of a man ? Would the manner of a leaf s 
blowing, even though perfectly known, afford 
us any instruction concerning the vegetation 
of a tree? 

But allowing that we were to take the 
operations of one part of nature upon another 
for the foundation of our judgment concern 
ing the origin of the whole (which never can 
be admitted), yet why select so minute, so 
weak, so bounded a principle as the reason 
and design of animals is found to be upon 
this planet? What peculiar privilege has this 
little agitation of the brain which we call 
thought, that we must thus make it the model 
of the whole universe ? Our partiality in 
our own favour does indeed present it on all 
occasions ; but sound philosophy ought care 
fully to guard against so natural an illusion. 

So far from admitting, continued PHILO, that 


the operations of a part can afford us any 
just conclusion concerning the origin of the 
whole, I will not allow any one part to form 
a rule for another part, if the latter be very 
remote from the former. Is there any reason 
able ground to conclude, that the inhabitants 
of other planets possess thought, intelligence, 
reason, or any thing similar to these faculties 
in men? When Nature has so extremely 
diversified her manner of operation in this 
small globe ; can we imagine, that she inces 
santly copies herself throughout so immense 
a universe? And if thought, as we may well 
suppose, be confined merely to this narrow 
corner, and has even there so limited a sphere 
of action ; with what propriety can we assign 
it for the original cause of all things ? The 
narrow views of a peasant, who makes his 
domestic oeconomy the rule for the govern 
ment of kingdoms, is in comparison a pardon 
able sophism. 

But were we ever so much assured, that a 
thought and reason, resembling the human, 
were to be found throughout the whole uni 
verse, and were its activity elsewhere vastly 
greater and more commanding than it ap 
pears in this globe ; yet I cannot see, why the 


operations of a world, constituted, arranged, 
adjusted, can with any propriety be extended 
to a world, which is in its embryo-state, and 
is advancing towards that constitution and 
arrangement. By observation, we know some 
what of the oaconomy, action, and nourishment 
of a finished animal ; but we must transfer 
with great caution that observation to the 
growth of a foetus in the womb, and still 
more, to the formation of an animalcule in 
the loins of its male parent. Nature, we find, 
even from our limited experience, possesses 
an infinite number of springs and principles, 
which incessantly discover themselves on every 
change of her position and situation. And 
what new and unknown principles would actu 
ate her in so new and unknown a situation 
as that of the formation of a universe, we 
cannot, without the utmost temerity, pretend 
to determine. 

A very small part of this great system, 
during a very short time, is very imperfectly 
discovered to us : and do we thence pronounce 
decisively concerning the origin of the whole? 

Admirable conclusion ! Stone, wood, brick, 
iron, brass, have not, at this time, in this 
minute globe of earth, an order or arrange- 


ment without human art and contrivance : 
therefore the universe could not originally 
attain its order and arrangement, without 
something similar to human art. But is a 
part of nature a rule for another part very 
wide of the former? Is it a rule for the 
whole? Is a very small part a rule for the 
universe ? Is nature in one situation, a certain 
rule for nature in another situation, vastly 
different from the former? 

And can you blame me, CLEANTHES, if I here 
imitate the prudent reserve of SIMONIDES, 
who, according to the noted story, being asked 
by HIERO, What God ivas? desired a day to 
think of it, and then two days more ; and 
after that manner continually prolonged the 
term, without ever bringing in his definition 
or description? Could you even blame me, if 
I had answered at first that I did not know, 
and was sensible that this subject lay vastly 
beyond the reach of my faculties ? You might 
cry out sceptic and rallier as much as you 
pleased : but having found, in so many other 
subjects, much more familiar, the imperfections 
and even contradictions of human reason, I 
never should expect any success from its feeble 
conjectures, in a subject, so sublime, and so 


remote from the sphere of our observation. 
When two species of objects have always been 
observed to be conjoined together, I can infer, 
by custom, the existence of one wherever I 
see the existence of the other : and this I call 
an argument from experience. But how this 
argument can have place, where the objects, 
as in the present case, are single, individual, 
without parallel, or specific resemblance, may 
be difficult to explain. And will any man tell 
me with a serious countenance, that an orderly 
universe must arise from some thought and 
art, like the human ; because we have experi 
ence of it? To ascertain this reasoning, it 
were requisite, that we had experience of the 
origin of worlds ; and it is not sufficient surely, 
that we have seen ships and cities arise from 

human art and contrivance 

PHILO was proceeding in this vehement 
manner, somewhat between jest and earnest, 
as it appeared to me ; when he observed some 
signs of impatience in CLEANTHES, and then 
immediately stopped short. What I had to 
suggest, said CLEANTHES, is only that you 
would not abuse terms, or make use of 
popular expressions to subvert philosophical 
reasonings. You know, that the vulgar often 


distinguish reason from experience, even where 
the question relates only to matter of fact 
and existence ; though it is found, where that 
reason is properly analysed, that it is nothing 
but a species of experience. To prove by 
experience the origin of the universe from 
mind is not more contrary to common speech 
than to prove the motion of the earth from 
the same principle. And a caviller might 
raise all the same objections to the COPERNICAN 
system, which you have urged against my 
reasonings. Have you other earths, might 
he say, which you have seen to move? 
Have .... 

Yes ! cried PHILO, interrupting him, we have 
other earths. Is not the moon another earth, 
which we see to turn round its centre? Is 
not Venus another earth, where we observe 
the same phenomenon? Are not the revolu 
tions of the sun also a confirmation, from 
analogy, of the same theory? All the planets, 
are they not earths, which revolve about the 
sun? Are not the satellites moons, which 
move round Jupiter and Saturn, and along 
with these primary planets, round the sun? 
These analogies and resemblances, with others, 
which I have not mentioned, are the sole 


proofs of the COPERNICAN system : and to you 
it belongs to consider, whether you have any 
analogies of the same kind to support your 

In reality, CLEANTHES, continued he, the 
modern system of astronomy is now so much 
received by all inquirers, and has become so 
essential a part even of our earliest educa 
tion, that we are not commonly very scrupu 
lous in examining the reasons upon which it 
is founded. It is now become a matter of 
mere curiosity to study the first writers on 
that subject, who had the full force of preju 
dice to encounter, and were obliged to turn 
their arguments on every side, in order to 
render them popular and convincing. But if 
we peruse GALIUEO S famous Dialogues con 
cerning the system of the world, we shall 
find, that that great genius, one of the 
sublimest that ever existed, first bent all his 
endeavours to prove, that there was no foun 
dation for the distinction commonly made 
between elementary and celestial substances. 
The schools, proceeding from the illusions of 
sense, had carried this distinction very far; 
and had established the latter substances to 


be ingenerable, incorruptible, unalterable, im 
passible ; and had assigned all the opposite 
qualities to the former. But GALILEO, begin 
ning with the moon, proved its similarity in 
every particular to the earth ; its convex figure, 
its natural darkness when not illuminated, its 
density, its distinction into solid and liquid, 
the variations of its phases, the mutual illumi 
nations of the earth and moon, their mutual 
eclipses, the inequalities of the lunar surface, 
&c. After many instances of this kind, with 
regard to all the planets, men plainly saw, 
that these bodies became proper objects of 
experience ; and that the similarity of their 
nature enabled us to extend the same argu 
ments and phenomena from one to the other. 
In this cautious proceeding of the astrono 
mers, you may read your own condemnation, 
CLEANTHES ; or rather may see, that the sub 
ject in which you are engaged exceeds all 
human reason and inquiry. Can you pretend 
to show any such similarity between the fabric 
of a house, and the generation of a universe? 
Have you ever seen nature in any such situa 
tion as resembles the first arrangement of the 
elements? Have worlds ever been formed 


under your eye? and have you had leisure to 
observe the whole progress of the phenomenon, 
from the first appearance of order to its final 
consummation? If you have, then cite your 
experience, and deliver your theory. 



How the most absurd argument, replied CLE- 
ANTHES, in the hands of a man of ingenuity 
and invention, may acquire an air of prob 
ability ! Are you not aware, PHILO, that it 
became necessary for COPERNICUS and his first 
disciples to prove the similarity of the ter 
restrial and celestial matter ; because several 
philosophers, blinded by old systems, and 
supported by some sensible appearances, had 
denied this similarity? But that it is by no 
means necessary, that Theists should prove 
the similarity of the works of Nature to those 
of Art; because this similarity is self-evident 
jmd undeniable ? The same matter, a like 
form : what more is requisite to show an 
analogy between their causes, and to ascertain 
the origin of all things from a divine purpose 
and intention ? Your objections, I must freely 
tell you, are no better than the abstruse cavils 
of those philosophers who denied motion ; and 



ought to be refuted in the same manner, by 
illustrations, examples, and instances, rather 
than by serious argument and philosophy. 

Suppose, therefore, that an articulate voice 
were heard in the clouds, much louder and 
more melodious than any which human art 
could ever reach : Suppose, that this voice 
were extended in the same instant over all 
nations, and spoke to each nation in its own 
language and dialect : Suppose, that the words 
delivered not only contain a just sense and 
meaning, but convey some instruction alto 
gether worthy of a benevolent being, superior 
to mankind : could you possibly hesitate a 
moment concerning the cause of this voice? 
and must you not instantly ascribe it to some 
design or purpose? Yet I cannot see but all 
the same objections (if they merit that appella 
tion) which lie against the system of Theism, 
may also be produced against this inference. 

Might you not say, that all conclusions con 
cerning fact were founded on experience : that 
when we hear an articulate voice in the dark, 
and thence infer a man, it is only the resem 
blance of the effects, which leads us to con 
clude that there is a like resemblance in the 
cause : but that this extraordinary voice, by 


its loudness, extent, and flexibility to all lang 
uages, bears so little analogy to any human 
voice, that we have no reason to suppose any 
analogy in their causes : and consequently, 
that a rational, wise, coherent speech pro 
ceeded, you knew not whence, from some acci 
dental whistling of the winds, not from any 
divine reason or intelligence? You see clearly 
your own objections in these cavils ; and I 
hope too, you see clearly, that they cannot 
possibly have more force in the one case than 
in the other. 

But to bring the case still nearer the present 
one of the universe, I shall make two sup 
positions, which imply not any absurdity or 
impossibility. Suppose, that there is a natural, 
universal, invariable language, common to 
every individual of human race, and that 
books are natural productions, which per 
petuate themselves in the same manner with 
animals and vegetables, by descent and propa 
gation. Several expressions of our passions 
contain a universal language : all brute animals 
have a natural speech, which, however limited 
is very intelligible to their own species. And 
as there are infinitely fewer parts and less 
contrivance in the finest composition of elo- 


quence, than in the coarsest organized body, 
the propagation of an Iliad or jEneid is an 
easier supposition than that of any plant or 

Suppose, therefore, that you enter into your 
library, thus peopled by natural volumes, con 
taining the most refined reason and most 
exquisite beauty: could you possibly open one 
of them, and doubt, that its original cause 
bore the strongest analogy to mind and in 
telligence ? When it reasons and discourses ; 
when it expostulates, argues, and enforces its 
views and topics ; when it applies sometimes 
to the pure intellect, sometimes to the affec 
tions ; when it collects, disposes, and adorns 
every consideration suited to the subject : could 
you persist in asserting, that all this, at the 
bottom, had really no meaning, and that the 
first formation of this volume in the loins of 
its original parent proceeded not from thought 
and design? Your obstinacy, I know, reaches 
not that degree of firmness : even your scep 
tical play and wantonness would be abashed 
at so glaring an absurdity. 

But if there be any difference, PHILO, be 
tween this supposed case and the real one of 
the universe, it is all to the advantage of the 


latter. The anatomy of an animal affords 
many stronger instances of design than the 
perusal of LIVY or TACITUS: and any objec 
tion which you start in the former case, by 
carrying me back to so unusual and extra 
ordinary a scene as the first formation of 
worlds, the same objection has place on the 
supposition of our vegetating library. Chuse, 
then, your party, PHILO, without ambiguity or 
evasion ; assert either that a rational volume 
is no proof of a rational cause, or admit of a 
similar cause to all the works of nature. 

Let me here observe too, continued CLE- 
ANTHES, that this religious argument, instead 
of being weakened by that scepticism, so much 
affected by you, rather acquires force from it, 
and becomes more firm and undisputed. To 
exclude all argument or reasoning of every 
kind is either affectation or madness. The 
declared profession of every reasonable sceptic 
is only to reject abstruse, remote and refined 
arguments; to adhere to common sense and 
the plain instincts of nature; and to assent, 
wherever any reasons strike him with so full 
a force, that he cannot, without the greatest 
violence, prevent it. Now the arguments for 
Natural Religion are plainly of this kind; and 


nothing but the most perverse, obstinate meta 
physics can reject them. Consider, anatomize 
the eye ; Survey its structure and contrivance ; 
and tell me, from your own feeling, if the 
idea of a contriver does not immediately flow 
in upon you with a force like that of sensa 
tion. The most obvious conclusion surely is in 
favour of design; and it requires time, reflec 
tion and study, to summon up those frivolous, 
though abstruse objections, which can support 
Infidelity. Who can behold the male and 
female of each species, the correspondence of 
their parts and instincts, their passions and 
whole course of life before and after genera 
tion, but must be sensible, that the propaga 
tion of the species is intended by Nature? 
Millions and millions of such instances present 
themselves through every part of the uni 
verse ; and no language can convey a more 
intelligible, irresistible meaning, than the 
curious adjustment of final causes. To what 
degree, therefore, of blind dogmatism must 
one have attained, to reject such natural and 
such convincing arguments? 

Some beauties in writing we may meet with, 
which seem contrary to rules, and which gain 
the affections, and animate the imagination, in 


opposition to all the precepts of criticism, and 
to the authority of the established masters of 
art. And if the argument for Theism be, as 
you pretend, contradictory to the principles 
of logic; its universal, its irresistible influence 
proves clearly, that there may be arguments 
of a like irregular nature. Whatever cavils 
may be urged ; an orderly world, as well as 
a coherent, articulate speech, will still be re 
ceived as an incontestable proof of design and 

It sometimes happens, I own, that the re 
ligious arguments have not their due influence 
on an ignorant savage and barbarian ; not 
because they are obscure and difficult, but 
because he never asks himself any question 
with regard to them. Whence arises the 
curious structure of an animal? From the 
copulation of its parents. And these whence? 
From their parents? A few removes set the 
objects at such a distance, that to him they 
are lost in darkness and confusion ; nor is 
he actuated by any curiosity to trace them 
farther. But this is neither dogmatism nor 
scepticism, but stupidity ; a state of mind 
very different from your sifting, inquisitive dis 
position, my ingenious friend. You can trace 


causes from effects : You can compare the 
most distant and remote objects : and your 
greatest errors proceed not from barrenness of 
thought and invention, but from too luxuriant 
a fertility, which suppresses your natural good 
sense, by a profusion of unnecessary scruples 
and objections. 

Here I could observe, HBRMIPPUS, that PHILO 
was a little embarrassed and confounded : But 
while he hesitated in delivering an answer, 
luckily for him, DEMEA broke in upon the 
discourse, and saved his countenance. 

Your instance, CLEANTHES, said he, drawn 
from books and language, being familiar, has, 
I confess, so much more force on that account ; 
but is there not some danger too in this very 
circumstance ; and may it not render us pre 
sumptuous, by making us imagine we com 
prehend the Deity, and have some adequate 
idea of his nature and attributes? When I 
read a volume, I enter into the mind and 
intention of the author : I become him, in a 
manner, for the instant; and have an im 
mediate feeling and conception of those ideas 
which revolved in his imagination while em 
ployed in that composition. But so near an 
approach we never surely can make to the 


Deity. His ways are not our ways. His attri 
butes are perfect, but incomprehensible. And 
this volume of Nature contains a great and 
inexplicable riddle, more than any intelligible 
discourse or reasoning. 

The ancient PLATONISTS, you know, were the 
most religious and devout of all the Pagan 
philosophers : yet many of them, particularly 
PLOTINUS, expressly declare, that intellect or 
understanding is not to be ascribed to the 
Deity, and that our most perfect worship of 
him consists, not in acts of veneration, rev 
erence, gratitude or love ; but in a certain 
mysterious self-annihilation or total extinction 
of all our faculties. These ideas are, perhaps, 
too far stretched ; but still it must be acknow 
ledged, that, by representing the Deity as so 
intelligible, and comprehensible, and so similar 
to a human mind, we are guilty of the gross 
est and most narrow partiality, and make our 
selves the model of the whole universe. 

All the sentiments of the human mind, grati 
tude, resentment, love, friendship, approbation, 
blame, pity, emulation, envy, have a plain 
reference to the state and situation of man, 
and are calculated for preserving the exist 
ence, and promoting the activity of such a 


being in such circumstances. It seems there 
fore unreasonable to transfer such sentiments 
to a supreme existence, or to suppose him act 
uated by them; and the phenomena, besides, 
of the universe will not support us in such a 
theory. All our ideas, derived from the senses, 
are confusedly false and illusive ; and cannot, 
therefore, be supposed to have place in a 
supreme intelligence : And as the ideas of 
internal sentiment, added to those of the 
external senses, compose the whole furniture 
of human understanding, we may conclude, 
that none of the materials of thought are in 
any respect similar in the human and in the 
divine intelligence. Now, as to the manner of 
thinking ; how can we make any comparison 
between them, or suppose them anywise resem 
bling? Our thought is fluctuating, uncertain, 
fleeting, successive, and compounded ; and were 
we to remove these circumstances, we abso 
lutely annihilate its essence, and it would, in 
such a case, be an abuse of terms to apply to 
it the name of thought or reason. At least, 
if it appear more pious and respectful (as it 
really is) still to retain these terms, when 
we mention the Supreme Being, we ought to 


acknowledge, that their meaning, in that case, 
is totally incomprehensible ; and that the in 
firmities of our nature do not permit us to 
reach any ideas, which in the least corre 
spond to the ineffable sublimity of the divine 



IT seems strange to me, said CLEANTHES, that 
you, DEMEA, who are so sincere in the cause 
of religion, should still maintain the mysteri 
ous, incomprehensible nature of the Deity, and 
should insist so strenuously, that he has no 
manner of likeness or resemblance to human 
creatures. The Deity, I can readily allow, pos 
sesses many powers and attributes, of which 
we can have no comprehension : But if our 
ideas, so far as they go, be not just and ade 
quate, and correspondent to his real nature, I 
know not what there is in this subject worth 
insisting on. Is the name, without any mean 
ing, of such mighty importance? Or how do 
you MYSTICS, who maintain the absolute in 
comprehensibility of the Deity, differ from 
Sceptics or Atheists, who assert, that the first 
cause of all is unknown and unintelligible? 
Their temerity must be very great, if, after re 
jecting the production by a mind ; I mean, a 


mind resembling the human (for I know of no 
other), they pretend to assign, with certainty, 
any other specific, intelligible cause : And their 
conscience must be very scrupulous indeed, if 
they refuse to call the universal, unknown 
cause a God or Deity ; and to bestow on him as 
many sublime eulogies and unmeaning epithets, 
as you shall please to require of them. 

Who could imagine, replied DEMEA, that 
CLEANTHES, the calm, philosophical CLEANTHES, 
would attempt to refute his antagonists, by 
affixing a nick -name to them; and like the 
common bigots and inquisitors of the age, 
have recourse to invective and declamation, 
instead of reasoning ? Or does he not per 
ceive, that these topics are easily retorted, and 
that ANTHROPOMOBPHITE is an appellation as 
invidious, and implies as dangerous conse 
quences, as the epithet of MYSTIC, with which 
he has honoured us? In reality, CLEANTHES, 
consider what it is you assert, when you repre 
sent the Deity as similar to a human mind 
and understanding. What is the soul of man ? 
A composition of various faculties, passions, 
sentiments, ideas ; united, indeed, into one self 
or person, but still distinct from each other. 
When it reasons, the ideas, which are the 


parts of its discourse, arrange themselves in 
a certain form or order ; which is not pre 
served entire for a moment, but immediately 
gives place to another arrangement. New 
opinions, new passions, new affections, new 
feelings arise, which continually diversify the 
mental scene, and produce in it the greatest 
variety, and most rapid succession imaginable. 
How is this compatible with that perfect im- 
fmutability and simplicity which all true Theists 
ascribe to the Deity? By the same act, say 
they, he sees past, present, and future : His 
love and his hatred, his mercy and his justice, 
are one individual operation : He is entire in 
every point of space ; and complete in every 
instant of duration. No succession, no change, 
no acquisition, no diminution. What he is im 
plies not in it any shadow of distinction or 
diversity. And what he is, this moment, he 
ever has been, and ever will be, without any 
new judgment, sentiment, or operation. He 
stands fixed in one simple, perfect state ; nor 
can you ever say, with any propriety, that 
this act of his is different from that other, or 
that this judgment or idea has been lately 
formed, and will give place, by succession, to 
any different judgment or idea. 


I can readily allow, said CLEANTHES, that 
those who maintain the perfect simplicity of 
the Supreme Being, to the extent in which 
you have explained it, are complete MYSTICS, 
and chargeable with all the consequences which 
I have drawn from their opinion. They are, 
in a word, ATHEISTS, without knowing it. For 
though it be allowed, that the Deity possesses 
attributes, of which we have no comprehen 
sion ; yet ought we never to ascribe to him 
any attributes, which are absolutely incom 
patible with that intelligent nature, essential 
to him. A mind, whose acts and sentiments 
and ideas are not distinct and successive ; one, 
that is wholly simple, and totally immutable ; 
is a mind which has no thought, no reason, no 
will, no sentiment, no love, no hatred ; or in 
a word, is no mind at all. It is an abuse of 
terms to give it that appellation ; and we may 
as well speak of limited extension without 
figure, or of number without composition. 

Pray consider, said PHILO, whom you are at 
present inveighing against. You are honour 
ing with the appellation of Atheist all the 
sound, orthodox divines almost, who have 
treated of this subject ; and you will, at last, 
be, yourself, found, according to your reckon- 


ing, the only sound Theist in the world. But 
if idolaters be Atheists, as, I think, may 
justly be asserted, and Christian Theologians 
the same ; what becomes of the argument, so 
much celebrated, derived from the universal 
consent of mankind? 

But because I know you are not much 
swayed by names and authorities, I shall en 
deavour to show you, a little more distinctly, 
the inconveniences of that Anthropomorphism 
which you have embraced ; and I shall prove, 
that there is no ground to suppose a plan of 
the world to be formed in the divine mind, con 
sisting of distinct ideas, differently arranged ; 
in the same manner as an architect forms in 
his head the plan of a house which he intends 
to execute. 

It is not easy, I own, to see, what is gained 
by this supposition, whether we judge of the 
matter by Reason or by Experience. We are 
still obliged to mount higher, in order to find 
the cause of this cause, which you had assigned 
as satisfactory and conclusive. 

If Reason (I mean abstract reason, derived 
from inquiries a priori) be not alike mute with 
regard to all questions concerning cause and 
effect ; this sentence at least it will venture 


to pronounce, That a mental world, or uni 
verse of ideas, requires a cause as much, as 
does a material world, or universe of objects ; 
and if similar in its arrangement must require 
a similar cause. For what is there in this sub 
ject, which should occasion a different conclu 
sion or inference? In an abstract view, they 
are entirely alike ; and no difficulty attends 
the one supposition, which is not common to 
both of them. 

Again, when we will needs force Experience 
to pronounce some sentence, even on these sub 
jects, which lie beyond her sphere ; neither can 
she perceive any material difference in this 
particular, between these two kinds of worlds, 
but finds them to be governed by similar prin 
ciples, and to depend upon an equal variety of 
causes in their operations. We have specimens 
in miniature of both of them. Our own mind 
resembles the one : A vegetable or animal body 
the other. Let Experience, therefore, judge 
from these samples. Nothing seems more deli 
cate with regard to its causes than thought ; 
and as these causes never operate in two 
persons after the same manner, so we never 
find two persons, who think exactly alike. Nor 
indeed does the same person think exactly 



alike at any two different periods of time. 
A difference of age, of the disposition of his 
body, of weather, of food, of company, of 
books, of passions ; any of these particulars, 
or others more minute, are sufficient to alter 
the curious machinery of thought, and com 
municate to it very different movements and 
operations. As far as we can judge, vegetables 
and animal bodies are not more delicate in 
their motions, nor depend upon a greater 
variety or more curious adjustment of springs 
and principles. 

How therefore shall we satisfy ourselves con 
cerning the cause of that Being, whom you 
suppose the Author of Nature, or, according to 
your system of Anthropomorphism, the ideal 
world, into which you trace the material? 
Have we not the same reason to trace that 
ideal world into another ideal world, or new 
intelligent principle? But if we stop, and go 
no farther; why go so far? Why not stop 
at the material world? How can we satisfy 
ourselves without going on in infinitum ? And 
after all, what satisfaction is there in that 
infinite progression? Let us remember the 
story of the INDIAN philosopher and his ele 
phant. It was never more applicable than to 


the present subject. If the material world 
rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal 
world must rest upon some other; and so on, 
without end. It were better, therefore, never 
to look beyond the present material world. 
By supposing it to contain the principle of its 
order within itself, we really assert it to be 
God ; and the sooner we arrive at that divine 
Being, so much the better. When you go one 
step beyond the mundane system, you only 
excite an inquisitive humour, which it is im 
possible ever to satisfy. 

To say, that the different ideas, which com 
pose the reason of the Supreme Being, fall into 
order, of themselves, and by their own nature, 
is really to talk without any precise meaning. 
If it has a meaning, I would fain know, why 
it is not as good sense to say, that the parts 
of the material world fall into order, of them 
selves, and by their own nature. Can the 
one opinion be intelligible, while the other is 
not so? 

We have, indeed, experience of ideas, which 
fall into order, of themselves, and without any 
knoion cause : But, I am sure, we have a much 
larger experience of matter, which does the 
same ; as, in all instances of generation and 


vegetation, where the accurate analysis of the 
cause exceeds all human comprehension. We 
have also experience of particular systems of 
thought and of matter, which have no order; 
of the first, in madness ; of the second, in 
corruption. Why then should we think, that 
order is more essential to one than the other ? 
And if it requires a cause in both, what do 
we gain by your system, in tracing the uni 
verse of objects into a similar universe of 
ideas? The first step, which we make, leads 
us on for ever. It were, therefore, wise in us, 
to limit all our enquiries to the present world, 
without looking farther. No satisfaction can 
ever be attained by these speculations, which 
so far exceed the narrow bounds of human 

It was usual with the PERIPATETICS, you 
know, CLEANTHES, when the cause of any 
phenomenon was demanded, to have recourse 
to their faculties or occult qualities, and to 
say, for instance, that bread nourished by its 
nutritive faculty, and senna purged by its 
purgative : But it has been discovered, that 
this subterfuge was nothing but the disguise 
of ignorance ; and that these philosophers, 
though less ingenuous, really said the same 


thing with the sceptics or the vulgar, who 
fairly confessed, that they knew not the cause 
of these phenomena. In like manner, when 
it is asked, what cause produces order in the 
ideas of the Supreme Being, can any other 
reason be assigned by you, Anthropomorphites, 
than that it is a rational faculty, and that 
such is the nature of the Deity? But why 
a similar answer will not be equally satisfac 
tory in accounting for the order of the world, 
without having recourse to any such intelligent 
creator, as you insist on, may be difficult to 
determine. It is only to say, that such is the 
nature of material objects, and that they are 
all originally possessed of a faculty of order 
and proportion. These are only more learned 
and elaborate ways of confessing our ignor 
ance ; nor has the one hypothesis any real 
advantage above the other, except in its 
greater conformity to vulgar prejudices. 

You have displayed this argument with great 
emphasis, replied CLEANTHES : You seem not 
sensible, how easy it is to answer it. Even in 
common life, if I assign a cause for any event ; 
IB it any objection, PHILO, that I cannot assign 
the cause of that cause, and answer every new 
question, which may incessantly be started? 


And what philosophers could possibly [submit 
to so rigid a rule? philosophers, who confess 
ultimate causes to be totally unknown, and 
are sensible, that the most refined principles, 
into which they trace the phenomena, are still 
to them as inexplicable as these phenomena 
themselves are to the vulgar. The order and 
arrangement of nature, the curious adjustment 
of final causes, the plain use and intention of 
every part and organ ; all these bespeak in 
the clearest language an intelligent cause or 
author. The heavens and the earth join in 
the same testimony : The whole chorus of 
Nature raises one hymn to the praises of its 
creator: You alone, or almost alone, disturb 
this general harmony. You start abstruse 
doubts, cavils, and objections: You ask me, 
what is the cause of this cause ? I know not ; 
I care not; that concerns not me. I have 
found a Deity; and here I stop my enquiry. 
Let those go farther, who are wiser or more 

I pretend to be neither, replied PHILO: and 
for that very reason, I should never perhaps 
have attempted to go so far ; especially when 
I am sensible, that I must at last be con 
tented to sit down with the same answer, 


which, without farther trouble, might have sat 
isfied me from the beginning. If I am still 
to remain in utter ignorance of causes, and 
can absolutely give an explication of nothing, 
I shall never esteem it any advantage to 
shove off for a moment a difficulty, which, 
you acknowledge, must immediately, in its 
full force, recur upon me. Naturalists indeed 
very justly explain particular effects by more 
general causes, though these general causes 
themselves should remain in the end totally 
inexplicable : but they never surely thought it 
satisfactory to explain a particular effect by 
a particular cause, which was no more to be 
accounted for than the effect itself. An ideal 
system, arranged of itself, without a precedent 
design, is not a whit more explicable than a 
material one, which attains its order in a like 
manner ; nor is there any more difficulty in 
the latter supposition than in the former. 



BUT to show you still more inconveniences, 
continued PHILO, in your Anthropomorphism ; 
please to take a new survey of your prin 
ciples. Like effects prove like causes. This is 
the experimental argument; and this, you say 
too, is the sole theological argument. Now it 
is certain, that the liker the effects are, which 
are seen, and the liker the causes, which are 
inferred, the stronger is the argument. Every 
departure on either side diminishes the prob 
ability, and renders the experiment less con 
clusive. You cannot doubt of the principle : 
neither ought you to reject its consequences. 

All the new discoveries in astronomy, which 
prove the immense grandeur and magnificence 
of the works of Nature, are so many additional 
arguments for a Deity, according to the true 
system of Theism : but according to your hypo 
thesis of experimental Theism, they become so 
many objections, by removing the effect still 


farther from all resemblance to the effects of 
human art and contrivance. For if Lucretius, 1 
even following the old system of the world, 
could exclaim, 

Quis regere immensi summam, quis habere profundi 
Indu manu validas potis est moderanter habenas ? 
Quis pariter coelos omnes convertere ? et omnes 
Ignibus setheriis terras suffire feraces ? 
Omnibus inque locis esse omni tempore prsesto ? 

If Tully 2 esteemed this reasoning so natural, 
as to put it into the mouth of his EPICUREAN. 
Quibus enim oculis animi intueri potuit vester 
Plato fabricam illam tanti operis, qua construi 
a Deo atque cedificari mundum facit? quce 
molitio ? quce ferramenta ? qui vectes ? quce ma 
chine ? qui minstri tanti muneris fuerunt ? 
quemadmodum autem obedire et parere volun- 
tati architects aer, ignis, aqua, terra potuerunt ? 
If this argument, I say, had any force in 
former ages : how much greater must it have 
at present; when the bounds of Nature are 
so infinitely enlarged, and such a magnificent 
scene is opened to us? It is still more un 
reasonable to form our idea of so unlimited a 
cause from our experience of the narrow pro 
ductions of human design and invention. 
1 Lib. xi. 1094. 2 De Nat. Deor., lib. i. 


The discoveries by microscopes, as they open 
a new universe in miniature, are still objec 
tions, according to you ; arguments, according 
to me. The farther we push our researches 
of this kind, we are still led to infer the uni 
versal cause of all to be vastly different from 
mankind, or from any object of human experi 
ence and observation. 

And what say you to the discoveries in anat 
omy, chemistry, botany? These surely 

are no objections, replied CLEANTHES : they 
only discover new instances of art and con 
trivance. It is still the image of mind re 
flected on us from innumerable objects. Add, 
a mind like the human, said PHILO. I know 
of no other, replied CLEANTHES. And the liker 
the better, insisted PHILO. To be sure, said 

Now, CLEANTHES, said PHILO, with an air of 
alacrity and triumph, mark the consequences. 
First, By this method of reasoning, you re 
nounce all claim to infinity in any of the 
attributes of the Deity. For as the cause 
ought only to be proportioned to the effect, 
and the effect, so far as it falls under our 
cognisance, is not infinite ; what pretensions 
have we, upon your suppositions, to ascribe that 


attribute to the divine Being? You will still 
insist, that, by removing him so much from all 
similarity to human creatures, we give in to 
the most arbitrary hypothesis, and at the same 
time weaken all proofs of his existence. 

Secondly, You have no reason, on your 
theory, for ascribing perfection to the Deity, 
even in his finite capacity ; or for supposing 
him free from every error, mistake, or inco 
herence in his undertakings. There are many 
inexplicable difficulties in the works of Nature, 
which, if we allow a perfect author to be 
proved a priori, are easily solved, and become 
only seeming difficulties, from the narrow 
capacity of man, who cannot trace infinite 
relations. But according to your method of 
reasoning, these difficulties become all real ; 
and perhaps will be insisted on, as new in 
stances of likeness to human art and con 
trivance. At least, you must acknowledge, 
that it is impossible for us to tell, from our 
limited views, whether this system contains 
any great faults, or deserves any considerable 
praise, if compared to other possible, and even 
real systems. Could a peasant, if the ^]NEID 
were read to him, pronounce that poem to be 
absolutely faultless, or even assign to it its 


proper rank among the productions of human 
wit; he, who had never seen any other pro 
duction ? 

But were this world ever so perfect a pro 
duction, it must still remain uncertain, whether 
all the excellences of the work can justly be 
ascribed to the workman. If we survey a 
ship, what an exalted idea must we form of 
the ingenuity of the carpenter, who framed so 
complicated, useful, and beautiful a machine? 
And what surprise must we feel, when we find 
him a stupid mechanic, who imitated others, 
and copied an art, which, through a long suc 
cession of ages, after multiplied trials, mistakes, 
corrections, deliberations, and controversies, had 
been gradually improving ? Many worlds might 
have been botched and bungled, throughout an 
eternity, ere this system was struck out : much 
labour lost : many fruitless trials made : and 
a slow, but continued improvement carried on 
during infinite ages in the art of world -making. 
In such subjects, who can determine, where 
the truth ; nay, who can conjecture where 
the probability lies ; amidst a great number 
of hypotheses which may be proposed, and a 
still greater number which may be imagined? 

And what shadow of an argument, continued 


PHILO, can you produce, from your hypothesis, 
to prove the unity of the DEITY? A great num 
ber of men join in building a house or ship, 
in rearing a city, in framing a commonwealth : 
why may not several deities combine in con 
triving and framing a world? This is only so 
much greater similarity to human affairs ? By 
sharing the work among several, we may so 
much further limit the attributes of each, and 
get rid of that extensive power and knowledge, 
which must be supposed in one deity, and which, 
according to you, can only serve to weaken the 
proof of his existence. And if such foolish, such 
vicious creatures as man can yet often unite 
in framing and executing one plan ; how much 
more those deities or daemons, whom we may 
suppose several degrees more perfect? 

To multiply causes, without necessity, is 
indeed contrary to true philosophy: but this 
principle applies not to the present case. Were 
one deity antecedently proved by your theory, 
who were possessed of every attribute, requisite 
to the production of the universe ; it would 
be needless, I own (though not absurd) to sup 
pose any other deity existent. But while it is 
still a question, Whether all these attributes 
are united in one subject, or dispersed among 


several independent beings : by what phenom 
ena in nature can we pretend to decide the 
controversy? Where we see a body raised in 
a scale, we are sure that there is in the oppo 
site scale, however concealed from sight, some 
counterpoising weight equal to it : but it is 
still allowed to doubt, whether that weight 
be an aggregate of several distinct bodies, or 
one uniform united mass. And if the weight 
requisite very much exceeds any thing which 
we have ever seen conjoined in any single 
body, the former supposition becomes still 
more probable and natural. An intelligent 
being of such vast power and capacity, as is 
necessary to produce the universe, or, to speak 
in the language of ancient philosophy, so pro 
digious an animal, exceeds all analogy, and 
even comprehension. 

But farther, CLEANTHES; men are mortal, 
and renew their species by generation ; and 
this is common to all living creatures. The 
two great sexes of male and female, says 
MILTON, animate the world. Why must this 
circumstance, so universal, so essential, be 
excluded from those numerous and limited 
deities? Behold then the theogony of ancient 
times brought back upon us. 


And why not become a perfect Anthropo- 
morphite? Why not assert the deity or 
deities to be corporeal, and to have eyes, a 
nose, mouth, ears, &c. ? EPICURUS maintained, 
that no man had ever seen reason but in a 
human figure ; therefore the gods must have 
a human figure. And this argument, which is 
deservedly so much ridiculed by Cicero, becomes, 
according to you, solid and philosophical. 

In a word, CLEANTHES, a man, who follows 
your hypothesis, is able, perhaps, to assert, or 
conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose 
from something like design : but beyond that 
position he cannot ascertain one single cir 
cumstance, and is left afterwards to fix every 
point of his theology, by the utmost licence 
of fancy and hypothesis. This world, for 
aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, 
compared to a superior standard ; and was 
only the first rude essay of some infant deity, 
who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his 
lame performance ; it is the work only of 
some dependent, inferior deity ; and is the 
object of derision to his superiors : it is the 
production of old age and dotage in some 
superannuated deity ; and ever since his death, 
has run on at adventures, from the first im- 


pulse and active force, which it received from 
him. You justly give signs of horror, DEMEA, 
at these 1 strange suppositions : but these, and 
a thousand more of the same kind, are 
CLEANTHES S suppositions, not mine. From 
the moment the attributes of the Deity are 
supposed finite, all these have place. And I 
cannot, for my part, think, that so wild and 
unsettled a system of theology is, in any re 
spect, preferable to none at all. 

These suppositions I absolutely disown, cried 
CLEANTHES : they strike me, however, with 
no horror; especially, when proposed in that 
rambling way in which they drop from you. 
On the contrary, they give me pleasure, 
when I see, that, by the utmost indulgence of 
your imagination, you never get rid of the 
hypothesis of design in the universe ; but 
are obliged, at every turn, to have recourse 
to it. To this concession I adhere steadily; 
and this I regard as a sufficient foundation 
for religion. 



IT must be a slight fabric, indeed, said DEMEA, 
which can be erected on so tottering a founda 
tion. While we are uncertain, whether there 
is one deity or many ; whether the deity or 
deities, to whom we owe our existence, be 
perfect or imperfect, subordinate or supreme, 
dead or alive ; what trust or confidence can 
we repose in them ? What devotion or worship 
address to them? What veneration or obedi 
ence pay them? To all the purposes of life, 
the theory of religion becomes altogether 
useless : and even with regard to specula 
tive consequences, its uncertainty, according 
to you, must render it totally precarious and 

To render it still more unsatisfactory, said 
PHILO, there occurs to me another hypothesis, 
which must acquire an air of probability from 
the method of reasoning so much insisted on 
by CLEANTHES. That like effects arise from 



like causes : this principle he supposes the 
foundation of all religion. But there is another 
principle of the same kind, no less certain, and 
derived from the same source of experience : 
That where several known circumstances are 
observed to be similar, the unknown will also 
be found similar. Thus, if we see the limbs of 
a human body, we conclude, that it is also 
attended with a human head, though hid from 
us. Thus, if we see, through a chink in a wall, 
a small part of the sun, we conclude that, were 
the wall removed, we should see the whole 
body. In short, this method of reasoning is 
so obvious and familiar, that no scruple can 
ever be made with regard to its solidity. 

Now if we survey the universe, so far as it 
falls under our knowledge, it bears a great 
resemblance to an animal or organized body, 
and seems actuated with a like principle of 
life and motion. A continual circulation of 
matter in it produces no disorder : a continual 
waste in every part is incessantly repaired ; the 
closest sympathy is perceived throughout the 
entire system : and each part or member, in 
performing its proper offices, operates both to 
its own preservation and to that of the whole. 
The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal, 


and the Deity is the SOUL of the world, actu 
ating it, and actuated by it. 

You have too much learning, CLEANTHES, to 
be at all surprised at this opinion, which, you 
know, was maintained by almost all the Theists 
of antiquity, and chiefly prevails in their dis 
courses and reasonings. For though some 
times the ancient philosophers reason from final 
causes, as if they thought the world the work 
manship of God ; yet it appears rather their 
favourite notion to consider it as his body, 
whose organization renders it subservient to 
him. And it must be confessed, that as the 
universe resembles more a human body than 
it does the works of human art and contriv 
ance ; if our limited analogy could ever, with 
any propriety, be extended to the whole of 
nature, the inference seems juster in favour 
of the ancient than the modern theory. 

There are many other advantages too, in 
the former theory, which recommend it to the 
ancient Theologians. Nothing more repugnant 
to all their notions, because nothing more re 
pugnant to common experience than mind 
without body ; a mere spiritual substance, 
which fell not under their senses nor compre 
hension, and of which they had not observed 


one single instance throughout all nature. 
Mind and body they knew, because they felt 
both : an order, arrangement, organization, or 
internal machinery in both they likewise knew, 
after the same manner; and it could not but 
seem reasonable to transfer this experience to 
the universe, and to suppose the divine mind 
and body to be also coeval, and to have, both 
of them, order and arrangement naturally in 
herent in them, and inseparable from them. 

Here therefore is a new species of Anthropo 
morphism, CLEANTHES, on which you may de 
liberate ; and a theory which seems not liable 
to any considerable difficulties. You are too 
much superior surely to systematical prejudices, 
to find any more difficulty in supposing an 
animal body to be, originally, of itself, or from 
unknown causes, possessed of order and organ 
ization, than in supposing a similar order to 
belong to mind. But the vulgar prejudice, that 
body and mind ought always to accompany 
each other, ought not, one should think, to be 
entirely neglected ; since it is founded on vulgar 
experience, the only guide which you profess to 
follow in all these theological inquiries. And 
if you assert, that our limited experience is an 
unequal standard, by which to judge of the un- 


limited extent of nature ; you entirely aban 
don your own hypothesis, and must thencefor 
ward adopt our Mysticism, as you call it, and 
admit of the absolute incomprehensibility of 
the Divine Nature. 

This theory, I own, replied CLEANTHES, has 
never before occurred to me, though a pretty 
natural one ; and I cannot readily, upon so 
short an examination and reflection, deliver 
any opinion with regard to it. You are very 
scrupulous, indeed, said PHILO ; were I to ex 
amine any system of yours, I should not have 
acted with half that caution and reserve, in 
starting objections and difficulties to it. How 
ever, if any thing occur to you, you will oblige 
us by proposing it. 

Why then, replied CLEANTHES, it seems to me 
that, though the world does, in many circum 
stances, resemble an animal body ; yet is the 
analogy also defective in many circumstances, 
the most material : no organs of sense ; no seat 
of thought or reason ; no one precise origin of 
motion and action. In short, it seems to bear 
a stronger resemblance to a vegetable than 
to an animal, and your inference would be so 
far inconclusive in favour of the soul of the 


But, in the next place, your theory seems to 
imply the eternity of the world ; and that is a 
principle which, I think, can be refuted by the 
strongest reasons and probabilities. I shall 
suggest an argument to this purpose, which, 
I believe, has not been insisted on by any 
writer. Those, who reason from the late origin 
of arts and sciences, though their inference 
wants not force, may perhaps be refuted by 
considerations, derived from the nature of 
human society, which is in continual revolution 
between ignorance and knowledge, liberty and 
slavery, riches and poverty ; so that it is im 
possible for us, from our limited experience, to 
foretell with assurance what events may or 
may not be expected. Ancient learning and 
history seem to have been in great danger of 
entirely perishing after the inundation of the 
barbarous nations ; and had these convulsions 
continued a little longer, or been a little more 
violent, we should not probably have now 
known what passed in the world a few centuries 
before us. Nay, were it not for the superstition 
of the Popes, who preserved a little jargon of 
LATIN, in order to support the appearance of 
an ancient and universal church, that tongue 
must have been utterly lost : in which case, 


the Western world, being totally barbarous, 
would not have been in a fit disposition for 
receiving the GREEK language and learning, 
which was conveyed to them after the sacking 
of CONSTANTINOPLE. When learning and books 
had been extinguished, even the mechanical 
arts would have fallen considerably to decay ; 
and it is easily imagined, that fable or tradition 
might ascribe to them a much later origin than 
the true one. This vulgar argument, therefore, 
against the eternity of the world, seems a little 

But here appears to be the foundation of a 
better argument. LUCULLUS was the first that 
brought cherry-trees from ASIA to EUROPE; 
though that tree thrives so well in many EURO 
PEAN climates, that it grows in the woods with 
out any culture. Is it possible, that, through 
out a whole eternity, no EUROPEAN had ever 
passed into ASIA, and thought of transplanting 
so delicious a fruit into his own country? Or 
if the tree was once transplanted and propa 
gated, how could it ever afterwards perish? 
Empires may rise and fall ; liberty and slavery 
succeed alternately ; ignorance and knowledge 
give place to each other; but the cherry-tree 
will still remain in the woods of GREECE, SPAIN 


and ITALY, and will never be affected by the 
revolutions of human society. 

It is not two thousand years since vines were 
transplanted into FRANCE ; though there is 
no climate in the world more favourable to 
them. It is not three centuries since horses, 
cows, sheep, swine, dogs, corn, were known 
in AMERICA. Is it possible, that, during the 
revolutions of a whole eternity, there never 
arose a COLUMBUS, who might open the com 
munication between EUROPE and that con 
tinent? We may as well imagine, that all 
men would wear stockings for ten thousand 
years, and never have the sense to think of 
garters to tie them. All these seem convincing 
proofs of the youth, or rather infancy, of the 
world ; as being founded on the operation of 
principles more constant and steady, than 
those by which human society is governed 
and directed. Nothing less than a total con 
vulsion of the elements will ever destroy all 
the EUROPEAN animals and vegetables, which 
are now to be found in the Western world. 

And what argument have you against 
such convulsions? replied PHILO. Strong and 
almost incontestable proofs may be traced 
over the whole earth, that every part of 


this globe has continued for many ages 
entirely covered with water. And though 
order were supposed inseparable from matter, 
and inherent in it ; yet may matter be sus 
ceptible of many and great revolutions, through 
the endless periods of eternal duration. The 
incessant changes, to which every part of it 
is subject, seem to intimate some such general 
transformations ; though at the same time, 
it is observable, that all the changes and 
corruptions, of which we have ever had ex 
perience, are but passages from one state of 
order to another ; nor can matter ever rest 
in total deformity and confusion. What we 
see in the parts, we may infer in the whole ; 
at least, that is the method of reasoning on 
which you rest your whole theory. And were 
I obliged to defend any particular system of 
this nature (which I never willingly should 
do), I esteem none more plausible than that 
which ascribes an eternal, inherent principle 
of order to the world ; though attended with 
great and continual revolutions and altera 
tions. This at once solves all difficulties ; and 
if the solution, by being so general, is not 
entirely complete and satisfactory, it is, at 
least, a theory, that we must, sooner or later, 


have recourse to, whatever system we em 
brace. How could things have been as they 
are, were there not an original, inherent 
principle of order somewhere, in thought or 
in matter? And it is very indifferent to 
which of these we give the preference. Chance 
has no place, on any hypothesis, sceptical or 
religious. Every thing is surely governed by 
steady, inviolable laws. And were the in 
most essence of things laid open to us, we 
should then discover a scene, of which, at 
present, we can have no idea. Instead of 
admiring the order of natural beings, we 
should clearly see that it was absolutely im 
possible for them, in the smallest article, ever 
to admit of any other disposition. 

Were any one inclined to revive the ancient 
Pagan Theology, which maintained, as we 
learn from Hesiod, that this globe was 
governed by 30,000 deities, who arose from 
the unknown powers of nature : you would 
naturally object, CLEANTHES, that nothing is 
gained by this hypothesis ; and that it is 
as easy to suppose all men animals, beings 
more numerous, but less perfect, to have 
sprung immediately from a like origin. Push 
the same inference a step farther; and you 


will find a numerous society of deities as ex 
plicable as one universal deity, who possesses, 
within himself, the powers and perfections of 
the whole society. All these systems, then, 
of Scepticism, Polytheism, and Theism, you 
must allow, on your principles, to be on a 
like footing, and that no one of them has 
any advantages over the others. You may 
thence learn the fallacy of your principles. 



BUT here, continued PHILO, in examining the 
ancient system of the soul of the world, there 
strikes me, all on a sudden, a new idea, which, 
if just, must go near to subvert all your 
reasoning, and destroy even your first infer 
ences, on which you repose such confidence. 
If the universe bears a greater likeness to 
animal bodies and to vegetables, than to the 
works of human art, it is more probable that 
its cause resembles the cause of the former 
than that of the latter, and its origin ought 
rather to be ascribed to generation or vegeta 
tion than to reason or design. Your conclu 
sion, even according to your own principles, 
is therefore lame and defective. 

Pray open up this argument a little farther, 
said DEMEA. For I do not rightly apprehend 
it, in that concise manner, in which you have 
expressed it. 

Our friend, CLEANTHES, replied PHILO, as you 


have heard, asserts, that since no question of 
fact can be proved otherwise than by experi 
ence, the existence of a Deity admits not of 
proof from any other medium. The world, 
says he, resembles the works of human con 
trivance : Therefore its cause must also re 
semble that of the other. Here we may 
remark, that the operation of one very small 
part of nature, to wit man, upon another very 
small part, to wit that inanimate matter lying 
within his reach, is the rule, by which CLE- 
ANTHES judges of the origin of the whole ; and 
he measures objects, so widely disproportioned, 
by the same individual standard. But to waive 
all objections drawn from this topic ; I affirm, 
that there are other parts of the universe 
(besides the machines of human invention) 
which bear still a greater resemblance to the 
fabric of the world, and which therefore afford 
a better conjecture concerning the universal 
origin of this system. These parts are animals 
and vegetables. The world plainly resembles 
more an animal or a vegetable, than it does 
a watch or a knitting-loom. Its cause, there 
fore, it is more probable, resembles the cause 
of the former. The cause of the former is 
generation or vegetation. The cause, there- 


fore, of the world, we may infer to be some 
thing similar or analogous to generation or 

But how is it conceivable, said DEMEA, that 
the world can arise from any thing similar to 
vegetation or generation ? 

Very easily, replied PHILO. In like manner 
as a tree sheds its seed into the neighbouring 
fields, and produces other trees ; so the great 
vegetable, the world, or this planetary system, 
produces within itself certain seeds, which, 
being scattered into the surrounding chaos, 
vegetate into new worlds. A comet, for 
instance, is the seed of a world; and after it 
has been fully ripened, by passing from sun to 
sun, and star to star, it is at last tossed into 
the unformed elements, which everywhere sur 
round this universe, and immediately sprouts 
up into a new system. 

Or if, for the sake of variety (for I see no 
other advantage), we should suppose this world 
to be an animal ; a comet is the egg of this 
animal ; and in like manner as an ostrich lays 
its egg in the sand, which, without any far 
ther care, hatches the egg, and produces a 
new animal ; so .... I understand you, says 
DEMEA : But what wild, arbitrary suppositions 


are these? What data have you for such 
extraordinary conclusions? And is the slight, 
imaginary resemblance of the world to a 
vegetable or an animal sufficient to establish 
the same inference with regard to both? 
Objects, which are in general so widely dif 
ferent ; ought they to be a standard for each 

Right, cries PHILO : This is the topic on 
which I have all along insisted. I have still 
asserted, that we have no data to establish 
any system of cosmogony. Our experience, 
so imperfect in itself, and so limited both in 
extent and duration, can afford us no probable 
conjecture concerning the whole of things. 
But if we must needs fix on some hypothesis ; 
by what rule, pray, ought we to determine our 
choice? Is there any other rule than the 
greater similarity of the objects compared? 
And does not a plant or an animal, which 
springs from vegetation or generation, bear 
a stronger resemblance to the world, than 
does any artificial machine, which arises from 
reason and design? 

But what is this vegetation and genera 
tion of which you talk? said DEMEA. Can 
you explain their operations, and anatomize 


that fine internal structure, on which they 
depend ? 

As much, at least, replied PHILO, as CLE- 
ANTHES can explain the operations of reason, 
or anatomize that internal structure, on which 
it depends. But without any such elaborate 
disquisitions, when I see an animal, I infer, 
that it sprang from generation ; and that with 
as great certainty as you conclude a house to 
have been reared by design. These words, 
generation, reason, mark only certain powers 
and energies in nature, whose effects are 
known, but whose essence is incomprehens 
ible ; and one of these principles, more than 
the other, has no privilege for being made 
a standard to the whole of nature. 

In reality, DEMEA, it may reasonably be 
expected, that the larger the views are which 
we take of things, the better will they con 
duct us in our conclusions concerning such 
extraordinary and such magnificent subjects. 
In this little corner of the world alone, there 
are four principles, Reason, Instinct, Generation, 
Vegetation, which are similar to each other, 
and are the causes of similar effects. What 
a number of other principles may we naturally 
suppose in the immense extent and variety of 


the universe, could we travel from planet to 
planet and from system to system, in order 
to examine each part of this mighty fabric? 
Any one of these four principles above men 
tioned (and a hundred others which lie open 
to our conjecture) may afford us a theory, by 
which to judge of the origin of the world ; 
and it is a palpable and egregious partiality, 
to confine our view entirely to that principle, 
by which our own minds operate. Were this 
principle more intelligent on that account, such 
a partiality might be somewhat excusable : 
But reason, in its internal fabric and structure, 
is really as little known to us as instinct or 
vegetation ; and perhaps even that vague, un- 
determinate word, Nature, to which the vulgar 
refer every thing, is not at the bottom more 
inexplicable. The effects of these principles 
are all known to us from experience : But the 
principles themselves, and their manner of 
operation, are totally unknown : Nor is it less 
intelligible, or less conformable to experience 
to say, that the world arose by vegetation 
from a seed shed by another world, than to 
say that it arose from a divine reason or con 
trivance, according to the sense in which 
CLEANTHES understands it. 



But methinks, said DEMEA, if the world had 
a vegetative quality, and could sow the seeds 
of new worlds into the infinite chaos, this 
power would be still an additional argument 
for design in its author. For whence could 
arise so wonderful a faculty but from design? 
Or how can order spring from any thing, which 
perceives not that order which it bestows ? 

You need only look around you, replied 
PHILO, to satisfy yourself with regard to this 
question. A tree bestows order and organisa 
tion on that tree, which springs from it, with 
out knowing the order : an animal, in the 
same manner, on its offspring : a bird, on its 
nest : and instances of this kind are even more 
frequent in the world, than those of order, 
which arise from reason and contrivance. To 
say, that all this order in animals and vege 
tables proceeds ultimately from design, is beg 
ging the question ; nor can that great point 
be ascertained otherwise than by proving a 
priori, both that order is, from its nature, 
inseparably attached to thought, and that it 
can never, of itself, or from original unknown 
principles, belong to matter. 

But farther, DEMEA ; this objection, which 
you urge, can never be made use of by CLE- 


ANTHES, without renouncing a defence, which 
he has already made against one of my objec 
tions. When I enquired concerning the cause 
of that supreme reason and intelligence, into 
which he resolves every thing ; he told me, 
that the impossibility of satisfying such en 
quiries could never be admitted as an objec 
tion in any species of philosophy. We must 
stop somewhere, says he ; nor is it ever within 
the reach of human capacity to explain ultimate 
causes, or show the last connections of any 
objects. It is sufficient, if the steps, so far as 
we go, are supported by experience and observa 
tion. Now, that vegetation and generation, as 
well as reason, are experienced to be principles 
of order in nature, is undeniable. If I rest 
my system" of cosmogony on the former, pre 
ferably to the latter, tis at my choice. The 
matter seems entirely arbitrary. And when 
CLEANTHES asks me what is the cause of my 
great vegetative or generative faculty, I am 
equally entitled to ask him the cause of his 
great reasoning principle. These questions we 
have agreed to forbear on both sides ; and it 
is chiefly his interest on the present occasion 
to stick to this agreement. Judging by our 
limited and imperfect experience, generation 


has some privileges above reason : For we see 
every day the latter arise from the former, 
never the former from the latter. 

Compare, I beseech you, the consequences on 
both sides. The world, say I, resembles an 
animal, therefore it is an animal, therefore it 
arose from generation. The steps, I confess, 
are wide ; yet there is some small appearance 
of analogy in each step. The world, says CLE- 
ANTHES, resembles a machine, therefore it is a 
machine, therefore it arose from design. The 
steps are here equally wide, and the analogy 
less striking. And if he pretends to carry on 
my hypothesis a step farther, and to infer 
design or reason from the great principle of 
generation, on which I insist ; I may, with 
better authority, use the same freedom to 
push farther his hypothesis, and infer a divine 
generation or theogony from his principle of 
reason. I have at least some faint shadow of 
experience, which is the utmost that can ever 
be attained in the present subject. Reason, in 
innumerable^ instances, is observed to arise 
from the principle of generation, and never 
to arise from any other principle. 

HESIOD, and all the ancient Mythologists, 
were so struck with this analogy, that they 


universally explained the origin of nature from 
an animal birth, and copulation. PLATO too, 
so far as he is intelligible, seems to have 
adopted some such notion in his TIM^EUS. 

The BRAHMINS assert, that the world arose 
from an infinite spider, who spun this whole 
complicated mass from his bowels, and anni 
hilates afterwards the whole or any part of 
it, by absorbing it again, and resolving it 
into his own essence. Here is a species of 
cosmogony, which appears to us ridiculous ; 
because a spider is a little contemptible 
animal, whose operations we are never likely 
to take for a model of the whole universe. 
But still here is a new species of analogy, 
even in our globe. And were there a planet 
wholly inhabited by spiders (which is very 
possible), this inference would there appear as 
natural and irrefragable as that which in our 
planet ascribes the origin of all things to 
design and intelligence, as explained by CLE- 
ANTHES. Why an orderly system may not be 
spun from the belly as well as from the brain, 
it will be difficult for him to give a satisfac 
tory reason. 

I must confess, PHILO, replied CLEANTHES, 
that of all men living, the task which you 


have undertaken, of raising doubts and objec 
tions, suits you best, and seems, in a manner, 
natural and unavoidable to you. So great is 
your fertility of invention, that I am not 
ashamed to acknowledge myself unable, on 
a sudden, to solve regularly such out-of-the- 
way difficulties as you incessantly start upon 
me : though I clearly see, in general, their 
fallacy and error. And I question not, but 
you are yourself, at present, in the same case, 
and have not the solution so ready as the 
objection ; while you must be sensible, that 
common sense and reason are entirely against 
you, and that such whimsies as you have 
delivered, may puzzle, but never can con 
vince us. 



WHAT you ascribe to the fertility of my in 
vention, replied PHILO, is entirely owing to 
the nature of the subject. In subjects, adapted 
to the narrow compass of human reason, there 
is commonly but one determination, which 
carries probability or conviction with it; and 
to a man of sound judgment, all other sup 
positions, but that one, appear entirely absurd 
and chimerical. But in such questions, as the 
present, a hundred contradictory views may 
preserve a kind of imperfect analogy ; and 
invention has here full scope to exert itself. 
Without any great effort of thought, I be 
lieve that I could, in an instant, propose 
other systems of cosmogony, which would have 
some faint appearance of truth ; though it is a 
thousand, a million to one, if either yours or 
any one of mine be the true system. 

For instance ; what if I should revive the 
old EPICUREAN hypothesis ? This is commonly, 


and I believe, justly, esteemed the most absurd 
system, that has yet been proposed ; yet, I 
know not, whether, with a few alterations, it 
might not be brought to bear a faint appear 
ance of probability. Instead of supposing 
matter infinite, as EPICURUS did ; let us suppose 
it finite. A finite number of particles is only 
susceptible of finite transpositions : and it must 
happen, in an eternal duration, that every 
possible order or position must be tried an 
infinite number of times. This world, there 
fore, with all its events, even the most minute, 
has before been produced and destroyed, and 
will again be produced and destroyed, with 
out any bounds and limitations. No one, who 
has a conception of the powers of infinite, 
in comparison of finite, will ever scruple this 

But this supposes, said DEMEA, that matter 
can acquire motion, without any voluntary 
agent or first mover. 

And where is the difficulty, replied PHILO, 
of that supposition? Every event, before ex 
perience, is equally difficult and incompre 
hensible ; and every event, after experience, is 
equally easy and intelligible. Motion, in many 
instances, from gravity, from elasticity, from 


electricity, begins in matter, without any 
known voluntary agent ; and to suppose always, 
in these cases, an unknown voluntary agent, 
is mere hypothesis ; and hypothesis attended 
with no advantages. The beginning of motion 
in matter itself is as conceivable a priori as 
its communication from mind and intelligence. 

Besides ; why may not motion have been 
propagated by impulse through all eternity, 
and the same stock of it, or nearly the same, 
be still upheld in the universe ? As much as 
is lost by the composition of motion, as much 
is gained by its resolution. And whatever the 
causes are, the fact is certain, that matter is, 
and always has been in continual agitation, as 
far as human experience or tradition reaches. 
There is not probably, at present, in the whole 
universe, one particle of matter at absolute 

And this very consideration too, continued 
PHILO, which we have stumbled on in the 
course of the argument, suggests a new 
hypothesis of cosmogony, that is not abso 
lutely absurd and improbable. Is there a 
system, an order, an oeconomy of things, by 
which matter can preserve that perpetual 
agitation, which seems essential to it, and yet 


maintain a constancy in the forms, which it 
produces? There certainly is such an cecon- 
omy: for this is actually the case with the 
present world. The continual motion of 
matter, therefore, in less than infinite trans 
positions, must produce this ceconomy or 
order; and by its very nature, that order, 
when once established, supports itself, for 
many ages, if not to eternity. But wher 
ever matter is so poised, arranged, and ad 
justed as to continue in perpetual motion, and 
yet preserve a constancy in the forms, its 
situation must, of necessity, have all the same 
appearance of art and contrivance, which we 
observe at present. All the parts of each 
form must have a relation to each other, and 
to the whole : and the whole itself must have 
a relation to the other parts of the universe ; 
to the element, in which the form subsists ; 
to the materials, with which it repairs its 
waste and decay ; and to every other form, 
which is hostile or friendly. A defect in any 
of these particulars destroys the form ; and 
the matter, of which it is composed, is again 
set loose, and is thrown into irregular motions 
and fermentations, till it unite itself to some 
other regular form. If no such form be pre- 


pared to receive it, and if there be a great 
quantity of this corrupted matter in the uni 
verse, the universe itself is entirely disordered ; 
whether it be the feeble embryo of a world 
in its first beginnings, that is thus destroyed, 
or the rotten carcass of one, languishing in 
old age and infirmity. In either case, a chaos 
ensues ; till finite, though innumerable revolu 
tions produce at last some forms, whose parts 
and organs are so adjusted as to support the 
forms amidst a continued succession of matter. 
Suppose (for we shall endeavour to vary 
the expression), that matter were thrown 
into any position, by a blind, unguided force ; 
it is evident that this first position must in 
all probability be the most confused and most 
disorderly imaginable, without any resem 
blance to those works of human contrivance, 
which, along with a symmetry of parts, dis 
cover an adjustment of means to ends and a 
tendency to self-preservation. If the actuat 
ing force cease after this operation, matter 
must remain for ever in disorder, and continue 
an immense chaos, without any proportion or 
activity. But suppose, that the actuating force, 
whatever it be, still continues in matter, this 
first position will immediately give place to a 


second, which will likewise in all probability 
be as disorderly as the first, and so on, through 
many successions of changes and revolutions. 
No particular order or position ever continues 
a moment unaltered. The original force, still 
remaining in activity, gives a perpetual rest 
lessness to matter. Every possible situation 
is produced, and instantly destroyed. If a 
glimpse or dawn of order appears for a mo 
ment, it is instantly hurried away, and con 
founded, by that never-ceasing force, which 
actuates every part of matter. 

Thus the universe goes on for many ages 
in a continued succession of chaos and dis 
order. But is it not possible that it may 
settle at last, so as not to lose its motion 
and active force (for that we have supposed 
inherent in it) yet so as to preserve an uni 
formity of appearance, amidst the continual 
motion and fluctuation of its parts? This 
we find to be the case with the universe 
at present. Every individual is perpetually 
changing, and every part of every individual, 
and yet the whole remains, in appearance, the 
same. May we not hope for such a position, 
or rather be assured of it, from the eternal 
revolutions of unguided matter, and may not 


this account for all the appearing wisdom and 
contrivance, which is in the universe ? Let 
us contemplate the subject a little, and we 
shall find, that this adjustment, if attained by 
matter, of a seeming stability in the forms, 
with a real and perpetual revolution or motion 
of parts, affords a plausible, if not a true solu 
tion of the difficulty. 

It is in vain, therefore, to insist upon the 
uses of the parts in animals or vegetables 
and their curious adjustment to each other. I 
would fain know how an animal could sub 
sist, unless its parts were so adjusted? Do 
we not find, that it immediately perishes 
whenever this adjustment ceases, and that its 
matter corrupting tries some new f orm. It hap 
pens, indeed, that the parts of the world are so 
well adjusted, that some regular form imme 
diately lays claim to this corrupted matter : 
and if it were not so, could the world subsist? 
Must it not dissolve as well as the animal, 
and pass through new positions and situations ; 
till in a great, but finite succession, it fall at 
last into the present or some such order? 

It is well, replied CLEANTHES, you told us, 
that this hypothesis was suggested on a sudden, 
in the course of the argument. Had you had 


leisure to examine it, you would soon have 
perceived the insuperable objections, to which 
it is exposed. No form, you say, can subsist, 
unless it possess those powers and organs, 
requisite for its subsistence : some new order 
or O3conomy must be tried, and so on, with 
out intermission ; till at last some order, which 
can support and maintain itself, is fallen upon. 
But according to this hypothesis, whence arise 
the many conveniences and advantages which 
men and all animals possess? Two eyes, two 
ears, are not absolutely necessary for the sub 
sistence of the species. Human race might 
have been propagated and preserved, without 
horses, dogs, cows, sheep, and those innumer 
able fruits and products which serve to our 
satisfaction and enjoyment. If no camels had 
been created for the use of man in the sandy 
deserts of AFEICA and ARABIA, would the 
world have been dissolved? If no loadstone 
had been framed to give that wonderful and 
useful direction to the needle, would human 
society and the human kind have been imme 
diately extinguished? Though the maxims of 
Nature be in general very frugal, yet instances 
of this kind are far from being rare ; and any 
one of them is a sufficient proof of design, and 


of a benevolent design, which gave rise to the 
order and arrangement of the universe. 

At least, you may safely infer, said PHILO, 
that the foregoing hypothesis is so far incom 
plete and imperfect ; which I shall not scruple 
to allow. But can we ever reasonably expect 
greater success in any attempts of this nature ? 
Or can we ever hope to erect a system of 
cosmogony, that will be liable to no excep 
tions, and will contain no circumstance repug 
nant to our limited and imperfect experience 
of the analogy of Nature ? Your theory itself 
cannot surely pretend to any such advantage ; 
even though you have run into Anthropo 
morphism, the better to preserve a conformity 
to common experience. Let us once more put 
it to trial. In all instances which we have 
ever seen, ideas are copied from real objects, 
and are ectypal, not archetypal, to express 
myself in learned terms : You reverse this 
order, and give thought the precedence. In 
all instances which we have ever seen, thought 
has no influence upon matter, except where 
that matter is so conjoined with it, as to have 
an equal reciprocal influence upon it. No 
animal can move immediately any thing but 
the members of its own body ; and indeed, 


the equality of action and re-action seems to 
be an universal law of Nature : But your 
theory implies a contradiction to this experi 
ence. These instances, with many more, which 
it were easy to collect (particularly the supposi 
tion of a mind or system of thought that is 
eternal, or in other words, an animal ingen- 
erable and immortal), these instances, I say, 
may teach, all of us, sobriety in condemning 
each other; and let us see, that as no system 
of this kind ought ever to be received from 
a slight analogy, so neither ought any to be 
rejected on account of a small incongruity. 
For that is an inconvenience, from which we 
can justly pronounce no one to be exempted. 
All religious systems, it is confessed, are 
subject to great and insuperable difficulties. 
Each disputant triumphs in his turn ; while 
he carries on an offensive war, and exposes 
the absurdities, barbarities, and pernicious 
tenets of his antagonist. But all of them, on 
the whole, prepare a complete triumph for 
the Sceptic ; who tells them, that no system 
ought ever to be embraced with regard to 
such subjects : For this plain reason, that no 
absurdity ought ever to be assented to with 
regard to any subject. A total suspense of 


judgment is here our only reasonable resource. 
And if every attack, as is commonly observed, 
and no defence, among Theologians, is success 
ful ; how complete must be his victory, who 
remains always, with all mankind, on the 
offensive, and has himself no fixed station or 
abiding city, which he is ever, on any occa 
sion, obliged to defend? 



BUT if so many difficulties attend the argu 
ment a posteriori, said DEMEA ; had we not 
better adhere to that simple and sublime 
argument a priori, which, by offering to us 
infallible demonstration, cuts off at once all 
doubt and difficulty? By this argument, too, 
we may prove the INFINITY of the divine 
attributes, which, I am afraid, can never be 
ascertained with certainty from any other 
topic. For how can an effect, which either 
is finite, or, for aught we know, may be so ; 
how can such an effect, I say, prove an infinite 
cause? The unity too of the Divine Nature, 
it is very difficult, if not absolutely impos 
sible, to deduce merely from contemplating 
the works of nature ; nor will the uniformity 
alone of the plan, even were it allowed, give 
us any assurance of that attribute. Whereas 
the argument a priori .... 

You seem to reason, DEMEA, interposed 


CLEANTHES, as if those advantages and con 
veniences in the abstract argument were full 
proofs of its solidity. But it is first proper, 
in my opinion, to determine what argument 
of this nature you choose to insist on ; and 
we shall afterwards, from itself, better than 
from its useful consequences, endeavour to de 
termine what value we ought to put upon it. 

The argument, replied DEMEA, which I would 
insist on is the common one. Whatever exists 
must have a cause or reason of its existence ; 
it being absolutely impossible for any thing 
to produce itself, or be the cause of its own 
existence. In mounting up, therefore, from 
effects to causes, we must either go on in 
tracing an infinite succession, without any 
ultimate cause at all ; or must at last have 
recourse to some ultimate cause, that is neces 
sarily existent : Now that the first supposition 
is absurd may be thus proved. In the infinite 
chain or succession of causes and effects, each 
single effect is determined to exist by the power 
and efficacy of that cause, which immediately 
preceded ; but the whole eternal chain or suc 
cession, taken together, is not determined or 
caused by any thing : and yet it is evident 
that it requires a cause or reason, as much as 


any particular object, which begins to exist in 
time. The question is still reasonable, Why 
this particular succession of causes existed from 
eternity, and not any other succession, or no 
succession at all. If there be no necessarily 
existent being, any supposition, which can be 
formed, is equally possible ; nor is there any 
more absurdity in Nothing s having existed 
from eternity, than there is in that succes 
sion of causes, which constitutes the uni 
verse. What was it then, which determined 
something to exist rather than nothing, and 
bestowed being on a particular possibility, 
exclusive of the rest? External causes, there 
are supposed to be none. Chance is a word 
without a meaning. Was it Nothing? But 
that can never produce any thing. We must, 
therefore, have recourse to a necessarily exist 
ent Being, who carries the REASON of his 
existence in himself; and who cannot be sup 
posed not to exist without an express contra 
diction. There is consequently such a Being, 
that is, there is a Deity. 

I shall not leave it to PHILO, said CLEANTHBS 
(though I know that the starting objections is 
his chief delight), to point out the weakness 
of this metaphysical reasoning. It seems to 


me so obviously ill-grounded, and at the same 
time of so little consequence to the cause of 
true piety and religion, that I shall myself 
venture to show the fallacy of it. 

I shall begin with observing, that there is 
an evident absurdity in pretending to demon 
strate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any 
arguments a priori. 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-exist 
ence implies a contradiction. Consequently 
there is no being, whose existence is demon 
strable. I propose this argument as entirely 
decisive, and am willing to rest the whole 
controversy upon it. 

It is pretended that the Deity is a neces 
sarily existent being ; and this necessity of 
his existence is attempted to be explained by 
asserting, that, if we knew his whole essence 
or nature, we should perceive it to be as im 
possible for him not to exist as for twice two 
not to be four. But it is evident, that this 
can never happen, while our faculties remain 
the same as at present. It will still be pos- 


sible for us, at any time, to conceive the non- 
existence of what we formerly conceived to 
exist; nor can the mind ever lie under a 
necessity of supposing any object to remain 
always in being ; in the same manner as we 
lie under a necessity of always conceiving 
twice two to be four. The words, therefore, 
necessary existence, have no meaning ; or, which 
is the same thing, none that is consistent. 

But farther; why may not the material 
universe be the necessarily existent Being, 
according to this pretended explication of 
necessity? We dare not affirm that we know 
all the qualities of matter; and for aught we 
can determine, it may contain some qualities, 
which, were they known, would make its non- 
existence appear as great a contradiction as 
that twice two is five. I find only one argu 
ment employed to prove, that the material 
world is not the necessarily existent Being ; 
and this argument is derived from the con 
tingency both of the matter and the form of 
the world. Any particle of matter, tis said, 1 
may be conceived to be annihilated ; and any 
form may be conceived to be altered. Such 
an annihilation or alteration, therefore, is not 
1 Dr Clarke. 


impossible. But it seems a great partiality 
not to perceive, that the same argument 
extends equally to the Deity, so far as we 
have any conception of him ; and that the 
mind can at least imagine him to bo non 
existent, or his attributes to be altered. It 
must be some unknown, inconceivable qual 
ities, which can make his non-existence appear 
impossible, or his attributes inalterable : And 
no reason can be assigned, why these quali 
ties may not belong to matter. As they are 
altogether unknown and inconceivable, they 
can never be proved incompatible with it. 

Add to this, that in tracing an eternal suc 
cession of objects, it seems absurd to inquire 
for a general cause or first author. How can 
any thing, that exists from eternity, have a 
cause, since that relation implies a priority in 
time and a beginning of existence? 

In such a chain too, or succession of objects, 
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, that the uniting of 
these parts into a whole, like the uniting of 
several distinct counties into one kingdom, 
or several distinct members into one body, is 


performed merely by an arbitrary act of the 
mind, and has no influence on the nature of 
things. Did I show you the particular causes 
of each individual in a collection of twenty 
particles of matter, I should think it very 
unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, 
what was the cause of the whole twenty. 
This is sufficiently explained in explaining the 
cause of the parts. 

Though the reasonings, which you have 
urged, CLEANTHES, may well excuse me, said 
PHILO, from starting any farther difficulties ; 
yet I cannot forbear insisting still upon another 
topic. Tis observed by arithmeticians, that the 
products of 9 compose always either 9 or some 
lesser product of 9 ; if you add together all the 
characters, of which any of the former pro 
ducts is composed. Thus, of 18, 27, 36, which 
are products of 9, you make 9 by adding 
1 to 8, 2 to 7, 3 to 6. Thus, 369 is a product 
also of 9 ; and if you add 3, 6, and 9, you 
make 18, a lesser product of 9. 1 To a super 
ficial observer, so wonderful a regularity may 
be admired as the effect either of chance or 
design: but a skilful algebraist immediately 
concludes it to be the work of necessity, and 
1 Republique des Lettres, Aout 1685. 


demonstrates, that it must for ever result 
from the nature of these numbers. Is it not 
probable, I ask, that the whole ceconomy of 
the universe is conducted by a like necessity, 
though no human algebra can furnish a key, 
which solves the difficulty? And instead of 
admiring the order of natural beings, may it 
not happen, that, could we penetrate into the 
intimate nature of bodies, we should clearly 
see why it was absolutely impossible, they 
could ever admit of any other disposition? 
So dangerous is it to introduce this idea of 
necessity into the present question ! and so 
naturally does it afford an inference directly 
opposite to the religious hypothesis ! 

But dropping all these abstractions, con 
tinued PHILO ; and confining ourselves to more 
familiar topics ; I shall venture to add an 
observation, that the argument a priori has 
seldom been found very convincing, except to 
people of a metaphysical head, who have accus 
tomed themselves to abstract reasoning, and 
who finding from mathematics, that the un 
derstanding frequently leads to truth, through 
obscurity, and contrary to first appearances, 
have transferred the same habit of thinking 
to subjects, where it ought not to have place. 


Other people, even of good sense and the best 
inclined to religion, feel always some deficiency 
in such arguments, though they are not per 
haps able to explain distinctly where it lies. 
A certain proof, that men ever did, and ever 
will derive their religion from other sources 
than from this species of reasoning. 



IT is my opinion, I own, replied DEMEA, that 
each man feels, in a manner, the truth of 
religion within his own breast; and from a 
consciousness of his imbecility and misery, 
rather than from any reasoning, is led to 
seek protection from that Being, on whom he 
and all nature is dependent. So anxious or 
so tedious are even the best scenes of life, 
that futurity is still the object of all our 
hopes and fears. We incessantly look for 
ward, and endeavour, by prayers, adoration, 
and sacrifice, to appease those unknown powers, 
whom we find, by experience, so able to afflict 
and oppress us. Wretched creatures that we 
are ! what resource for us amidst the innu 
merable ills of life, did not Religion suggest 
some methods of atonement, and appease those 
terrors, with which we are incessantly agitated 
and tormented? 

I am indeed persuaded, said PHILO, that the 


best and indeed the only method of bringing 
every one to a due sense of religion, is by 
just representations of the misery and wicked 
ness of men. And for that purpose a talent 
of eloquence and strong imagery is more requi 
site than that of reasoning and argument. For 
is it necessary to prove, what every one feels 
within himself? Tis only necessary to make 
us feel it, if possible, more intimately and 

The people, indeed, replied DEMEA, are suffi 
ciently convinced of this great and melancholy 
truth. The miseries of life, the unhappiness 
of man, the general corruptions of our na 
ture, the unsatisfactory enjoyment of pleasures, 
riches, honours ; these phrases have become 
almost proverbial in all languages. And who 
can doubt of what all men declare from their 
own immediate feeling and experience? 

In this point, said PHILO, the learned are 
perfectly agreed with the vulgar; and in all 
letters, sacred and profane, the topic of human 
misery has been insisted on with the most 
pathetic eloquence that sorrow and melan 
choly could inspire. The poets, who speak 
from sentiment, without a system, and whose 
testimony has therefore the more authority, 


abound in images of this nature. From 
HOMER down to Dr YOUNG, the whole inspired 
tribe have ever been sensible, that no other 
representation of things would suit the feel 
ing and observation of each individual. 

As to authorities, replied DEMEA, you need 
not seek them. Look round this library of 
CLEANTHES. I shall venture to affirm, that, 
except authors of particular sciences, such as 
chemistry or botany, who have no occasion to 
treat of human life, there scarce is one of 
those innumerable writers, from whom the 
sense of human misery has not, in some pass 
age or other, extorted a complaint and con 
fession of it. At least, the chance is entirely 
on that side ; and no one author has ever, so 
far as I can recollect, been so extravagant as 
to deny it. 

There you must excuse me, said PHILO : 
LEIBNITZ has denied it ; and is perhaps the 
first, 1 who ventured upon so bold and para 
doxical an opinion ; at least, the first, who 
made it essential to his philosophical system. 

And by being the first, replied DEMEA, might 

1 That sentiment had been maintained by Dr King and 
some few others, before LEIBNITZ, though by none of so 
great fame as that GERMAN philosopher. 


he not have been sensible of his error? For 
is this a subject, in which philosophers can 
propose to make discoveries, especially in so 
late an age? And can any man hope by a 
simple denial (for the subject scarcely admits 
of reasoning) to bear down the united testi 
mony of mankind, founded on sense and 
consciousness ? 

And why should man, added he, pretend 
to an exemption from the lot of all other 
animals? The whole earth, believe me, PHILO, 
is cursed and polluted. A perpetual war is 
kindled amongst all living creatures. Ne 
cessity, hunger, want, stimulate the strong and 
courageous : Fear, anxiety, terror, agitate the 
weak and infirm. The first entrance into life 
gives anguish to the new-born infant and to 
its wretched parent : Weakness, impotence, 
distress, attend each stage of that life : and 
tis at last finished in agony and horror. 

Observe too, says PHILO, the curious arti 
fices of Nature, in order to embitter the life 
of every living being. The stronger prey upon 
the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror 
and anxiety. The weaker too, in their turn, 
often prey upon the stronger, and vex and 
molest them without relaxation. Consider 


that innumerable race of insects, which either 
are bred on the body of each animal, or flying 
about infix their stings in him. These insects 
have others still less than themselves, which 
torment them. And thus on each hand, before 
and behind, above and below, every animal 
is surrounded with enemies, which incessantly 
seek his misery and destruction. 

Man alone, said DEMEA, seems to be, in 
part, an exception to this rule. For by com 
bination in society, he can easily master lions, 
tigers, and bears, whose greater strength and 
agility naturally enable them to prey upon 

On the contrary, it is here chiefly, cried 
PHILO, that the uniform and equal maxims 
of Nature are most apparent. Man, it is true, 
can, by combination, surmount all his real 
enemies, and become master of the whole 
animal creation : but does he not immediately 
raise up to himself imaginary enemies, the 
daemons of his fancy, who haunt him with 
superstitious terrors, and blast every enjoy 
ment of life? His pleasure, as he imagines, 
becomes, in their eyes, a crime : his food and 
repose give them umbrage and offence : his 
very sleep and dreams furnish new materials 


to anxious fear : and even death, his refuge 
from every other ill, presents only the dread 
of endless and innumerable woes. Nor does 
the wolf molest more the timid flock, than sup 
erstition does the anxious breast of wretched 

Besides, consider, DEMEA ; this very society, 
by which we surmount those wild beasts, our 
natural enemies ; what new enemies does it 
not raise to us? What woe and misery does 
it not occasion? Man is the greatest enemy 
of man. Oppression, injustice, contempt, con 
tumely, violence, sedition, war, calumny, 
treachery, fraud ; by these they mutually 
torment each other: and they would soon 
dissolve that society which they had formed, 
were it not for the dread of still greater ills, 
which must attend their separation. 

But though these external insults, said 
DEMEA, from animals, from men, from all the 
elements, which assault us, form a frightful 
catalogue of woes, they are nothing in compari 
son of those, which arise within ourselves, from 
the distempered condition of our mind and 
body. How many lie under the lingering tor 
ment of diseases ? Hear the pathetic enumera 
tion of the great poet. 


Intestine stone and ulcer, colic-pangs, 
Demoniac frenzy, moping melancholy, 
And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy, 
Marasmus and wide-wasting pestilence. 
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans : DESPAIR 
Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch. 
And over them triumphant DEATH his dart 
Shook, but delay d to strike, tho oft invok d 
With vows, as their chief good and final hope. 1 

The disorders of the mind, continued DEMEA, 
though more secret, are not perhaps less dis- 
maland vexatious. Remorse, shame, anguish, 
rage, disappointment, anxiety, fear, dejection, 
despair ; who has ever passed through life 
without cruel inroads from these tormentors? 
How many have scarcely ever felt any better 
sensations? Labour and poverty, so abhorred 
by every one, are the certain lot of the far 
greater number ; and those few privileged 
persons, who enjoy ease and opulence, never 
reach contentment or true felicity. All the 
goods of life united would not make a very 
happy man : but all the ills united would make 
a wretch indeed ; and any one of them almost 
(and who can be free from every one), nay 
often the absence of one good (and who can 
possess all), is sufficient to render life ineligible. 

1 Milton : Paradise Lost, XI. 



Were a stranger to drop, on a sudden, into 
this world, I would show him, as a specimen 
of its ills, an hospital full of diseases, a prison 
crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field 
of battle strewed with carcases, a fleet flounder 
ing in the ocean, a nation languishing under 
tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the 
gay side of life to him, and give him a notion 
of its pleasures ; whither should I conduct him ? 
to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might 
justly think, that I was only showing him a 
diversity of distress and sorrow. 

There is no evading such striking instances, 
said PHILO, but by apologies, which still farther 
aggravate the charge. Why have all men, I 
ask, in all ages, complained incessantly of the 
miseries of life ? . . . . They have no just reason, 
says one : these complaints proceed only from 
their discontented, repining, anxious disposi 
tion And can there possibly, I reply, 

be a more certain foundation of misery, than 
such a wretched temper? 

But if they were really as unhappy as they 
pretend, says my antagonist, why do they re 
main in life? .... 

Not satisfied with life, afraid of death. 
This is the secret chain, say I, that holds us. 


We are terrified, not bribed to the continu 
ance of our existence. 

It is only a false delicacy, he may insist, which 
a few refined spirits indulge, and which has 
spread these complaints among the whole race 

of mankind And what is this delicacy, 

I ask, which you blame? Is it any thing but 
a greater sensibility to all the pleasures and 
pains of life? and if the man of a delicate, 
refined temper, by being so much more alive 
than the rest of the world, is only so much 
more unhappy ; what judgment must we form 
in general of human life? 

Let men remain at rest, says our adversary ; 
and they will be easy. They are willing 

artificers of their own misery No ! reply 

I ; an anxious languor follows their repose : 
disappointment, vexation, trouble, their activ 
ity and ambition. 

I can observe something like what you 
mention in some others, replied CLEANTHES : 
but I confess, I feel little or nothing of it 
in myself, and hope that it is not so common 
as you represent it. 

If you feel not human misery yourself, 
cried DEMEA, I congratulate you on so happy 
a singularity. Others, seemingly the most 


prosperous, have not been ashamed to vent 
their complaints in the most melancholy 
strains. Let us attend to the great, the 
fortunate Emperor, CHARLES V., when, tired 
with human grandeur, he resigned all his 
extensive dominions into the hands of his 
son. In the last harangue, which he made 
on that memorable occasion, he publicly 
avowed, that the greatest prosperities which 
he had ever enjoyed, had been mixed with so 
many adversities, that he might truly say he 
had never enjoyed any satisfaction or content 
ment. But did the retired life, in which he 
sought for shelter, afford him any greater 
happiness? If we may credit his son s ac 
count, his repentance commenced the very 
day of his resignation. 

CICERO S fortune, from small beginnings, rose 
to the greatest lustre and renown ; yet what 
pathetic complaints of the ills of life do his 
familiar letters, as well as philosophical dis 
courses, contain? And suitably to his own 
experience, he introduces CATO, the great, the 
fortunate CATO, protesting in his old age, 
that, had he a new life in his offer, he would 
reject the present. 

Ask yourself, ask any of your acquaintance, 


whether they would live over again the last 
ten or twenty years of their lives. No ! but 
the next twenty, they say, will be better: 

And from the dregs of life, hope to receive 
What the first sprightly running could not give. 1 

Thus at last they find (such is the greatness 
of human misery; it reconciles even contra 
dictions) that they complain, at once, of the 
shortness of life, and of its vanity and sorrow. 
And is it possible, CLEANTHES, said PHILO, 
that after all these reflections, and infinitely 
more, which might be suggested, you can 
still persevere in your Anthropomorphism, 
and assert the moral attributes of the Deity, 
his justice, benevolence, mercy, and rectitude, 
to be of the same nature with these virtues 
in human creatures? His power we allow 
infinite : whatever he wills is executed : but 
neither man nor any other animal is happy : 
therefore he does not will their happiness. 
His wisdom is infinite : he is never mistaken 
in choosing the means to any end : but the 
course of nature tends not to human or 
animal felicity : therefore it is not established 
for that purpose. Through the whole com 
pass of human knowledge, there are no infer- 
1 Dryden : Aurungzebe, Act IV., sc. i. 


ences more certain and infallible than these. 
In what respect, then, do his benevolence and 
mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of 
men ? 

EPICUBUS S old questions are yet unanswered. 

Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? 
then is he impotent. Is he able, but not 
willing ? then is he malevolent. Is he both 
able and willing ? whence then is evil ? 

You ascribe, CLEANTHES, (and I believe 
justly) a purpose and intention to Nature. 
But what, I beseech you, is the object of 
that curious artifice and machinery, which 
she has displayed in all animals ? The preser 
vation alone of individuals and propagation 
of the species. It seems enough for her pur 
pose, if such a rank be barely upheld in the 
universe, without any care or concern for the 
happiness of the members that compose it. 
No resource for this purpose : no machinery, 
in order merely to give pleasure or ease : no 
fund of pure joy and contentment : no indulg 
ence without some want or necessity accom 
panying it. At least, the few phenomena of 
this nature are overbalanced by opposite 
phenomena of still greater importance. 

Our sense of music, harmony, and indeed 


beauty of all kinds, gives satisfaction, with 
out being absolutely necessary to the preser 
vation and propagation of the species. But 
what racking pains, on the other hand, arise 
from gouts, gravels, megrims, tooth - aches, 
rheumatisms ; where the injury to the animal- 
machinery is either small or incurable? Mirth, 
laughter, play, frolic, seem gratuitous satis 
factions, which have no farther tendency : 
spleen, melancholy, discontent, superstition, 
are pains of the same nature. How then 
does the divine benevolence display itself, in 
the sense of you Anthropomorphites ? None 
but we Mystics, as you were pleased to call 
us, can account for this strange mixture of 
phenomena, by deriving it from attributes, 
infinitely perfect, but incomprehensible. 

And have you at last, said CLEANTHES 
smiling, betrayed your intentions, PHILO ? 
Your long agreement with DEMEA did indeed 
a little surprise me ; but I find you were all 
the while erecting a concealed battery against 
me. And I must confess, that you have now 
fallen upon a subject, worthy of your noble 
spirit of opposition and controversy. If you 
can make out the present point, and prove 
mankind to be unhappy or corrupted, there 


is an end at once of all religion. For to 
what purpose establish the natural attributes 
of the Deity, while the moral are still doubt 
ful and uncertain? 

You take umbrage very easily, replied 
DEMEA, at opinions the most innocent, and 
the most generally received even amongst 
the religious and devout themselves : and 
nothing can be more surprising than to find 
a topic like this, concerning the wickedness 
and misery of man, charged with no less 
than Atheism and profaneness. Have not 
all pious divines and preachers, who have 
indulged their rhetoric on so fertile a sub 
ject ; have they not easily, I say, given a 
solution of any difficulties, which may attend 
it? This world is but a point in comparison 
of the universe ; this life but a moment in 
comparison of eternity. The present evil 
phenomena, therefore, are rectified in other 
regions, and in some future period of ex 
istence. And the eyes of men, being then 
opened to larger views of things, see the 
whole connection of general laws ; and trace, 
with adoration, the benevolence and rectitude 
of the Deity, through all the mazes and in 
tricacies of his providence. 


No ! replied CLEANTHES, No ! These arbi 
trary suppositions can never be admitted, 
contrary to matter of fact, visible and un- 
controverted. Whence can any cause be 
known but from its known effects? Whence 
can any hypothesis be proved but from the 
apparent phenomena? To establish one hypo 
thesis upon another, is building entirely in 
the air ; and the utmost we ever attain, by 
these conjectures and fictions, is to ascertain 
the bare possibility of our opinion ; but never 
can we, upon such terms, establish its reality. 

The only method of supporting divine benev 
olence (and it is what I willingly embrace) 
is to deny absolutely the misery and wicked 
ness of man. Your representations are ex 
aggerated : Your melancholy views mostly 
fictitious : Your inferences contrary to fact 
and experience. Health is more common than 
sickness : Pleasure than pain : Happiness than 
misery. And for one vexation, which we 
meet with, we attain, upon computation, a 
hundred enjoyments. 

Admitting your position, replied PHILO, 
which yet is extremely doubtful, you must, 
at the same time, allow, that, if pain be 
less frequent than pleasure, it is infinitely 


more violent and durable. One hour of it 
is often able to outweigh a day, a week, a 
month of our common insipid enjoyments : 
And how many days, weeks, and months are 
passed by several in the most acute torments ? 
Pleasure, scarcely in one instance, is ever 
able to reach ecstacy and rapture : And in 
no one instance can it continue for any time 
at its highest pitch and altitude. The spirits 
evaporate ; the nerves relax ; the fabric is 
disordered ; and the enjoyment quickly de 
generates into fatigue and uneasiness. But 
pain often, good God, how often ! rises to 
torture and agony ; and the longer it con 
tinues, it becomes still more genuine agony 
and torture. Patience is exhausted ; courage 
languishes ; melancholy seizes us ; and nothing 
terminates our misery but the removal of its 
cause, or another event, which is the sole 
cure of all evil, but which, from our natural 
folly, we regard with still greater horror and 

But not to insist upon these topics, con 
tinued PHILO, though most obvious, certain, 
and important ; I must use the freedom to 
admonish you, CLEANTHES, that you have put 
this controversy upon a most dangerous issue, 


and are unawares introducing a total Scep 
ticism, into the most essential articles of 
natural and revealed theology. What ! no 
method of fixing a just foundation for re 
ligion, unless we allow the happiness of 
human life, and maintain a continued ex 
istence even in this world, with all our 
present pains, infirmities, vexations, and 
follies, to be eligible and desirable ! But this 
is contrary to every one s feeling and ex 
perience : It is contrary to an authority so 
established as nothing can subvert : No de 
cisive proofs can ever be produced against 
this authority ; nor is it possible for you 
to compute, estimate, and compare all the 
pains and all the pleasures in the lives of 
all men and of all animals : And thus by 
your resting the whole system of religion on 
a point, which, from its very nature, must 
for ever be uncertain, you tacitly confess, that 
that system is equally uncertain. 

But allowing you, what never will be be 
lieved ; at least, what you never possibly can 
prove, that animal, or at least, human hap 
piness, in this life, exceeds its misery ; you 
have yet done nothing : For this is not, by 
any means, what we expect from infinite 


power, infinite wisdom, and infinite goodness. 
Why is there any misery at all in the world? 
Not by chance surely. From some cause then. 
Is it from the intention of the Deity? But 
he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to 
his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing 
can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so 
short, so clear, so decisive ; except we assert, 
that these subjects exceed all human capacity, 
and that our common measures of truth and 
falsehood are not applicable to them ; a topic, 
which I have all along insisted on, but 
which you have, from the beginning, rejected 
with scorn and indignation. 

But I will be contented to retire still from 
this intrenchment : For I deny that you can 
ever force me in it : I will allow, that pain 
or misery in man is compatible with infinite 
power and goodness in the Deity, even in 
your sense of these attributes : What are you 
advanced by all these concessions? A mere 
possible compatibility is not sufficient. You 
must prove these pure, unmixed, and uncon 
trollable attributes from the present mixed and 
confused phenomena, and from these alone. 
A hopeful undertaking ! Were the phenomena 
ever so pure and unmixed, yet being finite, they 


would be insufficient for that purpose. How 
much more, where they are also so jarring and 
discordant ! 

Here, CLEANTHES, I find myself at ease in 
my argument. Here I triumph. Formerly, 
when we argued concerning the natural at 
tributes of intelligence and design, I needed 
all my sceptical and metaphysical subtilty to 
elude your grasp. In many views of the 
universe, and of its parts, particularly the 
latter, the beauty and fitness of final causes 
strike us with such irresistible force, that all 
objections appear (what I believe they really 
are) mere cavils and sophisms ; nor can we 
then imagine how it was ever possible for us 
to repose any weight on them. But there is 
no view of human life or of the condition 
of mankind, from which, without the greatest 
violence, we can infer the moral attributes, 
or learn that infinite benevolence, conjoined 
with infinite power and infinite wisdom, which 
we must discover by the eyes of faith alone. 
It is your turn now to tug the labouring 
oar, and to support your philosophical subtil- 
ties against the dictates of plain reason and 



I SCRUPLE not to allow, said CLEAXTHES, 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 con 
tented with more accurate and more moderate 
expressions. The terms, admirable, excellent, 
superlatively great, icise, and holy; these suf 
ficiently fill the imaginations of men ; and 
any thing beyond, besides that it leads into 
absurdities, has no influence on your 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 im 
possible 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 ad 
justed. A less evil may then be chosen, in 
order to avoid a greater ; Inconveniences 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, with 
out 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 workman 
ship of such a sublime and benevolent Being ; 
he might, perhaps, be surprised at the dis 
appointment ; 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, benevo 
lent, 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 oeconomy of 
the building were the source of noise, con 
fusion, 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 inconveniences. 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 inconveniences. His ignorance, or 
even your own ignorance of such a plan, will 
never convince you of the impossibility of 
it. If you find many inconveniences 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 in 
finity is excluded from the Divine attributes, 
may perhaps be sufficient to prove a consist- 


ence ; but cn never be foundations for any 

There seem to be four circumstances, on 
which depend all, or the greatest parts of the 
ills, that molest sensible creatures ; and it i.s 
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 oeconomy of 
a universe, there is no conjecture, however 
wild, which may not be just ; nor any one, 
however plausible, which may not be erron 
eous. All that belongs to human understand 
ing, 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 appear 
ance 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 oeconomy 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 with 
out 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 appear 
ance 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 cir 
cumstance, viz. the conducting of the world by 
general laws ; and this seems nowise 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, wherever it were to be found ; and pro 
duce all good, without any preparation or 
long progress of causes and effects? 

Besides, we must consider, that, according to 
the present oeconomy 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 expecta 
tions. 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 sal 
utary 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 
ceconomy 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 C^SAR 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 estab 
lish 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 cir 
cumstance, 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 ceconomy, that any considerable diminution 
must entirely destroy the creature. Wher 
ever one power is increased, there is a pro 
portional abatement in the others. Animals, 
which excel in swiftness, are commonly defect 
ive 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 clothes, 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 calcula 
tion 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 happi 
ness ; nor would the powers and the neces 
sities have been adjusted with so rigid an 
oeconomy. The author of Nature is incon 
ceivably 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 deal 
ings 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 
cherubm. I am contented to take an increase 
in one single power or faculty of his soul. 
Let him be endowed with a greater propen 
sity 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 dili 
gence with that which many individuals are 
able to attain by habit and reflection; and 
the most beneficial consequences, without any 


alloy 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 per 
fect 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 pene- 


tration and judgment, of a more delicate taste 
of beauty, of a nicer sensibility to benevolence 
and friendship ; we might be told, that we im 
piously pretend to break the order of Nature, 
that we want to exalt ourselves into a higher 
rank of being, that the presents which we re 
quire, not being suitable to our state and con 
dition, 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 us their 
assistance, . . . we should also have our own 
temper to struggle with, and should be de 
prived of that faculty, \vhich 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 pur 
pose, 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 produc 
tion 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 neces 
sary 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 accur 
acy, 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 adminis 
tered 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 re 
quires ; or were the several springs and prin 
ciples 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 occa 
sion? 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 presump 
tuous 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 estab 
lished, but must be inferred from the phe 
nomena, 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 under 
standing 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 at 
tributes as you suppose : But surely they can 
never prove these attributes. Such a con 
clusion 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 im 
mense profusion of beings, animated and or- 
gaiii/ed, 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 insuffi 
cient 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 vivi 
fying principle, and pouring forth from her 
lap, without discernment or parental care, 
her maimed and abortive children ! 

Here the MANICH^EAN 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 agree 
ment 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 

There may four hypotheses be framed con 
cerning the first causes of the universe : that 
they are endowed with perfect goodness, that 
they have perfect malice, that they are oppo 
site and have both goodness and malice, that 
they have neither goodness nor malice. Mixed 
phenomena can never prove the two former 
unmixed 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 varia 
tion ; and we have no more reason to infer, 
that the rectitude of the Supreme Being re 
sembles human rectitude than that his benev 
olence 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 hav 
ing recourse to the first cause. But as every 
effect must have a cause, and that cause 
another; you must either carry on the pro 
gression 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 in 
comprehensible 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 expense ; 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 incomprehen 
sibility 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 ignor 
ance, 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 theo 
logical 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 argu 
ments 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 



PHILO continued the conversation in the fol 
lowing manner. Our friend, I am afraid, said 
CLEANTHES, will have little inclination to 
revive this topic of discourse, while you are 
in company; and to tell truth, PHILO, I should 
rather wish to reason with either of you apart 
on a subject so sublime and interesting. Your 
spirit of controversy, joined to your abhorrence 
of vulgar superstition, carries you strange 
lengths, when engaged in an argument ; and 
there is nothing so sacred and venerable, even 
in your own eyes, which you spare on that 

I must confess, replied PHILO, that I am less 
cautious on the subject of Natural Religion 
than on any other; both because I know that 
I can never, on that head, corrupt the prin 
ciples of any man of common sense, and 
because no one, I am confident, in whose eyes 


I appear a man of common sense, will ever 
mistake my intentions. You, in particular, 
CLEANTHES, with whom I live in unreserved 
intimacy ; you are sensible, that, notwithstand 
ing the freedom of my conversation, and my 
love of singular arguments, no one has a 
deeper sense of religion impressed on his mind, 
or pays more profound adoration to the Divine 
Being, as he discovers himself to reason, in the 
inexplicable contrivance and artifice of Nature. 
A purpose, an intention, a design strikes every 
where the most careless, the most stupid 
thinker; and no man can be so hardened in 
absurd systems, as at all times to reject it. 
That Nature does nothing in vain, is a maxim 
established in all the schools, merely from the 
contemplation of the works of Nature, without 
any religious purpose ; and, from a firm con 
viction of its truth, an anatomist, who had 
observed a new organ or canal, would never 
be satisfied, till he had also discovered its use 
and intention. One great foundation of the 
COPERNICAN system is the maxim, That Nature 
acts by the simplest methods, and chooses the 
most proper means to any end ; and astronomers 
often, without thinking of it, lay this strong 
foundation of piety and religion. The same 


thing is observable in other parts of phil 
osophy : and thus all the sciences almost lead 
us insensibly to acknowledge a first intelligent 
Author; and their authority is often so much 
the greater, as they do not directly profess 
that intention. 

It is with pleasure I hear GALEN reason con 
cerning the structure of the human body. The 
anatomy of a man, says he, 1 discovers above 
600 different muscles ; and whoever duly con 
siders these, will find, that in each of them 
Nature must have adjusted at least ten differ 
ent circumstances, in order to attain the end 
which she proposed ; proper figure, just mag 
nitude, right disposition of the several ends, 
upper and lower position of the whole, the 
due insertion of the several nerves, veins, and 
arteries : So that in the muscles alone, above 
6000 several views and intentions must have 
been formed and executed. The bones he cal 
culates to be 284 : The distinct purposes, aimed 
at in the structure of each, above forty. What 
a prodigious display of artifice, even in these 
simple and homogeneous parts ! But if we 
consider the skin, ligaments, vessels, glandules, 
humours, the several limbs and members of 
1 De formatione Foetus. 


the body; how must our astonishment rise 
upon us, in proportion to the number and 
intricacy of the parts so artificially adjusted ! 
The farther we advance in these researches, 
we discover new scenes of art and wisdom : 
But descry still, at a distance, farther scenes 
beyond our reach ; in the fine internal struc 
ture of the parts, in the ceconomy of the brain, 
in the fabric of the seminal vessels. All these 
artifices are repeated in every different species 
of animal, with wonderful variety, and with 
exact propriety, suited to the different inten 
tions of Nature, in framing each species. And 
if the infidelity of GALEN, even when these 
natural sciences were still imperfect, could 
not withstand such striking appearances ; to 
what pitch of pertinacious obstinacy must a 
philosopher in this age have attained, who 
can now doubt of a Supreme Intelligence? 

Could I meet with one of this species (who, 
I thank God, are very rare) I would ask him : 
Supposing there were a God, who did not dis 
cover himself immediately to our senses ; were 
it possible for him to give stronger proofs of 
his existence, than what appear on the whole 
face of Nature? What indeed could such a 
divine Being do, but copy the present oecoiiomy 

of things ; render many of his artifices so plain, 
that no stupidity could mistake them; afford 
glimpses of still greater artifices, which demon 
strate his prodigious superiority above our 
narrow apprehensions ; and conceal altogether 
a great many from such imperfect creatures? 
Now according to all rules of just reasoning, 
every fact must pass for undisputed, when it 
is supported by all the arguments, which its 
nature admits of ; even though these argu 
ments be not, in themselves, very numerous or 
forcible : How much more, in the present case, 
where no human imagination can compute 
their number, and no understanding estimate 
their cogency ! 

I shall farther add, said CLEANTHES, to what 
you have so well urged, that one great advan 
tage of the principle of Theism, is, that it is 
the only system of cosmogony, which can be 
rendered intelligible and complete, and yet can 
throughout preserve a strong analogy to what 
we every day see and experience in the world. 
The comparison of the universe to a machine 
of human contrivance is so obvious and natural, 
and is justified by so many instances of order 
and design in Nature, that it must immediately 
strike all unprejudiced apprehensions, and pro- 


cure universal approbation. Whoever attempts 
to weaken this theory, cannot pretend to suc 
ceed by establishing in its place any other, that 
is precise and determinate : It is sufficient for 
him, if he start doubts and difficulties ; and by 
remote and abstract views of things, reach 
that suspense of judgment, which is here the 
utmost boundary of his wishes. But besides, 
that this state of mind is in itself unsatis 
factory, it can never be steadily maintained 
against such striking appearances, as continu 
ally engage us into the religious hypothesis. 
A false, absurd system, human nature, from 
the force of prejudice, is capable of adhering 
to, with obstinacy and perseverance : But no 
system at all, in opposition to a theory, supported 
by strong and obvious reason, by natural pro 
pensity, and by early education, I think it 
absolutely impossible to maintain or defend. 

So little, replied PHILO, do I esteem this 
suspense of judgment in the present case to 
be possible, that I am apt to suspect there 
enters somewhat of a dispute of words into 
this controversy, more than is usually imagined. 
That the works of Nature bear a great analogy 
to the productions of art is evident : and ac 
cording to all the rules of good reasoning, we 


ought to infer, if we argue at all concerning 
them, that their causes have a proportional 
analogy. But as there are also considerable 
differences, we have reason to suppose a pro 
portional difference in the causes ; and in 
particular ought to attribute a much higher 
degree of power and energy to the supreme 
cause than any we have ever observed in 
mankind. Here then the existence of a 
DEITY is plainly ascertained by reason ; and 
if we make it a question, whether, on account 
of these analogies, we can properly call him a 
mind or intelligence, notwithstanding the vast 
difference, which may reasonably be supposed 
between him and human minds ; what is this 
but a mere verbal controversy? No man can 
deny the analogies between the effects : To 
restrain ourselves from enquiring concerning 
the causes is scarcely possible : From this 
enquiry, the legitimate conclusion is, that the 
causes have also an analogy : And if we are 
not contented with calling the first and 
supreme cause a GOD or DEITY, but desire 
to vary the expression ; what can we call him 
but MIND or THOUGHT, to which he is justly 
supposed to bear a considerable resemblance? 
All men of sound reason are disgusted with 


verbal disputes, which abound so much in 
philosophical and theological enquiries ; and it 
is found, that the only remedy for this abuse 
must arise from clear definitions, from the 
precision of those ideas which enter into any 
argument, and from the strict and uniform 
use of those terms which are employed. But 
there is a species of controversy, which, from 
the very nature of language and of human 
ideas, is involved in perpetual ambiguity, and 
can never, by any precaution or any definitions, 
be able to reach a reasonable certainty or pre 
cision. These are the controversies concerning 
the degrees of any quality or circumstance. 
Men may argue to all eternity, whether 
HANNIBAL be a great, or a very great, or a 
superlatively great man, what degree of beauty 
CLEOPATRA possessed, \vhat epithet of praise 
LIVY or THUCYDIDES is entitled to, without 
bringing the controversy to any determination. 
The disputants may here agree in their sense, 
and differ in the terms, or vice versa; yet 
never be able to define their terms, so as to 
enter into each other s meaning : Because the 
degrees of these qualities are not, like quantity 
or number, susceptible of any exact mensura 
tion, which may be the standard in the con- 


troversy. That the dispute concerning Theism 
is of this nature, and consequently is merely 
verbal, or perhaps, if possible, still more 
incurably ambiguous, will appear upon the 
slightest enquiry. I ask the Theist, if he 
does not allow, that there is a great and 
immeasurable, because incomprehensible, dif 
ference between the human and the divine 
mind: The more pious he is, the more readily 
will he assent to the affirmative, and the 
more will he be disposed to magnify the 
difference : He will even assert, that the dif 
ference is of a nature which cannot be too 
much magnified. I next turn to the Atheist, 
who, I assert, is only nominally so, and can 
never possibly be in earnest ; and I ask him, 
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 : 
He will readily acknowledge it. Having ob 
tained this concession, I push him still farther 


in his retreat ; and I ask him, if it be not 
probable, that the principle which first ar 
ranged, and still maintains order in this 
universe, bears not also some remote incon 
ceivable 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. Where then, cry I 
to both these antagonists, is the subject of 
your dispute? The Theist allows, that the 
original intelligence is very different from 
human reason : The Atheist allows, that the 
original principle of order bears some remote 
analogy to it. Will you quarrel, Gentlemen, 
about the degrees, and enter into a contro 
versy, which admits not of any precise mean 
ing, nor consequently of any determination? 
If you should be so obstinate, I should not 
be surprised to find you insensibly change 
sides ; while the Theist on the one hand 
exaggerates the dissimilarity between the 
Supreme Being, and frail, imperfect, variable, 
fleeting, and mortal creatures ; and the Atheist 
on the other magnifies the analogy among all 
the operations of Nature, in every period, every 
situation, and every position. Consider then, 
where the real point of controversy lies, and 


if you cannot lay aside your disputes, en 
deavour, at least, to cure yourselves of your 

And here I must also acknowledge, CLE- 
ANTHES, that, as the works of Nature have a 
much greater analogy to the effects of our 
art and contrivance, than to those of our 
benevolence and justice ; we have reason to 
infer that the natural attributes of the Deity 
have a greater resemblance to those of man, 
than his moral have to human virtues. But 
what is the consequence ? Nothing but this, 
that the moral qualities of man are more 
defective in their kind than his natural abili 
ties. For, as the Supreme Being is allowed to 
be absolutely and entirely perfect, whatever 
differs most from him departs the farthest 
from the supreme standard of rectitude and 
perfection. 1 

1 It seems evident, that the dispute between the Sceptics 
and Dogmatists is entirely verbal, or at least regards only 
the degrees of doubt and assurance, which we ought to 
indulge with regard to all reasoning : And such disputes 
are commonly, at the bottom, verbal, and admit not of 
any precise determination. No philosophical Dogmatist 
denies, that there are difficulties both with regard to the 
senses and to all science ; and that these difficulties are 
in a regular, logical method, absolutely insolvable. No 


These, CLEANTHES, are my unfeigned senti 
ments on this subject ; and these sentiments, 
you know, I have ever cherished and main 
tained. But in proportion to my veneration 
for true religion, is my abhorrence of vulgar 
superstitions ; and I indulge a peculiar pleasure, 
I confess, in pushing such principles, sometimes 
into absurdity, sometimes into impiety. And 
you are sensible, that all bigots, notwithstand 
ing their great aversion to the latter above 
the former, are commonly equally guilty of 

My inclination, replied CLEANTHES, lies, I 
own, a contrary way, Religion, however cor 
rupted, is still better than no religion at all. 
The doctrine of a future state is so strong 
and necessary a security to morals, that we 
never ought to abandon or neglect it. For if 
finite and temporary rewards and punishments 
have so great an effect, as we daily find ; how 

Sceptic denies, that we lie under an absolute necessity, 
notwithstanding these difficulties, of thinking, and believ 
ing, and reasoning with regard to all kind of subjects, and 
even of frequently assenting with confidence and security. 
The only difference, then, between these sects, if they 
merit that name, is, that the Sceptic, from habit, caprice, 
or inclination, insists most on the difficulties ; the Dog 
matist, for like reasons, on the necessity. 


much greater must be expected from such as 
are infinite and eternal? 

How happens it then, said PHILO, if vulgar 
superstition be so salutary to society, that all 
history abounds so much with accounts of 
its pernicious consequences on public affairs? 
Factions, civil wars, persecutions, subversions 
of government, oppression, slavery ; these are 
the dismal consequences which always attend 
its prevalency over the minds of men. If 
the religious spirit be ever mentioned in any 
historical narration, we are sure to meet 
afterwards with a detail of the miseries, 
which attend it. And no period of time can 
be happier or more prosperous, than those in 
which it is never regarded, or heard of. 

The reason of this observation, replied 
CLEANTHES, is obvious. The proper office of 
religion is to regulate the heart of men, 
humanize their conduct, infuse the spirit of 
temperance, order, and obedience ; and as its 
operation is silent, and only enforces the 
motives of morality and justice, it is in 
danger of being overlooked, and confounded 
with these other motives. When it distin 
guishes itself, and acts as a separate principle 
over men, it has departed from its proper 


sphere, and has become only a cover to fac 
tion and ambition. 

And so will all religion, said PHILO, except 
the philosophical and rational kind. Your 
reasonings are more easily eluded than my 
facts. The inference is not just, because finite 
and temporary rewards and punishments have 
so great influence, that therefore such as are 
infinite and eternal must have so much greater. 
Consider, I beseech you, the attachment, which 
we have to present things, and the little con 
cern which we discover for objects, so remote 
and uncertain. When divines are declaiming 
against the common behaviour and conduct of 
the world, they always represent this principle 
as the strongest imaginable (which indeed it 
is) and describe almost all human kind as 
lying under the influence of it, and sunk into 
the deepest lethargy and unconcern about their 
religious interests. Yet these same divines, 
when they refute their speculative antagonists, 
suppose the motives of religion to be so power 
ful, that, without them, it were impossible for 
civil society to subsist ; nor are they ashamed 
of so palpable a contradiction. It is certain, 
from experience, that the smallest grain of 
natural honesty and benevolence has more 



effect on men s conduct, than the most pom 
pous views suggested by theological theories 
and systems. A man s natural inclination 
works incessantly upon him ; it is for ever 
present to the mind, and mingles itself with 
every view and consideration : whereas re 
ligious motives, where they act at all, operate 
only by starts and bounds ; and it is scarcely 
possible for them to become altogether habit 
ual to the mind. The force of the greatest 
gravity, say the philosophers, is infinitely 
small, in comparison of that of the least 
impulse ; yet it is certain, that the smallest 
gravity will, in the end, prevail above a great 
impulse ; because no strokes or blows can be 
repeated with such constancy as attraction 
and gravitation. 

Another advantage of inclination : It engages 
on its side all the wit and ingenuity of the 
mind ; and when set in opposition to religious 
principles, seeks every method and art of elud 
ing them : in which it is almost always suc 
cessful. Who can explain the heart of man, 
or account for those strange salvos and ex 
cuses, with which people satisfy themselves, 
when they follow their inclinations in opposi 
tion to their religious duty ! This is well 


understood in the world ; and none but fools 
ever repose less trust in a man, because they 
hear, that, from study and philosophy, he has 
entertained some speculative doubts with re 
gard to theological subjects. And when we 
have to do with a man, who makes a great 
profession of religion and devotion ; has this 
any other effect upon several, who pass for 
prudent, than to put them on their guard, 
lest they be cheated and deceived by him? 

We must farther consider, that philosophers, 
who cultivate reason and reflection, stand less 
in need of such motives to keep them under 
the restraint of morals ; and that the vulgar, 
who alone may need them, are utterly incap 
able of so pure a religion, as represents the 
Deity to be pleased with nothing but virtue 
in human behaviour. The recommendations 
to the Divinity are generally supposed to 
be either frivolous observances, or rapturous 
ecstasies, or a bigoted credulity. We need 
not run back into antiquity, or wander into 
remote regions, to find instances of this de 
generacy. Amongst ourselves, some have been 
guilty of that atrociousness, unknown to the 
EGYPTIAN and GRECIAN superstitions, of de 
claiming, in express terms, against morality, 


and representing it as a sure forfeiture of the 
Divine favour, if the least trust or reliance 
be laid upon it. 

But even though superstition or enthusiasm 
should not put itself in direct opposition to 
morality ; the very diverting of the attention, 
the raising up a new and frivolous species of 
merit, the preposterous distribution, which it 
makes of praise and blame ; must have the 
most pernicious consequences, and weaken 
extremely men s attachment to the natural 
motives of justice and humanity. 

Such a principle of action likewise, not 
being any of the familiar motives of human 
conduct, acts only by intervals on the temper, 
and must be roused by continual efforts, in 
order to render the pious zealot satisfied with 
his own conduct, and make him fulfil his 
devotional task. Many religious exercises are 
entered into with seeming fervour, where the 
heart, at the time, feels cold and languid : A 
habit of dissimulation is by degrees con 
tracted : and fraud and falsehood become 
the predominant principle. Hence the reason 
of that vulgar observation, that the highest 
zeal in religion and the deepest hypocrisy, 
so far from being inconsistent, are often or 


commonly united in the same individual 

The bad effects of such habits, even in com 
mon life, are easily imagined : but where the 
interests of religion are concerned, no morality 
can be forcible enough to bind the enthusi 
astic zealot. The sacredness of the cause 
sanctifies every measure, which can be made 
use of to promote it. 

The steady attention alone to so important 
an interest as that of eternal salvation is apt 
to extinguish the benevolent affections, and 
beget a narrow, contracted selfishness. And 
when such a temper is encouraged, it easily 
eludes all the general precepts of charity and 

Thus the motives of vulgar superstition have 
no great influence on general conduct ; nor is 
their operation very favourable to morality, in 
the instances where they predominate. 

Is there any maxim in politics more cer 
tain and infallible, than that both the number 
and authority of priests should be confined 
within very narrow limits, and that the civil 
magistrate ought, for ever, to keep his fasces 
and axes from such dangerous hands? But 
if the spirit of popular religion were so salu- 


tary to society, a contrary maxim ought to 
prevail. The greater number of priests, and 
their greater authority and riches, will always 
augment the religious spirit. And though the 
priests have the guidance of this spirit, why 
may we not expect a superior sanctity of life, 
and greater benevolence and moderation, from 
persons who are set apart for religion, who 
are continually inculcating it upon others, and 
who must themselves imbibe a greater share 
of it? Whence comes it then, that in fact, 
the utmost a wise magistrate can propose 
with regard to popular religions, is, as far 
as possible, to make a saving game of it, and 
to prevent their pernicious consequences with 
regard to society? Every expedient which he 
tries for so humble a purpose is surrounded 
with inconveniences. If he admits only one 
religion among his subjects, he must sacrifice, 
to an uncertain prospect of tranquillity, every 
consideration of public liberty, science, reason, 
industry, and even his own independency. If 
he gives indulgence to several sects, which is 
the wiser maxim, he must preserve a very 
philosophical indifference to all of them, and 
carefully restrain the pretensions of the pre 
vailing sect; otherwise he can expect nothing 


but endless disputes, quarrels, factions, per 
secutions, and civil commotions. 

True religion, I allow, has no such per 
nicious consequences : but we must treat of 
religion, as it has commonly been found in 
the world ; nor have I any thing to do with 
that speculative tenet of Theism, which, as it 
is a species of philosophy, must partake of 
the beneficial influence of that principle, and 
at the same time must lie under a like incon 
venience, of being always confined to very 
few persons. 

Oaths are requisite in all courts of judi 
cature ; but it is a question whether their 
authority arises from any popular religion. 
Tis the solemnity and importance of the occa 
sion, the regard to reputation, and the reflect 
ing on the general interests of society, which 
are the chief restraints upon mankind. Cus 
tom-house oaths and political oaths are but 
little regarded even by some who pretend 
to principles of honesty and religion : and a 
Quaker s asseveration is with us justly put 
upon the same footing with the oath of any 
other person. I know, that POI.YBIUS 1 ascribes 
the infamy of GREEK faith to the prevalency 
1 Lib. 6, cap. 54. 


of the EPICUREAN philosophy ; but I know 
also, that PUNIC faith had as bad a reputa 
tion in ancient times, as IRISH evidence has 
in modern ; though we cannot account for 
these vulgar observations by the same reason. 
Not to mention, that GREEK faith was infam 
ous before the rise of the EPICUREAN phil 
osophy; and EURIPIDES, 1 in a passage which 
I shall point out to you, has glanced a re 
markable stroke of satire against his nation, 
with regard to this circumstance. 

Take care, PHILO, replied CLEANTHES, take 
care ; push not matters too far : allow not 
your zeal against false religion to undermine 
your veneration for the true. Forfeit not 
this principle, the chief, the only great com 
fort in life ; and our principal support amidst 
all the attacks of adverse fortune. The most 
agreeable reflection, which it is possible for 
human imagination to suggest, is that of 
genuine Theism, which represents us as the 
workmanship of a Being perfectly good, wise, 
and powerful ; who created us for happiness, 
and who, having implanted in us immeasur 
able desires of good, will prolong our exist 
ence to all eternity, and will transfer us into 
1 Iphigenia in Tauride. 


an infinite variety of scenes, in order to 
satisfy those desires, and render our felicity 
complete and durable. Next to such a Being 
himself (if the comparison be allowed) the 
happiest lot which we can imagine, is that of 
being under his guardianship and protection. 

These appearances, said PHILO, are most 
engaging and alluring ; and with regard to 
the true philosopher, they are more than 
appearances. But it happens here, as in the 
former case, that, with regard to the greater 
part of mankind, the appearances are deceit 
ful, and that the terrors of religion commonly 
prevail above its comforts. 

It is allowed, that men never have recourse 
to devotion so readily as when dejected with 
grief or depressed with sickness. Is not this 
a proof, that the religious spirit is not so 
nearly allied to joy as to sorrow? 

But men, when afflicted, find consolation 
in religion, replied CLEANTHES. Sometimes, 
said PHILO : but it is natural to imagine, 
that they will form a notion of those un 
known beings, suitably to the present gloom 
and melancholy of their temper, when they 
betake themselves to the contemplation of 
them. Accordingly, we find the tremendous 


images to predominate in all religions ; and 
we ourselves, after having employed the most 
exalted expressions in our descriptions of the 
Deity, fall into the flattest contradiction, in 
affirming, that the damned are infinitely su 
perior in number to the elect. 

I shall venture to affirm, that there never 
was a popular religion, which represented the 
state of departed souls in such a light, as 
would render it eligible for human kind, that 
there should be such a state. These fine 
models of religion are the mere product of 
philosophy. For as death lies between the 
eye and the prospect of futurity, that event 
is so shocking to Nature, that it must throw 
a gloom on all the regions which lie beyond 
it ; and suggest to the generality of mankind 
the idea of CERBERUS and FURIES ; devils, and 
torrents of fire and brimstone. 

It is true ; both fear and hope enter into 
religion ; because both these passions, at dif 
ferent times, agitate the human mind, and 
each of them forms a species of divinity, 
suitable to itself. But when a man is in a 
cheerful disposition, he is fit for business or 
company or entertainment of any kind ; and he 
naturally applies himself to these, and thinks 


not of religion. When melancholy, and de 
jected, he has nothing to do but brood upon 
the terrors of the invisible world, and to plunge 
himself still deeper in affliction. It may, in 
deed, happen, that after he has, in this manner, 
engraved the religious opinions deep into his 
thought and imagination, there may arrive a 
change of health or circumstances, which may 
restore his good humour, and raising cheer 
ful prospects of futurity, make him run into 
the other extreme of joy and triumph. But 
still it must be acknowledged, that, as terror 
is the primary principle of religion, it is the 
passion, which always predominates in it, and 
admits but of short intervals of pleasure. 

Not to mention, that these fits of excessive, 
enthusiastic joy, by exhausting the spirits, 
always prepare the way for equal fits of 
superstitious terror and dejection ; nor is 
there any state of mind so happy as the 
calm and equable. But this state it is im 
possible to support, where a man thinks that 
he lies in such profound darkness and un 
certainty, between an eternity of happiness 
and an eternity of misery. No wonder, that 
such an opinion disjoints the ordinary frame 
of the mind, and throws it into the utmost 


confusion. And though that opinion is seldom 
so steady in its operation as to influence all 
the actions ; yet it is apt to make a consider 
able breach in the temper, and to produce 
that gloom and melancholy, so remarkable 
in all devout people. 

It is contrary to common sense to enter 
tain apprehensions or terrors, upon account 
of any opinion whatsoever, or to imagine 
that we run any risk hereafter, by the freest 
use of our reason. Such a sentiment implies 
both an absurdity and an inconsistency. It 
is an absurdity to believe that the Deity has 
human passions, and one of the lowest of 
human passions, a restless appetite for ap 
plause. It is an inconsistency to believe, that, 
since the Deity has this human passion, he 
has not others also ; and, in particular, a dis 
regard to the opinions of creatures so much 

To knotv God, says Seneca, is to worship him. 
All other worship is indeed absurd, super 
stitious, and even impious. It degrades Him 
to the low condition of mankind, who are 
delighted with entreaty, solicitation, presents, 
and flattery. Yet is this impiety the smallest 
of which superstition is guilty. Commonly, 


it depresses the Deity far below the con 
dition of mankind ; and represents him as a 
capricious daemon, who exercises his power 
without reason and without humanity ! And 
were that divine Being disposed to be offended 
at the vices and follies of silly mortals, who 
are his own workmanship ; ill would it surely 
fare with the votaries of most popular super 
stitions. Nor would any of human race 
merit his favour, but a very few, the philo 
sophical Theists, who entertain, or rather in 
deed endeavour to entertain, suitable notions 
of his divine perfections : as the only persons 
entitled to his compassion and indulgence would 
be the philosophical Sceptics, a sect almost 
equally rare, who, from a natural diffidence 
of their own capacity, suspend, or endeavour 
to suspend all judgment with regard to such 
sublime and such extraordinary subjects. 

If the whole of Natural Theology, as some 
people seem to maintain, resolves itself into 
one simple, though somewhat ambiguous, at 
least undefined proposition, That the cause or 
causes of order in the universe probably bear 
some remote analogy to human intelligence: If 
this proposition be not capable of extension, 
variation, or more particular explication : If 


it afford no inference that affects human life, 
or can be the source of any action or for 
bearance : And if the analogy, imperfect as 
it is, can be carried no farther than to the 
human intelligence ; and cannot be transferred, 
with any appearance of probability, to the 
other qualities of the mind : If this really be 
the case, what can the most inquisitive, contem 
plative, and religious man do more than give 
a plain, philosophical assent to the proposi 
tion, as often as it occurs ; and believe that 
the arguments, on which it is established, 
exceed the objections, which lie against it ? 
Some astonishment indeed will naturally arise 
from the greatness of the object : Some melan 
choly from its obscurity : Some contempt of 
human reason, that it can give no solution 
more satisfactory with regard to so extra 
ordinary and magnificent a question. But 
believe me, CLEANTHES, the most natural 
sentiment, which a well - disposed mind will 
feel on this occasion, is a longing desire and 
expectation, that heaven would be pleased to 
dissipate, at least alleviate, this profound ignor 
ance, by affording some more particular revela 
tion to mankind, and making discoveries of 
the nature, attributes, and operations of the 


divine object of our faith. A person, seasoned 
with a just sense of the imperfections of 
natural reason, will fly to revealed truth 
with the greatest avidity : While the haughty 
Dogmatist, persuaded that he can erect a 
complete system of Theology by the mere 
help of philosophy, disdains any farther aid, 
and rejects this adventitious instructor. To 
be a philosophical Sceptic is, in a man of 
letters, the first and most essential step 
towards being a sound, believing Christian ; 
a proposition which I would willingly recom 
mend to the attention of PAMPHILUS : And 
I hope CLEANTHES will forgive me for inter 
posing so far in the education and instruc 
tion of his pupil. 

CLEANTHES and PHILO pursued not this con 
versation much farther; and as nothing ever 
made greater impression on me, than all the 
reasonings of that day ; so I confess, that, 
upon a serious review of the whole, I cannot 
but think that PHILO S principles are more 
probable than DEMEA S ; but that those of 
CLEANTHES approach still nearer to the truth. 




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