Dialogues concerning Natural Religion

Dialogues concerning Natural Religion is a philosophical work written by the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Through dialogue, three fictional characters named Demea, Philo, and Cleanthes debate the nature of God's existence. While all three agree that a god exists, they differ sharply in opinion on God's nature or attributes and how, or if, humankind can come to knowledge of a deity.

In the "Dialogues", Hume's characters debate a number of arguments for the existence of God, and arguments whose proponents believe through which we may come to know the nature of God. Such topics debated include the argument from design -- for which Hume uses a house -- and whether there is more suffering or good in the world (argument from evil).

Hume started writing the "Dialogues" in 1750 but did not complete them until 1776, shortly before his death. They are based partly on Cicero's "De Natura Deorum". The "Dialogues" were published posthumously in 1779, originally with neither the author's nor the publisher's name.


*Pamphilus is a youth present during the dialogues. In a letter, he reconstructs the conversation of Demea, Philo, and Cleanthes in detail for his friend Hermippus. He serves as the narrator throughout the piece. At the end of the Dialogues he believes that Cleanthes offered the strongest arguments. However, this could be through loyalty to his teacher and certainly does not support Hume's views (Cicero used a similar technique in his Dialogues).
*Cleanthes is a theist—"an exponent of orthodox empiricism"Anthony C. Thiselton, "A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion"] —who presents a version of the teleological argument for God's existence using the deductive paradigm.
* Philo, according to the predominant view among scholars, "probably represents a viewpoint similar to Hume's own." [William Crouch, [http://www.onphilosophy.co.uk/natural_religion.html "Which character is Hume in the "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion"?"] ] Philo attacks Cleanthes' views on anthropomorphism and teleology; while not going as far as to deny the existence of god, Philo asserts that human reason is wholly inadequate to make any assumptions about the divine, whether through "a priori" reasoning or observation of nature.
* Demea "defends the Ontological argument and philosophical theism..." He believes that instead of reason, people should base beliefs concerning God's nature through fideism. Demea reject's Cleanthes' "natural religion" for being too anthropomorphic. Demea objects to the abandonment of the "a priori" arguments by Philo and Cleanthes (both of whom are empiricists). He perceives Philo to be "accepting an extreme form of scepticism."


External links

*gutenberg|no=4583|name=Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
* [http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/dialogues SparkNotes' Study Guide on "Dialogues"]
* [http://librivox.org/dialogues-concerning-natural-religion-by-david-hume/ Free audio book of "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion"]

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