Section xi

Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State

24th November 2020

Hume dedicated a whole writing, published after his death to the topic: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
According to some scholars, Hume’s argument influenced even Charles Darwin.

Hume imagines a dialogue with a friend and he refers to Epicurus; the dialogue takes place in Athens.
Hume described the city at the time as a freer time, a golden age on Philosophy.

According to Hume, Epicurus was condemned because he denied the existence of God. From an actual historical perspective, instead, Epicurus was condemned because he sustained that humanity can access God’s domain. At Hume’s time, being an Epicurean meant to being labeled as an atheist.
The denial of God’s providence to Hume was a danger for society; religion has always been entangled with politics.

To be an atheist meant not being able to live in society, since an atheist was supposed not to have any moral.

Hume’s friend imagines a speech by Epicurus to defend his theories.

This thought was expressed in The Karamazov Brothers and sustained by Pierre Bayle: he wrote a dictionary, a sort of Encyclopedia on every argument discussed in his time; he considered for the first time a possibility of an atheist society.


  1. Epicurus:
    1. We can infer the existence of God by the beauty of the Universe
    2. The argument from design (a teleological, a posteriori argument)
    3. the world as a complex element
    4. the process of “creating Gods”
    5. Philosophers deny empirical evidence
  2. Hume’s objection, two examples
    • a half-finished building
    • the print of a human foot on the beach

The defense

A teleological a posteriori argument. The idea of an order. From the watch, we need to find the watch maker

According to the dialogue’s Epicurus.

There should be a proportion from the effect to the cause. It’s not rational to attribute more or less properties to the cause or the effect; this view is different from Descartes, who stated that the cause strictly can’t have less properties than the effect.

In Natural History of Religion, Hume described the origin of Theism:

It may readily happen, in an idolatrous nation, that though men admit the existence of several limited deities, yet there is some one God whom, in a particular manner, they make the object of their worship and adoration.
They may either suppose that, in the distribution of power and territory among the Gods, their nation was subjected to the jurisdiction of that particular deity; […].

Whether this God, therefore, be considered as their particular patron, or as the general sovereign of heaven, his votaries will endeavor by every art to insinuate themselves into his favor; and supposing him to be pleased, like themselves, with praise and flattery, there is no eulogy or exaggeration which will be spared in their addresses to him.

Accorgind to scholars, here Hume has in mind the Jewish tradition; Socitey projects on God emotions born in a human being.

According to Hume, we can’t prove the existence of God starting from our world since:

  • it’s unlikely that such a ill and disordered world is the product of a benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient God (the argument of Theodicy)
  • it’s impossible to move from the domain of the world to the domain of the mind

Malebrance: evil is a side effect, God’s actions are based on motion, and the negative effects caused by motion aren’t directly caused by God.

The existence of God is uncertain because we can’t derive the existence of God as we imagine him from our world; furthermore, according to the rules of just reasoning, it is also useless, since we can only admit that a cause exists, but it doesn’t mean that this has something to do with our world

Hume’s objection

Maybe this world is not as perfect as you say, but we can derive a perfect cause even if this world is not completely accomplished.

Why can you not imagine a more perfect scheme in a future time?

Hume is proposing an argument from analogy, which we can use


We have no reason at all to reason from analogy. Inferences from experience can’t work to explain the nature of the world.

just reasoning repeated several times in few pages.

We make the mistake of reasoning by analogy because of out human nature. It’s impossible to make the criteria of human reasoning to God.
Hume points out the difference between human reason and God’s reason; according to Galileo, we can grasp the mathematical and physical essence of the world because we interpret it in the same way as his creator; we can say something about God since we are like him.

According to Hume, we can’t say anything about God.

Hume’s true belief was never expressed clearly, he was rejected by the faculty of Edinburgh because believed to be atheist, and, therefore, immoral.

This is the only section of the enquiry where another person is involved; probably, because it was too risky for him to be direct.

Religion should not have any influence on behavior: we should radically distinguish human matters and divine matters; God belongs to a different domain on which we have no power.

The first argument is eventually completely rejected.



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