Hurlbutt, Hume, Newton and the Design Argument [Book Review]

Hume Studies 19 (1):167-175 (1993)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Huributt, Hume, Newton and the Design Argument Stanley Tweyman Abookfamiliartomanyofus,Hume,NewtonandtheDesignArgument, originally published in 1965, was recentlyreissued.1 The original work traces natural theology and the design argument from antiquity to the present. It analyses Hume's critique in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and shows one of his main targets to be the Newtonian formulation ofthe design argument andits effort to exploit science for religious purposes. In the reissued edition, a supplementary essay is added, " The Dialogues as a Work of Art." In this essay, Hurlbuttargues that Hume used the dialogue form because he believed it to be an effective way to explore and expressively reveal the dialectical structure of certain kinds of philosophical and religious belief. In my own work on Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,2 I acknowledge the importance of the dramatic components present in this work: that Pamphilus is a student of Cleanthes; that the initial assessment ofthe three speakers is provided by Hermippus (ofwhom we know nothing); that Pamphilus tells us that Philo was "a little embarrassed and confounded" after hearing Cleanthes' illustrative analogies in part 3; that Philo distances himselfat the end of part 8 from the sceptic's attack on all religious systems, and, in particular, from the attack in parts 2-8 in regard to Cleanthes' Argument from Design; that Demea's a priori argument in part 9 is criticized largely by Cleanthes rather than, as we mighthave expected, by Philo; that Demea takes leave of the discussion at the end of part 11; that Philo speaks of his "unfeigned sentiments" on the subject of natural religion in part 12; that the final pronouncement on the whole ofnatural theology (spoken by Philo) is regarded as the position which "some people seem to maintain"; that it is Pamphilus who, at the end ofthe Dialogues, assesses the 'principles' ofthe three main speakers; and that Hume speaks in his own person only once in this work, and then only in a footnote—these matters and several others were viewed as relevant to understanding the work as a whole and, therefore, were dealt with at great length. In his essay, Hurlbutt treats a familiar theme in a novel way. He supports the view, popularized largely by Norman Kemp Smith, that the literature on the Dialogues does not ordinarily take seriously the Volume XIX Number 1 167 STANLEY TWEYMAN fact that Hume chose to produce the Dialogues as a work of art. Hurlbutt therefore insists that he will not analyse the Dialogues as an argumentative essay "that is in an external fashion rhetorically embellished, and thus made more 'artful', in order to manipulate the reader and to hide or distance the author from the opinions therein" (p. 213). Such views, he urges, impoverish both Hume and the Dialogueshyimplying that he is deceitful, and by severely limiting the rich character ofthe Dialogues: T assume that Hume's decision to set the religious and theological arguments out in dialogue form was a rational act in a deeper sense, a sense tied to the things a successful work of art can do; things that a scientific essay, or even an 'artful essay", cannot do, or do so well" (ibid.). The main theme of Hurlbutt's essay—also its most original feature—is that by focusing on the Dialogues as a work of art, we will come to see that "a set ofexplicit arguments and beliefs are set out, in a series oflinked episodes, by a group ofexplicit speakers. By processes ofabstraction we can discover an implicit argument that is not wholly identical with any explicit ones, and an implicit speaker not identical with any one of the explicit speakers" (p. 215). Hurlbutt concludes by asserting that he "hopes to identify both the implicit argument and the implicit speaker with David Hume" (ibid.). Accordingly, Hurlbutt urges that Hume's thoughts and attitudes toward theology and religion cannot be identified with those ofany one ofthe explicit speakers, such as Philo or Cleanthes: "Rather, they must be identified with those of an implicit speaker, and the concept ofan implicit speaker is afunction of suggested or implicit meaning. And this last, ofcourse, is a concept ofart and aesthetics" (p. 216). Hurlbutt...

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Stanley Tweyman
York University

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