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Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Penguin Classics) Paperback – July 3, 1990

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

David Hume (1711 - 1776) was a philosopher who wrote A Treatise of Human Nature and considered the nature of religion.

JM Bell is Professor of Philosophy at the Manchester Metropolitan University and Head of the Department of Politics and Philosophy.

Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (July 3, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140445366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140445367
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,192,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
David Hume made a reputation by writing on reason and its limits. The main thrust of the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is to question whether theological arguments for God that assign Him positive attributes (omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc.) go beyond reason's limits in assigning these attributes. We watch Cleanthes (believer in theological arguments), Demea (believer more on faith) and Philo (disbeliever in theology's efficacy) hash out whether reason and experience alone give us reason to say anything whatever about God.

Hume explores all of the major arguments for God's existence. First, the a posteriori argument is explored; the argument that just as seeing a house gives us reason to assume an architect and builder, seeing the world should give us reason to infer a designer. Hume (through the skeptical voice of Philo) sees much wrong with this argument. Why? Because the reason we infer a builder for a house is because experience has shown us that houses have builders, thus when we see a house, we assume that, like other houses we've seen, this one too has a builder. But experience does not tell us that where there is a world, there is a designer. The leap is extra-experiential. Further, even if we DID infer a designer, why infer just one? Houses have construction crews of multiple people; if we analogize between the house and the world, then why not infer that the world, too, might have infinite creators? (And why infer that the world's creator is omnipotent, if all that is needed to create something is to be more powerful than the thing created - no more, no less?)

Next, we go through the a priori argument - the argument from first cause. Hume (Philo) is quick to point out the obvious flaw with this. If everything needs a cause, then what caused God?
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Format: Paperback
With the possible exception of his incalculably influential A Treatise of Human Nature, this, I think, is Hume's finest work. The Dialogues is a paradigm of sustained philosophical argumentation on a single subject, and I can't think of a more inspiring work of philosophy. Another reason to read this book is that Hume is one of the few philosophical figures whose work is worth reading as literature. His prose is, of course, lovely and clear as can be; and the Dialogues is packed with the sort of evocative passages that readers of Hume except to find in his work. Furthermore, he's clearly mastered the dialogue format as a way of writing philosophy. He never turns his interlocutors into ciphers spouting the details of their respective positions. Each character has a forceful and distinct personality, and each of them comes to the debate with a well-defined position and adequate means of defending it. In short, I can't recommend this book highly enough.
Most of the Dialogues is devoted to discussion of a posteriori arguments for the existence of God. The main argument considered here is the classical argument from design, which Hume seems to understand as an analogical argument of the following sort: the complexity and order of the universe show that it is similar to artifacts created by human intelligences; similar causes have similar effects; therefore, the universe must have been created by a being with something like a human intelligence; therefore, the universe must have been created by God.
Hume's objections to this argument are legion, and many of the individual objections are both ingenious and forceful. He provides reasons for thinking that the universe isn't all that similar to artifacts created by human beings.
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Format: Paperback
This short and artfully written book was published after Hume's death. Hume did not wish to experience the controversy engendered by the arguments advanced in the book. It is likely as well that Hume was concerned also with offending some of the moderate Presbyterian clergy who were his personal friends and had been his partisans in other controversies. This book is primarily an attack on the idea that the exercise of reason and logic provides support for religion, and particularly that application of reason leads to strong evidence for the existence of a beneficient God. This line of thought had become particularly popular among liberal theologians in the first half of the 18th century and was a widely held notion among Enlightenment intellectuals across Europe and North America. This idea is still widely held today and can be seen in the writings of the so-called 'intelligent design' advocates of creationism. Hume's criticisms, then, are not only of historic interest but continue to have relevance to our contemporary lives.
The Dialogues are constructed as a 3 cornered argument between three friends. Demea, a man upholding revealed religion against the idea that reason provides support for the existence of God. Cleanthes, an advocate of natural religion. Philo, a skeptical reasoner who attacks the positions held by Demea and Cleanthes. For those who like Hume's sprightly 18th century style, this is a fun book to read. Hume artfully divides some of his strongest arguments between Cleanthes and Philo, and gives the Dialogues the real sense of a dispute among 3 intelligent friends. Philo is generally taken to represent Hume's positions but Cleanthes articulates some strong arguments and provides some of the best criticisms of Demea's fideism.
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