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Unformatted text preview: Jeff Slutskiy Perm #7620503 Phil 165, Fall 2007 Hume’s Critique of the a priori Argument for God In Part IX of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume critiques the a priori (ontological) argument for the existence of a self-causing being (i.e. God). In this section, Demea argues for the existence of a Deity by attempting to prove that the existence of a necessarily existent Being is necessary in order for us to explain cause of anything. After allowing Demea to state the entirety of his argument, Hume uses the other character, Cleanthes to pose several objections toward Demea’s argument. Finally, Philo, the skeptic, appears to agree with most of what Cleanthes objects to, and adds another objection of his own. Demea begins his argument by stating the premise that “whatever exists must have a cause of reason of its existence” as it is impossible for anything to be the cause of its own existence (Hume 54). He then reasons that, if we are to accept this premise, then we must either trace an infinite chain of causes with no end, with no ultimate cause at all, or we must find something that bears the reason for its existence within itself (i.e. a necessarily existent thing that started the chain). Demea then asserts that there cannot be an infinite chain of causes because, while each effect is the result of the cause that immediately preceded it, “the whole eternal chain or succession … is not determined or caused by anything.” Essentially, Demea argues that there is no reason that this particular chain of causes exists, as opposed to an infinite array of other causal chains, or no chain at all. Since Demea argues that chance and external causes cannot be the reason that this particular chain of causes exists, he concludes that the cause must be a “necessarily existent Being who carries the reason of his existence in himself.” He further points out that the absence of such a being would result in a contradiction, and thus this Being must exist. Once Demea presents his a priori argument for the existence of a Deity, Cleanthes steps in to present his many objections. The first of these objections is that the entire argument is inherently flawed, because it is impossible to prove matters of fact by any arguments a priori. The reasoning Cleanthes uses for this is that nothing is demonstrable unless the contrary results in a contradiction. However, he also points out that nothing that is “distinctly conceivable” implies a contradiction. Since anything that we conceive of as existing, we also conceive of as non-existing, there can be no being whose non-existence results in a contradiction. As a result, Cleanthes concludes that there is no being whose existence is demonstrable....
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course PHIL 165 taught by Professor Manning during the Fall '07 term at UCSB.
- Fall '07