An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding | Study Guide

David Hume

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Study Guide." Course Hero. 24 Feb. 2018. Web. 21 Jan. 2019. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2018, February 24). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)



Course Hero. "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Study Guide." February 24, 2018. Accessed January 21, 2019.


Course Hero, "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Study Guide," February 24, 2018, accessed January 21, 2019,

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding | Section 11 : Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State | Summary



Belief in miracles—part of revealed religious traditions—is not the only belief unsupported by the evidence. In addition, belief in a God—and one who not only governs nature, but also provides for a life after death—is unwarranted.

Hume first argues against the belief that God exists. The inference from effect back to its cause requires proportionality. One "can never be allowed to ascribe to the cause any qualities, but what are exactly sufficient to produce the effect." Consequently, since the world can be explained without recourse to divinity, the supposed effects are not God's creation. So the world, and everything in it, does not require a divine explanation.

Hume next argues against the belief that the world is divinely directed and the belief that there is a "future state" after life. Once again, there is nothing in nature that suggests a divine direction. The way that things happen can be explained naturally. Indeed, Hume thinks he has offered an explanation in terms of the human development of belief in causation. Moreover, there is evil and suffering in the world. This is inconsistent with a providentially directed universe. In addition, Hume asserts, "Where any cause is known only by its particular effects, it must be impossible to infer any new effects from that cause," as doing so means adding to the cause what does not appear in the effect. Consequently, to infer a divine direction to the existing causal order is to run afoul of this restriction.


Although Hume criticizes the design argument—the argument that God's existence can be inferred from comparisons between natural and human-contrived objects—he ultimately thinks it is the only plausible one. The argument basically runs as follows: All human-made machines reflect an intelligent designer. Nature is a much grander machine than anything a human could produce. So, there must be a designer of nature who is extraordinary intelligent, and this designer is God.

Hume's trouble here is the same as with other claims about purported causes that cannot be observed. In this case, no human has experienced the beginning of the universe, so there is, properly speaking, no foundation for the inference of a divine cause. Moreover, the sort of inference by analogy to an intelligent designer is weakened by the fact that the evidence is restricted to the observed effects, that is, to everything in nature. These would seem to preclude an inference to attributes common to conceptions of divinity, namely omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), and omnibenevolence (all good).

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!