Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion | Study Guide

David Hume

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Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion | Key Figure Analysis



While Cleanthes has his empiricism in common with Hume, he does not ultimately represent Hume's own views on the subject of religion. The sort of teleological argument that Cleanthes puts forward is just the sort of overextension of human reasoning that Philo disputes.


Where Cleanthes serves as the speaker for teleological arguments for God's existence, Demea represents the cosmological and ontological arguments. Demea becomes disturbed by Philo's views when he begins to realize that Philo likely doesn't believe in God at all.


Philo is the most likely candidate for Hume's mouthpiece in the Dialogues. Philo presents a consistently anti-religious view throughout the work. He presses the point that humans in general, and their reasoning powers in particular, are limited. Because of these limitations he claims that there is no way to hold a well-justified belief about either the existence or nature of God.


Pamphilus recounts the conversation among Cleanthes, Demea, and Philo to his friend Hermippus. Throughout the Dialogues, Pamphilus says rather little. However, in the closing lines of the work he indicates his preference for the arguments of his guardian, Cleanthes. Little is said about Cleanthes' relationship to Pamphilus. There is a brief indication in Part 1 that Cleanthes was a friend of Pamphilus's father, who may be dead. Philo remarks how kind it was of Cleanthes to treat Pamphilus as his own son.

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