The circumstances of the publication of the “Dialogues concerning Natural Religion” go far to prove that, on the one hand, they represent the matured opinions of Hume on religious matters, and that, on the other hand, he knew his arguments went considerably beyond the position taken up in the “Natural History of Religion”.
Theists responding to Hobbes’s empiricist scepticism concerningour idea of God had three basic options. One was to reject hisempiricist principles concerning the origin of all our ideas and arguethat our idea of God is either innate or derived from reason. Anotheralternative was to accept empiricism about the origin of our ideas butdeny that this has any sceptical implications for our knowledge ofGod. This is the route Locke takes in his Essay Concerning HumanUnderstanding, where it is argued that our idea of God is acomplex idea arrived at by augmenting simple ideas acquired throughreflection on our experience of the operations of our minds. A thirdalternative, which had been favoured by Catholic and Protestantorthodoxy, was to allow the experiential origin of ideas but then goon to say that ideas of creaturely attributes can be applied to Godanalogously, on the basis of a supposed degree of similarity orresemblance between God and creatures. This route was taken by, amongothers, the Irish theologian Peter Browne in Things Divine andSupernatural Conceived by Analogy with Things Natural and Human(1733). This issue concerning our idea of God was fundamental to thewhole early 18th century theological debate as it concernedthe various schools of “religious philosophers.” Duringthis period freethinking critics (e.g. Toland and Collins) used thesedifficulties to argue, along the lines of Hobbes, that we have noclear idea of God. Hume’s views about the origins and nature ofour ideas should be considered with reference to this controversy.
Essay dialogues concerning natural religion
Be sure to explain why the alleged regress is a problem for Cleanthes’s position.This is the book:
David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed.