Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory
EN3000 – Fall/Winter 2011/2012 – Nemanja Protic
Lecture 5 – Oct 6
- David Hume’s philosophical scepticism:
o Takes empiricism to its logical conclusions, and
o Ends in a challenge to western metaphysics.
- Immanuel Kant’s critique:
o Tries to respond to the challenge of Hume’s scepticism by developing a
critical philosophy which tries to find the limits of human reason, and
o Tries to revive the metaphysical tradition.
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:
o A conversation between three men overheard and reported by Pamphilus,
a student of Cleanthes:
Cleanthes (a metaphysicist with an anthropomorphic conception of
o Even though Philo is a sceptic, he shares with Demea a belief in
inscrutability of God.
Extreme vs. Moderate scepticism (tradition and common sense).
o Cleanthes presents an a posteriori argument for existence of God
(Argument from Design) and Philo critiques it (Part 1 and 2)
o Demea presents an a priori argument for existence of God, and Cleanthes
and Philo critique it (Part 9)
o Throughout the text, Hume employs deductive reasoning as well as
inductive reasoning in order to multiply potential explanations for the origin
of the universe.
This leads to a suspension of judgement.
- There is no world – only individual objects which compose it.
- There is no self – only individual perceptions which compose it.
- There is no necessary relation between ideas which reflect the objective reality –
all our ideas stem from perception and are, consequently, always only related
o The cause-and-effect relation is one of belief and custom: it is itself
caused by our experience of observation of cause-and-effect events in the
world. o Consequently, there is no metaphysics – all our ideas are strictly based on
empirical data and are always related contingently. A priori ideas
necessarily connected are always a product of experience and rest on our
faith that nature is regular: this faith, however, may or may not be
Deductive vs. Inductive Reasoning
- Deductive reasoning – proceeds from a set of premises to a conclusion in order
to reach necessary truth. A syllogism is an example of deductive reasoning.
- Inductive reasoning – proceeds from observable, experienced, individual
instances to a general conclusion to reach a probable or contingent truth.
o A baseball is round,
o A soccer ball is round,
o A volleyball is round,
o A tennis ball is round,
o A golf ball is round therefore
All balls are round.
Demea’s A Priori Argument
“The argument, replied Demea, which I would insist on, is the common one.
Whatever exists must have a cause or reason of its existence; it being absolutely
impossible for anything to produce itself, or be the cause of its own existence. In
mounting up, therefore, from effects to causes, we must either go on in tracing an
infinite succession, without any ultimate cause at all; or must at last have recourse to
some ultimate cause, that is necessarily existent: now, that the first supposition is
absurd, may be thus proved. In the infinite chain or succession of causes and effects,
each single effect is determined to exist by the power and efficacy of that cause which
immediately preceded; but the whole eternal chair or succession, taken together, is not
determined or caused by anything; and yet it is evident that it requires a cause or
reason, as much as any particular object which begins to exist in time…
The question is still reasonable, why this particular succession of causes existed
from eternity, and not any other succession, or no succession at all. If there be no
necessarily existent being, any supposition which can be formed is equally possible; nor
is there any more absurdity in Nothing’s having existed from eternity, than there is in
that succession of causes which constitutes the universe. What was it, then, which
determined Something to exist rather than Nothing, and bestowed being on a particular
possibility, exclusive of the rest? External causes, there are supposed to be none.
Chance is a word without a meaning. Was it nothing? But that can never produce
anything. We must, therefore, have recourse to a necessarily existent being, who
carries the reason of his existence in himself, and who cannot be supposed not to exist,
without an express contradiction. There is, consequently, such a being; that is, there is a
Criticism #1 (Cleanthes)
“I shall begin with observing, that there is an evident absurdity in pretending to
demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly
conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also
conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a
contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence is demonstrable. I
propose this argument as entirely decisive, and am willing to rest the whole controversy
It is pretended that the Deity is a necessarily existent being; and this necessity of
his existence is attempted to be explained by asserting, that if we knew his whole
essence or nature, we should perceive it to be as impossible for him not to exist, as for
twice two not to be four. But it is evident that this can never happen, while our faculties
remain the same as at present. It will still be possible for us, at any time, to conceive the
non-existence of what we formerly conceived to exist; nor can the mind ever lie under a
necessity of supposing any object to remain always in being; in the same manner as we
lie under a necessity of always conceiving twice two to be four. The words, therefore,
necessary existence, have no meaning; or, which is the same thing, none that is
Criticism #2 (Cleanthes)
In such a chain, too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which
preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the
whole, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like
the uniting of several distinct countries into one kingdom, or several distinct members
into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence
on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each individual in a
collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, and should
you afterwards ask me, what the cause of the whole twenty was. This is sufficiently
explained in explaining the cause of the parts.”
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
- Born in Konigsberg, Prussia on April 22, 1724.
- Claimed that it was David Hume who woke him from his ‘dogmatic slumber’.
- Taught at the University of Konigsberg.
- He lived a solitary life, often shunning the company of others. Once, when a
former pupil tried to bring him out of his isolation, he wrote: ‘Any change makes
me apprehensive, even if it offers the greatest promise of improving my
condition, and I am persuaded by this natural instinct of mine that I must take
heed if I wish that the threads which the Fates spin so thin and weak in my case
to be spun to any length. My great tanks, to my well-wishers and friends, who
think so kindly of me as to undertake my welfare, but at the same time a most
humble request to protect me in my current condition from any disturbance.’
o He was sympathetic to the cause of the French Revolution.
o Died in Konigsberg, on February 12, 1804.
Kant’s Theory of Knowledge
- All our knowledge begins with experience and it can be either: o Analytic (e.g. ‘all bodies are extended’ or ‘all bachelors are unmarried
Subject and predicate – this doesn’t add anything to the idea of the
body because the body is already extended.
o Synthetic (e.g. ‘all bodies are heavy’ and ‘all bachelors seem happy’).
The predicate adds something new to the subject.
• The idea of heaviness, it adds something to the idea o