Thursday, February 26, 2009

Baggini on Hume on Design

I wans't going to say anything about Baggini's third article on Hume in the Comment Is Free space, in part because I think Baggini offers a more plausible interpretation of Hume here. But it did occur to me that it might be worthwhile pointing out two explicit limitations in Hume's argument that Baggini doesn't contradict, but that he also doesn't mention, namely:

(1) Hume does not strictly present design arguments as fatally flawed, if by that you mean that the argument is taken to be fallacious, although Baggini draws out very nicely the issues raised by a principle of strict proportionality of cause and effect. On Humean principles a design argument can be an entirely reasonable argument, and everywhere Hume talks about it this is suggested. Hume's tactic is not to reject the design argument per se but rather to say that it gets you much, much less than one might think. This is explicitly the course of argument in the Dialogues and is suggested, but deliberately not developed at any great length, in Section XI of the Enquiry.

(2) This connects with another explicit limitation in Hume's argument: Hume's criticisms are completely adequate only if the design argument is the only argument on the table. In the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, this is a concession explicitly made by Cleanthes, and this is why the proportionality argument is so problematic for him: he has no recourse but to the design argument itself, and Demea and, more consistently, Philo hold him to it. The Epicurean in Section XI of the Enquiry also explicitly asserts this (indeed, in a stronger form than Hume himself seems to think plausible, since he has the narrator moderate it slightly).

But I must say I was pleasantly surprised that Baggini chose Section XI of the Enquiry to focus on, rather than the more obvious Dialogues; Section XI is too often overlooked, and is well worth reading for those who are interested in the subject. It was a very good move.

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