David Hume

“The Argument from Evil”


1.       Characters

          a.       Cleanthes (natural theologian; this world provides reason for God’s existence)

          b.       Demea (orthodox believer)

          c.       Philo (the skeptic)

2.       Evil in nature

          a.       Whole earth is cursed and polluted

          b.       A perpetual war among all living creatures

          c.       Necessity, hunger, want stimulate the strong and courageous

          d.       Fear, anxiety, terror agitate the weak and infirm

          e.       First entrance into life gives anguish to the new born and to its parent

          f.       Weakness, impotence, distress attend each state of that life and it is finished in agony and horror


          g.       Stronger prey on weaker and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety

          h.       Weaker in their turn prey upon stronger and vex and molest them w/o relaxation

          i.        Insects bred on the bodies of each animal, fix stings in him

          j.        Every animal surrounded with enemies which incessantly seek his misery and destruction


3.       Evil in human life

          a.       While humans can combine to subdue the forces of nature that seek to harm us

          b.       We construct imaginary enemies, demons of imagination, that haunt us with superstitious terrors and undermine enjoyments of life

                    i.        E.g., Our pleasure becomes in our own minds a crime

4.       Man is the greatest enemy of man

          a.       Society we create to protect us from natural enemies, creates new enemies

          b.       We mutually torment each other with oppression, injustice, contempt, violence, war, treachery, fraud


5.       Internal ills are greater than external ones (from nature, beasts and other men)

          a.       Torment of disease

          b.       Disorders of the mind: remorse, shame, anguish, rage, disappointment, anxiety, fear, dejection, despair

6.       Other human evils

          a.       A hospital full of diseases, a prison crowed with malefactors/debtors, field of batted strewn with carcases, nation languishing under tyranny and famine

          b.       Why do we stay alive if life so wretched? Because we fear death

          c.       “All the goods united would not make a very happy man, but all the ills united would make a wretch indeed”


7.       Is the debate over whether there is more evil than good in human life (or the world) or why there is any evil at all or so much evil?


8.       Nature has no concern for happiness of its members

          a.       No machinery in order merely to give pleasure or ease

                    i.        Sleep? Sex? Taste of food? True, all have a purpose.

          b.       No fund of pure joy and contentment

                    i.        The spectacular beauty of a fall day?

                    ii.       But what of “racking pains arising from gout, toothaches, rheumatism

          c.       No indulgence w/o some want or necessity accompanying it

                    i.        Pleasure of eating is accompanied (proceeded) by hunger

9.       What there is of this positive nature is overwhelmed by opposite phenomena (negative, evil)



          a.       “How can you Cleanthes still persevere in your anthropomorphism and assert the moral attributes of the Deity, his justice, benevolence, mercy and rectitude to be of the same nature with these virtues in human creatures?”

          b.       His power, we allow, is infinite; whatever he wills is executed; but neither man nor any other animal is happy; therefore, he does not will their happiness.

          c.       His wisdom is infinite; he is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end; but the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity; therefore, it is not established for that purpose.

          d.       In what respect then do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?

          e.       Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?


11.     Demea’s proposed solution: A “higher harmony”?

          a.       “This world is but a point in comparison of the universe; this life but a moment in eternity

          b.       Present evil phenomena, therefore, are rectified in other regions and in some future period of existence

          c.       The eyes of men will be opened to larger view and see whole connection of general laws and trace with adoration the benevolence and rectitude of the Deity through all the intricacies of his providence”

12.     Cleanthes rejects: This is pure speculation and only a bare possibility we have no real reason to believe on the bases of our experience of the world


13.     Cleanthes’ solution: To deny absolutely the misery and wickedness of man

          a.       Above account of evil in world is exaggerated

          b.       Melancholy views mostly fictitious

          c.       Inference contrary to fact and experience

          d.       Health more common than sickness; pleasure than pain; happiness than misery

          e.       For one vexation which we meet, we get a hundred enjoyments


14.     One of Philo’s responses: Pain much more intense/durable than pleasure

          a.       Doubtful, that pleasure is more frequent than pain, but even so, pain is much more violent and durable; it persists while enjoyment quickly degenerates


15.     Philo: Even if true that happiness exceeds misery, that is of no help; for from a perfect Deity we would expect no misery at all

          a.       From an infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite goodness

          b.       Expect no evil/misery

          c.       Why is there misery?

                    i.        Not from intention of Deity as he is perfectly benevolent

                    ii.       Contrary to the Deity’s intentions? but he is almighty!


16.     Philo: Even if we allow that pain/misery of man is compatible with an infinitely powerful and good deity that does not help

          a.       For you (Cleanthes) must prove such a being exists from a world with this pain and misery

          b.       And not just some, but huge amounts of pain and misery.

          c.       “There is no view of human life or the condition of mankind from which, without the greatest violence, we can infer the moral attributes or learn that infinite benevolence is conjoined with infinite power and wisdom” in a deity


17.     Philo: Only response is to be a complete sceptic

          a.       These subjects exceed all human capacity of reasoning

          b.       Our common methods of reasoning can’t be used here

          c.       Only faith (not reason) can get us to conclusions about such a God