Hume Studies 34 (2):209-230 (2008)
AbstractWhile numerous sources have been found for the ideas expressed by Cleanthes and Demea in the Dialogues, Philo’s thoughts have commonly been taken to originate with Hume. It is clear, however, both from internal and external evidence, that Hume drew for his (sometimes wayward) spokesman on that mid-century ferment in the life sciences that Denis Diderot described as a “revolution.” The restoration of this context—obscured by the late publication of the Dialogues—suggests that Philo’s celebrated critique of theism is merely one face of a discourse that centres in new ideas about generation and evolution. On this reading the Dialogues emerges as a conjectural as well as analytic work, one that offers in addition to its demolition of the argument from design an argument about design, built on the premise that natural order can be independent of a creator. The philosophical definition that Hume brings to ideas that first surfaced in the works ofMaupertuis and Buffon makes the Dialogues the most potent pre-Darwinian work of its period
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