Hume, Kant, and Rational Theism

Hugo Meynell


A graduate of Eton and of King's College, Cambridge, Hugo Meynell took his Ph.D from Cambridge University in 1963. He began his teaching career at the University of Leeds in 1963, where he remained until 1981, when he assumed a professorship at the University of Calgary, Canada, where he teaches today. He has authored ten books, including God and the World, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Bernard Lonergan, The Intelligible Universe, and The Theology of Bernard Lonergan, and has published some 100 articles in journals such as Philosophy, Philosophical Quarterly, Analysis, Mind, Religious Studies, and others. Professor Meynell is also a skilled musician and has a forthcoming book on The Art of Handel's Operas.


It is very commonly held that there are no sound arguments for the existence of God. Believers are sometimes inclined to make a virtue of this, maintaining that in the highest and holiest matters one should rely not on reason, but on faith. Unbelievers are apt to retort that, if there are no good reasons for believing in God, one ought to be atheist or at best agnostic; if appeal is to be made to a revelation which sets aside reason as inappropriate, by what token is any irrational absurdity better or worse than any other? And there is surely a strong case for saying that, if indeed there are no arguments which make it more reasonable to believe that there is a God than that there is not, then things look bad for the religious believer.

But, one may ask, are there really no good arguments for the existence of God? In claiming that there are no such arguments, those who reject faith in God as irrational, and those who would cling to faith in spite of reason, commonly appeal to the authority of David Hume and Immanuel Kant.[1] In what follows, I shall try to show that the case made by these philosophers against some at least of the traditional arguments for the existence of God can be refuted. By "rational theism," I shall mean the view that there are sound arguments for the existence of God, which do not either overtly or surreptitiously assume what they set out to establish. Now it is often stated or presupposed that the aspersions by Hume and Kant on rational theism have no connection with those implications of their thought which are generally rejected out of hand, like Hume's scepticism,[2] and Kant's confining of human knowledge to a merely seeming world of "phenomena" as opposed to the real world of "things in themselves." I shall try to show that such an assumption is quite mistaken. Science and common sense both presuppose that by means of our experience we can get to know about a world which exists, and largely is as it is, prior to and independently of our human existence, let alone our enjoyment of the relevant experience. For example, it was not until the late eighteenth century that William Herschel, by making the relevant observations and using his intelligence, discovered the planet called Uranus. But there was such a planet long before the discovery was made; and indeed there would have been even if the earth had been destroyed, say by the impact of a comet or an asteroid, before human beings or astronomers had ever evolved on it. But neither Hume's nor Kant's philosophical principles are really compatible with such a view; since Hume in effect confines our knowledge to experience, Kant to an apparent world created rather than reflected by our thought.

There is a great truth which Plato discovered, with some assistance from the Pythagoreans; this is, that there is a real intelligible world which underlies the sensible world of our experience and which we discover by asking questions about that sensible world.[3] This truth is at once presupposed and copiously illustrated by science; it is parodied by the mechanistic materialism which some suppose to be the metaphysical implication of science.[4] Now there is a crucial division in thought about the world, and one fraught with consequences, between those who maintain that the intelligible aspect of reality apparently discovered by Plato is intrinsic to it, and those who are convinced it is a mere subjective device evolved by human beings for describing or controlling it.[5] The former viewpoint leads to a conception of the universe as ablaze with intellectual light, and very naturally and properly issues in an affirmation of the existence of God as the intelligent will responsible for the intelligible universe, rather as Shakespeare is responsible for The Tempest and Mozart for the Jupiter symphony. The latter viewpoint, which envisages science as exclusively a matter of control and domination rather than of understanding, makes "the glory and the freshness"[6] disappear from the universe and brings about the Entzauberung, the removal of the magic from things, which Max Weber and countless others have thought was a necessary if regrettable consequence of rationality. I believe this conception of the nature of science not only to be spiritually deleterious, but to be incoherent in the final analysis-quite apart from the fact that it appears to remove the grounds for rational theism in the real intelligibility of the universe. (It should be noted that I would by no means deny that control of the physical environment is a proper subsidiary object of science; it is when it becomes its exclusive or dominant aim that it is so unfortunate.) The philosophies of Hume and Kant strongly encourage this second kind of outlook on science and the universe, and appear to destroy the basis for the first.

According to Hume, all human knowledge is based on and confined to "impressions" of experience and "ideas" which are faint copies of these. Examples of "impressions" are a patch of Prussian blue as seen, the sound of an oboe playing middle C as heard, or a flush of anger as felt- in fact, anything which can be the object of direct "experience" in a fairly broad sense. The corresponding "ideas" would be that particular type of color or sound or mood as remembered or anticipated, rather than as directly undergone. What is not such a faint copy of an impression or group of impressions is not an idea properly speaking, and so a word or a phrase purporting to convey it does not have real significance. Whenever we come across a term the meaning of which is a puzzle to us, we may properly ask, "From which impression is this idea derived?" and if it turns out that it is derived from no such impression or item of experience (or if it is not a complex "idea" put together from such "impressions"), we may properly dismiss it as meaningless.[7] Now, we have no impression of the relation of cause and effect; for example, we do not directly perceive the impact of one billiard ball on another imparting motion to that other, but only the impact followed by the motion. The often-repeated sequence consisting of impression of type A followed by impression of type B-say, the experience as of a brick striking a window followed by the experience as of a window being shattered-leads us confidently, and as it happens always correctly, to expect the latter after the former; this leads us to say that the former "causes" the latter.

All of our knowledge of matters of fact which are not a matter of immediate impressions of experience or of memory is dependent on the relation between cause and effect. For instance, my knowledge that my friend is now in France might depend on a letter of his to that effect of which I have an impression before me now, or a remembered conversation with him. And all the extrapolations from past to future upon which rational activity depends rely on the assumption that the relation between cause and effect will remain as it is now (how could we plan in a world where trees and houses were liable at any moment and for no assignable reason to dissolve into steam before our eyes?). But we cannot justify our confident expectation that it will do so; that the sun always rose on the morning of the last trillion days provides no proof that it will rise tomorrow. Almost complete scepticism seems to follow; since all our knowledge which is not a matter of immediate experience or of direct memory depends on the holding of the laws of cause and effect; and the laws of cause and effect have no firmer foundation than our psychological habits. Fortunately, custom is able to fill a role which rational argument cannot; we are psychologically predisposed to expect law-like behavior in things, and this expectation is in fact fulfilled, even though we cannot in the nature of the case show why this must be so.[8]

Traditional scholarship has emphasized Hume's scepticism; in the last few decades more stress has been laid on the view of his which I mentioned last, that we have "natural beliefs which neither need nor are capable of rational support."[9] Those not predisposed to agree with Hume may wonder whether an uncritical dogmatism supposed to redress the balance of an intolerable scepticism really does much to mend matters. But Hume's demonstration that, while causality is utterly crucial to our understanding of the world, a consistent empiricism[10] cannot justify belief in causality,[11] is a tribute to his genius and an indication of his permanent importance for philosophy. It was Hume's failure (on either interpretation of the bearing of his thought) to justify causal reasoning which particularly impressed Kant; and he brought about his so-called "Copernican revolution" in philosophy largely to meet the difficulty. It was not the case, as previous philosophers had thought, that our minds must or could conform to a world existing prior to and independently of themselves; on the contrary, the world so far as we can know it must conform to our minds.[12] The significance of Hume, as Kant saw it, was that he had shown that the former route was impossible to follow. Hume's notorious analysis of causality had indeed demonstrated that, unless causality were imposed on the real world by our minds, it could have no firmer foundation than our mental habits. Furthermore, as Hume had also pointed out, we treat and must treat the causal connection as necessary; and it would be bad logic to treat it as so merely on inductive[13] grounds, assuming it would have to obtain in the future just because it had always happened to obtain in the past as far as our experience went. Nor is it any part of the meaning of the concept "event," that every event must have a cause. The only solution to these problems, as Kant saw it, was that our minds impose the causal connection upon events, rather than, as earlier philosophers had supposed, somehow reflecting a real causal relation which obtains between events prior to and independently of the apprehension of them by our minds.

Kant saw that causality is not the only aspect of the world for which the problem arises. The "categories" (to use his own term) of thing and property, necessity and contingency, unity and plurality, and so on, are also imposed by the mind upon phenomena.[14] Even space and time are rather modes of our apprehension of things, than aspects of things as they really are.[15] What can we say, then, of "things in themselves," or things prior to and independently of the apprehension of them by our senses and our minds? All we can say of them is that they do somehow give rise to the phenomenal world by impinging on our subjectivity;[16] we are necessarily and forever debarred from real knowledge of them. However, according to Kant, there are positive gains to be had from this restriction of our knowledge. Perhaps the most important is that the bogy of determinism as a threat to human free-will can be laid to rest once and for all. Sure enough, determinism applies to human beings as appearances, in which respect we are totally subject to physical and chemical laws. But as we are in ourselves we may all the same be free; and indeed we ought to believe we are, in order to behave responsibly.[17]

The traditional arguments for God's existence all make, from Kant's point of view, what is fundamentally the same mistake; they assume that the intelligible structure or framework which the human mind imposes upon things, in the course of gaining knowledge of them, belongs to things prior to and independently of human knowledge. Those who try to argue for the existence of God on the usual traditional types of ground are like people who gaze on the heavens through a telescope, and confuse what is in fact a piece of dust within the telescope with a star or a planet. For example, to argue that a God must exist as cause of the world, as very many have tried to do, is to overlook the fact that causality is one of the categories and so inapplicable to things in themselves, and furthermore that it is to be applied within the world of phenomena, rather than to the world as a whole. But the believer in God should by no means be discouraged by this; Kant regarded himself as destroying the pretensions of knowledge in order to make room for faith. He points out that the very considerations which show that proof of God's existence is impossible, dispose equally of the possibility of disproof. And we ought to believe in the existence of a deity on moral grounds, as an omnipotent being who will ensure that in the long run the happiness of finite persons such as ourselves will be in proportion to their deserts. Not-this is particularly emphasized by Kant-that our morality should be conditional on our religious belief; on the contrary, religious belief is to be derived from moral principles which are to be established independently and in their own right. We must act dutifully for duty's sake; but we have a right to hope that such conduct will be rewarded in the hereafter.[18]

It was pointed out by the school of "idealists" who succeeded Kant that the latter's conception of the "thing-in-itself" is not really compatible with his other basic principles. Is not the belief that appearances are somehow derived from-that is as much as to say, caused by-things in themselves, in conflict both with the notion that things in themselves are utterly unknowable to us, and with the doctrine that causality is imposed on things by our minds? The German idealists, represented most notably by Hegel, actually inferred from Kant's other principles that there were no things-in-themselves. The common-sense world of phenomena was for Hegel merely a projection of Mind or Spirit representing itself to itself at a relatively early stage of the development, of which the scientific world-view is a later stage. At the culmination of this development, in idealist philosophy itself, Spirit finally achieves clarity and self-realization as thought thinking itself.

The idealists, with their stress on the creative role of Mind, have not implausibly been held to confuse humanity with God; one could put it that, on Hegel's view, humanity is a stage in the divine self- realization, which certainly is incompatible with orthodox theism. But it is a presupposition both of common sense, and of science as usually understood, that a real material world exists and is as it is prior to and independently of the human mind at least, and that the human mind can come to know about this independently existing world. There were rocks, trees, and rivers before human beings arrived on the scene to perceive them, and there were hydrogen and oxygen, electrons and protons, before scientists first theorized to the effect that there were. Engels, Lenin, and other materialists have made the point against idealism, that science shows that the cosmos existed long before there were human minds to perceive and to get to know about it;[19] and that mind as we most immediately know it, so far from its being the case that matter is ineluctably dependent on it, only arises at a certain stage in the organization of matter.

Still, the absurdities, that there was no cosmos before there were human minds, and that the human mind as we know it is not dependent on matter, can only be inferred from idealism if one either presupposes that the cosmos depends only upon the human mind, or, as Hegel has seemed to many virtually to do, identifies the divine mind with the human. If one accepts the strength of the case which the idealists developed by making Kant's philosophy self-consistent, that the material world is derivative from mind; but also admits that the world exists and is as science progressively discovers it to be, prior to and independently of the human mind; then one is driven to the conclusion that the world depends on a mind or minds which are other than the human. The idealists argue persuasively that the material universe is dependent on mind; their opponents rightly insist in effect that it is absurd to suppose that the mind or minds it depends on are human. That the world exists and develops on the basis of a single self-consistent set of laws seems to suggest that theism is a more rational option than polytheism.[20]

It may well be felt that while Hume's crude form of empiricism did indeed lead to scepticism, and while Kant's attempt to repair the breach is ineffective for all its prodigious ingenuity, a more refined variety of empiricism has much to commend it. There does seem to be something in Hume's insistence, re-affirmed in his own way by Kant, that knowledge-claims do have to be justified at the bar of experience. For example, if someone professes out of the blue to know that there is a moose on the campus of the University of Calgary, a state of affairs which so far as I know has never obtained, I am liable to be sceptical; but I quite properly become more confident when several independent witnesses assure me that they have seen the animal in the place in question. But no-one has ever seen a positron, the thoughts or feelings of another person, or an event which happened more than two hundred years previous to her own time; yet we do often claim knowledge of such things as a matter of course.

A modification of empiricism which may be felt to meet these objections is this. While we can properly be said sometimes to know what is not and cannot be the direct object of our experience, we can be said to know only what commends itself as the best explanation of our experience. While no-one has ever seen a positron, very many have seen experimental results of which the best available explanation is that there are such entities. I cannot perceive another's feelings of anger or boredom; but I can certainly perceive evidence in her attitude or speech or gestures of which the best explanation is that she is bored. No-one can now perceive the death of Abraham Lincoln by shooting; but they can perceive a vast amount of evidence, in records surviving from that time, which can hardly be explained except on the assumption that he did die in such a manner.

However, if the basic principles of empiricism are expanded to take account of such awkward cases in the way I have just described, it is by no means clear that they any longer rule out rational theism. For it may be insisted that the existence of something like God is needed to account for a very general fact which is a matter of experience in a wide sense-that the universe is intelligible. Alternative explanations, or claims that no explanation is needed, may well be held to be less satisfactory. One might suggest in the manner of Hume that only the sensible aspect of the universe is real, while the intelligible is either an illusion or a useful subject device. But this leads to scepticism, since so much of what we usually count as knowledge, as Hume himself found, depends on the assumption that such elements of its intelligible aspect as the causal nexus are real. And the Kantian explanation, that intelligibility does not belong to the world as it actually is, but to a merely apparent world on which we impose it, has the rather similar consequence, that our knowledge is confined to a seeming world, and is barred forever from a grasp of reality. If someone were to say, "Do not ask for an explanation of this fact!" what possible justification could there be for this, except perhaps that the postulation of God should be avoided at all costs? And as Northrop Frye has remarked, to be told not to ask a question is, to a healthy mind, the strongest possible inducement to go on asking it. It may be concluded that empiricist principles, when clarified, lead to atheism, but also to scepticism; but that when they are modified to avoid scepticism, it is by no means certain that they do not accommodate theism, or even lead to it.

In The Recluse, Wordsworth wrote:

How exquisitely the individual mind

. . . to the external World

Is fitted:-and how exquisitely too

The external World is fitted to the Mind.

I have been arguing in effect that the fact that the world is thus fitted to the mind, and the manner in which it is so fitted, give good reason for believing that theism is true. In a rather explosive marginal note to this passage, William Blake exclaimed:- "You shall not bring me down to believe such fitting and fitted." Northrop Frye comments:-"Blake criticized Wordsworth sharply for ascribing to nature what he should have ascribed to his own mind and for believing in the correspondence of the human and natural orders."[21] The active and quasi-creative power of the human mind involved in getting to know about the things and events of which nature consists is rightly stressed by Blake; who objects very properly to any conception of human knowledge in accordance with which the external world merely imposes itself on a passive mind. But unless we are to take the absurd (subjective idealist) view that we really create the world mentally in the process of (as we think) coming to know about it, Wordsworth's point is by no means invalidated if one concedes so much to Blake. Human beings must not only be open to experience, but they must actively hypothesize, if they are to get to know about dinosaurs, pulsars, or omega particles. But there were presumably dinosaurs, pulsars, and omega particles long before any human being came to think about them.

Philosophers of the phenomenological school rightly stress the fact that things and events are in a sense "constituted" by our mental activities.[22] One might put it that belief in such "constitution" is true and significant when taken in a Wordsworthian sense, absurd and therefore false when taken in a Blakean sense. It is absurd in the latter sense in that there was obviously a world of real things and events long before there were human beings who could use their minds to come to know about them; so the facts cannot be dependent on our minds in a manner which is incompatible with this. But it is true in that the basic nature and structure of these facts is to be known only by attending to their potential relation to our minds; they are nothing other than what we can come to know by unrestrictedly attending to the relevant data, constructively hypothesizing, and rigorously testing our hypotheses against the data. To put the whole matter briskly and crudely, careful attention to the nature of reality and of our knowledge of it reveals that reality is ineluctably for mind; and the theist adds that this is best explained if there is something that is at least analogous to mind which ultimately accounts for it.

My main object in this article has been to describe an argument for the existence of God which seems to survive the counterattacks of Hume and Kant. Something brief should be added about actual arguments on the matter attended to in their work. Two of those discussed by Hume may be singled out-that there must be a cause of the world, and that there must be a designer to account for otherwise inexplicable order within it. The second of these, the so called argument from design (it is more properly an argument from order to design), is brilliantly attacked in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Since Hume's time, it may plausibly be maintained that Darwin has hammered the final nail into the coffin of the argument, by showing how the apparent design which is so striking a feature of all living things may be explained by mutation and natural selection over a very long period of time. It would take a great deal of space adequately to consider the question of how far the argument to design can be defended against such objections;[23] but here it suffices to say that the points raised by Hume and Darwin in this connection are simply not relevant to the argument that I have been setting forward, which infers creative intelligence from the intelligibility of the world, not design from its order. The other argument has been attacked by Hume and his successors on the ground that we have no experience of the kind that could justify such causal inferences.[24] It might be a different matter if we had often observed universes being created by gods; we could then argue, with some show of plausibility, that since other universes of a nature similar to this one had been created by gods, it is reasonable to say that this one too has been so created. However, we are clearly not in this position, as we have not observed many universes being created each by a god; hence, on the conception of causal reasoning here presupposed, we are not entitled to draw the inference. But I have already suggested that the underlying conception of the nature of causal reasoning is fallacious; and that the radically empiricist theory of knowledge which it presupposes must lead either to scepticism or to uncritical dogmatism. Physicists do not say that streaks of a certain sort on photographic plates are caused by alpha particles because they have often seen alpha particles moving about and leaving such streaks. They say it because a wide range of phenomena can only be explained if there are alpha particles, among the effects of which are visible streaks of the kind described. Nor can anyone truly say that the noises, gestures, and marks on paper which she sometimes observes, are due to the thoughts and feelings of other people, on the ground that she has often observed such thoughts and feelings immediately succeeded by such noises, gestures, and marks on paper. And yet, we assume as a matter of course, and rightly assume, that the words, actions, and writings of other people are often expressive of their thoughts and feelings.

Kant distinguished three theoretical arguments or types of theoretical argument for the existence of God, all of which he said were fallacious. (He had a moral argument supposed to yield this conclusion, which I have already summarized. My own view of this argument, for what it is worth, is that it shows very well the importance for human living of the belief that God exists, but does not begin to show that such a belief is true.) The "ontological" argument (Kant invented this term for it) concludes that God must exist, in rather the same kind of way that bachelors must be unmarried; God's existence may be inferred directly from an analysis of the concept "God," just as any bachelor's being unmarried follows from an analysis of the concept "bachelor." Kant answered, in effect, that it was one thing to analyze a concept, another thing to say that something exists which falls under the concept; even the concept "God" cannot constitute an exception.[25] Whether Kant's counterargument is sound, or merely begs the question, has been much disputed by subsequent authorities.[26] Certainly the majority of contemporary philosophers would agree with Kant that no version of the ontological argument is sound; but this has no bearing on the main argument of this article. A similar point has already been made about arguments from or to design, which Kant called "physico-theological."

On strictly causal arguments from world to God, which he labelled "cosmological," Kant has special strictures. The "physico-theological" argument, he says, is an argument from experience, while the ontological depends on sheer reasoning. But "cosmological" arguments are a confusing mixture of the two.[27] I would concede to Kant that "cosmological" arguments, of which the one that I have advanced is an example, blend considerations derived from experience with ones based on sheer reasoning. But I would deny that this invalidates them; and would urge that just the same applies to most of the judgments which we make, especially in science. For example, due to a certain range of experiences enjoyed by herself or reported by others, as of fossils in rocks, a paleontologist may assert the existence some seventy million years ago of a previously unknown species of dinosaur. But to do this she must assume that, as a result of one's experience, one is entitled to judge that states of affairs are the case which obtain prior to and independently of one's experience; and it is sheer confusion to say that we know that by experience. Again, it is due to a wide range of observations that astronomers since 1844 have asserted the existence of the planet Neptune; but it would be a very odd sort of astronomer who said that there was no such planet prior to or independently of such observations by astronomers. And the relevance of our observations to knowledge of what exists and is the case whether we make such observations or not can only be shown, if it can be shown at all, by sheer reason.

I believe that there is a single fundamental mistake in the theories of knowledge of Hume and Kant, on which their objections to rational theism depend and which vitiates their accounts of other types of knowledge. That is, that any entity or state of affairs the existence of which might be verified by appeal to experience, must itself be an actual or conceivable direct object of experience. But the particles of modern physics, the thoughts and feelings of persons other than oneself, and the events of the remote past are prima facie evidence at least to the contrary. Attempts to shore up empiricism by a behaviorist reduction of other minds or an operationist reduction of psychology are not especially impressive in themselves, but seem to venture well beyond the borders of lunacy when applied to statements about the past (as when one contends that "Abraham Lincoln died of gunshot wounds" means nothing more than that contemporary professors of nineteenth-century American history will tend to emit one set of noises rather than another when suitably stimulated or that certain books in libraries will be found to contain some patterns of marks on paper as opposed to others).

In the course of impugning rational theism in The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant writes: "All synthetic principles of reason allow only of an immanent employment" (that is, one within the world of experience); "and in order to have knowledge of a supreme being we should have to put them to a transcendent use, for which our understanding is in no way fitted. If the empirically valid law of causality is to lead to the original being, the latter must belong to the chain of objects of experience, and in that case it would, like all appearances, be itself again conditioned."[28] But if we are to have knowledge of events, things, and states of affairs of the three kinds just mentioned, we have in any case to put them to "a transcendent use" to get at what is over and above "the chain of objects of experience", taking what Kant almost immediately afterwards calls a "leap beyond the limits of experience".[29] And if we are able properly to do this in these cases, why should we not invoke something which cannot be an object of our experience to explain the very general fact of the intelligibility of the universe?

Certainly, if there is no comparison which may properly be made between the entity thus invoked and anything within the range of our experience, the inference will have no validity. In this respect, exponents of extreme forms of the via negativa in philosophical theology have done rational theism no good-as is, in fact, brilliantly brought out by Hume in the Dialogues. Early in that work, the rigidly orthodox Demea and the sceptic Philo agree that there is no "analogy or likeness" between the mental properties of human beings and those attributable to the deity as cause of the world [30] (and a fortiori, it is implied, between divine attributes and those of material things); much later, Philo concludes, to Demea's consternation, that at that rate the theist might as well admit that there is no difference between him and the atheist.[31] However, the argument which I have set forward certainly does ascribe to the supposed cause of the universe some "analogy or likeness" with what is available to our "experience," at least if this last term is understood in a fairly broad sense. Each of us knows in our own small way what it is intelligently to conceive a state of affairs among a range of possibilities and to will to bring it into effect. Similarly, on this account, the divine cause of the world intelligently conceives all possible worlds and brings this one into being. To put it in Hume's way, [32] our "idea" of God is firmly based on "impressions" of our own activities as "spirits" or conscious subjects. The rational theist as I have presented him can thus cheerfully at this point concede to Hume, once suitable qualifications have been made, the latter's famous or notorious principle that one cannot have an "idea" of anything of which one has not previously had an "impression."[33]

The upshot of all this is that, in the interest of their very worthy cause, atheists would be well advised to abandon the rather routine gestures towards the arguments of Hume and Kant against rational theism which have become fashionable. Here as elsewhere, it is as well to be on one's guard against uncritical traditionalism.

I conclude by summing up the argument which I have put forward in this article. Plato discovered the real intelligible world which lies behind the merely sensible world, and which (as Aristotle emphasized after him) is to be found by inquiry into the sensible world. The whole subsequent development of science is a massive vindication of this discovery. Plato's Christian successors soon caught on to the fact that one intelligent will, which conceives and intends it rather as human beings conceive and intend their own actions and products, is ultimately the only satisfactory explanation for the existence and nature of such an intelligible world. Hume, as a consistent empiricist, in effect denied the world's intelligibility, and his account of knowledge, which has proved a fruitful source of atheism, leads just as ineluctably to scepticism. Kant, who was impressed by the sceptical conclusions which followed from Hume's premisses, strongly reasserted the intelligibility of the world as apprehended both by common sense and by science; but wrongly inferred that, since such apprehension plainly involves mental creativity, the world thus apprehended must be a merely seeming world of appearances dependent on human minds, and not, as would be held by all who are not subjective idealists, existing and being as it is largely prior to and independently of those minds.[34] The right conclusion is (following the idealists, and Kant's objections to Hume) that the world shows signs of mental creativity, but (following common sense and materialist objections to idealism) that it is absurd to say that this mental creativity is human. The creativity is consequently to be attributed to a Mind (or minds)[35] other than the human.


[1]Two examples may be taken almost at random: Bernard Williams' review of J. L. Mackie's The Miracle of Theism in The Times Literary Supplement, (November 3, 1983), p. 231; Kai Nielsen, Philosophy and Atheism (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1985), pp. 18, 37, 43, etc.

[2]On one reading of Hume, there is a sense in which he is not a sceptic; on this reading, one should speak rather of Hume's "supposed" scepticism. I shall prescind from this issue and take into account both possible interpretations of Hume's intentions.

[3]This last clause was rather Aristotle's contribution; cf. the beginning of Book II of his Posterior Analytics.

[4]The traditional attachment of scientists to a mechanistic view of reality seems due to a confused apprehension of the requirement that reality should be intelligible. Cf. B. Lonergan, Collection (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1967), p. 148. However, with the advent of relativity and quantum theory, "this deep-rooted tendency is now being overcome by the inner development of science itself."

[5]This contrast is wonderfully brought out in a paper by Sebastian Moore and Chip Hughes, delivered to the Lonergan Workshop in 1985, but so far unpublished.

[6]See William Wordsworth's "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality."

[7]See David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Part I, Section I; Part II, Section V; Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section II.

[8]Hume, Treatise, Part III, Section II-VI; Enquiry, Sections IV and VII.

[9]John Hick, reviewing T. M. Penelhum's God and Scepticism in Canadian Philosophical Review 6 (April 1986), p. 171.

[10]A philosophy is "empiricist" so far as it bases knowledge on experience. Empiricism is generally contrasted with "rationalism," which emphasizes the role of reason as opposed to experience in knowledge.

[11]"Hume . . . developed to its logical conclusion the empirical philosophy of Locke and Berkeley, and by making it self-consistent made it incredible" (Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy [London: Allen and Unwin, 1946], p. 685).

[12]See Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan, 1950), p. 22. The Preface to the Second Edition of the Critique (B vii-xliv; Kemp Smith, pp. 17-37) is a good introduction to Kant's thought so far as it bears on the issue discussed here.

[13]Hume, Enquiry, Section VII. "Induction" is that process of thought by which one affirms a general proposition on the basis of particular ones; for example, "All ravens are black" on the basis of a number of statements derived from experience to the effect that particular ravens are black. Evidently we can hardly move a step in any form of inquiry without "induction" in this sense; but how induction is to be justified has been a central problem of philosophy since Hume.

[14]For the list of "categories," see Critique of Pure Reason, A 80, B 106 (Kemp Smith, p. 113).

[15]For Kant on space and time, see Critique A 22-41, B 37-58 (Kemp Smith, p. 67-82).

[16]This seems inconsistent with the status of cause as a category. Russell comments, "This inconsistency is not an accidental oversight; it is an essential part of his system." (Russell, History, p. 735).

[17]Cf. Critique, B xxiv-xxviii (Kemp Smith, p. 26-28).

[18]See Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1956).

[19]See the article "Dialectical Materialism," by H. B. Acton, in Paul Edwards, ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 2: 391-95.

[20]This could be argued adequately only at much greater length. All I am trying to do here is to make a case for saying, against what has been inferred from the work of Hume and Kant, that the universe is really intelligible; and that it is reasonable to seek explanation for this in mind (a mind or minds) which are other than human.

[21]Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947). p. 39.

[22]For an exposition of the phenomenological point of view, see E. Husserl, Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy (New York: Harper and Row, 1965).

[23]A contemporary form of the argument is based on the "fine tuning" of the basic laws of the universe for the production of life, which is said to make vastly probable either multiple universes or design. This has been set out in a number of extremely interesting articles by John Leslie; see his "Modern Cosmology and the Creation of Life," in Evolution and Creation, ed. Ernan McMullin (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), pp. 91-120, and the attached bibliography.

[24]Cf. the end of Section XI of Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

[25]Critique of Pure Reason, A 592-602, B 620-630 (Kemp Smith, pp. 500-507).

[26]For discussions of the ontological argument from medieval to contemporary philosophy, see A. Plantinga, ed., The Ontological Argument (London and Melbourne: Macmillan, 1968).

[27]Critique of Pure Reason, A 604-606, B 632-634 (Kemp Smith, pp. 508-509).

[28]A 636, B 664 (Kemp Smith, p. 528.)

[29]A 637, B 665 (Kemp Smith, p. 528).

[30]Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part II.

[31]Ibid., Part XI.

[32]Treatise, Part I, Section I; Enquiry, Section II.

[33]Cf. Enquiry, Section II: ". . . all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones."

[34]I think it can be shown that it is in the long run incoherent to suppose, as Kant apparently does in his doctrine of the thing in itself, that the real world is anything other than what we tend to get to know about by the right use of reason on the basis of experience. cf. Hugo Meynell, The Intelligible Universe (Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1983), chapter 3.

[35]See note 20 above.