David Hume
David Hume

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David Hume

5.4 Assessing Hume's views

The main value of Hume's essay lies in its discussion of our duties to God. Here Hume's arguments initially seem quite convincing. But arguments almost always seem convincing when they are first heard and understood. The real test comes when we try to think of possible objections. Here is one such objection, based on what has become known as the problem of evil, the problem of reconciling God's benevolence and omnipotence with the fact that evil exists in the world:

Hume thinks that divine providence extends to all human action. But how can this be true? If it were, we would have to say that God is responsible for the actions of every cruel or brutal ruler.

This would be incompatible with the assumption that God is a benevolent being. At least some human actions must fall outside of divine providence. Hume's claim that from the most reasonable theological perspective all actions belong equally to God's grand design looks suspect.

Exercise 18

Reread ‘On suicide’. Has Hume shown that suicide is not always wrong in principle? Try to come up with an objection, or reproduce in your own words the objection having to do with the problem of evil outlined above.

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