How far it is possible to push these philosophical principles of doubt and uncertainty

‘But with regard to your main line of thought’ (I continued) ‘there occurs to me a difficulty that I shall just propose to you without insisting on it, lest it lead into reasonings of too subtle and delicate a nature. Briefly, then, I very much doubt that it’s possible for a cause to be known only by its effect (as you have supposed all through) or to be so singular and particular that it has no parallel or similarity with any other cause or object we have ever observed. It is only when two kinds of objects are found to be constantly conjoined that we can infer one from the other; and if we encountered an effect that was entirely singular, and couldn’t be placed in any known kind, I don’t see that we could conjecture or infer anything at all concerning its cause. If experience and observation and analogy really are the only guides we

can reasonably follow in inferences of this sort, both the effect and the cause must have some similarity to other effects and causes that we already know and have found often to be conjoined with each other. I leave it to you to think through the consequences of this principle. I shall merely remark that, as the antagonists of Epicurus always suppose that the universe, an effect that is quite singular and unparalleled, is proof of a god, a cause no less singular and unparalleled, your reasonings about this seem at least to merit our attention. There is, I admit, some difficulty in grasping how we can ever return from the cause to the effect, and by reasoning from our ideas of the cause infer anything new about the effect.’

Section 12: The sceptical philosophy

Philosophical arguments proving the existence of a god and refuting the fallacies of atheists outnumber the arguments on any other topic. Yet most religious philosophers still disagree about whether any man can be so blinded as to be an atheist. How shall we reconcile these contradictions? The knights-errant who wandered about to clear the world of dragons and giants never had the least doubt that these monsters existed!

The sceptic is another enemy of religion who naturally arouses the indignation of all religious authorities and of the more solemn philosophers; yet it’s certain that nobody ever met such an absurd creature ·as a sceptic·, or talked with a man who had no opinion on any subject, practical

or theoretical. So the question naturally arises: What is meant by ‘sceptic’? And how far it is possible to push these philosophical principles of doubt and uncertainty?

Descartes and others have strongly recommended one kind of scepticism, to be practised in advance of philosophy or any other studies. It preserves us, they say, against error and rash judgment. It recommends that we should doubt not only all our former opinions and principles but also our very faculties. The reliability of our faculties, these philosophers say, is something we must be assured of by a chain of reasoning, deduced from some first principle that cannot possibly be fallacious or deceitful. But there is no such first principle that has an authority above others that


First Enquiry David Hume 12: The sceptical philosophy

are self-evident and convincing. And even if there were one, we couldn’t advance a step beyond it except by using those very faculties that we are supposed to be calling into question. Cartesian doubt, therefore, if someone could attain to it (as plainly nobody could), would be entirely incurable, and no reasoning could ever bring us to confident beliefs about anything.

However, a more moderate degree of such scepticism can be quite reasonable, and is a necessary preparation for the study of philosophy: it makes us impartial in our judgments and weans our minds from prejudices that we may have arrived at thoughtlessly or taken in through education. If we

•begin with clear and self-evident principles, •move forward cautiously, getting a secure footing at each step,

•check our conclusions frequently, and •carefully examine their consequences,

we shall move slowly, and not get far; but these are the only methods by which we can hope ever to establish conclusions which we are sure are true and which will last.

Another kind of scepticism has arisen out of scientific enquiries that are supposed to have shown that human mental faculties are either absolutely deceitful or not capable of reaching fixed conclusions about any of the puzzling topics on which they are commonly employed. Even our senses are questioned by a certain kind of philosopher; and the maxims of everyday life are subjected to the same doubt as are the deepest principles of metaphysics and theology. Some philosophers accept these paradoxical tenets (if they may be called tenets), while many others try to refute them; so it’s natural for us to wonder about them, and to look for the arguments on which they may be based.

I needn’t dwell on the well-worn arguments that sceptics have used down the ages to discredit the senses, such as

the arguments drawn from the untrustworthy nature of our sense organs, which very often lead us astray: the crooked appearance of an oar half in water, the different ways an object can look depending on how far away it is, the double images that arise from pressing one eye, and many other such phenomena. These sceptical points serve only to prove that the senses, taken on their own, shouldn’t automatically be trusted, and that if they are to serve as criteria of truth and falsehood we must adjust the answers they give us by bringing reason to bear on facts about •the nature of the medium—·e.g. the water through which we see the lower half of the oar·—•the distance of the object, and •the condition of the sense organ. But other arguments against the senses go deeper, and are harder to meet.

It seems clear that •we humans are naturally, instinc- tively inclined to trust our senses, and that •without any reasoning—indeed, almost before the use of reason—we take it that there is an external universe that doesn’t depend on our perceiving it and would have existed if there had never been any perceiving creatures or if we had all been annihilated. Even the animals are governed by a similar opinion, and maintain this belief in external objects in all their thoughts, plans and actions.

It also seems clear that when men follow this blind and powerful instinct of nature they always suppose that •the very images that their senses present to them are •the external objects that they perceive; it never crosses their minds that •sensory images are merely representations of •external objects. This very table that we see as white and feel as hard is believed to exist independently of our perception, and to be something external to our mind, which perceives it. Our presence doesn’t bring it into existence, and our absence doesn’t annihilate it. It stays in existence (we think), complete and unchanging, independent of any


First Enquiry David Hume 12: The sceptical philosophy

facts about intelligent beings who perceive it or think about it.

But the slightest philosophy is enough to destroy this basic belief that all men have. For philosophy teaches us that images (or perceptions) are the only things that can ever be present to the mind, and that the senses serve only to bring these images before the mind and cannot put our minds into any immediate relation with external objects. The table that we see seems to shrink as we move away from it; but the real table that exists independently of us doesn’t alter; so what was present to the mind wasn’t the real table but only an image of it. These are the obvious dictates of reason; and no-one who thinks about it has ever doubted that when we say ‘this house’ and ‘that tree’ the things we are referring to are nothing but perceptions in the mind—fleeting copies or representations of other things that are independent of us and don’t change.

To that extent, then, reason compels us to contradict or depart from the basic instincts of nature, and to adopt a new set of views about the evidence of our senses. ·These views amount to a philosophical system according to which (1) we perceive only images, not external objects, but (2) there are external objects, and images represent them·. But when philosophy tries to justify this new system, and put to rest the carping objections of the sceptics, it finds itself in an awkward position ·regarding the claim (2) that there are external objects that our images represent·. Philosophy can no longer rely on the idea that natural instincts are infallible and irresistible, for those instincts led us to a quite different system that is admitted to be fallible and even wrong. And to justify ·the external-object part of· this purported philosophical system by a chain of clear and convincing argument—or even by any appearance of argument—is more than anyone can do.

By what argument can it be proved that the perceptions of the mind must be caused by •external objects that are perfectly distinct from them and yet similar to them (if that were possible), rather than arising from •the energy of the mind itself, or from •the activities of some invisible and un- known spirit, or from •some other cause still more unknown to us? It is admitted that many of these perceptions—e.g. in dreams, madness, and other diseases—don’t in fact arise from anything external, ·so how could we prove that others do arise from something external·? In any case, we are utterly unable to explain how a body could so act on a mind as to convey an image of itself to a mental substance whose nature is supposed to be so different from—even contrary to—its own nature.

Are the perceptions of the senses produced by external objects that resemble them? This is a question of fact. Where shall we look for an answer to it? To experience, surely, as we do with all other questions of that kind. But here experience is and must be entirely silent. The mind never has anything present to it except the perceptions, and can’t possibly experience their connection with objects. The belief in such a connection, therefore, has no foundation in reasoning ·because the reasoning would have to start from something known through experience·.

We might try to prove that our senses are truthful by appealing to the truthfulness of God, but that would be a strange direction for the argument to take, ·for two reasons·. (1) If the fallibility of our senses implied that God is untruth- ful, then our senses would never mislead us; because it isn’t possible that God should ever deceive. (2) Anyway, once the external world has been called in question we are left with no arguments to prove that God exists or to show what his attributes are.

The deeper and more philosophical sceptics, trying to cast


First Enquiry David Hume 12: The sceptical philosophy

doubt on all subjects of human knowledge and enquiry, will always triumph when it comes to the question of external bodies. ‘Do you follow your natural instincts and inclina- tions’, they may say, ‘when you affirm the truthfulness of your senses? But those instincts lead you to believe that the perception or image that you experience is itself the external object. Do you reject that view, in order to accept the more reasonable opinion that perceptions are only representations of something external? In that case you are departing from your natural inclinations and more obvious opinions; and yet you still can’t satisfy your reason, which can never find any convincing argument from experience to prove that your perceptions are connected with external objects.’

Another sceptical line of thought—somewhat like that one—has deep philosophical roots, and might be worth attending to if there were any point in digging that far down in order to discover arguments that can be of so little serious use. All modern enquirers agree that all the sensible qualities of objects—such as hard, soft, hot, cold, white, black, etc.—are merely secondary; they don’t exist in the objects themselves (it is believed), and are perceptions of the mind with no external pattern or model that they represent. If this is granted regarding secondary qualities, it also holds for the supposed primary qualities of extension and solidity, which are no more entitled to be called ‘primary’ than the others are. The idea of extension comes purely from the senses of sight and touch; and if all the qualities that are perceived by the senses are in the mind rather than in the object, that must hold also for the idea of extension,

which wholly depends on sensible ideas, i.e. on the ideas of secondary qualities. ·To see that something is extended, you have to see colours; to feel that it is extended, you have to feel hardness or softness·. The only escape from this conclusion is to assert that we get the ideas of those ‘primary’ qualities through abstraction; but the doctrine of abstraction turns out under careful scrutiny to be unintelligible, and even absurd. An extension that is neither tangible nor visible can’t possibly be conceived; and a tangible or visible extension that is neither hard nor soft, black nor white, is equally beyond the reach of human conception. Let anyone try to conceive a triangle in general, which has no particular length or proportion of sides, and he will soon see the absurdity of all the scholastic notions concerning abstraction and general ideas.13

Thus the first philosophical objection to the belief in external objects is this: If the belief is based on natural instinct it is contrary to reason; and if it is attributed to reason it is contrary to natural instinct, and anyway isn’t supported by any rational evidence that would convince an impartial person who thought about it. The second objection goes further and represents this belief as contrary to reason—at least if reason says that all sensible qualities are in the mind and not in the object. Deprive matter of all its intelligible qualities, both primary and secondary, and you in a way annihilate it and leave only a certain mysterious something as the cause of our perceptions, a notion so imperfect that no sceptic will think it worthwhile to argue against it.

13This argument is drawn from Dr. Berkeley; and indeed most of the writings of that able author form the best lessons of scepticism that are to be found either among the ancient or modern philosophers. Yet on his title-page he claims, no doubt sincerely, to have composed his book against the sceptics as well as against atheists and free-thinkers. But though his arguments are otherwise intended, they are all in fact merely sceptical. This is shown by the fact that they cannot be answered yet do not convince. Their only effect is to cause the momentary bewilderment and confusion that is the result of scepticism.


First Enquiry David Hume 12: The sceptical philosophy

Part 2

There may seem to be something wild about the sceptics’ attempt to destroy reason by argument and reasoning; yet that’s what all their enquiries and disputes amount to. They try to find objections both to our abstract reasonings and to reasonings about matter of fact and existence.

The chief objection to abstract reasonings comes from the ideas of space and time. Those ideas, when viewed carelessly as we view them in everyday life, are very clear and intelligible; but when we look into them more closely they turn out to involve principles that seem full of absurdity and contradiction. No priestly dogmas, invented on purpose to tame and subdue the rebellious reason of mankind, ever shocked common sense more than the doctrine of the infinite divisibility of extension, with its consequences that are ceremoniously paraded by geometers and metaphysicians as though they were something to be proud of. ·For example·:

A real quantity that is infinitely less than any finite quantity, and contains quantities that are infinitely less than itself, and so on to infinity—

this bold, enormous edifice is too weighty to be supported by any demonstration, because it offends against the clearest and most natural principles of human reason.14

But what makes the matter more extraordinary is that these seemingly absurd opinions are supported by a chain of reasoning that seems clear and utterly natural, and we can’t accept the premises without accepting the conclusions. The geometrical proofs regarding the properties of circles and triangles are as convincing and satisfactory as they could

possibly be; but if we accept them, how can we deny that •the angle of contact between any circle and its tan- gent is infinitely less than any angle between straight lines, and that as the circle gets larger •the angle of contact becomes still smaller, ad infinitum?

The demonstration of these principles seems as flawless as the one proving that the three angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees, though the latter conclusion is natural and easy while the former is pregnant with contradiction and absurdity. Reason here seems to be thrown into a kind of bewilderment and indecision which, without prompting from any sceptic, makes it unsure of itself and of the ground it walks on. It sees a bright light that illuminates some places; but right next to them there is the most profound darkness. Caught between these, reason is so dazzled and confused that there is hardly any topic on which it can reach a confident conclusion.

The absurdity of these bold conclusions of the abstract sciences seems to become even more conspicuous with regard to time than it is with extension. An infinite number of real parts of time, passing in succession and gone through ·completely·, one after another—this appears to be such an obvious contradiction that nobody, one would think, could bring himself to believe it unless his judgment had been corrupted, rather than being improved, by the sciences.

Yet still reason must remain restless and unquiet, even with regard to the scepticism it is driven to by these seeming absurdities and contradictions. We can’t make sense of the thought that a clear, distinct idea might contain something

14Whatever disputes there may be about mathematical points, we must allow that there are physical points—that is, parts of extension that cannot be divided or lessened either by the eye or imagination. So these images that are present to the imagination or the senses are absolutely indivisible, and consequently must be regarded by mathematicians as infinitely less than any real part of extension; yet nothing appears more certain to reason than that an infinite number of them composes an infinite extension. This holds with even more force of an infinite number of the infinitely small parts of extension that are still supposed to be, themselves, infinitely divisible.


First Enquiry David Hume 12: The sceptical philosophy

that is contradictory to itself or to some other clear, distinct idea; this is indeed as absurd a proposition as we can think of. So this scepticism about some of the paradoxical conclusions of mathematics—·a scepticism which implies that some of our clear, distinct ideas contradict others·—is itself something we must be sceptical about, approaching it in a doubting, hesitant frame of mind.15

Sceptical objections to reasonings about matters of fact are of two kinds—(1) everyday informal objections, and (2) philosophical ones. (1) The informal objections are based on •the natural weakness of human understanding, •the contradictory opinions that have been held at different times and in different countries, •the variations of our judgment in sickness and health, youth and old age, prosperity and adversity, •the perpetual differences of opinion between different individuals—and many other considerations of that kind, but there is no need to go on about them. These objections are weak. For as in ordinary life we reason every moment regarding fact and existence, and can’t survive without continually doing so, no objections that are based on this procedure can be sufficient to undermine it. The great subverter of excessive scepticism is action, practical projects, the occupations of everyday life. Sceptical principles may flourish and triumph in the philosophy lecture-room, where it is indeed hard if not impossible to refute them. But as soon as they •come out of the shadows, •are confronted by the real

things that our beliefs and emotions are addressed to, and thereby •come into conflict with the more powerful principles of our nature, sceptical principles vanish like smoke and leave the most determined sceptic in the same ·believing· condition as other mortals.

(2) The sceptic, therefore, had better stay in the area where he does best, and present the philosophical objections whose roots run deeper ·than the facts on which the informal objections are based·. These seem to provide him with plenty of victories. He can rightly insist

•that all our evidence for any matter of fact that lies beyond the testimony of sense or memory is entirely based on the relation of cause and effect; item •that our only idea of this relation is the idea of two kinds of event that have frequently been associated with one another; item •that we have no argument to convince us that kinds of event that we have often found to be associated in the past will be so in future;

•and that what leads us to this inference is merely custom—a certain instinct of our nature—which it is indeed hard to resist but which like any other instinct may be wrong and deceitful.

While the sceptic presses these points, he is in a strong position, and seems to destroy all assurance and conviction, at least for a while. (In a way, what he is showing is not his strength but rather his and everyone’s weakness!) These

15We might be able to avoid these absurdities and contradictions if we admitted that there is no such thing as abstract or general ideas, properly speaking; but that all general ideas are really particular ones attached to a general term which brings to mind other particular ideas which in some way resemble the idea that is present to the mind. Thus when the word ‘horse’ is pronounced, we immediately form the idea of a black or a white animal of a particular size and shape; but as that word is also usually applied to animals of other colours, shapes and sizes, these ideas are easily recalled even when they are not actually present to the imagination; so that our reasoning can proceed in the same way as if they were actually present. If this is accepted—and it seems reasonable—it follows that the ideas of quantity that mathematicians reason with are particular ones, i.e. ideas of the kind that come through the senses and imagination; in which case those ideas cannot be infinitely divisible. At this point I merely drop that hint, without developing it in detail. It does seem to be the readiest solution for these difficulties. We need some solution if the mathematicians are not to be exposed to the ridicule and contempt of ignorant people.


First Enquiry David Hume 12: The sceptical philosophy

arguments of his could be developed at greater length, if there were any reason to think that doing this would be useful to mankind.

That brings me to the chief and most unanswerable objection to excessive scepticism, namely that no lasting good can ever result from it while it remains in its full force and vigour. We need only ask such a sceptic: ‘What do you want? What do you intend to achieve through your sceptical arguments?’ He is immediately at a loss, and doesn’t know what to answer. A Copernican or Ptolemaic who supports a particular system of astronomy may hope to produce in his audience beliefs that will remain constant and long-lasting. A Stoic or Epicurean displays principles which may not last, but which have an effect on conduct and behaviour. But a Pyrrhonian [= ‘extreme sceptic’; Pyrrho was the first notable sceptic in ancient Greece] cannot expect his philosophy to have any steady influence on the mind, and if it did, he couldn’t expect the influence to benefit society. On the contrary, if he will admit anything he must admit that if his principles were universally and steadily accepted, all human life would come to an end. All discourse and all action would immediately cease; and men would remain in a total lethargy until their miserable lives came to an end through lack of food, drink and shelter. It is true that this fatal outcome is not something we really have to fear: nature is always too strong for principle. And though a Pyrrhonian may throw himself or others into a momentary bewilderment and confusion by his deep arguments, the first and most trivial event in life will put all his doubts and worries to flight, and will leave him—in every aspect of his actions and beliefs—in just the same position as any other kind of philosopher, and indeed the same as someone who had never concerned himself with philosophical researches at all. When he awakes from his dream, the sceptic will be the

first to join in the laughter against himself and to admit that all his objections are mere amusement and can only serve to show how odd and freakish the situation of mankind is: we must act and reason and believe, but however hard we try we can’t find a satisfactory basis for those operations and can’t remove the objections that can be brought against them.

Part 3

There is indeed a milder kind of scepticism that may be both durable and useful. It may be a part of what results from Pyrrhonism, or excessive scepticism, when its undis- criminating doubts are modified a little by common sense and reflection. Most people are naturally apt to be positive and dogmatic in their opinions; they see only one side of an issue, have no idea of any arguments going the other way, and recklessly commit themselves to the principles that seem to them right, with no tolerance for those who hold opposing views. Pausing to reflect, or balancing ar- guments pro and con, only serves to get them muddled, to damp down their emotions, and to delay their actions. They are very uncomfortable in this state, and are thus impatient to escape from it; and they think they can keep away from it—the further the better—by the violence of their assertions and the obstinacy of their beliefs. But if these dogmatic reasoners became aware of how frail the human understanding is, even at its best and most cautious, this awareness would naturally lead to their being less dogmatic and outspoken, less sure of themselves and less prejudiced against antagonists. The illiterate may reflect on the fact that learned people, despite all their advantages of study and reflection, are often cautious and tentative in their opinions. If any of the learned should be temperamentally inclined to


First Enquiry David Hume 12: The sceptical philosophy

pride and obstinacy, a small dose of Pyrrhonism might lessen their pride by showing them that the few advantages they have over other (·unlearned·) men don’t amount to much when compared with the universal perplexity and confusion that is inherent in human nature. There is, in short, a degree of doubt and caution and modesty that every reasoner ought to have at all times in every context of enquiry.

Another kind of moderate scepticism that may be useful to mankind, and may be the natural result of Pyrrhonian doubts, is the limitation of our enquiries to the subjects that our narrow human understanding is best equipped to deal with. The imagination of man naturally soars into the heights: it rejoices in whatever is remote and extraordinary, and runs off uncontrollably into the most distant parts of space and time in order to avoid the familiar objects that it has become used to. A faculty of judgment that is working properly proceeds in the opposite way: it avoids all distant and high enquiries, and confines itself to subjects that we meet with in everyday activities and experience, leaving grander topics to poets and orators or to priests and politicians. The best way for us to be brought into this healthy frame of mind is for us to become thoroughly convinced of the force of Pyrrhonian doubt, and to see that our only possible escape from it is through the strong power of natural instinct. Those who are drawn to philosophy will still continue their researches, attracted by the immediate pleasure of this activity and by their realization that philo- sophical doctrines are nothing but organized and corrected versions of the thoughts of everyday life. But they will never be tempted to go beyond everyday life so long as they bear in mind the imperfection—the narrowness of scope, and the inaccuracy—of their own faculties. Given that we can’t even provide a satisfactory reason why we believe after a thousand experiences that a stone will fall or fire will burn, can we ever

be confident in any of our beliefs about the origin of worlds, or about the unfolding of nature from and to eternity?

The slightest enquiry into the natural powers of the human mind, and the comparison of •those powers with •the topics the mind studies, will be enough to make anyone willing to limit the scope of his enquiries in the way I have proposed. Let us then consider what are the proper subjects of science and enquiry.

It seems to me that the only objects of the abstract sciences—the ones whose results are rigorously proved—are quantity and number, and that it’s mere sophistry and illusion to try to extend this more perfect sort of knowledge beyond these bounds. The component parts of quantity and number are entirely similar; ·for example, the area of a given triangle is made of the same elements as the area of a given square, so that the question of whether the two areas are equal can at least come up·. For this reason, the relations amongst the parts of quantity and number become intricate and involved; and nothing can be more intriguing, as well as useful, than to trace in various ways their equality or inequality through their different appearances. But all other ideas are obviously distinct and different from each other; and so with them we can never go further—however hard we try—than to observe this diversity and come to the immediate, obvious conclusion that one thing is not another. If there is any difficulty in these decisions, it proceeds entirely from the indeterminate meaning of words, which is corrected by juster definitions. That the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the squares of the other two sides can’t be known without a train of reasoning and enquiry. But to convince us that where there is no property there can be no injustice it is only necessary to define the terms and explain ‘injustice’ to be ‘a violation of property’. This proposition is indeed merely an imperfect definition. Similarly with


First Enquiry David Hume 12: The sceptical philosophy

all those purported reasonings that may be found in every other branch of learning except the sciences of quantity and number. The latter sciences, it’s safe to say, are the only proper objects of knowledge and demonstration.

All other enquiries of men regard only matter of fact and existence; and these obviously can’t be demonstrated. Whatever is the case may not be the case. No negation of a fact can involve a contradiction. The nonexistence of any existing thing is as clear and distinct an idea as its existence. The proposition which affirms it not to exist, even if it is quite false, is just as conceivable and intelligible as that which affirms it to exist. The case is different with the sciences properly so called [Hume means: the mathematical sciences]. Every mathematical proposition that isn’t true is confused and unintelligible. That the cube root of 64 is equal to the half of 10 is a false proposition and can never be distinctly conceived. But that Caesar never existed may be a false proposition but still it’s perfectly conceivable and implies no contradiction.

It follows that the existence of any thing can only be proved by arguments from its cause or its effect; and such arguments are based entirely on experience. If we reason a priori, anything may appear able to produce anything. The falling of a pebble may, for all we know, extinguish the sun; or the wish of a man may control the planets in their orbits.

Only experience teaches us the nature and limits of cause and effect, and enables us to infer the existence of one object from that of another.16

Such is the foundation of factual reasoning, which forms

the greater part of human knowledge and is the source of all human action and behaviour.

Factual reasonings concern either particular or general facts. Everyday practical thinking is concerned only with the former, as is the whole of history, geography and astronomy.

The sciences that treat of general facts are politics, natu- ral philosophy [= ‘physics’], physic [= ‘medicine’], chemistry, etc. where the qualities, causes and effects of a whole species of objects are investigated.

Divinity or theology proves the existence of a god and the immortality of souls, so the reasonings that compose it partly concern particular facts and partly general ones. In so far as it is supported by experience, theology has a foundation in reason, but its best and most solid foundation is faith and divine revelation.

Morals and ·artistic· criticism are in the domain of taste and feeling rather than of intellectual thought. Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt rather than perceived. If we do reason about it and try to fix standards of judgment, we must bring in facts that can be the objects of reasoning and enquiry—e.g. facts about the general taste of mankind.

When we go through libraries, convinced of these princi- ples, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume—of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance—let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning about quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experiential reasoning about matters of fact and existence? No. Then throw it in the fire, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

16That impious maxim of the ancient philosophy, Ex nihilo, nihil fit [From nothing, nothing is made], which was supposed to rule out the creation of matter, ceases to be a secure axiom according to this philosophy. Not only might the will of the supreme being create matter; but for all we know a priori it might be created by the will of any other being, or by any other cause that the most fanciful imagination can assign.


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