Dialectical Spiritualism: David Hume, Part Two

BY: SUN STAFF - 17.3 2017

Conversations wtih HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, excerpted from  Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy.

David Hume (1711 - 1776)

Syamasundara dasa: Hume says that an object like an apple consists only of certain sensory qualities, like sweetness or color, and that the individual consists of only a series of mental activities, not of a soul capable of creating experiences.

Srila Prabhupada: Inert objects have certain qualities, but the living entity possesses senses by which he can appreciate those qualities. He is therefore superior to inert matter. Because the living entity has senses, he can appreciate sense objects. We have eyes with which we can see color and perceive beauty.

Hayagriva dasa: Hume is famous for his skepticism. He rejected revealed scriptures and looked toward science instead.

Srila Prabhupada: If he preaches skepticism, why should we believe his words? If he does not believe the statements of others, why should others accept his statements?

Syamasundara dasa: Hume postulates three laws whereby perceptions are associated or connected with one another. First, according to his principle of resemblance, a picture, for instance, makes us think of the original. Secondly, according to the principle of contiguity, if I mention a room in this building, I think of other rooms also. Third, according to the principle of cause and effect, if I think of a wound, I automatically think of pain. Thus he suggests that our whole being consists of such a stream of ideas and associations, which follow one another perpetually.

Srila Prabhupada: This is the nature of the relative world. We cannot understand what a father is without understanding what a son is. We cannot conceive of a husband without a wife.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume denies the existence of an ultimate reality, asserting that only the phenomena of the senses exists.

Srila Prabhupada: But where do these phenomena come from? If there are phenomena, there must be noumena.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume suggests that it is possible that the world has existed since eternity and that therefore no first cause is required.

Srila Prabhupada: But what about the manifestation of past, present, and future? Why does death take place if there is no cause?

Syamasundara dasa: The body is like a machine which is born and dies.

Srila Prabhupada: When you say machine, you automatically presuppose the beginning of the machine. In other words, the machine must be made by someone.

Syamasundara dasa: The machines may be like the seasons. They may come and go.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, they may come and go, and then come again, but what is the meaning of this?

Syamasundara dasa: They may be eternally existing facts without cause or creator. Hume says that we may believe in a creator if we like, but this is based on mere probability, not knowledge. We may think as we like.

Srila Prabhupada: Well, he goes on talking as he likes. In other words, you can speak all kinds of nonsense, and I can too. You are right, and I am right, and everything is right.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume divided human understanding into two categories: relationships among ideas and relationships among facts. The first involves mathematics. Two plus two equals four is true whether it refers to something existing in nature or not. According to the relationships among facts, this is a knowledge to be assumed on the basis of sense experience. According to the information we have based on sense perceptions, we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, there is a possibility that the world will end, and the sun will not rise tomorrow.

Srila Prabhupada: Why is this so? Who makes this possible or impossible? The sun may rise, or the sun may not rise. Is this accidental, or is this according to someone's will?

Syamasundara dasa: Hume would say that it is accidental.

Srila Prabhupada: Nothing is accidental. Everything is symmetrical. According to Krsna in Bhagavad-gita, everything in nature is working under His direction. The sun rises because God has so ordained it. If God does not ordain it, the sun will not rise. It is not accidental at all.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume denies cause and effect relationships. We associate friction with heat, but he says that it is a mistake to assume that friction causes heat. For him, there is merely a repetition of two incidents. The effect may habitually attend the cause, but it is not necessarily its consequence. There is only association, not cause and effect.

Srila Prabhupada: But who made the laws of association? The association may be accidental, but as soon as there is friction, there is heat. This means that in nature there is a systematic law.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume would say that this law is not ultimate reality but mere probability.

Srila Prabhupada: Nonetheless, there are physical laws. The sequence of these laws may differ because they are created by someone who can change them. A legislature may assemble today and pass a certain law, but tomorrow it may assemble again and nullify that law. Similarly, a supreme will makes these laws, and He can also nullify or change them. As far as you are concerned, when there is friction, there is heat. It is not that we can rub our hands together without experiencing a sensation of heat. This means that we are subject to the supreme will. God gives us a chance to speak all kinds of nonsense, but He can stop us immediately. At any instant, our tongue may be in a dead body. The supreme will gives us the freedom to talk in this way or that, and concoct all kinds of philosophies, but at any moment He can put an end to all of this. Thus the supreme will is the ultimate cause of all causes.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume rejected the idea of absolute matter and the conception of the soul as a substance. He also rejected the utility of scientific laws and moral principles as objective realities. He claims that all religious ideas are relative, maintaining that there is no certainty in religious matters.

Srila Prabhupada: Religion means love of God, and there are different religious processes. If we ultimately develop love of God, we have realized the first and most important factor of religion. If love of God is absent, what passes for religion is not really religion. It is simply a show.