Dialectical Spiritualism: David Hume

BY: SUN STAFF - 13.3 2017

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

David Hume (1711 - 1776)

Hayagriva dasa: Abstract objects, relations, space, time, and matter are all considered by Hume to be mind-dependent perceptions. For him, perceptions or impressions are all there is. He rejected revealed religion, which he considered dogmatic, and accepted "natural religion" instead, a religion wherein the existence of God can be proved or even shown to be probable by argument and reason. According to Hume, we really know nothing of God; at the most we can know only of people's ideas of God, and these are but perceptions.

Srila Prabhupada: What is that natural religion?

Hayagriva dasa: Hume writes: "The whole course of nature raises one hymn to the praises of its creator. I have found a Deity, and here I stop my enquiry. Let those go further who are wiser or more enterprising. "

Srila Prabhupada: He admits that the senses are imperfect, and at the same time that there is a God. Now, if our senses are imperfect, how can we imagine God to be like this or that? If God explains Himself, why should we not accept His version?

Hayagriva dasa: In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume opposes the search for God in the ideal world. He writes: "Why not stop at the material world? How can we satisfy ourselves without going on ad infinitum?... If the material world rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other, and so on without end. It were better, therefore, never to look beyond the present material world. By supposing it to contain the principle of its order within itself, we really assert it to be God, and the sooner we arrive at the divine being, so much the better. When you go one step beyond the mundane system, you only excite an inquisitive humor which it is impossible ever to satisfy."

Srila Prabhupada: The material world by definition is full of misery, and those who are advanced therefore search for another world where there is no misery. Everyone is searching for a happy world that is permanent, and that search is not unnatural. There is such a world, and since it exists, why should we not hanker after it? If we look at the world objectively, we can see that no one is really happy — that is, unless he is an animal. Animals do not know what is happiness or distress. They remain satisfied in any condition. A man, however, feels pain more acutely.

Hayagriva dasa: Hume felt that the sooner we find God the better, and therefore he opposed going beyond the mundane system in search of Him.

Srila Prabhupada: You cannot find God in your present conditional state. You may glimpse the fact that there is God, but you cannot understand His forms and pastimes by speculation. Therefore revelation is there for those fortunate people who are seriously searching for God. God is living within, and when we are serious, He reveals Himself. It is also possible to learn about God directly from a person who knows God. Bhagavad-gita is God's direct revelation, and if we try to understand it, we can understand what God is.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume maintains that all that we are, all that we know, is merely a sequence of ideas.

Srila Prabhupada: But behind the ideas there must be a fact. Otherwise, how can we have the ideas?

Syamasundara dasa: He separates facts from ideas. For instance, I may think that this table is red, but I may be wrong; it could be brown.

Srila Prabhupada: Your idea may be incorrect, but actually the table has some color, be it red, yellow, or whatever. If you have some eye disease, you cannot determine the color, but one whose eyes are not diseased can tell you. Because our eyes are diseased and we cannot see things properly, we have to receive knowledge from one who is not diseased. Hume is wrong when he says that there is no possibility of attaining right knowledge.

Syamasundara dasa: He admits that the external world is full of concrete objects, but he thinks that we are also one of those objects because the self is "nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity and are in a perpetual flux and movement." Our consciousness is composed of only our observations of material nature.

Srila Prabhupada: That is so far as direct perception is concerned, but indirect perception is different. It may be taken from authorities.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume distrusts all authority. For him, the only certainty is found in mathematical proofs and immediate sense perceptions. We can perceive that there is time and space, but this is the only knowledge that he will admit.

Srila Prabhupada: And beyond time and space?

Syamasundara dasa: We cannot know anything.

Srila Prabhupada: Perhaps you cannot, but there is a process whereby we can know. We cannot say that beyond the mind there is no time or perception. There are insects that are born in the evening and die in the morning, and during that time they experience a lifespan. For a man, this is only twelve hours of life, but the insect cannot live beyond that time. From Bhagavad-gita we understand that Brahma lives for many thousands of years, and that compared to him we are like insects. Everything is relative: our lifespan, knowledge, and perception. We are small human beings, and what is impossible for us is not necessarily impossible for others. Hume is talking from the relative platform.

Syamasundara dasa: He believes that objects are only relative, not that there is anything absolute.

Srila Prabhupada: But as soon as he speaks of relative, he posits the existence of the absolute. If there is no absolute, how can we have the conception of an object being relative?

Syamasundara dasa: He believes that things exist only in relation to one another.

Srila Prabhupada: Then what is the supreme relation?

Syamasundara dasa: He doesn't admit one.

Srila Prabhupada: According to logic, at the end of all relative truths there is Absolute Truth, the summum bonum. But if Hume denies substance, he has no idea of the summum bonum, the ultimate substance.

Bhaktivedanta Book Trust