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Hume Studies

Volume 46, Issue 1/2, April/November 2020

Todd Ryan
Pages 145-166

Philo’s Second Circumstance: Malebranche and the General Laws Theodicy in Hume’s Dialogues

In Part XI of the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, Philo enumerates “four circumstances” which he claims are the principal sources of pain and suffering in human life. In this paper, I focus on Philo’s second circumstance in which he develops a critique of what I call the ‘general laws theodicy.’ This theodicy, according to which natural evils arise as a result of God’s government of the universe by simple and general laws of nature, is most closely associated with Nicolas Malebranche. However, I argue that Philo’s criticisms badly misfire against Malebranche’s version of the theodicy. I then show how the general laws theodicy was radically reinterpreted by a succession of British philosophers—among them Berkeley, Hutcheson and Butler—and that it is against this reconceived version of the theodicy that Philo’s objections are aimed.