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On the subject of Miracles, an extended correspondence took place between Mr SmelLIE and David Hume; the former endeavouring to overturn the doctrine which had been set forth in Mr Humes Essays, and the latter strenuously supporting and defending his published arguments and positions. But that correspondence, which had been seen and read by Mr ALEXANDER Smellie, was long ago destroyed by his father, along with many other interesting letters, essays, and literary projects, as already mentioned on several occasions. In an after part of these Memoirs, there will be found an abstract or abridgement of the arguments for and against the credibility of Miracles, by Dr CAMPBELL and Mr Hume, drawn up in a masterly manner by Mr Smellie for the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which sets this momentous controversy in a singularly clear and satisfactory light.
The second of these letters, likewise on a philosophical subject, is from Professor Wilson of the University of Glasgow, to whom Mr Smellie appears to have transmitted a letter or discourse on Final Causes, which is not now to be found among his papers.
Mr William Smellie to the Reverend Dr
Rev. Doctor, Edinburgh, 25th April 1765,
Nothing but your character as a philosopher could justify a letter of this nature from a person whose very name must be unknown to you
In his Essay on Providence and a Future State, David Hume has advanced an argument, which not only strikes at the foundation of that comfortable doctrine, but likewise tends to create suspicions with regard to one of the most amiable perfections of the Deity. If the Supreme Being be possessed of ever so much power of wisdom, what consolation can that afford to a reasonable creature, unless his goodness or beneficence þe equally extensive ? The cause, says that ingenious philosopher, is always proportioned or limited to the effect. If the goodness displayed in this world is but small and inconsiderable, why do we ascribe more of that quality to the cause than what is discoverable in the effect ?
Now, Sir, when I first read the Essay, I confess that this argument, although supported with great ingenuity, and ornamented with all the beauties that composition can bestow, did not, however, appear to be altogether satisfactory. That there was a fallacy in the reasoning I never once doubted; but it is difficult at the same time to point out with accuracy and precision where that fallacy lies. This, however, I shall attempt ; and I mean to send it to Mr Hume himself.
Is it in every instance agreeable to reason, that the cause should be exactly proportioned or limited to the effect ? Here the fallacy must lie. Does not the gradual discovery of new effects, proceeding from the same cause, lay a reasonable foundation for ascribing greater power to the cause than results merely from its known effect? This holds even in physical causes. Moral causes, being more complex in their nature, must be subject to still greater varieties ; and, of course, must tend to produce a more thorough
conviction of power in the cause superior to the production of those effects which we are already acquainted with. The longer a man lives, and the more he inquires into the physical or moral constitution of this world, he undoubtedly discovers greater and greater degrees of wisdom and goodness in its constitution and government.
But it seems doubtful whether such a person will not find, in the course of his observations, that the scale of goodness does not ascend in the same proportion with that of power and wisdom. The creation and preservation of matter, in all the variety of forms which is displayed even in this world, demonstrates a degree of power and wisdom which is infinite, at least with regard to our conceptions. But the goodness which appears in this world is neither superior to our conceptions, nor any way equal in degree to the wisdom and power which is displayed in the formation of a single animal body,
It has been alleged, and not without some foundation, that many of the evils, to which human nature is subjected, take their rise from irregularities in our own conduct ;--that physical evils are productive of moral good, &c.
But every person of reflection must have observed that there is a prodigious group of physical evils which have no dependence on our behaviour. Slight and temporary afflictions evidently induce a serious and virtuous habit of mind. But the stone, and such distempers as haunt a man through the greatest part of life, instead of assisting our virtue, have, I am afraid, a natural tendency to sour and fret the mind, to render us peevish and discontented. The mind, when constantly galled with pain, is so totally occupied, that it is deprived of the power of exerting any virtuous disposition, unless the fortitude of a few individuals be an exception.
Perhaps we are not so impartial in our judgments of goodness as of power and wisdom. Men are strongly biassed in favour of every thing connected with their own happi
We often mistake wherein true happiness consists. Not thoroughly skilled in our own constitution and relations, we frequently wish for enjoyments and degrees of enjoyment totally inconsistent with our nature. This perhaps may contribute both to mislead our reasonings concerning goodness,