David Hume
Syamasundara: Today we are discussing philosopher David Hume. He is probably the most famous of the British philosophers. He was very skeptical about achieving certain knowledge, so he came to the conclusion that the only knowledge we can possess is a mere sequence of ideas, none of which can be proved to be true. In other words, we can only derive any knowledge from our senses, but even that knowledge is mere assumption.
Prabhupada: Yes. We say also, because our senses are imperfect, so there is no possibility of achieving perfect knowledge by sense exercise. It is not possible. That is our philosophy.
Syamasundara: He says there is no other source of knowledge except the senses.
Prabhupada: No. We don't agree. Therefore it is called avan-manasa gocarah, adhoksajathere are so many names. The senses are imperfect. They cannot reach. Just like we cannot know what is there in the sun, but a geologist or astronomer, he can say, one who has studied. Therefore our process of knowledge is to take from the authorities. That is perfect. Our senses cannot read, that is a fact. But it is not that without senses, no knowledge can be... No. We receive by senses, but from superior authority, one who knows. That is perfect knowledge. According to him, there is no possibility of having perfect knowledge?
Syamasundara: Yes.
Prabhupada: That is a skeptic.
Syamasundara: Yes. He says that all that we are, all that we know, is merely ideas, a sequence of ideas.
Prabhupada: But behind the ideas there must be some fact; otherwise how we get the ideas?
Syamasundara: He separates fact from idea. For instance, I may think this table is red, but it is actually brown. So my idea is incorrect.
Prabhupada: Your idea may be, but actually it has got a color, either red or yellow. So if you have eye disease, you cannot see actually, but one whose eyes are not diseased, he can see whether it is yellow or red. Just like sometimes glaucoma—you see the moon as two moons, but actually there is one moon. But due to your eye disease you see two moons. But one who is not diseased, he sees one moon. Therefore we have to take knowledge from a person who is not diseased. Not that because my eyes are diseased, I cannot see things right way, I shall say, "Oh, there is no possibility of having right knowledge." That is not correct.
Syamasundara: In fact, he calls the soul a bundle of perceptions, that it is nothing but a set or sequence of ideas.
Prabhupada: But as soon as he says "ideas," there must be some concrete things.
Syamasundara: Yes. He admits that the external world is full of concrete things, but he thinks that we are also one of those things because we are only a bundle of perceptions. Our consciousness is only made up of our observations of material nature.
Prabhupada: Yes. So far direct perception is concerned, it is like that. But indirect perception, taken from authorities, that is different.
Syamasundara: He distrusts any kind of authority and says that the only kind of things that we can know for sure are mathematical proofs and immediate sense perceptions. Like we can perceive that there is time and there is space, like that. That is the only knowledge he will admit.
Prabhupada: And beyond the time and space?
Syamasundara: We can't know anything.
Prabhupada: You cannot, but there is a process. You cannot know; that does not mean beyond the mind is relative time and perception. Just like a small insect, he takes birth in the evening, and from evening to morning, his birth, his marriage, his begetting children, everything is done, and in the morning he dies. There are many insects. They are called diwali pokali. At night they will throng together, in India. So for this insect, it is very difficult to understand that there is another animal which is called man, who has got this duration of his lifetime period in only twelve hours of his life. But the insect cannot go beyond that. Just like when we hear from Bhagavad-gita that Brahma lives such-and-such, we disbelieve sometimes. But everything is relative. With your relative body, your duration of life, your knowledge, your perception, everything is relative. So you are teeny human being. What is impossible for you is not impossible for others. He is talking from the relative platform.
Syamasundara: Yes. He believes there is only relativity. He doesn't think there's anything absolute.
Prabhupada: Relativity... He does not believe that there are other things. But as soon as one says relative, the opposite word is absolute; otherwise wherefrom we take this word relative?
Syamasundara: Well, his idea is that things only exist in relation with each other.
Prabhupada: Yes. Then what is the supreme relative?
Syamasundara: He doesn't admit any supreme.
Prabhupada: His knowledge is imperfect.
Syamasundara: He says just like a cherry, say a fruit...
Prabhupada: In logic there is relative study, and at the end of all relative truth there is absolute truth, the summum bonum. So he has no idea of the summum bonum, or the substance.
Syamasundara: No. He denies any substance. He says just like a cherry or a fruit, it has certain sensory qualities such as sweetness, color, like that. He says that we are just like that, humans. We have certain "sensory qualities." We are made up of a series of mental activities or a complex of ideas, but this is all we are.
Prabhupada: No. We have got senses also. The color is only, what is called, sensory qualities. It is a quality, but to appreciate that quality, we have the senses. An inert object, it has got the quality, but living entity, it has the senses to appreciate the quality.
Syamasundara: But he says these senses are only a bundle of perceptions, of ideas.
Prabhupada: Whatever it may be, the living entity is superior to the inert matter. In Sanskrit language they are called tan matra. They are created for the sense; they are sense objects. I have got senses, I must appreciate something. That something is that quality or sensory quality. I have eyes, I must see something. So therefore there is color, there is beauty...
Syamasundara: He postulates three laws whereby perceptions are associated or connected with one another. He says first of all, there is the principle of resemblance. For example, I see a picture and it impels me to think of the original of that picture. The second principle is the principle of contiguity. If I mention a room in a building, this impels me to think of other rooms in other buildings. And the third principle is the principle of cause and effect, just like if I think about a wound I automatically think of pain. So in these three ways he thinks that our whole being is made up of this stream of ideas, association of ideas, one idea follows another, perpetually.
Prabhupada: That is called relative world. That is the meaning of relative world. You cannot understand what is father without a son; you cannot understand son without a father. You cannot understand husband without a wife. This world is like that. It is called relative world.
Syamasundara: He thinks that is what our being is—it is simply ideas. From our birth to our death we simply are made up of a bundle of perceptions and ideas. Simply that, nothing more.
Prabhupada: Beyond this idea?
Syamasundara: He denies the existence of any ultimate reality. Only the phenomena of senses.
Prabhupada: So wherefrom do these phenomena come, unless there is noumena?
Syamasundara: Well, he says that it is possible that all this existed since eternity and there was no cause. It's possible that there is no cause, that it's just existing.
Prabhupada: What about the manifestation—past, present and future?
Syamasundara: He says that this may be an eternal existence of things, but there may not be any cause.
Prabhupada: Then why death takes place, if there is no cause?
Syamasundara: It's just like any machine which is born and dies.
Prabhupada: When you say machine, machine is made by somebody. You cannot compare it to a machine. A machine is created by somebody. There is beginning of the machine.
Syamasundara: Or just like the seasons, they come and go.
Prabhupada: Yes. They again come. So what is this?
Syamasundara: This may be an eternally existing fact which has no cause or no creator. This is his idea.
Prabhupada: There is no creator?
Syamasundara: No creator. He says, however, that if we prefer, we can say that there is a creator, if we like to. In other words, he bases everything on this idea that you can do what you like to do.
Prabhupada: So that he can go on talking whatever he likes. (laughter) All nonsense. All he wants that license: you can go on talking all nonsense, I can go on talking all nonsense. You are right, I am right, everything is all right. Yata mata tata patha. Yata mataas many opinions there are, so many (indistinct) are there also. So it does not apply in legal sense. Just like the same example that I give always, "Keep to the right." Then if somebody says, "My opinion is, 'Keep to the left,' " but as soon as he does it, he is arrested.
Syamasundara: We'll discuss that in a minute or two. But he divided human understanding into two classes. The first class is the relationship among ideas, just as mathematical compositions, they are true and certain, whether or not the things they refer to exist in nature. Just like two plus two equals four. This is a relationship among ideas. And the second-relationship among facts. He says that these cannot be proved by reasoning. They are merely assumed on the basis of sense experience. For example, that sun will rise tomorrow. This is a relationship among facts. But it is merely an assumption based upon our sense experience, but it's possible to imagine that the world will end or the sun may not rise. So it's only an assumption that the sun will rise. So this world of facts that we see, we can only assume that they will act in certain ways. There is probability, but there is no certainty.
Prabhupada: That is already discussed: why it is so, probability, who takes it, who makes it not possible, how it happens. Sun is rising, and sun may not rise, stop. How it is? Accidentally or by somebody's will?
Syamasundara: He would say that it's accidental.
Prabhupada: That is nonsense. Nothing is accidental. Everything is symmetrical. Therefore, we have to admit that supreme direction, and that is Krsna, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita: "Under My direction everything is going on." The sun is rising on His direction, and when He orders, the sun will not rise. But it is not accidental.
Syamasundara: He says that there is no such thing as a cause-and-effect relationship. Just like, for example, we associate friction with heat, but he says that it's a mistake to assume that friction causes heat or possesses any power which must inevitably produce heat. He says that it is a mere repetition of two incidents, so that the effect habitually attends the cause, but it is not necessarily a consequence of it. So the fact that I rub my hands together and there is heat produced, I am used to assuming that the friction causes heat, but he says that it is not necessarily so. Whenever there is friction, there is heat, but that is only because they are associated with each other, not that one causes the other.
Prabhupada: Then how are they associated?
Syamasundara: That one habitually attends the other, but not necessarily as a consequence of it.
Prabhupada: But who made this law? As soon as they associate, immediately after friction there is heat. So there is a systematic law. The association may be accidental, but as soon as there is friction between the two associates, the law is there must be heat. So there is systematic law. Either you rub the hands, or I rub the hands, the law is that heat must be there, either in your hands or in my hands. That is law.
Syamasundara: His idea is that this law is not ultimate reality, that it is a mere probability.
Prabhupada: But it is a physical law. And he says that the sequence of the law may be different. So that is possible also, because law means made by some person, somebody. So if he likes, he can change the law, just like if the legislature assembles and some law is passed today, next day or next month or next year this law is nullified. So that supreme legislative council is responsible for this law-making. Similarly, there is a supreme will who makes this law and who can nullify this law. So we have to come to the supreme will. You cannot change or you cannot make any new law. If you think that by friction of hands there may not be any heat-producing effect, that you cannot do. Therefore you are also under the supreme will. He has given you a chance to talk all nonsense, but he can stop immediately. Your tongue and you will be a dead body, is it not? He is talking all nonsense, but if the supreme will desires, he'll stop immediately his tongue moving, and he'll be considered a dead body, all philosophy finished. But he cannot stop it. Therefore the supreme will is the ultimate cause of all causes.
Syamasundara: He says that morality consists of values which the individual formulates for himself, as a matter of personal opinion. In other words, I can do whatever my conscience dictates.
Prabhupada: So another man can also say "what my conscience dictates." So there is a difference.
Syamasundara: But in society, moral values are based upon the opinion of the whole society. In other words, my moral values are relative to public opinion.
Prabhupada: When the majority opinion is something, you have to accept it. That is democracy.
Syamasundara: But still he says it's up to the individual whether to accept or reject it. This is where you were talking about the left side of the road and the right side of the road, that even though the law is there as agreed upon by society, still it's up to me whether I want to follow it or not. It's matter of my personal opinion.
Prabhupada: If you don't follow, then you'll be punished. That will be the effect. You'll be punished. Therefore, the conclusion is that your independent thinking is not absolute; it is also relative.
Syamasundara: He says that logic or reason don't determine morality, but sentiment determines morality—how I feel, that's how I should act.
Prabhupada: Or in other words, what is accepted by the supreme will, that is morality. You cannot decide what is morality. The supreme will decides whether it is morality or immorality.
Syamasundara: According to Hume, it's my sentiment that decides. How I feel at the moment, that's how I should act. It's my personal opinion.
Prabhupada: But your personal opinion sometimes does not meet with approval. So if you are satisfied with your personal opinion, but if it is not approved by others, then you are in the fool's paradise. That's all.
Syamasundara: So he says that the remedy for this is social, that we should try to change the laws of the state or change the opinion of the state to accept a certain type of morality. If I think something is right and the state says it is wrong, then I should act through politics to change it.
Prabhupada: He agrees to surrender to the supreme-state—so if the supreme state sanctions, it is morality. Is it not that?
Syamasundara: Yes. Public opinion.
Prabhupada: But anyway, it goes to somebody, public opinion, but this public opinion is not final. Therefore above the public opinion there is the supreme will of Krsna. That should be the final, to sanction morality or immorality.
Syamasundara: He says that the moral sentiments which are approved by society enhance the social good, whereas immoral attitudes are egoistic and antisocial. So that a society will always approve of a certain set of moral values, and then the individual living in the society must either accept or reject them. And if he rejects them, then he must act through politics, through the social body, to try to change their attitude, their opinion.
Prabhupada: Therefore it depends on that social body, which is authority. So ultimately we have to depend on the authority for all sanctions. So our proposition is that the supreme authority is Krsna. So whatever He sanctions, that is morality; whatever He does not sanction, that is immorality. Just like Arjuna was thinking to become nonviolent, not to fight, is good. But Krsna said, "Now you fight." So fight became good. So ultimately it depends on Krsna's will, what is morality, what is immorality, what is good, what is bad. Therefore our duty is, instead of depending on social body or political... [break] ...are so many, one is different from the other—we depend on the supreme will of the supreme authority.
Syamasundara: He says that there is no absolute morality, that everything is relative.
Prabhupada: Yes. We say also. If it is sanctioned by Krsna, then it is morality; otherwise the same morality may be immorality. Just like Yudhisthira was asked by Krsna to speak lie—"Go to Dronacarya and inform him that 'Your son is dead,' " because Dronacarya had a benediction that unless he was shocked by the dead limbs of his son, he would not die. So he had to be shocked. But he would not believe anybody except King Yudhisthira because he was known as very honest and truthful. Therefore Krsna employed this service that "You go." Maharaja Yudhisthira, he said, "Oh, how can I tell a lie?" So this is immorality. Krsna is ordering, and he is saying that "How can I say lie?" This is immorality; he is disobeying the order of Krsna. But Arjuna, he rejected all morality and immorality. He accepted Krsna's order. That is morality. He was personally thinking that "If I kill my brothers, cousins, this, that," so many things, but because he was a pure devotee of Krsna, when he understood "Krsna wants it," he said, "Yes." This is morality. That is the fact. When your actions are approved by the supreme authority, that is morality. If it is not approved by the supreme authority, that is immorality. Therefore so-called morality-immorality has no fixed position. When it is approved by Krsna, it is morality. Even so-called immorality will be morality, and so-called morality will be immorality. That we practically see, the same example as I gave you, that a soldier killing so many human beings, he is awarded, and it is... [break] ...he does what he likes, then it becomes chaos.
Syamasundara: That's what has happened.
Prabhupada: There must be some authority.
Syamasundara: He says the only authority is public opinion, and it changes.
Prabhupada: That's all right. Still it is authority. Public opinion, he says, or without public opinion, the king or royalty. There must be some authority to guide them. Otherwise there will be chaos.
Syamasundara: As far as his philosophy of religion, he rejected the idea of absolute matter and the concept of a soul as substance. He rejected the utility of scientific laws, and he rejected moral principles as objective realities. He says all religious ideas are relative. There is no certainty and anything religious may be merely probable but never certain.
Prabhupada: Yes. That also he says. Therefore religion means love of God. The means may be different in different processes of religion, but ultimately if one develops love of Godhead, that is the prima facie factor, love of God. So if any religious principle love of God is absent, that is simply show, it is not factual religion.
Syamasundara: He says that even the idea of God is merely probable but not certain.
Prabhupada: That he cannot say. As soon as he speaks of authority, there must be a supreme authority. That is God.
Syamasundara: For him, the authority is the senses. His authority is the senses.
Prabhupada: Then why does he say public opinion? Your senses may not be approved by the public opinion. Then where do your senses stand?
Syamasundara: That's as far as morality goes, public opinion. But for my understanding of God, I can only rely upon my own senses.
Prabhupada: Morality, morality means what is sanctioned by... [break]
Syamasundara: ...imperfection or finiteness.
Prabhupada: God is absolute. For Him there is no evil. Absolute good. Otherwise He cannot be absolute. So what you think evil, to God it is good. Just like a father slaps a child and he cries. For the child it is evil, but for the father it is good. Father thinks, "I have done right. He is crying. He will not commit the mistake again." So this chastisement is just like sometimes Aravinda complains he thinks "I was unnecessarily chastised," but I say it is good. (laughter) The same thing. So whose opinion is to be taken?
Syamasundara: His idea is that God is limited.
Prabhupada: That is nonsense. If God is limited, then He cannot be God.
Syamasundara: He says either God is limited in His goodness, in order to allow evil to exist...
Prabhupada: No. He is unlimitedly good.
Syamasundara: Then He must be limited in His power, because He cannot stop evil from existing.
Prabhupada: No. Evil works under His guidance. Good and evil, both are control] by Him. Therefore He is called supreme controller. He is not limited. The exact word used in Sanskrit is called ananta, unlimited. Advaitam acyutam anadim ananta-rupam [Bs. 5.33]. Ananta. Advaita, non-dual; acyuta, infallible; and ananta, unlimited. (end)

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