Philo’s Argument for Divine Amorality Reconsidered
A central tactic in Philo’s criticism of the design argument is the introduction of several alternative hypotheses, each of which is alleged to explain apparent design at least as well as Cleanthes’ analogical inference to an intelligent designer. In Part VI, Philo proposes that the world “...is an animal, and the Deity is the soul of the world, actuating it, and actuated by it” (DNR 6.3; 171); in Part VII, he suggests that “...it is a palpable and egregious partiality” to favour reason as a probable cause of apparent design over other principles such as instinct, generation, vegetation, and “... a hundred others which lie open to our conjecture” (DNR 7.11; 178); and in Part VIII, he offers an ‘Epicurean’ hypothesis according to which the appearance of design is due to matter itself.1 It is widely agreed that by the end of Part VIII, Philo has convincingly shown that the empirical evidence considerably underdetermines the conclusion Cleanthes purported it to establish. Philo, at any rate, declares a sceptical triumph: “A total suspense of judgement is here our only reasonable resource” (DNR 8.12; 186-7). Philo’s swift argument for divine amorality at the end of Part XI contrasts markedly with this scepticism.2 Here, Philo reasons with great confidence concerning what he takes to be the (only) four hypotheses concerning the morality of the first cause(s) of the universe: divine benevolence, divine malevolence, Manicheeism, and divine amorality. He argues briefly against the first, summarily rejects the second and third, and declares with apparent sincerity that “[t]he true conclusion is, that the original source of all things is entirely indifferent to all these principles, and has no more regard to good above ill than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light above heavy” (DNR 11.15; 212). I first discuss Philo’s argument for divine amorality, and I distinguish it from his earlier criticisms of any inference from mundane data to divine benevolence. In Section 2, I diagnose deficiencies in two contrary interpretations of the argument for divine amorality. In Section 3, I offer three reasons for rejecting the surface meaning of this argument. In Section 4, I reveal Philo’s argument to be a sophisticated parody of both Cleanthes’ natural theology and his appeal to the passional influence of the design hypothesis. Philo, I argue, does not intend to show that the Deity is probably amoral; rather, he intends to show Cleanthes – by literally arguing with him “in his own way” (DNR 2.11; 145) – that the tools of Cleanthes’ ‘experimental theism’ can equally be wielded in service of a wholly incompatible view.