C. S. Lewis Uses Hume

Reading through Hume’s “Of Miracles” in An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, I suddenly realized that C. S. Lewis adopts the same logic in his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Hume’s line goes as follows:

If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

-David Hume,  An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 174.

Those familiar with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe should immediately think of this scene:

“How do you know,” he asked, “that your sister’s story is not true?”

“Ooh, but–” began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see form the old man’s face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, “But Edmund said they had only been pretending.”

“That is a point,” said the Professor, “which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration. For instance–if you will excuse me for asking the question–does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?”

“That’s just the funny thing about it, sir,” said Peter. “Up till now, I’d have said Lucy every time.”

“And what do you think, my dear?” said the Professor turning to Susan.

“Well,” said Susan, “in general, I’d say the same as Peter, but this couldn’t be true–all this about the wood and the Faun.”

“That is more than I know,” said the Professor, “and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a  very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.”

“We were afraid it mightn’t even be lying,” said Susan; “we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.”

“Madness, you mean?” said the Professor quite coolly. “Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.”

“But then,” said Susan, and stopped. She had never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like the Professor and didn’t know what to think.

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

-C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperTrophy, 1978), 47-48.


2 thoughts on “C. S. Lewis Uses Hume

    • While I doubt that Lewis is directly trying to address Hume, I think the reasoning between them is more than just similar. Even if Hume is insincere in his proposal (which I think he is because he already assumes that such a situation will never happen, as you also mentioned), Lewis picks up the proposal and gives a situation where the criteria are met. An individual is reporting an extremely unlikely series of events (entering Narnia) and the basis for believing them is an even more ridiculous proposal (Lucy is lying and Edmund is telling the truth). Thus, Lucy can “command the belief or opinion” of her siblings. Whether or not Hume thinks such an event is plausible is irrelevant to the structure of his argument.

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