Hume’s Case for Dialogue

I’m a big fan of dialogue. Much of my favourite literature is written either as plays meant for the stage or as discussions meant for philosophical reflection—or both. (A great, modern example of a combination of the two is Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.) And the Talmudic tradition—a dialogue spanning many generations—is what I like the most about Judaism. But why is dialouge so effectful in some philospical reasoning? Well, in the opening chapter of David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, I found this possible answer:

There are some subjects, however, to which dialogue-writing is peculiarly adapted, and where it is still preferable to the direct and simple method of composition.

Any point of doctrine, which is so obvious that it scarcely admits of dispute, but at the same time so important that it cannot be too often inculcated, seems to require some such method of handling it; where the novelty of the manner may compensate the triteness of the subject; where the vivacity of conversation may enforce the precept; and where the variety of lights, presented by various personages and characters, may appear neither tedious nor redundant.

Any question of philosophy, on the other hand, which is so obscure and uncertain, that human reason can reach no fixed determination with regard to it; if it should be treated at all, seems to lead us naturally into the style of dialogue and conversation. Reasonable men may be allowed to differ, where no one can reasonably be positive. Opposite sentiments, even without any decision, afford an agreeable amusement; and if the subject be curious and interesting, the book carries us, in a manner, into company; and unites the two greatest and purest pleasures of human life, study and society.