On Polytheism

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

[In the notebook, in the Bodleian Library, containing the Essay on Christianity is a note which reads, "Essay in Favor of Polytheism." The fragment here is in the notebook containing the Essay on the Devil and Devils and is also in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The piece was first published in the Julian Editions, where it is pointed out that it bears some relation to the fragment on Marriage. The fragment is a reflection of the influence of Hume.]

There is a disposition in the human mind to seek the cause of whatever it contemplates. What cause is, no philosopher has succeeded in explaining, and the triumph of the acutest metaphysician has been confined to demonstrating it to be inexplicable. All we know of cause is that one event, or to speak more correctly, one sensation follows another attended with a conviction derived from experience that these sensations will hereafter be similarly connected. This habitual conviction is that to which we appeal when we say that one thing is the cause of another, or has the power of producing certain effects.

The surrounding agencies of the vital and mechanical world which first presented themselves to the notice of men excited their curiosity—that is, impelled them to assign a cause of their original existence and action.

SOURCE: Shelley, Percy Bysshe. "On Polytheism" (1819?), in: Shelley's Prose, edited by David Lee Clark (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1954), p. 337.

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