The Scottish Philosopher David Hume (1711-1776):. An Introduction into the ethical theory of David Hume. If you want truth look to science or mathematics; ethics is ultimately based on our feelings; Natural moral sentiments is where moral decision-making is grounded.
An Introduction into the ethical theory of David Hume.
If you want truth look to science or mathematics; ethics is ultimately based on our feelings; Natural moral sentiments is where moral decision-making is grounded.
“Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.”
~ A Treatise on Human Reason, edited by L.A. Selby-Rigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 416.
“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office to serve and obey them.”
~ A Treatise on Human Reason, edited by L.A. Selby-Rigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 416.
“Take any action allowed to be vicious: willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all its lights and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice…. You never can find it, till you turn your affection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but it is the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in your self, not in the object. So that which you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it.”
~ A Treatise of Human Nature, Everyman’s Library (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1956) 2:177.
“When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume-of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance-let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry [literalism] and illusion.”
~ Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 12.3.173.
(1) Reason alone cannot be a motive to the will, but rather is the “slave of the passions” In other words, reason alone cannot motivate to action; the impulse to act itself must come from moral sentiments.
(2) Morals are not derived from reason; they are derived from the experience of people.
(3) Morals are generated from moral sentiments: feelings of approbation (approval, esteem, praise) & disapprobation (disapproval,, blame) felt by spectators who consider a character trait or action;
(4) While some virtues and vices are natural, others, including justice, are artificial.
(5) The human psychological makeup of man is similar. Therefore, moral judgments will tend to be similar.
(6) Since morals will tend to be similar, moralities may be conceived in terms of “social utility”
(7) Hume’s ethics comes out of the worldview of empiricism: only matters of fact are those discernible by the senses.
(8) Moral facts do not exist; rules of morality are not derived from reason.
(9) Vice and virtue are perceptions in the mind and that is all that is needed to regulate moral behavior.
(10) Moral distinctions are constituted by their pleasantness and usefulness (he did not synthesize how the relate to each other).
1. Primacy of feelings over reason as a guide to ethics;
2. Hum was profoundly influenced by Newtonian scientific revolution;
3. Empirical science nor science can offer us ethical truths; only genuine knowledge comes from pure mathematics or empirical science. It is not because reason is flawed, but because basic ethical preferences are generated from feelings passions;
4. Factual knowledge arises exclusively from the data supplied by the senses and is extended in usefulness by means of inferences based on a belief in cause-and-effect relations.
5. Feelings cannot provide an objective foundation for ethics; In fact, feelings are not subject to reason.
6. Hume attacks the idea of a necessary “metaphysical” connection between cause and effect.
7. The basis of moral assertion is sourced in feelings of approval (pleasure) or disapproval (pain or uneasiness).
8. Hume is a compatibilist regarding free-will and Newtonian determinism (he is a strict empiricist).
9. Hume agrees with the moral sense theorists such as Shaftesbury and Hutcheson (moral sense) and Butler (conscience) that all requirements to pursue goodness and avoid evil as consequent upon human nature, which is so structured that a particular feature of our consciousness (whether moral sense or conscience) evaluates the rest.
10.Because we are the kinds of creatures we are, with the dispositions for pain and pleasure, the kinds of familial and friendly interdependence that make up our life together, and our approvals and disapprovals of these, Hume believes we can escape radical relativism, generate natural and artificial virtues are socially agreeable.
11. This view of moral grounding in “moral sense”, “emotions,” or “passional nature” is contrary to rationalists like Locke, Hobbes, and Clarke, who believed that good and evil were discovered by reason.
12. Locke, Hobbes, and Clarke believed, in some moods, that moral standards or requirements are requirements of reason.
13. Hume takes an intermediate view regarding whether morality is conventional (Hobbes) or natural (Locke). Hume thinks natural impulses of humanity and dispositions to approve cannot entirely account for our virtue of justice; a correct analysis of that requires the thesis that mankind, an “inventive species,” has cooperatively constructed rules of property and promise.
14. Hume disagrees with Hobbes regarding the following:
a. Necessary psychological Egoism;
b. Necessary violent view of a state of nature whereby without an organized state “all is in a war against all”
15. Hume disagrees with Locke (and Rawls) about the idea of humanity being involved in a highly cooperative domain of law- governing citizens for the following reasons:
a It is a hypothetical condition in which we would care for our friends and cooperate with them;
b. Self-interest and preference for friends over strangers would make any wider cooperation impossible.
One of the central themes of Hume’s political philosophy is that we are both fundamentally loving and selfish.
16. Turning from reason to sentiment Hume believes that has avoided radical relativism or mere subjectivism.
a. Since people have the same psychological makeup, their moral responses will be similar.
b. If provided the same data, people will tend to respond similarly. That does mean that all people will agree about the moral worth of an action.
c. Ethical disagreements generally stem not from differences in our “passional” nature or feelings but from (a) misunderstandings regarding circumstantial evidence or from (b) incomplete analyses.
17. Study of individual assessments reveal that “socially useful acts are approved while those which are socially detrimental are disapproved.
18. Since we judge acts generally by their conformity to social utility (rather than by immediate, personal preferences), impartiality will tend to prevail in moral judgments.
18. Conjoined events do not prove they are causally connected any more than there is a causal connection between the “rooster crowing” and the “sun rising.” All one can do is extrapolate based on oft-repeated occurrences. He does not deny the principle of causality; he denies the basis on which some people try to prove causality.
19. All objections of human inquiry are relations of ideas (mathematics; definitions) or matters of fact (everything known through one or more of the senses).
20. Laws of nature are habits formed in our minds on what has occurred in the past and the expectation of similar experiences will occur in the future.
1. Non-propositional View: a moral evaluation does not express any proposition or state any fact. Either it gives vent to a feeling, or it is itself a feeling. (A more refined form of this interpretation allows that moral evaluations have some propositional content, but claims that for Hume their essential feature, as evaluations, is non-propositional).
2. Description of the Feelings of the Spectator: Hume is describing the feelings of the spectator, or the feelings a spectator would have were she to contemplate the trait or action from the common point of view.
3. Dispositional interpretation: Evaluated trait or action is so constituted as to cause feelings of approval or disapproval in a (suitably characterized) spectator. On the dispositional view, in saying some trait is good we attribute to the trait the dispositional property of being such as to elicit approval.
1. Moral sentiments are emotions which possess unique phenomenological quality, and special set of causes.
2. Moral Sentiments are caused by contemplating the person or action.
3. Moral sentiments tend to be clarified or brought into focus by social utility which is a common moral sentiments or similar responses (collectively).
Moral sentiments are the sort of pleasure & uneasiness which are associated with 4 passions:
Some argue that pleasure and pain cause these 4 passions others believe these 4 passions make up the pleasure or pain.
Thus, when we feel moral approval we tend to love or esteem, and when we approve a trait of our own we are proud of it.
Because we share a similar psychological makeup, thus share common moral sentiments, we are able to generate or invent artificial virtues because we find them to be pleasant and not painful (e.g.,):
1. Justice with respect to property,
2. Allegiance to government,
3. The laws of nations,
4. Modesty, and
5. Good manners), which (Hume argues) are inventions contrived solely for the interest of society.
1. Similarity: Hume and Kant recognized the difference between pure reason (understanding) from practical reason (work of the will). In other words, they both recognized an important difference between judgments of facts and judgments of value.
2. Difference: Kant was a rationalist in his conception of morals; Hume was an empiricist. A rationalist derives principles of morality from metaphysical assumptions. Stated differently, Kant grounds his morality in rationalism and Hume on natural moral sentiments.
3. Difference: According to Kant, no matter how unpleasant the command makes you feel, you are obligated to fulfill it.
Jeremy Bentham argued that the standard of goodness in the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of persons is intrinsically valuable.
1 While Hume and Bentham agree that happiness is good, Hume does not admit that it is the only thing that is good. Human beings are complex organisms, and their total welfare includes more than the satisfaction of the one need for happiness.
2. Mill recognizes the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual pleasures are of greater value than mere physical pleasure. While Hume will agree that we are complex humans, he would reject Mill’s finite godism and would reject his utilitarianism because he grounds morality not in utility but in moral sentiments which all humans share.
1. The purposes of justice can be realized only by adapting the methods that are used to the particular situation that is involved.
a. Justice is a relative virtue in contrast to a deontological version of justice, one that is not influenced by the situational setting.
b. He believes our human understanding of justice does vary from one time to another and that the application of the principles of justice will vary with the circumstances under which they are applied.
c. Hume implies that there is an unchanging element in justice: The purpose is always that of meeting the needs of society.
“As justice evidently tends to promote public utility and to support civil society, the sentiment of justice is either derived from our reflecting on that tendency, or like hunger, thirst, and other appetites, resentment, love of life, attachment to offspring, and other passions, arises from a simple original instinct in the human breast, which nature has implanted for like salutary purposes.”
~ An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, (Chicago: Open Court, 1966), 35.
a. Justice is expressed in laws and customs which are generated when the need arises for them.
b. The nature of justice varies in view of situational setting (illust. Sexual morality may vary depending upon setting).
A. Avoid giving special privileges to some but not others;
B. Take into account the long-range interests of others rather than immediate satisfactions; personal and immediate needs may need to be sacrificed in order to achieve the well-being of society.
C. Seek to meet the needs of society as a whole.
“About Hume's ethics: we have a moral sentiment or feeling of approval or disapproval (approbation or disapprobation) about actions that we find pleasing or agreeable. We find actions agreeable (and thus approve of them) not because of the utility of such actions but because we ‘naturally’ have an inclination to approve of what we are attracted to. In thinking about the pleasures or pains of other people, we (along with all other normal human beings) are attracted to what arouses in us natural sentiments of humanity and benevolence. Such sentiments are not derived from self-love but from a sense of identifying with other human beings. That sense of fellow-feeling, not the perception of the utility of actions, is the basis on which we feel moral obligation. Of course, promoting social utility is in our own self-interest, but acting for the sake of promoting our own self-interest is not a good enough reason for acting in a moral way” ~ Dr. Steve Daniel
1. Some will appreciate the fact that it removes “metaphysical mysteries” from realm of ethics because it grounds morality in moral sentiments which all humans share.
2. Pleasure and pain are important considerations in ethical judgments.
3. It attempts to balance both selfishness and altruism.
4. It seems to avoid pure egoism, utilitarianism, and radical relativism.
1. Hume reduces ethics to a matter of taste (e.g., A.J. Ayer & C.L. Stevenson), relativism, and subjectivism.
a. Common Nature
b. Same Data;
= Similar response.
Ethical differences stem not from differences in our “feelings or “passional” nature but from misunderstandings about the actual circumstances surrounding a given act or from incomplete analyses of the consequences accruing from the act.
2. Those who embrace “objectivist feelings” will reject Hume’s account of subjectivist feelings. Some believe feelings can be a source of objective truths of ethics. Consider Blaise Pascal’s famous statement:
“The heart has its reasons that the reason know not”
For those who embrace objective feelings they would argue that while feelings may not be an infallible guide to ethics, feelings are not distractions on the path to ethical truth. Rather, feelings can be a source of ethical insight.
Do you agree? Can ethical feelings be objectively true or are they more like tastes?
3. Moral sentiments cannot provide an adequate basis for moral obligations (e.g., justice).
Hume’s response: It is obligatory, for example, to be just…but the reason we adopt the concept of justice and guide our actions in conformity to it is because it comes from the moral sentiments we all share.
Response: Still justice is not absolute, fixed upon absolutes; it is sourced in moral sentiments that can change (justice becomes somewhat relative even if it is not radical relativism).
4. Borrowing the notion of social utility to find a way to maintain social order is using reason. Social utility is powerful enough to incite action to actually do the good.
5. Hume’s skepticism is self-defeating because he did not suspend moral judgments regarding God, miracles, and metaphysics.
6. Metaphysical problem: According to Hume, meaningful propositions are empirical. But this is self-defeating, for the statement that “only analytic or empirical propositions are meaningful” is not itself an analytic statement. If one allows that such statements are meaningful, then why cannot metaphysical statements be meaningful? Stated differently, to say there is no metaphysics is itself a metaphysical statement, namely that you know that metaphysics doesn’t exist.
7. Causality can be experienced internally. I am the cause of this sentence I am typing, and I experience that fact. Everyone experiences their own thoughts and actions.
8. Fundamentally it fails to explain what is wrong with a wrong action because it is solely based on human experience. Reason only reveals matters of fact.
a. Good in the moral sense of the term is reduced to feelings or moral sentiments.
b. Evil in the moral sense of the term is reduced to feelings or moral sentiments.
1. Hume’s response is that there is no other way to judge morality. Moreover, we are naturally constituted in such a way that there is present in us a “sense of humanity” which always approves of that which promotes human welfare and is useful in society because we all share it.
9. Hume is subject to the postmodern critique that are our “emotions” are not a product of “moral sentiments”. Rather, we are morally scripted by our sub-culture. How does Hume know that our moral sentiments are natural and not socially inscribed values?
10. Doesn’t the idea that we all share a “similar constitution of moral sentiments” beg the question that we are “designed” by God (e.g., Thomas Reid)?