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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.

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The Scottish Philosopher David Hume (1711-1776):


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    1. 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.

    2. Consider the following quote… “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.

    3. Consider the following quote… “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.

    4. Consider the following quote: “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.

    5. Consider the following quote… “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.

    6. I. Major Tenets: (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;

    7. I. Major Tenets: (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”

    8. I. Major Tenets: (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).

    9. Overview of Enquiry: An Enquiry Concerning the Principle of Morals (1751) is broken down into 9 Units of thought: 1. Of the Great Principle of Morals 2. Of Benevolence 3. Of Justice 4. Of Political Society 5. Why Utility Pleases 6. Of Qualities Useful to Ourselves 7. Of Qualities Immediately Agreeable to Ourselves 8. Of Qualities Immediately Agreeable to Others 9. Conclusion

    10. What is the aim of book? Thesis Statement: Moral sense makes the ultimate distinction between vice & virtue; both moral sense and reason play a role in the formation of moral judgments. The basis of virtue lies in its utility (usefulness), fulfilling two requirements for moral sentiments: (1) It is useful to ourselves (agreeable) or (2) to others. Therefore, the purpose of this book is the contributions moral sense and reason make in our moral judgments.

    11. What is the aim of book? Complimentary Statement: Reason is important because we make moral judgments about what is useful to us or to others; it plays the role of an advisor, not decision-maker. In other words, reason does not motivate us to action. Rather, the capacity of sympathy (moral sentiments), which is rooted in our human constitution, motivate us to act or ignore those judgments.

    12. Central Points to Hume’s Ethics: Hume’s list of virtues are: • Qualities useful (pleasurable) to others: benevolence, justice, fidelity. • Qualities useful to their possessor: discretion, industry, frugality, strength of mind, good sense. • Qualities agreeable (immediately pleasurable) to their possessor: cheerfulness, magnanimity, courage, tranquility. • Qualities agreeable to others: politeness, modesty, decency.

    13. Hume’s Distinction between artificial & natural virtues: Artificial virtues depend on social structures and include the following: a. Justice and fidelity to promises; b. Allegiance; c. Chastity and modesty; d. Duties of sovereign states to keep treaties, to respect boundaries, to protect ambassadors, and to otherwise subject themselves to the law of nations. Artificial virtues may vary from society to society.

    14. Hume’s Distinction between artificial & natural virtues: Natural virtues, originate in human nature, thus tend to be more universal: Compassion Prudence Temperance Generosity Gratitude Friendship Fidelity Charity Beneficence Clemency Cleanliness Decorum Temperance Frugality Pride Modesty Good Sense Wit Humor Articulateness Perseverance Patience Good nature Sensitivity to poetry Self-assertiveness Elusive quality that makes a person lovely or valuable Involuntary virtues (e.g., good sense) voluntary virtues (e.g., ambition)

    15. Related to purpose are three questions (chapter 1): • (1) Is morality derived from reason or sentiment? • (2) What is the process whereby we obtain knowledge of moral judgments: chain of arguments and induction or by some internal sense? • (3) Are moral judgments the same for every rational intelligent person? In his pursuit for the origins of morality he presupposes an anti-supernatural claim, thus dismissing any theological metaphysical perspectives of this matter and advances a utilitarian model.

    16. Chapters 2-5: In chapters 2-5 Hume surveys three kinds of conduct that are virtuous; they are virtuous because they are useful: Benevolence; Justice; Political Society.

    17. Chapter 2: On Benevolence: • “On benevolence,” “nothing can bestow more merit on any human creature than the sentiment of benevolence in an eminent degree; and that a part, at least, of its merit arises from its tendency to promote the interests of our species, and bestow happiness on human society” (2.2.14).

    18. Chapter 3: On Justice: • “On Justice”, Hume writes, “public utility is the sole origin of justice, and that reflections on the beneficial consequence of this virtue are the sole foundation of its merit” (3.1.15). This particular virtue is the considerable source of merit ascribed to “humanity, benevolence, friendship, public spirit, and other social virtues of that stamp [justice]” (3.2. 38).

    19. Chapter 4: Of Political Society: • “Of Political Society,” the fundamental value of the duty of allegiance is the “advantage, which it procures to so society, by preserving peace and order among mankind” (4. 39). He concludes that “common interest and utility begets infallibly a standard of right and wrong among the parties concerned” (4. 45).

    20. Chapters 5-7 • Chapter 5: Why utility pleases is because we are social beings. • Chapter 6: Qualities that are USEFUL to us INDIVIDUALLY include happiness, joy, triumph, prosperity, honesty, fidelity, truth, temperance, patience, perseverance, sobriety, and physical fitness. • In chapter 7 what is immediately AGREEABLE to OURSELVES include pleasure accompanied with temperance and decency; greatness of mind, character, philosophical tranquility or magnanimous predisposition, benevolence, and bravery.

    21. Chapter 8: Of Qualities Immediately Agreeable to Others: • What is immediately agreeable to others: wit, politeness, modesty, decency, or any agreeable quality which one possesses which we characterizes as good manners and character. • How one determines those qualities is whether they have a beneficial, useful, extensive, and positive influence; not only will they harmonize with the moral sensibilities of others and ourselves, but will produce pleasure personally and socially. • To be sure, no quality is absolutely either blamable or praiseworthy; it is all according to its degree and coherence (6.1. 68). But for those that produce public affection, they must be pursued (e.g., self-love vs. community-centered) (5.1. 48-49).

    22. Chapter 9: Conclusion: • Reason does not cause our actions. • Our actions are caused by a combination of utility and sentiment whereby reason is embedded in the passions, desires, habits, and sentiments of mind. In other words, morality cannot be separated from psychology. • There is no such thing as good and evil outside of human sentiments. • What promotes happiness among our fellow humans “is good” and what tends to their misery “is evil”; we do not need to go any further in our reflection or deliberation on these matters. • What is virtuous is useful.

    23. Chapter 9: Conclusion: • Hume writes: “What more, therefore, can we ask to distinguish these sentiments, dependent on humanity, from those connected with any other passion , or to satisfy us, why the former are the origin of morals, not the latter? Whatever conduct gains my approbation, by touching my humanity, procures also the applause of all mankind, by affecting the same principle in them; but what serves my avarice or ambition pleases these passions in me alone, and affects not the avarice and ambition of the rest of mankind. There is no circumstance of conduct in any man, provided it has a beneficial tendency that is not agreeable to my humanity…” (9.1.112-13).

    24. Central Ideas: 1. Moral sentiment is where moral decision-making is grounded. 2. Sympathy is the capacity to be moved or affected by the happiness & suffering of others-to be pleased when others prosper and distressed when others suffer. 3. The inclination for this capacity is experienced to be a principle of human nature (V.17).

    25. Central Ideas: 4. Sympathy is not a virtue but the source of moral approval. 5. When we ascribe moral praise or blame, the praise or blame derives from an attitude of sympathy. 6. Sympathy, if not universal, is a feature for any normal human being. 7. Hume attempts to describe and explain how we do in fact make moral judgments; he does not tell us how we ought to make them. In other words, he is concerned with judgments about personal qualities rather than judgments about actions.

    26. 8. Three Stages of Judgments: First Stage: Sympathy induces us to take into account the happiness and suffering others and ourselves. Second Stage: General standards correct the operation of sympathy so that we attach the same moral importance to the happiness or suffering of anyone, ourselves, or others, close to us or remote to us. Third stage: In some cases we need to take into account not merely the utility or particular acts, but the usefulness to society of a whole system of general rules and conventions.

    27. 8. Three Stages of Judgments: • Each of these three is a move from a limited to a more generalized standpoint. • Together they challenge the Platonic-Aristotelian view that one’s moral assessments are necessarily made from the standpoint of a concern for one’s own well-being.

    28. 9. Significant Quotes on Sympathy: “When a man dominates another his enemy, his rival, his antagonist, his adversary, he is understood to speak the language of self-love, and to express sentiments peculiar to himself and arising form his particular circumstances and situation. But when he bestows on any man the epithets of vicious or odious or depraved, he then speaks another language, and expresses sentiments in which he expects all his audience are to concur with him. He must therefore, depart, from his private and particular situation and must choose a point of view common to him with others; he must move some universal principle of the human frame (IX.6).”

    29. 9. Significant Quotes on Sympathy: “This universal principle is the sentiment of humanity or sympathy. And though this affection of humanity may not generally be esteemed so strong as vanity or ambition, yet, being common to all men, it can alone be the formulation of morals or of any general system of blame or praise (Ibid).”

    30. 10. A Similarity: Hume agrees with Plato and Aristotle on the following: A. Moral judgments are primarily about virtues and vices. We praise people insofar as they exhibit virtues and blame then insofar as they exhibit vices. Only secondarily are our moral judgments concerned with specific actions. We praise or blame others because they reveal morally admirable qualities in the agent. B. Virtues would not be virtues unless possession of them were in some sense an advantage. In fact, Hume, an action is only virtuous if it proceeds from a virtuous motive. So if an action lacks a virtuous motive, that action is not virtuous even if it is the same type of action as a genuinely virtuous action.

    31. An Additional Look at David Hume

    32. II. Overview of Significant Points: 1. Primacy of feelings over reason as a guide to ethics; 2. Hume 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.

    33. II. Overview: 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).

    34. II. Overview: 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.

    35. II. Overview: • Natural and Artificial Virtues: • Artificial virtues are dependent upon social structures (justice*; fidelity to promises, chastity, modesty, duties to sovereign states); • Natural virtues originate in nature and are more universal (compassion, generosity, gratitude, friendship, fidelity, charity, benevolence, clemency, equity, prudence, etc).

    36. On Justice* • On Justice* • It is natural for justice to arise, but we will come together and establish conventions of justice.

    37. II. Overview: 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.

    38. II. Overview: 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.

    39. II. Overview: 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”

    40. II. Overview: 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.

    41. II. Overview: 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.

    42. II. Overview: 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.

    43. II. Overview: 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).

    44. II. Overview: 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.

    45. The Nature of Moral Judgment:3 Textual Interpretations: 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).

    46. The Nature of Moral Judgment:3 Textual Interpretations: 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.

    47. The Nature of Moral Judgment:3 Textual Interpretations: 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.

    48. IV. Moral Sentiments: 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).

    49. IV. Moral Sentiments: Moral sentiments are the sort of pleasure & uneasiness which are associated with 4 passions: 1. Pride; 2. humility; 3. Love; 4. Hatred. 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.

    50. IV. Moral Sentiments: 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.