Cause and Effect
The violent passions like resentment and anger are the ones that are accompanied with a great deal of internal upheaval. And if we want to avoid that, we have to work on cultivating habits such that the calm passions become dominant in us. So Hume offers this whole theory of the passions, a psychological theory that I do think resonates with contemporary psychology.
This is because he really does think that our emotions are rooted in individual constitutions. Even though we have a shared human nature, you and I have different things that appeal to us, either due to heredity, biology, upbringing, just the way that we are made. Some things are harder for me and are easier for you. And we have to deal with that on an individual basis.
Hume’s Moral Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
And I think that his view implies that some people simply are going to have a hard time dealing with what is called self-regulation in the literature. Hume has a theory that explains emotions, motivation, behavior and well-being that appear to me to be common sense. His theory nicely inter-weaves them in a systematic way to produce a picture of human nature. Search Submit Search. Photo by Stephen Salpukas. Must reason override passion to allow for rational action? How did you choose this topic? What is new here? For example, if you donate money to a charity, then your action is motivated by a virtuous character trait.
Hume argues that some virtuous character traits are instinctive or natural, such as benevolence, and others are acquired or artificial, such as justice. As an agent, your action will have an effect on a receiver. For example, if you as the agent give food to a starving person, then the receiver will experience an immediately agreeable feeling from your act.
Also, the receiver may see the usefulness of your food donation, insofar as eating food will improve his health. When considering the usefulness of your food donation, then, the receiver will receive another agreeable feeling from your act. Finally, I, as a spectator, observe these agreeable feelings that the receiver experiences. I, then, will sympathetically experience agreeable feelings along with the receiver. These sympathetic feelings of pleasure constitute my moral approval of the original act of charity that you, the agent, perform.
By sympathetically experiencing this pleasure, I thereby pronounce your motivating character trait to be a virtue, as opposed to a vice. Suppose, on the other hand, that you as an agent did something to hurt the receiver, such as steal his car. There are, though, some important details that should also be mentioned. For Hume, the natural virtues include benevolence, meekness, charity, and generosity.
By contrast, the artificial virtues include justice, keeping promises, allegiance and chastity. Contrary to what one might expect, Hume classifies the key virtues that are necessary for a well-ordered state as artificial, and he classifies only the more supererogatory virtues as natural. The spectator might simply hear about it, or the spectator might even simply invent an entire scenario and think about the possible effects of hypothetical actions. Third, although the agent, receiver, and spectator have psychologically distinct roles, in some situations a single person may perform more than one of these roles.
For example, if I as an agent donate to charity, as a spectator to my own action I can also sympathize with the effect of my donation on the receiver. Finally, given various combinations of spectators and receivers, Hume concludes that there are four irreducible categories of qualities that exhaustively constitute moral virtue: 1 qualities useful to others, which include benevolence, meekness, charity, justice, fidelity and veracity; 2 qualities useful to oneself, which include industry, perseverance, and patience; 3 qualities immediately agreeable to others, which include wit, eloquence and cleanliness; and 4 qualities immediately agreeable to oneself, which include good humor, self-esteem and pride.
For Hume, most morally significant qualities and actions seem to fall into more than one of these categories. It is this concept and terminology that inspired classic utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham — Hume wrote two influential essays on the subject of aesthetic theory. He particularly stresses the technical artistry involved when an artistic work imitates the original. Specific objects consistently trigger feelings of beauty within us, as our human nature dictates. Just as we can refine our external senses such as our palate, we can also refine our sense of artistic beauty and thus cultivate a delicacy of taste.
In political theory , Hume has both theoretical discussions on the origins of government and more informal essays on popular political controversies of his day. In his theoretical discussions, he attacks two basic notions in eighteenth-century political philosophy: the social contract and the instinctive nature of justice regarding private property.
He concedes that in savage times there may have been an unwritten contract among tribe members for the sake of peace and order. However, he argues, this was no permanent basis of government as social contract theorists pretend. There is nothing to transmit that original contract onwards from generation to generation, and our experience of actual political events shows that governmental authority is founded on conquest, not elections or consent. For Hume, we have no primary instinct to recognize private property, and all conceptions of justice regarding property are founded solely on how useful the convention of property is to us.
We can see how property ownership is tied to usefulness when considering scenarios concerning the availability of necessities. When necessities are in overabundance, I can take what I want any time, and there is no usefulness in my claiming any property as my own.
Further, if we closely inspect human nature, we will never find a primary instinct that inclines us to acknowledge private property. It is nothing like the primary instinct of nest building in birds. While the sense of justice regarding private property is a firmly fixed habit, it is nevertheless its usefulness to society that gives it value.
Two consistent themes emerge in these essays. First, in securing peace, a monarchy with strong authority is probably better than a pure republic. Hume sides with the Tories because of their traditional support of the monarchy. Except in extreme cases, he opposes the Lockean argument offered by Whigs that justifies overthrowing political authorities when those authorities fail to protect the rights of the people.
Hume notes, though, that monarchies and republics each have their strong points. Monarchies encourage the arts, and republics encourage science and trade. Hume also appreciates the mixed form of government within Great Britain, which fosters liberty of the press. Political moderation, he argues, is the best antidote to potentially ruinous party conflict.
In economic theory, Hume wrote influential essays on money, interest, trade, credit, and taxes. Many of these target the mercantile system and its view that a country increases its wealth by increasing the quantity of gold and silver in that country. In Great Britain, mercantile policies were instituted through the Navigation Acts, which prohibited trade between British colonies and foreign countries. These protectionist laws ultimately led to the American Revolution. Suppose, for example, that Great Britain receives an influx of new money.
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This new money will drive up prices of labor and domestic products in Great Britain. Products in foreign countries, then, will be cheaper than in Great Britain; Britain, then, will import these products, thereby sending new money to foreign countries. Hume compares this reshuffling of wealth to the level of fluids in interconnected chambers: if I add fluid to one chamber, then, under the weight of gravity, this will disperse to the others until the level is the same in all chambers.
A similar phenomenon will occur if we lose money in our home country by purchasing imports from foreign countries.
As the quantity of money decreases in our home country, this will drive down the prices of labor and domestic products. Our products, then, will be cheaper than foreign products, and we will gain money through exports. On the fluid analogy, by removing fluid from one chamber, more fluid is drawn in from surrounding chambers.
Although Hume is now remembered mainly as a philosopher, in his own day he had at least as much impact as a historian. His History of England appeared in four installments between and and covers the periods of British history from most ancient times through the seventeenth-century. To his 18th and 19th century readers, he was not just another historian, but a uniquely philosophical historian who had an ability to look into the minds of historical figures and uncover the motives behind their conduct. A political theme underlying the whole History is, once again, a conflict between Tory and Whig ideology.
Tories believed that it was traditionally absolute, with governmental authority being grounded in royal prerogative. Whigs, on the other hand, believed that it was traditionally limited, with the foundation of government resting in the individual liberty of the people, as expressed in the parliamentary voice of the commons. As a historian, Hume felt that he was politically moderate, tending to see both the strengths and weaknesses in opposing viewpoints:.
With regard to politics and the character of princes and great men, I think I am very moderate. My views of things are more conformable to Whig principles; my representations of persons to Tory prejudices.
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Nothing can so much prove that men commonly regard more persons than things, as to find that I am commonly numbered among the Tories [Hume to John Clephane, ]. However, to radical Whig British readers, Hume was a conservative Tory who defended royal prerogative. Hume takes two distinct positions on the prerogative issue. From a theoretical and idealistic perspective, he favored a mixed constitution, mediating between the authority of the monarch and that of the Parliament.
The Witenagemot, for example, was only a council of nobles and bishops, which the king could listen to or ignore as he saw fit. Charles I—a largely virtuous man—tried to follow in her footsteps as a strong monarch. After a few minor lapses in judgment, and a few too many concessions to Catholics, Protestant zealots rose up against him, and he was ultimately executed. To avoid over-characterizing royal prerogative, Hume occasionally condemns arbitrary actions of monarchs and praises efforts for preserving liberty. His philosophical writings were among the most controversial pieces of literature of the time, and would have been impossible to publish if Britain was not a friend to liberty.
Although Hume was certainly no enemy to liberty, he believed that it was best achieved through moderation rather than Whig radicalism. A strong, centralized and moderating force was the best way to avoid factious disruption from the start. The secondary literature on Hume is voluminous. James Fieser Email: jfieser utm.
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