Hume: Morality Is Based on Sentiment

Topics: Morality, Human, Philosophy Pages: 5 (1790 words) Published: March 31, 2013
Hume: Morality is Based on Sentiment
This paper will attempt to give a detailed breakdown of David Hume's take on morality, and how some of the other philosophers would critique his stance. I will first speak about why Hume believes reason and passion don't contradict each other. Then I will give Aristotle’s and Aquinas' view on this conclusion of his. Next, I will speak on how Hume argues that moral judgments aren't grounded in reason. Afterwards, I will discuss what he considers that moral judgments are founded on. Finally, I will give a critique of Hume's theory from Hobbes' perspective. Hume's take on human morality is a very interesting one indeed to contemplate. His main argument on the topic is that the morality of humans is totally derived from sentiment, and in no way has anything to do with reason. He first defines sentiment and reason. He says that the former refers to passions such as emotions, feelings, appetites and desires. Then he also goes on to categorize the passions as being either calm or violent. And according to him, it is our passions that lead us to action. He also states that passions can neither be true nor false, they're "original existences" (Hume 42 column 2 paragraph 3). Then he defines reason as, what we can say, are ruminations of the mind, which includes beliefs, thoughts, conclusions of arguments, etc, and declares that these can be true or false. It is with these definitions in mind that Hume goes on to make the statement that passion and reason cannot oppose each other. Because passions are original existences, they are neither reasonable nor unreasonable though they are the dominators of our actions. Reason, however, can be put to true/false evaluations and are actually derived from our passions. Reason cannot contradict passion because this would be an internal disagreement of ideas, which are considered as copies of the object which they represent, i.e. the particular passion. He states though that a passion can be called unreasonable if it is founded upon a false supposition or chooses insufficient means for the required end (Hume 43 column 2 paragraph 2), but when one perceives that the supposition is false or the means are insufficient, then the passion yields to reason without any opposition whatsoever (Hume 43 column 2 paragraph 2). This is because willing an action follows upon the supposition that the action brings about a proposed effect, but as soon as it's found that this supposition is not true there is no more desire to will that action. He also says that reason can have an indirect impact on passion. For example, when one considers jealousy, it can be seen that it’s a passion that’s based in human belief. Aristotle’s view is based on a system of virtues of which, if they’re done well, would cause one to lead a happy life. He also states that there are actually two categories of virtues: those that are intellectual and those which are moral. Intellectual virtues refer to those characteristics that lead one to think or reason well, and demands experience and time. Moral virtues, on the other hand, are those characteristics that perfect our character and are acquired through habit (Aristotle 54 column 1 paragraph 4). These habits are the basis of actions, thus determining what one does in particular situations. Taking a look at how Hume’s actions derived from sentiment can be compared with Aristotle’s moral virtues that come through habit, the parallels in the theories can be immediately seen. The same can be said about Aristotle’s intellectual virtues bettering one’s thinking when compared with Hume’s reason being composed of ideas, beliefs and the like. Hume’s definitions of sentiment and reason can be seen as analogous to Aristotle’s virtues. Seeing that these two classes of virtues too function in wholly different ways to Aristotle, being that they target different aspects of the human, he would agree with Hume’s view that passion cannot oppose reason....

Cited: Aristotle. “Nicomachean Ethics” John Arthur and Steven Scalet. Morality and Moral
Controversies: Readings in Moral, Social and Political Philosophy.
Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan: Morality as Rational Advantage.” John Arthur and Steven Scalet.
Morality and Moral Controversies: Readings in Moral, Social and Political Philosophy.
Hume, David. “Morality is Based on Sentiment.” John Arthur and Steven Scalet. Morality and
Moral Controversies: Readings in Moral, Social and Political Philosophy.
McInerny, Ralph. “Ethics.” The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas. pages 200-206.
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