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§3. Outline of Section .of Part III of Book II
above, I shall not critically assess Hume’s arguments here until later; for
the moment we focus on his account of rational deliberation.
(Paragraph One) Hume states the rationalist view as he understands it:
that all rational creatures are obliged to regulate their actions by reason.
And this view he will oppose by holding that:
(a) Reason alone can never be the motive to any action of the
(b) Reason alone can never oppose passion in the direction of
(Paragraph Two) The two functions of reason that Hume recognizes are
stated as follows:
(a) Reason may establish demonstrative truths founded on the abstract relations among our ideas. These we may think of as
the truths of logic and mathematics and the like. (This is a
fair enough rendering for our purposes.)
(b) Reason may also establish, on the basis of experience, the
relations of cause and effect between objects and events.
The point he emphasizes is that the effectiveness of demonstrative reasoning presupposes some desired end or purpose: it inﬂuences our actions only
insofar “as it directs our judgment concerning cause and effects” (T:).
(Paragraph Three) The effectiveness of reasoning showing the relations
of cause and effect likewise presupposes some desired end. We want to
ascertain the means to our ends only because we desire to achieve these
ends. The impulse to reason about means and to adopt them does not “arise
from reason but is only directed by it.” By a psychological principle of transfer, as we may call it, our concern with ends spreads backward to the appropriate means and forward to their consequences. Without concern for ends,
we would be indifferent to means and to the consequences of their use. In
the practical sphere, reasoning from experience is simply the attempt to
discover the causal and other relations between means and the ends we
desire for their own sake, as well as the true qualities and features of those
(Paragraph Four) So far Hume takes himself to have sketched the argument for the ﬁrst point of paragraph , that reason alone can never be a
motive of an action. He now contends that the second point—that reason
alone cannot oppose passions in guiding the will—is the other side of the
ﬁrst. For reason by itself could oppose the passions only if it could generate
an impulse contrary to those passions. But Hume’s ﬁrst point is that there
can be no such impulse. Nothing can oppose a passion except a contrary
passion; and no passion, or impulse, can arise from reason alone. Thus there
is no struggle between reason and the passions. The appearance of such
comes from mistaking the struggle between the violent passions and the
calm passions, such as the general appetite to good, with a struggle between
reason and the passions. Hence Hume’s famous provocative remark: “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend
to any other ofﬁce than to serve and obey them.” A question this remark
raises is: Why “ought” and not “can”? I shall come back to this remark in
the ﬁfth meeting, when we reﬂect on Hume’s view as a whole.
(Paragraph Five) In this paragraph Hume states his knockout argument
to show that the passions cannot be contrary to reason: a passion is simply
an occurrent psychological state, an impression of reﬂection that occurs under
certain conditions, gives rise to certain propensities, and prompts us to action. As such, a passion does not assert anything. Hume says that it has no
representative quality since it is not a “copy of any other existence.” The
passions assert nothing, and so they cannot contradict a truth established by
demonstrative reasoning or experience.
(Paragraph Six) In this paragraph Hume maintains, however, that a passion can be considered contrary to reason and unreasonable (his term) when
it is directed in its speciﬁc present course by incorrect judgments. This can
happen in two ways:
(a) Our passion is founded on a false belief, as when we are, for
example, afraid of something that is not in fact dangerous or
(b) Our choice of means to our end is mistaken, as when the
means we adopt are insufﬁcient and won’t have the results
we expect them to have.
It is in this paragraph that Hume makes another of his famous provocative remarks (to give only part of it): “ ’Tis not contrary to reason to prefer
the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my ﬁnger. ’Tis not
contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me. ’Tis as little contrary
to reason to prefer even my own acknowledg’d lesser good to my greater,
and have a more ardent affection for the former than the latter” (T:).
(Paragraph Eight) This important paragraph contains Hume’s explanation of the rationalists’ philosophical error: namely, they confuse the pervasive and strong inﬂuence of the calm passions with the operations of reason.
Recall that passions can be both strong and calm. The rationalists are misled
by the absence of turbulence or violence in the way these passions work
(T:, , ). Hume assigns a fundamental role to the calm passions, at
least when they are strong, as they sometimes are. Their inﬂuence is shown
in how they regulate and control our deliberation and conduct.
Comment: In section (T:), where Hume emphasizes the same point,
he says that we commonly understand by “passion” a sensible and violent
emotion when any good or evil is presented to us that is ﬁt to excite an
appetite; and by “reason” we commonly understand an affection of the very
same kind that operates more calmly and occasions no disorder. So the
mistake of the rationalists has its foothold in commonsense thought. Sometimes, as ﬁts the context, I refer to reason as Hume deﬁnes it as strict reason,
whereas the commonsense idea of reason as the steady inﬂuence of the
calm passions I refer to as calm reason (as suggested by T:, ), but this
is not Hume’s term. Next time I want to ask whether the description of this
so-called calm reason (the steady inﬂuence of the calm passions as Hume
describes it) is compatible with his ofﬁcial view of rational deliberation.
(Paragraph Ten) In the concluding and very important paragraph,
Hume asserts that people are guided sometimes by their calm and sometimes by their violent passions. We often act against our interests, as speciﬁed (it seems) by our general appetite to good or by the balance of all our
passions together. Yet we often do manage to counteract the violent passions in pursuing our more important and permanent interests and designs;
so the present promptings of the violent passions (as felt impressions of
reﬂection) are not by any means always decisive. Whether we are moved
by them depends upon what Hume calls our general character and present
disposition. By this he means, I believe, the present conﬁguration of our
passions (of all kinds with their strength and turbulence) that constitutes
Note that Hume deﬁnes strength of mind as, let’s say, a more or less
pervasive (permanent) present disposition in which the calm passions are
usually effective in controlling our deliberations and inﬂuencing our conduct. Strength of mind enables someone to pursue long-run and larger aims
in an effective manner. In doing this, the calm passions are strong as
opposed to weak. Later (T:f.) Hume adds that while the violent passions
have a more powerful inﬂuence, often the calm ones “when corroborated
by reﬂection, and seconded by resolution, are able to control them in
their most furious moments” (T:–). This is an important remark. But
how can the calm passions do this on Hume’s account? I return to this next
§. Hume’s Account of (Nonmoral) Deliberation: The Ofﬁcial View
. I now sum up the ground covered so far with an account of what I
shall refer to as Hume’s ofﬁcial view of (nonmoral) practical reasoning, or
deliberation. (By nonmoral I mean that questions of duty and obligation
and the like are not expressly involved; Hume does not discuss these matters
until Book III, so I put them aside). My account takes Hume at his word
in II:iii: (hence the term “ofﬁcial”) and sets out his view in a straightforward
way. Next time we see that Hume’s view, once we include what he says
in later sections of II:iii, is rather more complicated and raises a number
of questions. Today I conclude with the ofﬁcial view of II:iii: which often
passes as his doctrine: the so-called Humean view. The main points seem
to be the following.
First, in deliberation every chain of reasons in means-to-ends reasoning
is ﬁnite and has as its stopping point a ﬁnal (or ultimate) end, which is an
objective or aim of one or more of the passions as Hume speciﬁes them.
I suppose that a reason in such a chain of reasons is a statement (and so true
or false) saying that (doing) something is an (effective) means to something
(i) Finiteness means that the chain of “in order to” clauses (“I
do X in order to Y”) is ﬁnite and usually has a small number
He says, “Ask a man why he uses exercise; he will answer, because he desires
to keep his health. If you then enquire, why he desires health, he will readily
reply, because sickness is painful. If you push your enquiries further, and
desire a reason why he hates pain, it is impossible he can ever give any. This
is an ultimate end [my italics] and is never referred to any other object”
(Enquiry, Appendix I, ).
(ii) As the quotation shows, the stopping point must be an objective or aim of one or more of the passions. This means that
if “I do W in order to have Z” (or to possess, secure, establish
Z, and so on for many variations) is the last link in the chain
of reasons, then the having of Z is an objective or aim of
one or more of my passions (original, direct, or indirect).
I think that for Hume, all kinds of passions may specify ultimate, or
ﬁnal, ends; for example, benevolence and kindness to children, pride and
shame, our general appetite to good as well as our sense of beauty, and
much else, can all specify such ends.
. Second, we see that there are many possible different stopping points
given by the passions. The aims of the passions are many, and there is no
single end, not even that of aiming at pleasure and avoiding pain.
Hume’s view is not, I believe, hedonistic; nor is it egoistic (see Enquiry,
Appendix II, –, on self-love, where he essentially accepts Bishop Butler’s criticism of the doctrine of self-love in Sermons, XI and XII ).
He doesn’t suppose that all our passions are concerned with self-centered
objectives. Benevolence and kindness to children are examples. Of course,
pleasures and pains have an important psychological role: ﬁrst, pleasures
may enter into the causes (or the generation) of passions, and second,
achieving the aims of passions generally gives pleasure, since fulﬁlling any
passion does so; but that pleasure is not the aim, not the objective, of the
passion. We must distinguish three roles of pleasures and pains: (i) as causes
of passions, (ii) as resulting from fulﬁlling passions, and (iii) as the aims and
objectives of passions. In saying that Hume’s view is neither hedonistic nor
egoistic, I mean the aims and objectives of passions are neither hedonistic
. Third, the process of deliberation (practical reasoning) may correct our
existing passions in at least two ways: