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§4. Hume ’s Account of (Nonmoral)Deliberation:The Of .cial View

§4. Hume ’s Account of (Nonmoral)Deliberation:The Of .cial View

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   

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

nor egoistic.

. Third, the process of deliberation (practical reasoning) may correct our

existing passions in at least two ways:

[  ]

    

(a) If we desire to do X in order to Y, we may be brought no

longer to desire to do X when by reasoning we see that X

won’t bring about Y. We may then desire to do Z (something

else) instead. This correction via means-to-ends reasoning

subtracts one desire and adds another to what we may call

the configuration of our passions.

(b) If we desire to run because we are worried by the grizzly

bear we think we’ve just spotted, we may no longer worry

when we later see that it is a black bear. This is correcting

our beliefs about the features of things as causes or objectives

of our passions.

. Fourth, the process of deliberation may affect the system of the passions in other ways that are not merely correcting mistaken beliefs but

are more constructive. There might be some question whether these are

consistent with Hume’s official account (he doesn’t discuss them in II:iii:),

but I would count them so, given what he says later.

(a) Deliberation may render a rather indeterminate desire more

determinate, as when a desire to eat arising from hunger

turns into the more specific desire for a particular dish on

the menu when at the table. Call this specifying the passions.

(b) Deliberation may schedule our activities for the fulfillment

of various passions in such a way that they can all be satisfied

quite effectively over a certain interval of time. Call this


(c) Deliberation may also lead us to see that there are decisions

in which we must decide which of our passions are more

important to us. Perhaps we face a conflict between final

ends and there is no way to schedule them, or to render

them more determinate, so as to avoid the conflict. In this

case we must assign weights, or priorities, to our ends. It

seems that the general appetite (T:, ) to good must have

an important role here. Call this weighting final ends.

On Hume’s official account, then, deliberation can affect our system of

passions in at least five ways. Two consist of corrections to adjust the pas[  ]

   

sions to true (or well-grounded) beliefs; three others are specifying, scheduling, and weighting. We may consider these five ways of affecting the passions to be necessary (I don’t say sufficient) if practical reasoning is to render

our thought and conduct rational. Think of them as ways of achieving rationality, as Hume implicitly characterizes it. There are, I think, certain common features shared by different conceptions of rationality. Seeking to make

the beliefs from which we act true, or well grounded, is one, and scheduling

our activities in pursuit of our aims and assigning weights to those aims

are others.

. Fifth, and last, an important point: the passions specifying the final

ends in deliberation (the outcome of which [our decision] is acted upon)

must, it seems, be passions that we have and may be moved by now, at

the time of the deliberation and before we carry out the action. A basic

idea of Hume’s seems to be that strict reason in conjunction with the calm

passions, such as the general appetite to good, guides and organizes the

configuration of passions that exists and moves us now. He writes as if

the passions are already there, given to, or available to, strict reason during

deliberation. Of course, what we later do (as a consequence of actions decided on) may change the passions; and so our decisions can affect them

at a later time. Except as our desires adjust for corrections of beliefs, the

passions would appear to be more or less constant while we deliberate, even

though they can be coordinated in the last three ways surveyed: by specifying and scheduling them and by assigning them weights. Surely that the

passions are in this sense given or fixed is suggested by saying, “Reason is

and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”

Thus reasons for action must connect, it seems, with one or more of

our existing passions. This is one thing meant by speaking of Hume’s view

as internalist: what count as reasons for someone must link up with that

person’s currently existing motivations, in Hume’s case, with that person’s

currently existing passions.3

Now this implies, for example, that the bare knowledge of our future

passions does not move us now unless that knowledge guides, or connects

with, some passion we have now. Yet on Hume’s view, how can that bare

3. For a discussion of the internalist conception of reasons, see Bernard Williams, “Internal

and External Reasons,” in Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ).

[  ]

    

knowledge move us now? Next I shall discuss this in regard to what he

calls the general appetite to good and aversion to evil, considered merely

as such. Then we must ask whether Hume can account for the influence

of that knowledge without introducing kinds of passions that are not apparently allowed for by his classification and description of them. Doing that

will bring out certain questions about his account which will force us to

go into his view more fully. But that must wait.

[  ]

H 

Rational Deliberation and the Role of Reason

§. Three Questions about Hume’s Official View

. In the last lecture I mentioned that there are certain questions about

Hume’s official view of rational deliberation (as stated in II:iii:) that call

for more discussion. Today I consider three of these in order to get a better

idea of his account.

The first question concerns the kinds of the possible effects of rational

deliberation on the passions. We saw last time that Hume explicitly mentions only two effects, which arise via corrections of belief: first, beliefs

about means to ends, and second, beliefs about the features of objects that

arouse our passions. We added three more effects, which we labeled specifying, scheduling, and assigning weights. As we allow deliberation to affect

the passions in other ways, the changes it may bring about increase. This

leads us to ask what kind of continuity, and how much, Hume’s account

requires between the configuration of passions at the beginning of deliberation and the configuration from which we act as a result of it. How far can

deliberation by itself—that is, without the causal effects of actions taken

on the basis of decisions—transform our passions?

. The second question is about the nature of the passions. Hume views

them as impressions of reflection: he speaks of pride and shame, love and

hate as being qualitatively distinct impressions, just as impressions of different colors are qualitatively distinct. Further, as psychological states, passions

are sometimes experienced as turbulent, or violent, and as possessing a fund

[  ]

      

of psychic energy, which may be gained from or lost to other passions. We

are, it seems, at least minimally aware of passions as experienced (introspectible) impressions of some kind.

Now, does this description apply to the calm passions, the influence of

which Hume says we mistake for the operations of reason? To make this

question specific, I discuss the general appetite to good, and the question

of how on Hume’s view the bare knowledge of our future passions can

move us now. I ask also whether the general appetite to good is what I

call a principle-dependent desire, that is, a desire the content of which is

given by a principle of practical reason. I conclude that it is not: Hume

seems to regard it as a psychic force governed by custom, habit, and imagination, but not by judgments applying one or more principles.

This leads to a third question, which is whether Hume has a conception

of practical reason at all. Indeed, I believe that the Hume of the Treatise lacks

such a conception. It is of course not clear what this means, and it is by no

means easy to say. But I hope to get to this by the end of the class today.

§. Three Further Psychological Principles

. Before taking up the first question concerning the kinds of changes that

deliberation may bring about in our configuration of desires, I note three

psychological principles relevant to deliberation discussed in sections –

and  of II:iii. You will find parts of these sections very tedious, and there

are passages that I feel I don’t understand. Hume’s psychological doctrine

is enormously complicated, and it is hard to assess what it implies. Nevertheless, you really should read these sections since they show Hume seriously engaged in trying to sketch the more obvious psychological principles

of his science of human nature, which of course it is the aim of the Treatise

to do. I say the more obvious principles because Hume recognizes the severe limits of his efforts. He says (T:):

Philosophy can only account for a few of the greater and more sensible

events in this war [that is, the war between the turbulent passions and

the calm passions]; but [philosophy] must leave all the smaller and

[  ]

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§4. Hume ’s Account of (Nonmoral)Deliberation:The Of .cial View

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