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§7. The Two Stages of Development
tion is sure and reliable. In a small society, before it becomes a tribe or a
nation, the natural obligation sufﬁces to support the rules of justice.
. In a large society, however, our natural obligation often fails to move
us; we may be tempted to cheat when we can get away with it, and we
may lose sight of our interest in upholding existing conventions. But even
so, we never fail to note the injury to ourselves done by the injustice of
others; and no matter how distant from us these persons are, their injustice
still displeases us. This is because we view it as injurious to society and
harmful to everyone affected by actions of the guilty party. This displeasure with injustice, Hume says, arises from sympathy. He holds that whatever in human actions causes uneasiness upon the general survey is called
vice, and what causes satisfaction is called virtue. He has at last found, he
thinks, the reason—the explanation of—why we annex the idea of virtue
to complying with the rules of justice. So he sums up his conclusion thus:
“Self-interest is the original motive to the establishment of justice, but a sympathy
with public interest is the source of the moral approbation which attends that
Several comments on the preceding. The general survey Hume refers
to here is a survey from the point of view of the judicious spectator, which
he examines in III:iii:. We shall discuss this point of view on the last day.
The important thing here is that Hume takes himself to have found an
explanation of the sense of justice, and of why it comes after a long development moved not literally by self-interest, as he occasionally says, but by
our conﬁned generosities, our affections for family and friends, and other
such ties. These identify the original motives he looked for in paragraphs
– of section (T:–) that lead to the ﬁrst establishment of justice.
When we ask how these differ from the natural and direct motives he considered there, the answer is that those motives were untutored and unguided by artiﬁce, that is, by judgment and understanding, by design and
intention. In that rude and natural stage, people lacked the background of
experience in society to recognize the best scheme of conventions.
Another observation is that the uneasiness caused by sympathy working
through the point of view of the judicious spectator gives rise to the moral
distinction between right and wrong, just and unjust. In such fashion we
learn the difference between these ideas and can identify them in particular
cases. This is an epistemological thesis about how we recognize moral distinctions, about how we are able to use the appropriate concepts in a consistent
and coherent way and in general agreement with one another. But this is
What needs to be seen is that this epistemological thesis is different
from a thesis about moral motivation, that is, how best to account for the
fact that our moral knowledge, or beliefs, may inﬂuence what we do, or
what desires lead us to do the right or the just thing, or to fail in that. I
interpret Hume in paragraphs – (T:–) to distinguish three different kinds of moral motives, or incentives. One is the artiﬁce of politicians;
another is our education and upbringing, and the many motives we acquired in the course of that. The last is the desire for a character, as Hume
sometimes says, or for our reputation, or to be esteemed and honored by
others. Nothing, he thinks, could be dearer to us than that; and in a decent
society the desire for a character would ﬁrmly support our sense of duty
and of justice.
The Critique of Rational Intuitionism
. Today we consider Hume’s arguments against the rationalist doctrine he
opposes in II:iii: and III:i:. As preparation for this, I will spend some time
simply laying out that doctrine as found in Volume II of Samuel Clarke’s
Discourse on Natural Religion (presented as the Boyle Lectures for , published in ).1 Rational intuitionism is an important traditional view, and
this is a good occasion for a survey of it.
In a way I shall try to explain, rational intuitionism sees moral thought
as a form of theoretical as opposed to practical reason. Kant’s doctrine as
well as Hume’s is in sharp contrast with it. All along I have interpreted
Hume as wanting to show that morality, and our practice of it, is the expression of our nature, given our place in the world and our dependence on
society. It is part of Hume’s ﬁdeism of nature to establish that morality is
a natural phenomenon fully continuous with human psychology. I have
also said that Hume’s view lacks a conception of practical reason and psychologizes moral deliberation by relying on laws of association and of the
emotions, and invoking the strengths of desires and their inﬂuence.2 On the
1. My citations from Clarke are from Schneewind, Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant.
2. A moral doctrine that afﬁrms the idea of practical reason may object to Hume’s view for
just this reason, in much the way Frege objected to psychologism in logic. This is not, of course,
to deny that there is a psychology of morals but to say that it must be compatible with an appropriate
role of practical reason.
other hand, Kant does have a conception of practical reason. Thus Clarke’s
doctrine will add to our understanding of the doctrines debated in this period and extend the signiﬁcant contrasts we have ready to hand.
. While Hume does not name his opponents in the Treatise, he does
mention Ralph Cudworth and Samuel Clarke in the Enquiry. In a footnote
that begins with a reference to Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois, Malebranche
is credited with having been the ﬁrst who started the abstract theory of
morals founded on certain relations. Hume says: “This illustrious writer
[Montesquieu], however, sets out with a different theory, and supposes all
right to be founded on certain rapports or relations; which is a system, that,
in my opinion, never will be reconciled with true philosophy. Father Malebranche . . . was the ﬁrst that started this abstract theory of morals, which
was afterwards adopted by Cudworth, Clarke, and others; and as it excludes
all sentiment, and pretends to found everything on reason, it has not wanted
followers in this philosophical age” (E:n.).
In the rest of the footnote, Hume claims that his account of the justice
of civil laws and the laws of property is a clear refutation of this rationalist
view. Thus it seems safe to count Cudworth and Clarke, as well as Grotius,
Pufendorf, and Locke, as typical representatives of the view Hume wants
§. Some of Clarke’s Main Claims
. Clarke wants to say ﬁrst that there are certain necessary and eternal relations between things, and consequent upon (or following from) these relations, certain actions are ﬁt to be done and others not ﬁt to be done, according to whether those actions are more ﬁtting than the other actions we
can do in the situation at hand. Thus:
(a) Each kind of thing is said to have a nature (an essence) that characterizes it, which nature can be known by reason; and in virtue of their nature
things stand in certain relations.
(b) Consequent upon these natures as standing in various relations in
different situations, certain relations of ﬁtness obtain, so that certain actions
are more ﬁtting than others. As an example, Clarke says: “ ’Tis a thing evidently and inﬁnitely more ﬁt that any one particular innocent and good
being should by the supreme ruler and disposer of all things be placed and
preserved in an easy and happy estate, than that, without any fault or demerit of its own, it should be made extremely, remedilessly and endlessly
miserable” (Schneewind, I:). God stands in such a relation to human
beings that, given the nature of God as Creator and their nature as subordinate rational creatures, it is more ﬁt, in consequence, that God situate the
innocent so as to make them happy rather than unhappy.
. Further, the following:
(c) Fitness and the relation of “more ﬁt than” are indeﬁnable moral
relations, or else deﬁnable only in terms of each other. We should allow
that they might be deﬁnable in terms of other moral concepts, such as the
reasonable. They are not, however, deﬁnable in terms of nonmoral (nonnormative) concepts.
We may think of the indeﬁnable relation of “more ﬁt than” as speciﬁed
by ordered pairs of ordered triples, with agents (characterized by certain
natures) in a situation S and the various actions of those agents in that
situation such that it follows that action A1, say, is more ﬁt than action B1.
Ͼ([A1, rat1 . . . n, sit S][B1, rat1 . . . n, sit S]),
where A1 and B1 are actions available to agent1.
That an action is more ﬁt is said to be necessary and known by reason.
Greater ﬁtness is consequent upon the facts of the case. For example, it is
impossible that, given the nature of God and of human beings, and given
the relation of creator to created in which they stand, it should not be more
ﬁtting for God to situate the innocent so as to make them happy rather
than unhappy. What kind of necessity or impossibility does Clarke have in
mind? I suppose it is metaphysical necessity: the thought is that it is not
possible, given the nature of God (with the essences of things in the divine
reason), that there should be a world—an order of things with their essences—such that the consequent relations of ﬁtness are compatible with
its being more ﬁt for God to make the innocent unhappy. None of this is
very clear, as the concepts here call for much explanation.
Note that for Clarke the basic concept seems to be that of comparative
ﬁtness: this kind of action is more ﬁtting than that kind of action in a certain
kind of situation. For example, surely it is more ﬁtting that God should