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§6. Hume ’s Second Argument:Morality Not Demonstrable
creature, but their effects are also suppos’d to be necessarily the same; and
’tis concluded they have no less, or rather a greater, inﬂuence in directing
the will of the deity, than in governing the rational and virtuous of our
own species. These two particulars are evidently distinct. ’Tis one thing to
know virtue, and another to conform the will to it.” He continues by saying
that if one is to show that the ﬁtnesses of things express eternal laws “obligatory on every rational mind . . . we must also point out the connexion
betwixt the relation and the will; and . . . prove that this connexion is so
necessary, that in every well-disposed mind, it must take place and have
Hume believes that his account of causal connection earlier in the Treatise, I:iii, is sufﬁcient to show that the proof of the necessity of such a connection cannot be given. The revealing point here is that Hume is talking about
psychological, or motivational, inﬂuence. He thinks that it is simply a fact
of human nature, which his whole account of morality supports, that there
is no such general causal inﬂuence and certainly no necessary causal connection at all. But it seems clear that Clarke is not talking about causal inﬂuence, or alleging a necessary causal law. He thinks of the ﬁtnesses of things
as known by theoretical reason (in the sense earlier explained) and as providing correct normative grounds for moral judgments on actions. Hume is
using different basic ideas than Clarke, and there is no meeting of minds.
. The ﬁnal paragraph, (T:–), is subject to two interpretations.
The one most common for many decades now is to take it as stating
Hume’s law, so-called: namely, the principle of moral (or normative) reasoning that to reach a moral (or normative) conclusion, there must be at
least one moral (or normative) premise. Assuming that moral (or normative) concepts are not reducible to nonmoral (or non-normative) concepts,
this law is correct. We may call it Hume’s Law if we like, but it is not, I
think, what Hume meant to say.
For a sound textual interpretation of what Hume meant, we should see
the paragraph as the parting shot of the long argument against Clarke, and
look back to what he has been arguing in the more immediately preceding
paragraphs. For this purpose, paragraphs (T:–) and (T:–)
seem particularly important, the latter especially so. In paragraph , Hume
says that morality is not a matter of fact discovered by the understanding.
He writes: “You can never ﬁnd it [the vice], till you turn your reﬂexion
into your own breast, and ﬁnd a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises
in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but ’tis the object of
feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when
you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but
that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of
blame from the contemplation of it” (T:–).
Focusing on this and similar statements, we interpret the last paragraph
thus. What Hume means is that we use “ought” and “ought not” in connection with our judgments of praise and blame, these judgments being made
(when made properly) from the point of view of the judicious spectator
(discussed next time). Now, these judgments express a sentiment of blame,
say, from contemplating a certain matter of fact. Yet Hume has argued (in
paragraph ) that there is no demonstrative or normative law that connects
the sentiment of blame, expressed by “ought not,” with the matter of fact.
Thus “ought” does not follow from “is.” So understood, the last paragraph
doesn’t characterize moral or normative reasoning in general, but is rather
a consequence of Hume’s particular view of moral judgments and how
they ﬁt into his doctrine as a whole. His view of these judgments we come
to next time.
I have presented Clarke’s view with hardly any critical comment. But I note
here two points of difﬁculty that we shall come back to later when we
consider Kant’s idea of practical reason. One is the idea that acting wrongly
is like denying truths about numbers; surely tyranny and oppression are
not at all like that! The other is its apparent inability to give a convincing
account of how the ﬁtnesses of things connect with the requirements of
social life, with the ﬁnal aims and purposes of human life, and with our
moral psychology generally.
The Judicious Spectator
. I now turn to our last topic: Hume’s idea of the judicious spectator and
its role in his account of moral judgments. (I use Hume’s term “judicious
spectator” [T:] and not “impartial spectator,” since the latter is used by
Adam Smith for a somewhat different idea.) In discussing this topic, I shall
raise once again the question whether Hume has a conception of practical
reason, and consider how the text might decide this one way or the other.
Now, saying that Hume lacks such a conception is not intended as a criticism, though it may be a fault. Our purpose is to understand Hume in his
own terms. I mention this question to bring out the contrast with Kant,
who I think clearly does have a conception of practical reason.
. The main parts of section of III:iii by paragraphs are as follows:
–: Introduction and summary of relevant preceding parts.
–: Preliminary statement of the main idea: that sympathy is
the basis of moral distinctions, and a summary of relevant
earlier accounts of sympathy (see especially T:–).
–: The ﬁrst objection from the variability of sympathy: the
idea of the judicious spectator introduced.
–: The second objection: How is it that virtue in rags is still
virtue? Special features of the imagination.
Summary of answers to the two objections: epistemological and motivational questions distinguished.
–: Classiﬁcation of the virtues into four kinds; the role of
–: Summary of the hypothesis about the basis of moral distinctions: the role of the judicious spectator.
In my remarks, I am guided by the view that Hume is concerned to
explain and to ﬁnd a place for morals as a natural human phenomenon
within his science of human nature. The Treatise is an account of epistemology naturalized (to borrow Quine’s well-known phrase) and of morality
psychologized. Our being able to take up the point of view of the judicious
spectator is a central feature of human life, and it must be accounted for
by the psychological principles Hume has laid out in Books I and II. Book
III is an application and elaboration of much that has gone before.
§. Hume’s Account of Sympathy
. Sympathy is discussed in § of Part II of Book III (T:–) and summarized later in paragraph of III:iii. (T:f.). The account of sympathy shows
us how serious Hume was in trying to lay the groundwork for his account
of morals in a science of human nature. A feeling so basic for the natural
fact of morality as this called for a foundation in his theory of the passions.
A bare outline is as follows:
First, we witness, say, certain signs in the conversation, countenance,
and behavior of others which, on the basis of our experience, arouse in us
the idea of the feeling or emotion that we take (or infer) them to be experiencing. The explanation for that idea’s arising in us is the past association
of these ideas in our experience: previously in our lives, certain feelings and
emotions have regularly led us to behave as we see others now behaving.
Next, the idea of the feeling that we take others to have is then converted into a lively impression of that feeling in virtue of the always present
impression of our self in our consciousness. Indeed, this impression of our
self is so lively that nothing can exceed it in vivacity and vividness. Thus
other persons are conceived with a vivacity depending on the closeness of
their relation to our selves, on how similar our conception of them is to
our conception of our self.
Note here that we do not directly discern others’ mental states. It is
always a matter of inference from their behavior and external actions.
Hume says: “No passion of another discovers itself immediately to the
mind. We are only sensible of its causes or effects. From these we infer the
passions: And consequently these give rise to our sympathy” (T:). Finally,
the degree of similarity we recognize with others increases as we recognize
that their desires, passions, and propensities resemble our own and that
their peculiar manners and their culture and language are similar to ours.
It also increases with the degree of closeness we have with them: through,
for example, family ties, bonds of acquaintance and friendship, and the like.
When these aspects all work together, our ever-present and supremely
lively impression of self converts our idea of the other’s passions into an
impression of reﬂection. That lively impression of self transmits enough
energy to the idea of others’ passion so that it is raised to a passion in us.
. I pass over as not needing comment the resemblance between this
view of sympathy and the account of causal connection in I:iii. Instead I
note two peculiarities about it. First, it is not an account of sympathy as
we normally understand it, but rather of what we may call imparted feeling.
It explains sympathy as a kind of contagion, or even infection, that we catch
from others as a kind of resonance of our nature with theirs. This comes
out in what Hume says later in paragraph (T:f.): “We may begin with
considering anew the nature and force of sympathy. The minds of all men
are similar in their feelings and operations, nor can any one be actuated
by any affection, of which all the others are not, in some degree, susceptible.
As in strings equally wound up, the motion of one communicates itself to
the rest; so all the affections readily pass from one person to another, and
beget correspondent movements in every human creature.”
On Hume’s view, it would seem that when by sympathy we have the
idea of another’s feeling, that very idea is enlivened to become the same
feeling in us. But in fact, when we sympathize with people, for example,
when they are sick, we do not have the same feeling they do. If someone
feels humiliated by the ravages his disease has wrought on his appearance,
leaving him weak and despondent, we feel for him, certainly, but we don’t