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§6. Hume ’s Second Argument:Morality Not Demonstrable

§6. Hume ’s Second Argument:Morality Not Demonstrable

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   

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

its influence.”

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.

[  ]

H 

The Judicious Spectator

§. Introduction

. 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

sympathy stressed.

–: 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

[  ]

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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

[  ]

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§6. Hume ’s Second Argument:Morality Not Demonstrable

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