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§3. The First Objection:The Idea of the Judicious Spectator

§3. The First Objection:The Idea of the Judicious Spectator

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  

view, Hume repeats that our situation with regard to persons and things

is in continual fluctuation and that we each have, given our partial affinities,

a distinctive position with regard to others. It is impossible, then, to have

a reasonable discussion with any hope of reaching agreement if we each

insist on viewing matters only as they appear to us from our own personal

point of view. He says: “In order, therefore, to prevent those continual

contradictions, and arrive at a more stable judgment of things, we fix on

some steady and general points of view; and always, in our thoughts, place

ourselves in them, whatever may be our present situation” (T:f.).

Hume compares moral judgments with those of beauty. These we must

also correct. He says (T:): “In like manner, external beauty is determin’d

merely by pleasure; and ’tis evident, a beautiful countenance cannot give

so much pleasure, when seen at the distance of twenty paces, as when it is

brought nearer us. We say not, however, that it appears to us less beautiful:

Because we know what effect it will have in such a position, and by that

reflexion we correct its momentary appearance.” In the next paragraph he

adds: “Such corrections are common with regard to all the senses; and indeed ’twere impossible we cou’d ever make use of language, or communicate our sentiments to one another, did we not correct the momentary

appearances of things, and overlook our present situation.”

By these remarks, Hume implies that the same holds for moral judgments: they too may be founded not only on moral sentiments we do have

(by actually taking up the judicious spectator’s point of view), but also on

sentiments we know we would have were we to take up that point of view.

In ordinary life, then, we can use our implicit knowledge of how a properly

judicious spectator would judge.

. Thus we must fix on some steady and general point of view that will

lead us to agreement in judgment. To do so, this point of view must satisfy,

of course, certain conditions, of which the following seem the most important.

First, that point of view must be specified so as to call into operation

at least one sentiment (or passion) common to all (normal) persons; because

otherwise we would be indifferent from that point of view, and we would

make no moral distinctions at all, since these cannot be discovered, or made,

by reason alone.

Second, that point of view must not, on the other hand, call into opera[  ]

   

tion two or more passions, because these passions might conflict and people

might then be led to contrary or to vacillating judgments. Nothing in our

psychology guarantees harmony between different passions from that


Third, the one sentiment called into operation must be such that everyone

who takes up the point of view of the judicious spectator is led to make

the same judgment concerning the qualities of character and the propriety

of the actions under consideration.

Fourth, for the previous condition to be met, that one sentiment must

be comprehensive in scope: that is, it must be responsive to the good and

harm of all persons, wherever they are in space and time. Otherwise the

point of view of the judicious spectator would not succeed in bringing everyone’s judgments into agreement: our judgments today with those of the

ancient Romans, or our judgments as Scots with those of the Chinese. This

is needed to secure that we approve or disapprove of Caesar and Brutus

for the same reasons the Romans did. As the condition requires, that sentiment must take the good and the harm of everyone into account.

Fifth and last, in order to achieve agreement in judgment, the point of

view of the judicious spectator must include a directive specifying a standard

by which we are to assess the actions and the qualities of character under

review. This standard is to approve and disapprove of those actions and

qualities according to how they affect the persons who associate in daily

life and in their common affairs with the people who have these qualities

and who do these actions.

Being thus loosen’d from our first station [that of ordinary life], we

cannot afterward fix ourselves so commodiously by any means as by

a sympathy with those, who have any commerce with the person we

consider. (T:)

’Tis therefore from the influence of characters and qualities, upon those

who have an intercourse with any person, that we praise or blame

him. (T:)

I take Hume to think, then, that the only psychological mechanism that

can explain our agreement in moral judgment is that of sympathy, as called

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into operation and adjusted by the point of view of the judicious spectator.

No other passion of our constitution has the features necessary to give rise

to our moral sentiments and to secure general agreement among persons

scattered in space and time, and in different societies with different cultures.

While conceivably we might be coldly indifferent from that point of view,

Hume supposes that although our direct and indirect passions are indeed

quiescent, the mechanism of sympathy is always operative and comprehensive in scope. Just as the general appetite to good is responsive to our own

good and harm “conceived merely in idea, and . . . considered as to exist

in any future period of time” (T:), so by our nature we sympathize with

the good and harm of everyone, however distant in space or time. The

general appetite to good connects the interests of our self from the present

into the future; while sympathy transmuted by the point of view of the

judicious spectator arouses our concern impartially for the interests of persons everywhere. So transmuted, sympathy, in union with the general appetite to good, lays down lines of judgment that can hold together the social


§. The Second Objection: Virtue in Rags Is Still Virtue

. In paragraphs – (T:–), summarized in paragraph  (T:–),

Hume takes up the second apparent objection to his view that sympathy

is the basis of moral distinctions. The problem is the following. We count

persons as virtuous who have those qualities that are fit to be either immediately agreeable to themselves or others, or else useful to others or themselves. We do this even if a misfortune—being unjustly imprisoned in a

dungeon—or a lack of opportunity prevents these qualities from actually

producing the beneficial results they would produce under normal circumstances. Hume says (T:f.): “Virtue in rags is still virtue. . . . [W]here any

object, in all its parts, is fitted to attain any agreeable end, it naturally gives

us pleasure, and is esteem’d beautiful, even tho’ some external circumstances be wanting to render it altogether effectual. ’Tis sufficient if every

thing be compleat in the object itself. . . . A man, whose limbs and shape

promise strength and activity, is esteem’d handsome, tho’ condemn’d to

perpetual imprisonment.”

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   

This feature of our moral judgments is a problem for Hume. The mechanism of sympathy (as explained in T:–) is a mechanism of imparted

feeling, a kind of diffusion or contagion, which passes from one person to

another (T:, ). How, then, can the esteem of persons whose character

causes no actual beneficial results be accounted for? There is no good or

harm with which to sympathize.

Hume’s answer is to appeal to a special feature of our imagination:

The imagination has a set of passions belonging to it, upon which our

sentiments of beauty much depend. These passions are mov’d by degrees of liveliness and strength, which are inferior to belief, and independent of the real existence of their objects. Where a character is, in

every respect, fitted to be beneficial to society, the imagination passes

easily from the cause to the effect, without considering that there are

still some circumstances wanting to render the cause a compleat one.

General rules create a species of probability, which sometimes influences

the judgment, and always the imagination. (T:)

The imagination, then, is moved by lesser degrees of liveliness, and

hence still associates the qualities fit to produce beneficial effects with those

effects, whether or not the latter have occurred. This gives rise to a sympathy which then determines our judgment.

. Note at this point that Hume must introduce, as he explicitly recognizes, a second kind of correction into our moral judgments: we are more

affected by virtuous character when it actually realizes beneficial results,

but we do not say that it is more virtuous than another character equally

fit to do so. Hume remarks (T:):

We know that an alteration of fortune may render the benevolent

disposition entirely impotent; and therefore we separate, as much as

possible, the fortune from the disposition. The case is the same, as

when we correct the different sentiments of virtue, which proceed

from its different distances from ourselves. The passions do not always

follow our corrections; but these corrections serve sufficiently to regulate our abstract notions, and [these corrections] are alone regarded,

when we pronounce in general concerning the degrees of vice and


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§3. The First Objection:The Idea of the Judicious Spectator

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