HUMEMEMO-F11 - Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay Wallace)...

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Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay Wallace) Notes on Hume’s Ethics [NB: Page numbers in these notes are to be interpreted as follows. “E”=Hume’s Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals in the Hackett edition, which is reprinted in the course Reader. “T”= Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature in the Prometheus or Oxford editions.] 1. Hume, like Hobbes, sees morality as providing a common standpoint or “point of view” (E 75), equally accessible to individuals who differ in their private or personal conceptions of the good, and capable of providing a framework that will facilitate harmonious social life. Also like Hobbes, he takes it as his task to explain what it is in human nature that makes it possible for otherwise diverse individuals to occupy the common moral standpoint, and to comply with its requirements. But whereas Hobbes tried to show how self-interest would lead people to converge on a set of common moral rules, Hume appeals to non-egoistic social or benevolent sentiments to account for moral judgment and moral behavior. 2. Though Hobbes and Hume disagree about which sentiments lie at the basis of our moral concern, they both think that the capacity to adopt and be moved by the common moral framework has its basis in sentiment rather than in reason alone. Hume provides a very influential argument for this common assumption. The argument begins with a discussion “of the influencing motives of the will” (T 413-8). Here Hume attempts to establish the polemical conclusion that “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office but to serve and obey them” (T 415). He suggests (T 413-4) that there are two kinds of reasoning: demonstrative (formal reasoning, such as occurs in mathematics and logic); and probabilistic (reasoning about matters of fact and existence, and causal reasoning). Once we are clear that these are the only forms that reason may take, Hume thinks it obvious that reason cannot by itself give rise to a motivation to action. Demonstrative or probabilistic reasoning can only influence behavior insofar as they engage with an antecedent sentiment or desire—thus I might reason to the conclusion that there is pizza available from the truck in front of Sproul Plaza, but this will only affect my actions if I have some independent and relevant “sentiment” (hunger, say, or a strong desire for the taste of pizza). But how exactly should this conclusion be interpreted? Is Hume an “instrumentalist” about practical reason, someone who believes that there are genuine requirements of practical reason, but that these are exclusively requirements to take the means to ends that are fixed by our passions or desires (like Hobbes’s laws of nature)? Or is he rather a skeptic about practical reason, holding that there are no genuine requirements of practical reason at all? 3. With this conclusion in place, Hume proceeds to argue that morality cannot have its basis solely
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HUMEMEMO-F11 - Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay Wallace)...

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