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Lecture 3b

February 11, 2014

In general, Hume agrees with the above. He also believes that we have an internal, moral sense that moves us to action and judgment. He believes that benevolence, happiness and utility should be the criterion of our moral judgments concerning the actions of others or ourselves. Like for Hutcheson, when an action or motive makes us feel a particular kind of pleasure, it is good; when it makes us feel pain of a particular kind, the action or motive is bad. Reason does not enter into this picture, except in an instrumental way. That said, Hume does supplement Hutcheson’s theory in certain ways. He introduces the notion of sympathy as a potential corrective to moral sense (he shares this notion with Adam Smith (1723-1790)). How does sympathy affect our behavior? When I see a person suffering, I reconstruct in my mind his or her experience and, in indirect fashion, I also experience his or her pain. Sympathy is therefore a mirroring of another person’s experience in my own. My indirect experience of his or her pain also informs my moral judgment of what is happening to him or her and can further prompt me to action.

Up to this point, Hume is largely in agreement with Hutcheson. Explicitly, they both believe in a moral sense thanks to which our feeling has moral weight; implicitly, they both maintain a self-contained, mechanistic universe with regular, natural laws where the emphasis is on our life on earth. Despite this, Hume breaks radically with Hutcheson on one main issue. For Hume, we cannot know that our universe is designed by a benevolent creator god. There are two ways in which Hume breaks with the latter.

c. Hume against deism

i. The first of these ways owes to Hume’s views on human knowledge, reason and understanding. He sees two main problems with the way in which we reason about everyday events. First, we make great use of induction and inductive inference in our thinking about the things in our lives. We use inductive inference in those instances in which we abstract from our experience of regular events that we do observe to make judgments about what happens with such events in the absence of our active observation of them. Yet, in the absence of observation, it seems that there is no firm principle to justify such an argumentative move. This also concerns how we think of causation. When we observe the movement of a human body setting a ball into motion, we naturally conclude that the body is what sets the ball in motion. The question remains whether such an inference is legitimate when we observe the effect alone, in the absence of a cause. Can we know for certain that the body set the ball in motion? Are there perhaps not other possibilities? And it is conceivable that the natural, regular order leading me to this conclusion in my observed experience might change such that the basis for this inference is no longer valid? We should be clear that Hume does believe in some sense that there is causality and that we must make use of this category. He is realist in this sense, and causality within the bounds of instrumental reason retains a key role to play in knowledge, action and science. Where the category of causality becomes an issues is that point at which we stretch it so far beyond the bounds of possible experience as to strain belief. Hence the skepticism that tempers the realism above. One case that Hume has in mind is the case of God’s existence. Although many see proof for God’s existence in the apparent order and design of the world around them, as with the Deists, Hume finds that we cannot get in a justified manner from the things in the world us (considered as effects) to a creator god (considered as cause). This is particularly an issue where we infer from instances of human design of objects suited to our needs (which we have observed) to an inference of instances of divine design from the suitability of objects to our needs (which we have not observed and cannot observe). With the means available to us, reason and inference, we simply cannot secure the existence of a creator god from the things in the world around us.

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