Presentation on theme: "David Hume (1711-1776)  David Hume is widely regarded as: The greatest English philosopher, and One of the officially Great Philosophers Lived a quiet."— Presentation transcript:
David Hume (1711-1776)  David Hume is widely regarded as: The greatest English philosopher, and One of the officially Great Philosophers Lived a quiet and modest life, including several years at an academy in France Failed to get university appointments because of his “atheism” [the quotation marks are probably unwarranted] His major works are the Treatise of Human Nature, the Enquiry Concerning the Foundations of Morals, the Enquiry concerning the Human Understanding, and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Also a six-volume History of England.
David Hume  Hume’s Treatise, part III: Of Morals Reason is wholly inactive - can never be “the source of so active a principle as conscience, or a sense of morals.”.. Reason influences conduct in only two ways: 1) informing us of the existence of things we’re interested in, or 2) of ways to acquire those The distinction of good and evil can’t be made by reason “Take Wilful murder: examine it in detail where’s the wrongness? You must look for this into your own breast - where a sentiment of disapprobation is to be found
David Hume  Hume’s Treatise, part III: Of Morals “is” and “ought” : “the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs “when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is of the last consequence - and shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable - how this new relation can be a deduction from others, - “which are entirely different from it.” But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention wou’d subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv’d by reason.
David Hume  “Naturalistic Fallacy” -Hume is widely regarded as the first to discover what later came to be called by that term -This is the claim that “is” propositions do not entail “ought” propositions [In other words:] Facts are not sufficient for Values So: no amount of sheer fact-gathering will tell us what’s right or wrong If this is so, it makes moral and political philosophy pretty difficult! Hume says that moral/political claims cannot be “founded on Reason” This has been an item of controversy ever since...
David Hume  Hume on Justice no action can be virtuous, or morally good, unless there be in human nature some motive to produce it, distinct from the sense of its morality. [Why ‘distinct’? Because that would be circular - which “sense” is the “sense of morality? Morality is what we’re trying to identify here!] Example: Benevolence (or “Humanity”) Jones performs a nice deed out of the goodness of his heart Smith, seeing that people applaud Jones for such actions, performs one himself - but not because he himself feels this humanity. If there were no Joneses, there could be no Smiths! Smith must be identifying Jones’s actions as independently good - not good because it was performed by Smith. What is the motive to repay our debts, though? Not a direct desire to give this person (to whom I owe $50) So, Justice is different!
David Hume  Our passions become directed at the maintenance of the convention, rather than only at the particular things we’re interested in “The remedy, then, is not deriv’d from nature, but from artifice or, more properly speaking: nature provides a remedy in the judgment and understanding for what is irregular and incommodious in the affections.” (Maternal instincts induce mothers to love their children and treat them well But there are no “justice instincts” prompting us to pay our debts... Note: modern writers speak of “intuitions”.... as if there were such an “instinct” after all Hume denies this.
David Hume  Is Justice a Natural or an Artificial virtue? Answer: Artificial. [Why not Natural? because -its motivation is via a convention it characteristically requires actions contrary to private interest (like Hobbes, Hume sees that our various interests aren’t directly conducive to upholding justice:) “no such passion in human minds, as the love of mankind, as such” public benevolence cannot be the “original motive to justice” - the rules of justice are artificial, but not arbitrary The rules of justice are uniform, inflexible, general, precise Our passions are variable, particular, and vague
David Hume  Society - is absolutely fundamental: “’Tis by society alone he is able to supply his defects, and raise himself up to an equality with his fellow-creatures, and even acquire a superiority above them. By society all his infirmities are compensated; and tho’ in that situation his wants multiply every moment upon him, yet his abilities are still more augmented, - and leave him “in every respect more satisfied and happy, than ’tis possible for him, in his savage and solitary condition, ever to become.”
David Hume  about the “pre-civil condition”: [from the Inquiry] it is to be regarded as “a mere fiction, not unlike that of the golden age, which poets have invented; only with this difference, that the former is describ’d as full of war, violence and injustice; whereas the latter is painted out to us, as the most charming and most peaceable condition, that can possibly be imagin’d.” in that imaginary state, which preceded society, there be neither justice nor injustice yet I assert not, that it was allowable, in such a state, to violate the property of others. [note: this is a comment on Hobbes’ “right of nature”] I only maintain, that there was no such thing as property; and consequently cou’d be no such thing as justice or injustice. I shall have occasion to make a similar reflexion with regard to promises, when I come to treat of them and “I hope this reflexion, when duly weigh’d, will suffice to remove all odium from the foregoing opinions, with regard to justice and injustice.” [it didn’t!...]
David Hume - Treatise III  Property nothing but those goods, whose constant possession is establish’d by the laws of society; that is, by the laws of justice. [Question: does he here mean the legislated laws of justice?? -- Not really...] Like Locke, Hume virtually identifies justice with property rights (in Locke’s broader sense) Three sort of goods: 1) internal to the mind [intelligence, tastes, imagination...] 2) “external advantages of the body” [good looks, strength, skills...] 3) external possessions the external possessions are the problem: they are a) “exposed to the violence of others, b) transferable without loss or alteration” c) scarce in relation to demand [example: your I-Pad] Only a “convention” can remedy this problem We must provide security of property by social conventions and institutions
David Hume - Treatise III  Property (continued) Who sees not, for instance, that whatever is produced or improved by a man’s art or industry ought forever to be secured to him in order to give encouragement to such useful habits and accomplishments? [answer: the NDP, the Liberals, and the Tories?] >> all questions of property are subordinate to the authority of civil laws, which extend, restrain, modify, and alter the rules of natural justice according to the particular convenience of each community. [!]
David Hume - Treatise III  Property What is a man’s property? Anything which it is lawful for him and for him alone to use. But what rule have we by which we can distinguish these objects?... need statutes, customs, precedents, analogies - some constant and inflexible, some variable and arbitrary It may appear to a careless view, that there enters a like superstition in all the sentiments of justice. I may lawfully nourish myself from this tree; but the fruit of another of the same species, ten paces off, it is criminal for me to touch. >> But there is this material difference between superstition and justice - the former is frivolous, useless, and burdensome - the latter is absolutely requisite to the well-being of mankind
David Hume - Treatise III  Getting Property Going: What entitles us to a thing? 1. Present Possession the first difficulty after the general convention for the establishment of society is, how to separate their possessions, and assign to each his particular portion, which he must for the future inalterably enjoy. First idea: present possession - “the most natural expedient” - that every one continue to enjoy what he is at present master of property or constant possession be conjoin’d to the immediate possession. Limitation of present possession: “its utility extends not beyond the first formation of society nor wou’d any thing be more pernicious, than the constant observance of it [In India, you pay people to stand by your car 24/7...] - restitution wou’d be excluded, and every injustice wou’d be authoriz’d and rewarded. So we need further rules
David Hume - Treatise III  Present Possession is an Axiom: To deny it is absurd: “Any one, who finding the impossibility of accounting for the right of the present possessor, by any receiv’d system of ethics, shou’d resolve to deny absolutely that right, and assert, that it is not authoriz’d by morality, wou’d be justly thought to maintain a very extravagant paradox, and to shock the common sense and judgment of mankind.” [question: is that a good argument?]
David Hume - Treatise III  Four “circumstances” pertaining to property: Occupation - getting there first, just being there [already discussed] Prescription - long-term use or occupancy Accession - connected to things we already own (as in fruits of trees) Succession - passing on to one’s children (or whoever??) passing goods on to children “naturally presents itself to the mind”
David Hume - Treatise III  This gives rise to the next fundamental principle: 2. Transference of Property by Consent “fitness or suitability ought never to enter into consideration” - too much “doubt and uncertainty” affects this rule. What’s needed is a public sign of assent [as in Hobbes] [thus, men have invented a symbolical delivery, to satisfy the fancy, where the real one is impracticable. Thus the giving the keys of a granary is understood to be the delivery of the corn contain’d in it...] “ As the Roman catholics represent the inconceivable mysteries of the Christian religion, and render them more present to the mind, by a taper, or habit, or grimace, which is suppos’d to resemble them; so lawyers and moralists have run into like inventions for the same reason, and have endeavour’d by those means to satisfy themselves concerning the transference of property by consent.”
David Hume - Treatise III  3. Performance of Promises Absolutely essential to society In order, therefore, to distinguish those two different sorts of commerce, the interested and the disinterested, there is a certain form of words invented for the former, by which we bind ourselves to the performance of any action. This form of words constitutes what we call a promise, which is the sanction of the interested commerce of mankind. When a man says he promises any thing, he in effect expresses a resolution of performing it; and along with that, by making use of this form of words, subjects himself to the penalty of never being trusted again in case of failure. Hume later refers to these three rules as the “Laws of Nature” [(1) first possession, (2) transference by consent, and (3) promises]
David Hume - Treatise III  Custom Such is the effect of custom, that it not only reconciles us to any thing we have long enjoy’d, but even gives us an affection for it, and makes us prefer it to other objects, - even though they may be more valuable, but are less known to us. but [we] can easily live without possessions, which we never have enjoy’d, and are not accustom’d to. ’Tis evident, therefore, that men wou’d easily acquiesce in this expedient: that every one continue to enjoy what he is at present possess’d of; this is the reason, why they wou’d so naturally agree in preferring it. - self-defense takes precedence over all
David Hume -  Origin of Government: The “universal and inflexible observance of the rules of justice” is extremely advantageous to all - since only by them do we escape that wretched and savage condition, the state of nature. [and you have to be a real dummy to think otherwise...] So, why are we ever unjust? - because the evils of injustice are “remote”, while gains from it may be near at hand... When viewed in general and abstractly, we prefer justice on a “nearer approach”, short-run interests set in This won’t be corrected without “correcting this propensity” So we set up agencies with “no interest in injustice” - “Here, then, is the origin of civil government and society” which also act as judges as well as executants [those are the three Lockean functions of government]
David Hume -  Why government works... “Magistrates find an immediate interest in the interest of any considerable part of their subjects. They need consult no body but themselves to form any scheme for the promoting of that interest. And as the failure of any one piece in the execution is connected, tho’ not immediately, with the failure of the whole, they prevent that failure, - because they find no interest in (that failure), either immediate or remote. Thus bridges are built; harbours open’d; ramparts rais’d; canals form’d; fleets equip’d; and armies disciplin’d; every where, by the care of government, which, tho’ compos’d of men subject to all human infirmities, becomes, by one of the finest and most subtle inventions imaginable, a composition... in some measure, exempted from all these infirmities” [uh, huh....!]
David Hume -  Allegiance (sect VIII) Noth American Indians manage to live ”in concord and amity” w/o government The old theory [i.c. Locke’s...] “The consent of men, in establishing government, imposes on them a new obligation, unknown to the laws of nature. This conclusion, however, is entirely erroneous; the obligation quickly takes root of itself... independent of all contracts.
David Hume -  Hume on “the laws of nature” These philosophers observe, that society is as antient as the human species, and those three fundamental laws of nature as antient as society: 1) stability of possession 2) transference by consent 3) performance of promises] Evolution of a useful illusion: “ taking advantage of the antiquity, and obscure origin of these laws, they first deny them to be artificial and voluntary inventions of men and then seek to ingraft on them those other duties, which are more plainly artificial. But being once undeceiv’d in this particular, and having found that natural, as well as civil justice, derives its origin from human conventions, we see “how fruitless it is to resolve the one into the other, and seek, in the laws of nature, a stronger foundation for our political duties than interest, and human conventions; while these laws themselves are built on the very same foundation. men see that the rules are sufficient to maintain any society but it’s impossible to observe them without enforcement So: government.... [Note the similarity to Hobbes and Hume...]
David Hume -  There’s a separate interest in (1) promises and in (2) obeying government “keeping promises is requisite to mutual trust in common offices of life “obeying the civil magistrate is requisite to preserve order and concord; So, “the ends, as well as the means, are perfectly distinct, nor is the one subordinate to the other.” “A regard to property is not more necessary to natural society, than obedience is to civil society or government; nor is the former society more necessary to the being of mankind, than the latter to their well-being and happiness.” In short, if the performance of promises be advantageous, so is obedience to government: If the former interest be general, so is the latter: If the one interest be obvious and avow’d, so is the other. And as these two rules are founded on like obligations of interest, each of them must have a peculiar authority, independent of the other [?? [Note: that seems wrong to me. The end of “civil peace” is prior; breaking agreements is wrong because it amounts to aggression - just as Hobbes in effect says.] But, yes: the basis of obligation is the same in both cases.
David Hume -  Authority:.. the opinions of men, in this case,... are, in a great measure, infallible. The distinction of moral good and evil is founded on the pleasure or pain, which results from the view of any sentiment, or character; and as that pleasure or pain cannot be unknown to the person who feels it, it follows, that there is just so much vice or virtue in any character, as every one places in it, and that ’tis impossible in this particular we can ever be mistaken. [?] Promises: A man, who acknowledges himself to be bound to another, for a certain sum, must certainly know whether it be by his own bond, or that of his father; whether it be of his mere goodwill, or for money lent him; and under what conditions, and for what purposes he has bound himself. Government [next slide]:
David Hume -  Government: In like manner, it being certain, that there is a moral obligation to submit to government, because every one thinks so; it must be as certain, that this obligation arises not from a promise; since no one, whose judgment has not been led astray by too strict adherence to a system of philosophy, has ever yet dreamt of ascribing it to that origin. “Neither magistrates nor subjects have form’d this idea of our civil duties.” To which we may add, that a man living under an absolute government, wou’d owe it no allegiance; since, by its very nature, it depends not on consent. But as that is as natural and common a government as any, it must certainly occasion some obligation... Question: Is Hume right, that what is generally thought to be obligatory is obligatory?
David Hume -  Interpersonal transactions must be mutually beneficial and reciprocal: “Whoever proposes to draw any profit from our submission, must engage himself, either expressly or tacitly, to make us reap some advantage from his authority; nor ought he to expect, that without the performance of his part we will ever continue in obedience.” I perceive, that a promise itself arises entirely from human conventions, and is invented with a view to a certain interest. I seek, therefore, some such interest more immediately connected with government, and which may be at once the original motive to its institution, and the source of our obedience to it. This interest I find to consist in the security and protection, which we enjoy in political society, and which we can never attain, when perfectly free and independent. [Note that here Hume joins Locke and Hobbes in assuming there are just two alternatives!]
David Hume -  - When, if ever, do we Rebel? Hume agrees that governments can go way too far: “men submit to the authority of others, ’to procure themselves some security against the wickedness and injustice of men - as this imperfection is inherent in human nature... it must attend men... whom we chuse for rulers What we expect from them depends not on a change of their nature but of their situation -- they acquire a more immediate interest in the preservation of order and the execution of justice. we may often expect... that they will neglect even this immediate interest, and be transported by their passions into all the excesses of cruelty and ambition. All these causes must induce us to open the door to exceptions, and must make us conclude, that we may resist the more violent effects of supreme power, without any crime or injustice. ‘Government is a mere human invention for the interest of society. Where the tyranny of the governor removes this interest, it also removes the natural obligation to obedience.” [so, where does that leave us?] “in the ordinary course of human affairs, nothing can be more pernicious and criminal [than rebellion] “government is useless without exact obedience”
David Hume -  No maxim is more conformable, both to prudence and morals, than - to submit quietly to the government, which we find establish’d in the country where we happen to live, - without enquiring too curiously into its origin and first establishment. - Few governments will bear being examin’d so rigorously... ’Tis certain, that if we remount to the first origin of every nation, we shall find, that there scarce is any race of kings, or form of a commonwealth, that is not primarily founded on usurpation and rebellion, and whose title is not at first worse than doubtful and uncertain. Time alone gives solidity to their right; and operating gradually on the minds of men, reconciles them to any authority, and makes it seem just and reasonable. Nothing causes any sentiment to have a greater influence upon us than custom, or turns our imagination more strongly to any object.
David Hume -  Cost-Benefit thinking on government: We should always weigh the advantages of authority against its disadvantages the advantages are normally great the same convention that establishes government establishes this particular government but by and by it ceases to matter who in particular governs [nations have been tolerably governed even by George Bush and Paul Martin!] first principle in founding the right of magistracy: long possession in any one form of government, or succession of princes
David Hume -  even if governments are founded on rebellion, “time alone gives solidity to their right” Where the public good doesn’t demand a change, what we’ve got should be taken as “sacred and inviolable” “tis certainly impossible for the laws, or even for philosophy, to establish any particular rules, by which we may know when resistance is lawful.”.... “Those who would respect our free government, yet deny the right of resistance, do not merit a serious answer” [This leaves us in a very inexact situation...!]
David Hume -  -When, if ever, do we Rebel? [historical aside] Reflections from the English revolution: First: the offspring of the monarch are not automatically entitled to the throne Second: Princes can acquire a right from their successors as well as their ancestors - William of Orange was retroactively confirmed as the king... [contra Hobbes] The three fundamental rules [stability of property; transference by consent; obligation of promises] are duties of princes as well as subjects. - and for the same reasons
David Hume -  Hume on Asymmetric Sexual Mores - An interesting explanation of one familiar moral belief: Women are (were?) held to a higher standard of sexual fidelity than men Explanation: 1. People are out to reproduce themselves 2. In the case of the woman, there is no problem determining that the child is hers; but in the case of the man, “an error may easily take place” 3. “From this trivial and anatomical observation is deriv’d that vast difference betwixt the education and duties of the two sexes.” (- one of the first sociobiological explanations) “As to the obligations which the male sex lie under, with regard to chastity, we may observe, that according to the general notions of the world, they bear nearly the same proportion to the obligations of women, as the obligations of the law of nations do to those of the law of nature.” ’Tis contrary to the interest of civil society, that men shou’d have an entire liberty of indulging their appetites in venereal enjoyment: But as this interest is weaker than in the case of the female sex, the moral obligation, arising from it, must be proportionably weaker. And to prove this we need only appeal to the practice and sentiments of all nations and ages.” [This is a remarkable example of explanation in the social sciences. It will be thought overly “conservative” by many nowadays...]
David Hume -  Hume’s Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1752) [Hume said of it that it was “incomparably his best essay”...] The thesis of this second great essay is that * moral rules owe their authority entirely to general utility It begins with a famous Thought Experiment about the “state of nature” Imagine first (1) [a] superabundance - (the “garden of Eden”) Why call this object mine when the cost of replacement is Zero? (example of Water and air) - Justice becomes useless [alternatively: (1b.) Suppose “that every man has the utmost tenderness for every man: the use of Justice would be suspended (families approach this) “Encrease to a sufficient degree the benevolence of men, or the bounty of nature, and you render justice useless, by supplying its place with much nobler virtues, and more valuable blessings. [note: this would be like making the “artificial” virtue into a “natural” one, in Hume’s previous terminology.]
David Hume -  Hume’s Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1752) Hume on the “State of Nature” A Thought Experiment about the “state of nature” (2a) Extreme Want: Suppose that “the utmost frugality and industry cannot preserve the greater number from perishing” - self-preservation becomes the norm. “the strict laws of justice are suspended in such a pressing emergency and give place to the stronger motives of necessity and self-preservation.” [e.g. famous 19th c. case of some sailors adrift on the ocean for weeks; eventually the less weak of them ate the weakest to keep alive...] (2b). Or suppose a virtuous man to fall into the society of ruffians, what conduct must he embrace? - self-defense takes precedence over all
David Hume -  Property [Hume’s treatment of the subject in the Inquiry] What is a man’s property? Anything which it is lawful for him and for him alone to use. But what rule have we by which we can distinguish these objects? [here, we need] statutes, customs, precedents, analogies - some constant and inflexible, some variable and arbitrary It may appear to a careless view, that there enters a like superstition in all the sentiments of justice. I may lawfully nourish myself from this tree; but the fruit of another of the same species, ten paces off, it is criminal for me to touch. >> But there is this material difference between superstition and justice - the former is frivolous, useless, and burdensome - the latter is absolutely requisite to the well-being of mankind
David Hume -  Property Who sees not, for instance, that whatever is produced or improved by a man’s art or industry ought forever to be secured to him in order to give encouragement to such useful habits and accomplishments? That the property ought also to descend to children and relations, for the same useful purposes? And that all contracts and promises ought carefully to be fulfilled in order to secure mutual trust and confidence, by which the general interest of mankind is so much promoted? [those are the same three “natural laws” proposed in the Treatise]
David Hume -  (Hume’s famous argument in the Inquiry:) Suppose a rational being “unacquainted with human nature” considers which rules of property would best promote public interest? 1) proportion to virtue? (“among mankind, no determinate rule of conduct should ever result”) 2) Equal distribution? -- “nature is so liberal that, were all her presents equally divided and improved by art and industry, every individual would enjoy all the necessaries and even most of the comforts of life” >> And wherever we depart from this equality we rob the poor of more satisfaction than we add to the rich - a frivolous vanity in one individual frequently costs more than bread to many families
David Hume -  But: Equality is incompatible with how people are But >> “Render possessions ever so equal, men’s different degrees of art, care, and industry will immediately break that equality Or if you check these virtues -- then instead of preventing want and beggary in a few, you render it unavoidable to the whole community Egalitarianism invitably leads to Totalitarianism -->> “The most rigorous inquisition is needed to watch every inequality on its first appearance; and the most severe jurisdiction to punish and redress it “this must soon degenerate into tyranny SO: we must be acquainted with the nature and situation of man; and must search for those rules which are, on the whole, most useful and beneficial.. [And so Hume in effect explains the Lockean principle on economic matters: recognition of private property, industry, and free exchange is best for everybody.]
David Hume -  The Real Story about the “Social Contract” It’s Not a “Promise”: “nothing can be more absurd.” “The observance of promises is itself one of the most considerable parts of justice; and we are not surely bound to keep our word because we have given our word to keep it! - But if by convention be meant a sense of common interest, which sense each man feels in his own breast, which he remarks in his fellows, and which carries him, in concurrence with others, into a general plan or system of action which tends to public utility, it must be owned that in this sense justice arises from human conventions. For if the consequences of a particular act of justice may be hurtful to the public.. every man, in embracing that virtue, must have an eye to the whole plan or system and must expect the concurrence of his fellows
David Hume -  The Boat Two men pull the oars of a boat (1) by common convention, for common interest (2) without any promise or contract - language is fixed by human convention and agreement. (3) Whatever is advantageous to two or more persons if all perform their part, but what loses all advantage if only one perform, can arise from no other principle -otherwise there’s no motive for that scheme (4) on ‘natural’’: (a vague notion) If self-love, benevolence, reason and forethought be natural, then may the same epithet be applied to justice, order, fidelity, property, society Inclination & necessities, lead us to combine - which is impossible where each governs himself by no rule and pays no regard to the possessions of others. From this, the sentiment of justice has had place, to some degree or other, in every individual of the human species. This may justly be esteemed natural.”
David Hume -  Justice as a “Public Good” >> A parent flies to the relief of his child, transported by natural sympathy >> The case is not the same with the social virtues of justice and fidelity. They are, indeed, absolutely necessary to the well-being of mankind but.. the benefit is not the consequence of every individual act, but from the whole scheme concurred in by the whole or the greater part of the society. The Wall vs. The Vault Benevolence: like a wall built by many hands - which still rises by each stone. Justice: like a vault - each individual stone would, of itself, fall to the ground; nor is the whole fabric supported but by the mutual assistance and combination of its corresponding parts... the laws deprive, without scruple, a beneficent man of all his possessions if acquired by mistake in order to bestow them on a selfish miser who ha already heaped up immense stores of superfluous riches. Public utility requires that property should be regulated by general inflexible rules -- it is impossible for them to prevent all particular hardships or make beneficial consequences result from every individual case.
David Hume -  Justice as a “Public Good” Hume talks throughout the Inquiry of “utility” - meant to refer to the good of society in general But how is this to be conceived? [Later we will discuss the Utilitarians (Bentham and Mill) who conceived of social utility as indeed a “heap” or “wall” - but Hume thinks this misconceived. What is a “public” good? Answer: one that cannot be achieved without the participation of others Great example: Nonviolence, which is strictly interpersonal Only you can supply me with that particular benefit With other benefits this is not true: I can eat well, be healthy, etc., without the help of others. (But it’s highly unlikely) However, being at peace in society is impossible without others Being able to rely on your word is impossible without your cooperation.. The implications of this are still being pondered to this day....