PHIL 437A: Study Questions for Week #10 (Dec. 1-3):
Natural and Artificial Virtues and Justice
1. The following quotation could have come from Kant, but, as you know, it is from Hume: "It is evident that, when we praise any actions, we regard only the motives that produced them, and consider the actions as signs or indications of certain principles in the mind and temper. The external performance has no merit. We must look within to find the moral quality."(T 220.127.116.11) If Hume and Kant agree on this, on what do they disagree?
2. Why does Hume not try to formulate principles to explain moral rightness and moral wrongness or principles of justice? Where does Hume think principles of justice come from?
3. Explain the following quotation: "From this principle I conclude, that the first virtuous motive which bestows a merit on any action, can never be a regard to the virtue of that action, but must be some other natural motive or principle. To suppose that the mere regard to the virtue of the action, may be the first motive which produced the action, and rendered it virtuous, is to reason in a circle." (T 18.104.22.168) Explain why Hume believes that it implies the conclusion: "In short, it may be established as an undoubted maxim, that 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."(T 22.214.171.124) Kant would disagree with this conclusion. What part of Hume's argument for it would Kant object to? Critically evaluate their disagreement.
4. Hume argues that the motive for justice cannot be explained by public or private benevolence? Why not? Why couldn't Hume explain the motive for justice this way: People have an innate desire for justice and this desire motivates them to perform just acts? According to Hume, what is the virtuous motive for just acts (e.g., repaying a debt)?
5. Explain the following quotation: "Though the rules of justice be artificial, they are not arbitrary."(T 126.96.36.199)
6. What does Hume mean by "external goods"? Why are they a problem for society? What is the main impediment to harmonious society[WJT1] ? What is the role of judgment and understanding in solving the problem? According to Hume, the result is a system of restraints. What kind of restraints? Hume insists: "Nor is such a restraint contrary to the passions."(T 188.8.131.52) Why does he insist on this? Is he correct? He is surely correct that for the restraints of justice to be effective, they have to be supported by a source of motivation. The question is whether the understanding can provide motivation to comply with the restraints of justice or whether the restraints must be supported by blind passions.
7. According to Hume, what passions support the restraints of justice? Pay particular attention to T 184.108.40.206. In the Republic, Glaucon argues that self-interest favors acting unjustly whenever we can get away with it? Would Hume agree? Critically evaluate both sides.
8. Why does Hume think that justice does not depend on promises? What examples does Hume use to illustrate how conventions can arise without promises. In what ways are they analogous to moral decisions involving justice? Are there important disanalogies? Explain.
9. On Hume's account of the motivation for justice, it would seem to follow that everyone would be motivated to act justly even if there were no punishments for unjust acts. Explain why. But we know that fear of punishment is necessary to motivate many people to refrain from unjust acts. How does Hume explain this fact?
10. What is the state of nature? Why does Hume regard it as a philosophical fiction?
11. Explain the following quotation: "Encrease to a sufficient degree the benevolence of men, or the bounty of nature, and you render justice useless . . . ."(T 220.127.116.11) What examples does he use to illustrate this claim? Do you agree? Explain.
12. Explain the following quotation: "The sense of justice, therefore, is not founded on our ideas, but on our impressions."(T 18.104.22.168)
13. Explain why Hume believes that the conventions of justice serve the public interest even though each individual application may not. This makes his account an indirect consequentialist account of the conventions of justice. Why doesn't he advocate that judges decide each case on the basis of what would best promote the public interest in that case?
14. Explain the following quotation: "Taking any single act, my justice may be pernicious in every respect; and it is only upon the supposition that others are to imitate my example, that I can be induced to embrace that virtue; since nothing but this combination can render justice advantageous, or afford me any motives to conform myself to its rules." (T 22.214.171.124)
15. What is the source of moral approbation that makes justice a virtue?
16. What does Hume mean by saying that the
conventions of justice are agreed to?
Did you ever agree to the property laws in the
17. Explain the following quotation: "But as it is certain that, however every thing be produced in time, there is nothing real that is produced by time, it follows, that property being produced by time, is not any thing real in the objects, but is the offspring of the sentiments, on which alone time is found to have any influence."(T 126.96.36.199)
18. Explain why Hume thinks the following is true: "a promise would not be intelligible before human conventions had established it; and that even if it were intelligible, it would not be attended with any moral obligation."(T 188.8.131.52) Explain each of the two clauses separately. What could be the content of the antecedent second clause: "even if it were intelligible"?
19. Another Chicken-Egg Problem: For Hume, a promise cannot produce a moral obligation unless there is a moral motivation for keeping the promise. According to Hume where does that moral motivation come from? How might someone who does not think that the moral force of promises depends on convention reply to Hume? Critically evaluate both the conventionalist and the anti-conventionalist position.
20. According to Hume, what problem does promising solve? How does it do it?
21. What does Hume mean by "interest is the first obligation to the performance of promises"?(T 184.108.40.206) Is he correct?
22. What is the point of Hume's example of the surgeon and the robber (T 220.127.116.11)? Do you agree with Hume on the example? How might someone disagree with Hume on the significance of the example?
23. What are the three laws on which the peace and security of human society depend?
24. "This is the reason why men so often act in contradiction to their known interest; and, in particular, why they prefer any trivial advantage that is present, to the maintenance of order in society, which so much depends on the observance of justice."(T 18.104.22.168) What is Hume's explanation of unjust action? Critically evaluate his explanation.
25. According to Hume, what is the origin of civil government? What are the advantages of government?
27. Explain the following quotation: "Two neighbours may agree to drain a meadow, which they possess in common: because it is easy for them to know each other's mind; and each must perceive, that the immediate consequence of his failing in his part, is the abandoning the whole project. But it is very difficult, and indeed impossible, that a thousand persons should agree in any such action; it being difficult for them to concert so complicated a design, and still more difficult for them to execute it; while each seeks a pretext to free himself of the trouble and expence, and would lay the whole burden on others. Political society easily remedies both these inconveniences." Hume insists that, even without a government to punish non-cooperation, cooperation is in one's self-interest in both cases. Is this correct?
28. Explain the following quotation: "Thus, bridges are built, harbors opened, ramparts raised, canals formed, fleets equipped, and armies disciplined, every where, by the care of government, which, though composed of men subject to all human infirmities, becomes, by one of the finest and most subtile inventions imaginable, a composition which is in some measure exempted from all these infirmities."(T 22.214.171.124)
29. Aristotle distinguished between natural virtue and virtue in the strict sense by saying that natural virtue is blind but virtue in the strict sense is guided by reason. How might Hume distinguish between natural virtue and virtue in the strict sense? What would Hume substitute for the role of reason in Aristotle's account? Critically evaluate both positions.