PHIL 437A: Study Questions for Week #9 (Nov. 24): Morality
1. "All these systems concur in the opinion, that morality, like truth, is discern'd merely by ideas, and by their juxta-position and comparison."(T 22.214.171.124) What does Hume mean here? What does he think is the mistake made by all such systems of morality? Explain.
2. (a) "Reason is the discovery of truth or falsehood. Truth or falsehood consists in an agreement or disagreement either to the real relations of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact. Whatever, therefore, is not susceptible of this agreement or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false, and can never be an object of our reason."(T 126.96.36.199) Explain why, in this passage, Hume is talking about the understanding and not just reason in the sense in which he uses the term in Book 1. Why does Hume think that moral distinctions cannot be relations of ideas? Why does he think that they cannot be matters of fact?
3. The previous quotation continues: "Whatever therefore is not susceptible
of this agreement or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false, and can
never be an object of our reason. Now, it is evident our passions, volitions,
and actions, are not susceptible of any such agreement or disagreement; being
original facts and realities, complete in themselves, and implying no reference
to other passions, volitions, and actions. It is impossible, therefore, they
can be pronounced either true or false, and be either contrary or conformable
to reason." Explain why this is a
version of noncognitivism about the passions.
How might someone use Hume's own discussion in
Book 2 to challenge his noncognitivism about the passions?
4. According to Hume, what are the two ways that reason [understanding] can influence action?
5. "A fruit, for instance, that is really disagreeable, appears to me at a distance, and, through mistake, I fancy it to be pleasant and delicious. Here is one error. I choose certain means of reaching this fruit, which are not proper for my end. Here is a second error; nor is there any third one, which can ever possibly enter into our reasonings concerning actions. I ask, therefore, if a man in this situation, and guilty of these two errors, is to be regarded as vicious and criminal, however unavoidable they might have been? Or if it be possible to imagine that such errors are the sources of all immorality?"(T 188.8.131.52) What is Hume arguing here?
6. What does Hume think that his discussion of the crime of ingratitude shows? Why would an opponent disagree with him on this example? Critically evaluate both sides.
7. What does Hume think that his discussion of the crime of incest shows? Why would an opponent disagree with him? Critically evaluate both sides.
8. What does Hume think that his discussion of the crime of willful murder shows? Why would an opponent disagree with him? Critically evaluate both sides.
9. " We do not infer a character to be virtuous, because it pleases; but in feeling that it pleases after such a particular manner, we in effect feel that it is virtuous."(T 184.108.40.206) Explain how, on Hume's account, the judgment that a character is virtuous is like the judgment that of cause and effect. Explain how they are different.
10. According to Hume, moral judgments are the result of considering a character in general, without reference to our particular interest. Does this imply a cognitive element in Hume's account of moral judgment? Consider what he says about the possibility of a moral illusion (T 220.127.116.11).
11. "Now, since the distinguishing impressions by which moral good or evil is known, are nothing but particular pains or pleasures, it follows, that in all enquiries concerning these moral distinctions, it will be sufficient to shew the principles which make us feel a satisfaction or uneasiness from the survey of any character, in order to satisfy us why the character is laudable or blamable. An action, or sentiment, or character, is virtuous or vicious; why? because its view causes a pleasure or uneasiness of a particular kind. In giving a reason, therefore, for the pleasure or uneasiness, we sufficiently explain the vice or virtue."(T 18.104.22.168) If our approbation of good or disapprobation of evil is based on principles and principles are truths, then why doesn't Hume think that moral judgment takes place in the understanding, where determinations of truth and falsity are made? If Hume thinks that there is a reason for the pleasure or uneasiness involved in moral judgment, then why doesn't he think that moral judgments are based on Reason [or the understanding]?
12. According to Hume, what are the general principles on which morality is founded?
13. "'Tis impossible, therefore, that the character of natural and unnatural can ever, in any sense, mark the boundaries of vice and virtue."(T 22.214.171.124) What does Hume mean here?
14. Hume's equivalence: Why is virtue equivalent to the power of producing love or pride? Why is vice equivalent to the power off producing humility or hatred?
15. Why does Hume think that moral distinctions primarily apply to character traits rather than actions? Do you agree? Explain.
16. According to Hume, what are the four features that can make a character trait a moral virtue or moral vice (for both natural and artificial virtues and vices)? Would all four kinds of virtue generally be considered moral virtues? Consider each kind separately.
17. If Hume accepted that the moral virtues are all character traits that contribute to the general good, would Hume be a moral realist? Explain.
18. According to Hume, what is the only difference between the natural and the artificial virtues?
19. Hume considers the objection that we sympathize more with people close to us (e.g., our friends) than with persons far from us. This seems to imply that our moral judgments would show favoritism to those close to us. But Hume agrees that moral judgments should not show favoritism to those close to us. What is Hume's response to this objection? Does it introduce an element of cognitivism into his account of morality?
20. What does Hume mean by "Reason requires such an impartial conduct"(T 126.96.36.199)? Does this introduce a cognitivist element into his account of morality?
21. What does Hume mean by "Virtue in rags is still virtue."(T 188.8.131.52) What is his explanation for why this is true?
22. What does Hume mean by reason "correcting" the sentiments? What does Hume mean by "the general view of things"(T 184.108.40.206)? What role does it play in his account of morality? Does it introduce an element of cognitivism into his account of morality?