David Hume (1711-1776)
In the scheme of this book I did not intend to dedicate a section to David Hume (1711-1776). I had not read anything directly from him. I knew him indirectly and considered him as a historian and a philosopher within English Empiricism. And because of its famous difference between to be and ought that later Moore turned into the naturalistic fallacy..
But I just finished his "An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals" (Hume, 2014) and I think that his personality, his sympathy (English) and their good ideas deserve some of my own lines.
It seems that Hume was a supporter of utilitarianism a vitalist and a pragmatic. A good man who did not complicate his life looking for ultimate goals and it was enough for him to preach and exercise benevolence; which is a broad virtue in which fits, as in extended-altruism, the main virtues that promote the happiness and well-being of men. I write down and comment on what I found most significant in my readings:
. The cornerstone: Hume reproves philosophers that want to base morality on Reason "...through metaphysical reasoning and deductions derived from the most abstract principles of understanding" (Page 39). And he adds that even "the subtle Lord Shaftesbury " (who often quotes in his works) is not entirely free of it.
Hume says that reason deals with knowing the facts and judging if they are true or false, but who decides if something is virtuous or vicious is the Moral feeling which is something that is implicit in every man. The foundation of our morality is inside us: each one of us. And its base is common to all men.
. The method: Discards the deductive and says: "...we will try to follow a very simple method: we will analyze that mental qualities complex that forms what in the common life we call Personal Merit: we will consider each attribute of the soul that makes a man an object of esteem and affection... " And for the philosopher, the guarantee of success is: "...get for a moment inside oneself and see if he would like it if he was assigned this or that quality " .
Add then: "...we can only hope to be successful following the experimental method and deducting general maxims through a comparison of particular cases". And it ends bluntly: "...It is time for us to try a similar reform in all Disquisitions about morality rejecting any system of ethics that, however subtle and ingenious it may be, is not based on facts and observation".
Hume seems to reflect the cheerful English "scientistic" pragmatism against the idealistic rationalism, of pure philosopher, that will make Kant (and his readers) suffer so much.
.The applications: I will not write more quotes because the whole book would be quotable. And throughout the book it is clear that Hume's moral standards are valid for all major ethics:
a). They aim happiness through virtues. Of people, their collectives and humanity.
b) They are deontological rules. A short quote on page 41: "...the goal of all moral speculation is to teach us our duty... "Duty to us, to our neighbors and to humanity.
c) And they are utilitarian norms. Teleological rules, of the good and its consequences. And it justifies all the virtues that it proposes for the utility that they provide to others and to oneself.
In addition to this broad conceptual content of his moral norms, I believe that Hume's greatest advance, inspired possibly by Shaftesbury and by Hutcheson, was to make the society in which each one lives, the subject beneficiary of them. And to all Humanity, as the whole set of men, since they do not yet see the species Man as subject. Although Hume on page 92, says superficially: "General societies of men are absolutely necessary for the subsistence of the species"
He does not seem to agree with Hobbes "natural selfishness" and that "Man is wolf to man" Since, for Hume, the main innate virtue of man is benevolence. Although with the selfish love a little hassle is made for not having seen the basic idea or the extended altruism.
In summary: Hume, like many philosophers and theologians, comes to discover, with the aid of reason, that man in his nature has inscribed the moral principles to distinguish the virtues of vices, the good acts of the bad. For oneself and for others. But he renounces going beyond these general principles. On page 105 there is a long note of which I quote several sentences given its importance to better understand where our ideas fit. He says:
"It is not necessary that we continue our investigations to the point of asking ourselves why we have a humanitarian sense or camaraderie towards the others. It is enough that we experience it as a principle inherent in human nature. We must stop somewhere in our examination of the causes. In all science there are general principles beyond which we can not expect to find another, even more general, principle." And later:
...It is unlikely that these principles can be resolved into simpler and more universal principles, however many attempts may have been made for that purpose. Even if it were possible, this is not something that pertains to the present matter. Without risk we can consider these principles as original here. Satisfied we will stay if we manage to reveal all its consequences with sufficient clarity and insight!
I would love that the Bon David (Juan Arnau: 2014, 264) who suffered so much for the little case they made to their ideas while he lived, could see how much they have influenced later. And that he knew the simplest and universal principle in which you can solve and base your virtuous and original general principles for individual use.
To conclude. Juan Arnau in the work and page cited that Hume retracted without effort, his heterodox materialistic doctrines, for a religious woman to help him out of the ditch to which he had fallen in his native and final Edinburgh.
Madrid, 4.10.2018. Reviewed on 5.10.2018