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Hume, Malebranche, and the Self-Justification of the Passions

From: Hume Studies
Volume 38, Number 2, November 2012
pp. 201-220 | 10.1353/hms.2012.0018



In Book 2 of the Treatise, Hume echoes Malebranche’s Search after Truth in noticing that all our passions tend to justify themselves. I reveal this borrowing and examine how this phenomenon of the self-justification of the passions fits into Malebranche’s and Hume’s different approaches to the passions and their links to judgment and truth. I maintain that whereas Malebranche aims to warn against the errors that passions involve when justifying themselves, Hume only considers the self-justification of the passions as an example of the dynamic nature of the mind, other examples of which are displayed elsewhere in the Treatise. I also show that Hume’s understanding of the self-justification principle illustrates another important theme of Books 1 and 2, namely, the reciprocal influences of the imagination and the passions.