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Hume Studies Volume XX, Number 1, April 1994, pp. 37-58 Hume on Motivating Sentiments, the General Point of View, and the Inculcation of "Morality" ELIZABETH S. RADCLIFFE I. A Puzzle Two very different interpretations of Hume's moral theory are quite common in the literature: the "sentimentalist" interpretation, as I will call it, and the "ideal observer" reading. The sentimentalist interpretation has it that moral judgments are based on, or possibly even identical to, actual human feelings. Further, on this reading of Hume, virtue and vice themselves depend respectively on what produces pleasure or pain in us as normal human beings when we reflect on certain motives to action. The ideal observer reading, on the other hand, has it that, for Hume, moral distinctions are based on the hypothetical feelings of an ideal spectator—one who is, among other things, fully informed, entirely objective and not self-interested. Thus, virtue and vice themselves do not depend on actual human sentiments, but on the projected sentiments of an ideal spectator. Among those philosophers who have adopted the sentimentalist reading of Hume are Philippa Foot, Stephen Darwall (at one time), J. L. Mackie, and Simon Blackburn. Since Hume emphasizes that moral distinctions arise from "inside" us in some respect and that this internal ground gives them a motivational efficacy, the sentimentalist interpretation often emerges in these philosophers' discussions of Hume on moral motivation. For instance, in his earlier view, Darwall writes: Elizabeth S. Radcliffe is at the Department of Philosophy, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 95053 USA. e-mail: eradcliffe@scuacc.scu.edu 38 Elizabeth S. Radcliffe Note here that the moral judgment, for Hume, is internal to the moral judge. Since he believed that there would be general agreement in moral sentiment within a society, a sentiment within the moral judge would, he thought, generally be present in the agent also, were he to be placed in the appropriate reflective circumstances.1 And Foot, in commenting on Hume's solution to the "is/ought" problem, writes: Hume thought he himself had hit on the perfect solution to the problem. The new element in a proposition about virtue was the reference to a special sentiment of approbation: nothing new in the object, but something in ourselves. At a blow, he seemed to have put an end to the hunt for mysterious extra properties, and also to have shown the necessary connexion between morality and the will. For the moral sentiment, the special feeling which we call approbation, was a pleasurable sentiment, by which we were inclined towards those actions whose contemplation gave rise to it.2 For Mackie and Blackburn, Hume is an "emotivist" of a sophisticated sort and holds that moral judgments express a sentiment (a version of sentimentalism) but also accommodate "objectivist" ways of speaking about morality.3 Gilbert Harman, John Rawls, and David A. J. Richards are among the philosophers who have classified Hume's theory as an "ideal observer" theory.4 For example, Harman writes: ...according to Hutcheson and Hume, for an action to be wrong is for the action to be such that it would displease normal observers under conditions ideal for reacting to actions.... The relevant experience does not have to be actual. It is the experience an observer would have under ideal conditions.5 And Rawls writes: Consider the following definition reminiscent of Hume and Adam Smith. Something is right, a social system say, when an ideally rational and impartial spectator would approve of it from a general point of view should he possess all the relevant knowledge of the circumstances. A rightly ordered society is one meeting the approval of such an ideal spectator.6 The ideal observer reading seems to be supported by Hume's text as well, since Hume points out a concern common to sentiment-based moralities: that the intensity of one's feelings toward persons' actions and characters varies Hume Studies Hume on Motivating Sentiments 39 with the psychological distance from those about whom one is thinking, even though the moral judgments themselves do not vary. Hume explains this phenomenon by saying that in order to avoid the "continual contradictions" that would be occasioned by differences in feelings...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 37-58
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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