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Hume Studies Volume XX, Number 1, April 1994, pp. 121-141 Hume's Distinction between the Natural and Artificial Virtues KEN O'DAY In A Treatise of Human Nature Hume divides his discussion of the virtues into two types: natural and artificial. This distinction between the virtues gives rise to two primary problems. The first, which I shall call the traditional problem (and with which Hume was primarily concerned), is why the artificial virtues (e.g., justice) should, given Hume's account of virtue, be considered virtues at all. The second problem is more recent and is discussed by J. L. Mackie in his book Hume's Moral Theory.1 According to Mackie, the problem is not with the artificial virtues but with the natural virtues. The essence of Mackie's claim is that the natural virtues are themselves ultimately artificial. The interesting thing about these two problems is that when set side by side they are in tension. Both push toward the obliteration of the distinction between the two kinds of virtues, but they do so in different ways. The traditional problem suggests that all virtues are natural (and to the extent that justice is thought not to be conformable to the natural model this is commonly used as a foil against such views), while Mackie's problem suggests that all virtues are artificial (ethics, as Mackie might say, is a matter of invention). Together these problems suggest that Hume's attempt to bifurcate the moral terrain is inherently unstable. I shall argue that each of these problems rests upon a mistaken understanding of Hume's distinction between the natural and artificial virtues. When given the proper interpretation neither of these problems threatens the distinction that Hume aims to make. Ken O'Day is at the Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721 USA. e-mail KODAY@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU 122 Ken O'Day However, Hume's attempt to divide the moral terrain is not merely a matter for Hume scholarship. The underlying problem—of which Hume's natural/artificial distinction constitutes one potential solution—concerns how we are to deal with the seemingly different character of virtues like justice and virtues like compassion. Justice and similar virtues seem to be concerned with abstract rules, while virtues like compassion seem far removed from rules and more connected with feelings and emotions. Since this appears to be the commonsensical view, it might be worth asking whether there is any theoretical way to account for it. If such a distinction cannot be made one may be forced to analyze justice in terms of feeling, or compassion in terms of abstract rules—neither of which appears entirely satisfactory. Thus, if Hume's distinction can be defended it may provide the basis of a worthwhile way to divide the moral terrain. My plan is as follows. In the first and second sections, respectively, I shall explicate the traditional problem and Mackie's problem with Hume's natural /artificial distinction. In the third section I lay out two possible interpretations of Hume's distinction: one of which focuses on the level of motives and the other of which focuses on the level of evaluations. In the fourth section I defend the motive interpretation. In the fifth and sixth sections, respectively , I return to the traditional problem and Mackie's problem and show how the motive interpretation allows for the resolution of each of these problems. 1. The Traditional Problem Book III of Hume's Treatise divides into three parts. The first part "Of Virtue and Vice in General" borrows from the arguments of II, iii, 3 to make the case against rationalism and for the moral sense. In the second and third part, respectively, Hume turns to a discussion of the artificial and natural virtues . The perplexing thing is why Hume begins with the artificial virtues and devotes over twice the space to discussing them. It would seem more natural to begin, as he does in the Enquiry, with the natural virtues.2 The most likely explanation for this organization is that Hume was aware that justice posed a special problem for the theory he was offering.3 This problem I shall...


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