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Hume Studies Volume XX, Number 2, November 1994, pp. 179-194 Symposium A version of this paper was presented at the symposium on A Progress of Sentiments by Annette C. Baier, held at the Pacific Division Meetings of the American Philosophical Association, Los Angeles, March 1994. On an Unorthodox Account of Hume's Moral Psychology RACHEL COHON One can learn a great deal about Hume's Treatise from Annette Baier's fascinating book, A Progress of Sentiments.1 It is in places dazzling, in others revelatory, occasionally puzzling, and everywhere interesting. Having said that, I proceed to criticize one aspect of it. Belief and the Passions My topic is Baier's interpretation of Hume's moral psychology. First I sketch out the striking differences between Baier's View of Hume's moral psychology and what I call the Standard View. Then I consider some of Baier's reasons for her unorthodox reading. I argue that Baier's View of Hume's moral psychology is motivated in part by a particular, unstated understanding of Hume's theory of the passions. As a consequence of this, I argue, Baier denies Hume the use of an especially strong argument against the moral rationalists' theory of motivation and morality, for that strong anti-rationalist argument (sometimes called the influence argument) depends upon a support that is incompatible with Hume's theory of the passions as Baier implicitly understands it. But without the influence argument, Hume's case against the moral rationalists would be much weaker. The relevant portion of the Standard View, on the other hand, makes better sense of Hume's campaign against Samuel Clarke and others, because it embraces the support Hume offers for the influence argument. So, in this one respect, I shall argue that a portion of the Rachel Cohon is at the Department of Philosophy, Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305 USA. 180 Rachel Cohon Standard View of Hume's moral psychology is superior to Baier's View. But whether we should reject Baier's View in favor of the relevant portion of the Standard View depends, of course, upon whether we can consistently reject the unstated interpretation of Hume's theory of the passions on which Baier's View seems to be based. Baier explicitly sees her version of Hume's moral psychology as shaped by the account of the passions in Book II. And Baier's discussion of the role of belief in the causation and individuation of the passions is illuminating. It helps guard against a common oversimplification of Hume's claim about the motivating power of reason. Baier reminds us that passions are impressions of reflection, and hence must be introduced in the mind by an impression or an idea; i.e., each passion is caused by certain ideas or impressions. Passions are "thought-caused" and "idea-mediated" (160). Anger, for example, "is always directed at someone for some perceived insult, injury or harm" (161). It has a "subject" or cause, the injury the person is thought to have done one. In one place Baier refers to the causes of passions as their "appropriate reasons" (164). The causes are "thoughts about what is or is likely to become the case" (161). For something to be a passion at all rather than a mere pleasure or pain, some idea must be present to cause it. Passions do, indeed, have their hedonic components, such as the two pleasures included in pride. But for pride to be the passion it is, rather than some other, "one must believe the fine thing to be one's own" (161). A particular belief is what identifies the passion. Even desire is influenced by a belief or idea, and subsequently is often called "preference " (164). Thus, since reason produces beliefs, and beliefs are the crucial, identifying causes of passions, reason has a thorough-going influence on passion. And since passions are what move us to act, reason provides indispensable causal input into volition and action. It is easy but inaccurate to describe Hume as saying that belief, or reason, does not cause action. Furthermore, besides having a characteristic cause, many passions have an intentional object distinct from their cause. For anger, this "object...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 179-194
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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