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Hume Studies Volume XXIII, Number 2, November 1997, pp. 213-226 Under Constraint: Chastity and Modesty in Hume ANN LEVEY In Book III of the Treatise1 (T 570-573), Hume undertakes the task of demonstrating why the obligation of women to be chaste and modest is greater than the obligation of men. Women are required to be more chaste than men, and only women are required to be modest. Hume's task here could be described as demonstrating the emergence of a double standard of sexual conduct as a moral requirement. This section of the Treatise is of special interest not only because it is Hume's only discussion in the Treatise of a primarily female virtue, but also because it is his only example of how specific artificial virtues arise in a society—virtues, furthermore, that he claims are "still more conspicuous instances of the operation of those principles, which I have insisted on" (T 570). The principles he has in mind are those that relate moral approbation and disapprobation to the general interests of society. This passage is also of interest because it has generated debate among feminist readers of Hume. His supporters have argued that Hume's discussion of chastity and modesty shows his awareness of the sexism of his time, while his detractors have argued that his moral framework provides the grounds for a justification of sexist discrimination.2 While I do not make any claims about whether Hume's political theory is sexist, the presence of such a debate makes it especially appropriate to ask whether Hume's remarks on chastity and modesty are consistent with his general principles, a task I take to be a first step in deciding whether a Humean framework is morally troubling. I argue that Hume is quite correct in thinking that chastity and modesty provide "conspicuous instances" of his general principles. After first giving a Ann Levey is at the Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive N.W. Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4 Canada. 214 Ann Levey brief outline of Hume's general theory of the artificial virtues, I shall show how chastity and modesty emerge as artificial virtues in Hume's system. In particular, I will be concerned to show that the emergence of chastity and modesty can be described in general Humean terms, and that they do indeed have the key features of an artificial virtue. My aim here is not to address those who think that chastity and modesty are natural virtues, but to address those who think that Hume is mistaken in thinking them to be virtues at all, as well as those who, like Annette Baier, think Hume is wrong in his claim that these are typical artificial virtues.3 I. Hume's General Theory Moral judgements are for Hume certain sorts of impressions. The actions or character traits that count as moral are those that tend to produce a sentiment of moral approbation. Moral approbation, according to Hume, is caused by those character traits that promote behavior having a tendency towards the public good, and disapprobation is caused by those character traits that have the opposite tendency. Because Hume's account is a causal one, it is possible for character traits or actions which do not have a tendency towards the public good to produce moral approbation. As I read Hume, those character traits would nevertheless count as moral. The moral quality of an action or character resides in the sentiment of the judgers, rather than in the objective facts about the object judged. This is Hume's sentimentalism. The uniformity of moral judgements is accounted for by the uniformity of the human mind—we naturally tend to approve of the agreeable and useful. Hume distinguishes between the natural and the artificial virtues. There are two main differences between them. First, natural virtues, or the actions that they produce, are those that give rise to moral approbation when considered individually because those single acts are useful or agreeable, while actions arising from artificial virtues only produce moral approbation when considered in the context of a general practice of such actions, because a single act considered in isolation from the general practice...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 213-226
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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