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Hume Studies Volume XXIV, Number 1, April 1998, pp. 5-30 Justice and the Foundations of Social Morality in Hume's Treatise JACQUELINE TAYLOR Hume famously distinguishes between artificial virtues and natural virtues, or, at one place, between a sense of virtue that is natural and one that is artificial. The most prominent of the artificial virtues are those associated with the practices of justice. Commentators have devoted much attention to Hume's explanation of what motivates us to be just. But his main concern in the Treatise is to explain why we approve morally of just conduct.1 While there surely are complexities surrounding the issue of the motivation to be just, in one sense Hume's explanation is quite straightforward: self-interest motivates us to establish and follow the conventions of justice. The real interest in his account of the establishment of justice lies in his further explanation of how those conventions transform our moral psychology, and lead us to form shareable moral points of view from which we can reach agreement on the value of characters. My reading of Hume's account in the Treatise is as follows. Hume attributes to us a social morality, the central notion of which is a moral sensibility that has its origins in nature, but that must be extended by social artifice in order to accommodate the various virtues important to cooperative living. I will contend that the moral psychology embodied in a cultivated sense of morality depends on the redirection of our evaluative propensities and therefore requires the sorts of convention that Hume associates with justice.2 My thesis helps to make sense of the structure of Book III: Hume has genuine philosophical reasons for introducing the artificial virtues prior to the natural ones.3 Jacqueline Taylor is at the Department of Philosophy, Tufts University, Medford MA 02155-7059 USA. email: jtaylor@emerald.tufts.edu 6 Jacqueline Taylor The main goal of this paper is to show that Hume's philosophy has the resources to explain our ability to balance our appraisal of the artificial and natural virtues, since we need both sorts of virtue to live well. As a foil for my view, I want to use the argument advanced by Barry Stroud and others that Hume faces a special difficulty in explaining how we sustain our approval of particular just acts that considered in themselves appear harmful to the public good. Stroud argues that Hume fails to explain what recommends justice as a virtue to us in all cases, and thus fails to capture the concern we have for fairness.4 While Stroud finds in the second Enquiry the seeds of a view, based on our sympathetic approval of what tends to the good of mankind, that could provide the materials for developing a naturalistic account of how we come to have a concern for justice and fairness, he argues that Hume's interest lies squarely in the origin of justice and not in how people develop shared social attitudes (Stroud, 216-218). I disagree with Stroud's pronouncement that Hume fails to explain sufficiently our moral approval of justice, but I must leave to one side discussion of the particular social attitudes of justice, such as concern for fairness. My focus will be on how we cultivate a range of shared attitudes of moral appraisal and the relation of these to justice. Stroud misjudges Hume's project, at least in part, because he neglects the historical context in which Hume was writing, and overlooks some important differences between Hume and his contemporary, Francis Hutcheson.5 In Book II of the Treatise, in a discussion of virtue and vice as causes of pride and humility, Hume signals the reader that in the next book he will examine "the controversy...whether these moral distinctions be founded on natural and original principles, or arise from interest and education" (T 295). The controversy to which he refers is that between moral sense theorists, such as Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, on the one side, and members of the Hobbesian or "selfish" school, which includes Mandeville as well as Hobbes, on the other. As he starts Book III, Hume seems to suggest that his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 5-30
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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