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Hume Studies Volume 27, Number 1, April 2001, pp. 181-185 Book Reviews ANNEJAAP JACOBSON, ed. Feminist Interpretations of David Hume. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. Pp. xi + 323. ISBN 0-27101971 -9, cloth, $55.00. ISBN 0-2170-1972-7, paper, $19.95. This collection of thirteen essays and editor's introduction is part of a "Re-reading the Canon" series that includes already published volumes of feminist interpretation of philosophers ranging from Plato and Aristotle to de Beauvoir and Derrida. The essays in this volume on David Hume cover the breadth of his work and aim to engage it with the concerns and challenges characteristic of feminist scholarship. No doubt many of us would welcome an essay collection of uniformly high quality to provide feminist perspectives on Hume and the philosophical questions he addresses; such would be useful, for example, to supplement standard reading in courses on Hume or early modern philosophy. Although I hesitate to recommend the volume as a whole in such a capacity, a number of the essays warrant the attention of scholars and students of Hume's writing. All but one of the essays in the volume are published here for the first time. The usual constraints preclude discussing each in turn or doing justice to the breadth of offerings. Instead, I briefly discuss here some of the more noteworthy contributions. Christine Swanton's "Compassion as a Virtue in Hume" aims to defend the status of Humean compassion as a virtue against two Nietzschean doubts. The first stems from Nietzsche's claim that pity involves "infection" with the Volume 27, Number 1, April 2001 182 Book Reviews pain of another and, so, arouses aversion to its object. Viewed thus, one may doubt that Humean compassion—involving as it does sympathy with another's suffering—is possible, let alone a virtue. Second, because pity involves a comparison of another's plight with our own, Nietzsche suggests it is vulnerable to ignoble motives: perhaps pity allows us to take pleasure in our comparative superiority or prompts us to aid its object only out of cowardice , lest our own vulnerability be revealed. Swanton draws on Hume's account of "the double sympathy" (Treatise of Human Nature II ix) in order to defend him against the first problem. This is no easy task, given Hume's somewhat hydraulic picture of the passions, but Swanton carries it off well. Noting the role of benevolence in Humean pity, Swanton explains how sympathy with another's great pain at the same time arouses a benevolence that involves one empathetically in another's interest in a way that produces not aversion but a concern for the alleviation of their suffering. Thus is pity possible on Hume's picture. The stronger case that pity is a virtue, Swanton argues, must take into account pity's scope and depth. The limited scope of the passion goes some way toward extricating it from Nietzsche's charge that "Pity increases the amount of suffering in the world." The limited depth of the passion—it is only faintly felt where the original impression of pain is slight—addresses the worry that pity is destructive of personal projects and values. However, Swanton raises the interesting question of whether the pain that nonetheless accompanies pity or compassion precludes pity from being a virtue, given that Hume says we disapprove of traits of character that are "immediately disagreeable" to their possessor. Here I find Swanton's answer on behalf of Hume—that what is "usual" or "common" in human beings constrains the criteria for virtue— less compelling. The defender of Humean virtue does better, I think, to focus on Hume's elaboration of the point of view from which assessments of traits of character are authoritative in order to examine the sense in which Humean appeals to what is common in human nature function for Hume in a normative, rather than statistical, sense. Swanton does attend to this corrected point of view in defending Hume against the second Nietzschean objection. There she argues that Hume's account of the corrected point of view of sympathy warrants the judgment that compassion undermined by ignoble motives is a vice...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 181-185
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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