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Hume Studies Volume 28, Number 1, April 2002, pp. 83-111 Hume on Regulating Belief and Moral Sentiment KATHLEEN WALLACE There have been numerous discussions in recent years of Hume's general point of view. Some of the issues raised have been (1) Is the general point of view the moral point of view? (2) Is the general point of view necessary in order for a judgment to count as a moral judgment? (3) Does the general point of view provide a justificatory perspective or is it a psychological explanatory concept that explains how moral judgments are made without necessarily offering a standard or normative basis for moral judgments? (4) If a general point of view yields some notion of impartiality, then how does it do so without introducing rationalistic elements that would undermine the sentimentalist approach Hume defends?1 In this paper I offer an interpretation of Hume's general point of view in morals as, employing a photographic analogy, a kind of focusing activity. It allows for strengthening of sentiments for those remote and, through contrariety , weakening of sentiments for those near such that we are moved to focus on those effects that are typical and, through conversing with others, arrive at general principles of praise or blame. I also examine the general point of view in comparison to what Hume has to say about regulation of belief. The comparison with belief sheds new light, I think, on how production of contrariety through the general point of view is regulative in morals. On my interpretation of the general point of view, it does not undermine Hume's sentimentalist thesis in morals, but rather is a device by which sentiment is properly aroused and directed. The comparison with the belief-regulating Kathleen Wallace is Professor of Philosophy, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY115491000 , USA. e-mail: phikaw@hofstra.edu 84 Kathleen Wallace mechanism of Book 1 of the Treatise also suggests some ways in which Hume's treatment of the general point of view is part of a unified or systematic treatment of regulation, that for Hume regulation is itself a kind of virtuecognitive , passional, or moral.2 In what follows I will first briefly discuss the notion of regulation with respect to belief about matters of fact, that is, causal relations. This will be helpful in setting up the scope of regulation in morals, since the latter involves , but is not limited to, regulation of belief. The discussion of belief will be followed by a longer discussion of the general point of view and the issue of regulation in morals. Finally, I will draw explicit comparisons between the two kinds of regulation that both illuminate moral regulation and secondarily suggest that Hume has a unified treatment of regulation. 1. The Generalizing Propensity and General Rules In Treatise 1.3.13 Hume explicitly discusses what he calls "general rules" (T.3.13.7-12; SBN 146-50). Shou'd it be demanded why men form general rules, and allow them to influence their judgment, even contrary to present observation and experience, I shou'd reply, that in my opinion it proceeds from those very principles, on which all judgments concerning causes and effects depend. Our judgments concerning cause and effect are deriv'd from habit and experience; and when we have been accustom'd to see one object united to another, our imagination passes from the first to the second, by a natural transition, which precedes reflection, and which cannot be prevented by it. (T 1.3.13.8; SBN 147) There are two tendencies that Hume identifies under "generalizing." The first is an error-prone generalizing tendency of the imagination and the second is the tendency to form corrections, in the understanding to form general rules for regulating inferences. Hume calls both these tendencies species of "generalizing " because in each case the mind moves beyond what is immediately present before it and supplements with an idea or a device from its own activity.3 There is some debate among commentators about whether Hume makes a sharp distinction between reflective, deliberate generalizing (such as that involved in the formation of the rules by which to judge of causes and effects ) and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 83-111
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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