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Hume Studies Volume 30, Number 2, November 2004, pp. 329-338 A Symposium on Louis E. Loeb, Stability and Justification in Hume's Treatise Stability and Partiality in Hume's Moral Philosophy: A Response to Louis Loeb ERIN I. KELLY Hume's moral philosophy is a sentiment-based view. Moral judgment is a matter of the passions; certain traits of character count as virtues or vices because of the approval or disapproval they evoke in us, feelings that express concern we have about the social effects of these traits. A sentiment-based approach is attractive , since morality seems fundamentally to involve caring for other people. Sentiment-based views, however, face a real challenge. It is clear that our affections are often particular; we favor certain persons over others. This poses a problem when it comes to determining the proper content of morality. The ties of sentiment would seem to be in tension with the aspirations of morality toward impartiality and universality. To be sure, some sentimentalists reject a conception of morality as impartial and universal. But no serious sentimentalist believes that we should understand moral judgment to track without qualification the partiality of our ties of affection. Morality exhorts us to transcend in some measure our own particular concerns and preoccupations in order to extend appropriate attention to the interests of other people considered apart from ourselves. Hume acknowledges this. He believes that the "variability of our sympathies" provides a difficulty for which the "corrections" of moral thought offer a solution. The question I would like to pose for sentimentalist moral philosophies, and for Hume's philosophy in particular, is whether a sentiment-based account of moral judgment can adequately correct for distortions in moral thinking that result from self and group-interest. I believe this question is especially urgent for Erin I. Kelly is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02215, USA. e-mail: erin.kelly@tufts.edu 330 Erin I. Kelly Louis Loeb's interpretation of Hume, and I am not convinced that Loeb provides a convincing response to it on Hume's behalf. Loeb concentrates on Hume's account of justification, both epistemic and moral. The epistemic account considers the justification of belief—the conditions under which forming a belief would be rational. As Loeb reads Hume, these conditions are characterized by psychological mechanisms that tend to generate stable beliefs (SJ 88)} Stable beliefs are dispositions that exert a steady influence on thought, feeling and action (SJ 8O).2 They contrast with ideas that are "momentary ," "floating," and "loose."3 Forming stable beliefs organizes our thinking, it keeps our mind from wandering and enables us to form interests and plan for the future (SJ 79; see T 1.3.10.2; SBN 118-19). Stability is achieved when belief is "infixed" by the senses, memory, and causal inference and when conflict and tension with other beliefs is avoided. The claim Loeb is making on Hume's behalf is a normative claim about belief. It concerns the beliefs we are epistemically obligated to accept. The source of this normative claim, Loeb argues, is found in our motivation to avoid the uneasiness that arises from an unsteady will and from conflict and disharmony among our beliefs. We seek a tranquil and coherent resolution to haphazard principles of action and divisions in our epistemic commitments. This commits us to a normative standard: we ought to base our beliefs on information supported by our senses, memory and causal inferences. According to Loeb, stability is the key to Hume's account of justification also in contexts in which belief is not mainly in question. Our moral judgments are justified if they result from mechanisms that tend to provide stable judgments. Stable moral judgments are the product of "corrections" that aim to ease "cognitive dissonance" caused by variation in our sympathies.4 Loeb is drawn to the language of cognitive dissonance to describe instability in our moral experience, for it has the advantage of capturing psychological tensions and discomforts that are not necessarily a matter of logical inconsistency. It seems to be appropriate terminology to apply to tensions between our sentiment-driven judgments. Cognitive dissonance arises in the case of moral...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 329-338
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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