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Hume Studies Volume XXV, Numbers 1 and 2, April/November 1999, pp. 266-269 DANIEL J. SHAW. Reason and Feeling in Hume's Action Theory and Moral Philosophy: Hume's Reasonable Passion (Studies in the History of Philosophy, vol. 49). Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1998. xxiv + 153. ISBN 0-77348282 -2, $79.95, cloth. Generally speaking, there are two ways to oppose another philosopher's view. You can argue against it—for example, by finding counterexamples, showing that it entails various unpalatable or absurd conclusions, or by raising objections to the arguments offered in its support. Or you can offer an alternative account of the issue in question. These two sorts of responses are, of course, complementary, and Hume uses both in his attempt to reveal the errors of traditional approaches to ethics. While Hume's negative arguments against rationalist moral theories—including the related attacks on the role of reason in motivation (T II iii 3) and in our moral judgments (T III i 1)—are justly famous, they have been criticized on a number of grounds. Hume has been charged with mischaracterizing the position of his rationalist opponents, with violating some of his own positions on the structure of reason and the passions, and with relying on ad hoc replies to objections he anticipates will be brought against his own arguments. One strategy for interpreting these problematic negative arguments would be to read them in light of Hume's own positive view of morality. Daniel J. Shaw, however, takes the opposite approach. His monograph, Reason and Feeling in Hume's Action Theory and Moral Philosophy: Hume's Reasonable Passion, is devoted to understanding Hume's antirationalist arguments in almost complete isolation from his positive account. (In the final chapter, however, Shaw briefly examines what a Humean account of virtue might be, given the claim that moral judgements are feelings.) Shaw carefully considers many of the obvious objections to Hume's antirationalism, and tries to show that, for the most part, they miss their mark. This is a valiant attempt to rescue Hume from his own errors; but I cannot say that I am wholly convinced by Shaw's defense. Shaw's most innovative move is his interpretation of the calm passions. Hume introduces these in order to explain why philosophers and nonphilosophers alike have assumed that reason could determine our conduct, even when our passions are absent or when they push us in the wrong direction. In T II iii 3, Hume argues that this is a mistaken picture of motivation, claiming, in an argument that Shaw endorses (albeit with some qualifications), that feelings are primary in the causal production of action. Even in those cases where we might think that feelings are not operative—when deliberating about whether to do our laundry today or tomorrow—we are moved by "a general appetite to good, and aversion to evil" or by some other "instinct originally implanted in our nature" (T 417), the calmness of which makes us overlook its Hume Studies Book Reviews 267 passional nature. We know the feeling more by its effects than "by the immediate feeling or sensation" (T 417). Shaw follows Stroud and others in worrying that Hume's introduction of the calm passions is ad hoc, a result of his holding on to his thesis in the face of persuasive evidence against it (58-60). Like Stroud, he worries that Hume is not entitled to the claim that we misunderstand what is at work in our minds (taking a calm passion to be an aspect of reason), given his commitment to the thesis that "we cannot be mistaken about the contents of our own minds at any given moment" (59).1 Shaw attempts to help Hume escape these criticisms by suggesting that the calm passions should be understood as unactualized dispositions to have desires were the person in question to think about the relevant objects and, moreover, that these dispositions can cause various kinds of behavior even when unactualized (64-75). Since these dispositions involve feelings, Hume may consistently maintain that all motivation is based on passion. And since they are recognizable by the agent when she does consider the relevant...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 266-269
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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