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Hume Studies Volume XXV, Numbers 1 and 2, April/November 1999, pp. 123-137 Pride and Hume's Sensible Knave JAMES KING It follows, that these two particulars are to be consider'd as equivalent, with regard to our mental qualities, virtue and the power of producing love or pride, vice and the power of producing humility or hatred. In every case, therefore, we must judge of the one by the other. (T 575) 1. The Question Whether the sensible knave can take pride in herself is a question not merely curious but potentially devastating for Hume's moral theory. Hume assuredly classifies knavery a vice, but given his doctrine that it belongs to virtue to produce pride, then if she can take pride in herself qua knave, the knave is positioned to claim that knavery is, and ought to be recognized as, a virtue. And if this is true, then either Hume is mistaken to have classified knavery as a vice or, if he is not mistaken, his moral theory yields incoherencies—the same quality being both a virtue and a vice. Let me enter a few clarifications. The "sensible knave" is identified by reference to the famous text at the end of the second Enquiry (IX ii), and pride is identified by reference to Books II and III of the Treatise; the question, in other words, is whether the knave we identify as Humean can take a pride we identify as Humean.1 To this question the readiest answer is, it must be conceded, that indeed, she can: lacking in sympathy the knave may well be, but not, evidently , lacking in pride. James King is a professor at the Department of Philosophy, Northern Illinois University, DeKaIb, IL 60115, USA. e-mail: jtking@niu.edu 124 James King In proposing that it is false that the knave can take pride in herself, I concede I face a formidable challenge. Even if pride be understood as Humean pride, it seems undeniable that, given her character, the knave will be proud of pulling off a very challenging task: to capitalize, in the face of general social commitment to unexceptionable rules of justice, on every opportunity for selfaggrandizement , including instances involving violations of those rules. Granted that she cannot broadcast her self-congratulation, she will nonetheless feel it, and arguably might prize it as all the more her own just because she cannot broadcast it.2 Moreover, those writers who have felt that the sensible knave case constitutes a problem for Hume will naturally be inclined to credit the knave with the resources for taking pride in herself. In point of fact, the present question portends perhaps more of a challenge to Hume than many of the criticisms of his account of the sensible knave in currency. These take Hume to task for giving only an unconvincing treatment of the problem of responding to the sensible knave; our question challenges whether Hume was in fact inconsistent in condemning the sensible knave. Assuming a material equivalence between the personal qualities that produce pride and the qualities of virtue, it would seem to follow that if the sensible knave can be proud of herself qua knave, Hume should not have condemned but rather have praised her. Accordingly, it appears more is at stake in answering this question than has so far found its way into the commentaries on Hume's treatment of the sensible knave theme. Nonetheless, my claim is that for Hume she cannot take pride in herself. And if I can show this to be true, interestingly the sensible knave case is shown to be less of a problem for Hume than commentators have taken it to be. One cannot move too swiftly to a conclusion, however, for there is a further aspect of knavery that is problematical. It appears that knavery shares with an important Humean virtue, namely greatness of mind, the characteristic of self-affirmation in the face of resistance to us on the part of others. We shall also have to determine whether there is a resemblance such as to make knavery a virtue. In the following sections, first Hume's accounts of knavery and of pride that support...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 123-137
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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