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Hume Studies Volume XXV, Numbers 1 and 2, April/November 1999, pp. 3-41 The General Point of View: Love and Moral Approval in Hume's Ethics CHRISTINE M. KORSGAARD Part I. A Problem in Hume's Moral Theory J. 1. The General Point of View According to Hume, moral judgments are based on sentiments of approval and disapproval that we feel when we contemplate a person's character from what Hume calls "a general point of view" (T 581-582).1 Taking up the general point of view regulates our sentiments about a person in two ways. First, we view the person not through the eyes of our own interests, but instead through the eyes of our sympathy with the person herself and her friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues (T 582 ff.; T 602). We assess her in terms of the effects of her character on those with whom she usually associates, the people Hume calls her "narrow circle" (T 602). So, to use one of Hume's own examples, we approve of our enemy's courage, though it has deleterious effects on ourselves, because its effect on our enemy and her own fellow citizens is a useful one (E2 216). Second, we judge her characteristics according to the usual effects of characteristics of that kind, rather than according to their actual effects in this or that case. As Hume puts it, we judge according to "general rules" (T 585). These two regulating devices bring objectivity, in one sense of an overworked term, to our moral judgments. Judging in sympathy with a person's narrow circle and according to general rules, we are able to reach agreement about her character. We all approve and disapprove of the same characteristics, Christine M. Korsgaard is Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy, 208 Emerson Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA. e-mail: korsgaar@fas.harvard.edu. 4 Christine M. Korsgaard and as a result we come to share an ideal of good character. Our concepts of the virtues and vices in this way arise from the general point of view. But Hume's account gives rise to a difficulty. Moral concepts and judgments are based on our moral sentiments, and our moral sentiments arise when we contemplate a person from the general point of view. The general point of view is a specially constructed perspective, or standpoint, from which we consider a person's character. But why do we contemplate a person from this special perspective in the first place? As I will put it, why do we take up the general point of view? This question may be taken as a request either for an explanation or for a justification (or of course both), so let me clarify the sense in which I mean it. At one extreme, we might ask only for a psychological explanation of the fact in question: How does it come about that we take up the general point of view, and judge people's characters from it? What psychological forces impel us to do that? At the other extreme, we might ask the question with a fully normative aim, a philosopher's question. That is, we might ask not only how it comes about that we take up the general point of view, but also whether the judgments we make from it are authentically normative and if so why. Ought I really to approve those whom I am inclined to approve from the general point of view, or perhaps even try to be like them myself? What binds me to do that? Somewhere between these two extremes is what we might call a question of moral anthropology: that is, an explanatory question, but one that seeks an explanation why people take the ideas of virtue and vice to be normative. There is room for dispute about whether Hume intends to answer the fully normative question.2 But I think there is no doubt that his explanatory aims extend to the question of moral anthropology. So I will put my point this way: Hume owes us an explanation at least of why we take up the general point of view, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 3-41
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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