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HUME, MOTIVATION AND MORALITY Hume remarks, in the Abstract, that his account of the passions in Book II of the Treatise has 'laid the foundation' (A 7 Ì1 for his theory of morals. Pall Ardal has shown how Hume's theory of certain indirect passions (pride, humility, love, hatred) underpins his theory of the evaluation of character. I propose to explore the links between Hume's account of motivation and his treatment of an agent 'ß moral assessment of prospective action. Where Ardal stresses the moral spectator, my focus is on the agent. Hume himself attends primarily to the moral spectator, but the agent's perspective is central in two of his chief arguments concerning morals, that for the thesis that moral distinctions are derived from a moral sense, and that for the artificiality of justice. I shall take it that the argument of Treatise II, iii, 3 ("Of the influencing motives of the will") provides the framework for analysis: acting for moral reasons is like acting for any other reason; citing his moral principles to explain a man's actions is like citing his desire to preserve his health as an explanation of his taking exercise; deliberating about moral matters is like pondering the purchase of a pair of shoes. Of course there are differences; I shall look to them shortly. It is essential, however, to begin with the similarities . To a first approximation, the central doctrine is that the reasons that explain actions are rational causes of those actions. Reasons for actions are constituted by suitably related desires and beliefs; volitions are somehow implicated in intentional actions. Reasons are causes: the desires and beliefs that constitute reasons cause volitions, and thus actions. They are rational causes: there are links of special kinds between the contents of the desires and beliefs that constitute an agent's reasons for what he does, and the content of the volitions implicated in the actions done. Hume is at pains to deny that "reason [here: belief] alone can ... be a motive to any action of the will" (T 413). But he insists there are "two principal parts [of human nature], which are requisite in all its actions, the affections and understanding' (T 493). I suggest that by "affections" he here means specifically (if broadly) desires, and so both the "direct passions" of desire and aversion and such "indirect passions" as benevolence, anger, pity, compassion and malice. Hume's official doctrines both of desires and of volitions are unsatisfactory as they stand; he treats each as simple impressions. To be sure, these simple impressions are said always to be accompanied by thoughts of (in Hume's phrase) their objects. Even such complex states, however, can play no satisfactory role in psychological theory. The insights that Hume's official doctrines mishandle can, I suggest, be incorporated into more defensible, and more-or-less Humean, analyses of the internal structure of desire and volition. Having made efforts along these lines elsewhere, however, I shall here concentrate on other features of desire and volition that are germane to Hume's moral psychology. Desires and volitions are alike in two linked respects, among others: neither takes a truth value (and so each differs from belief); each is a conative , not a cognitive, psychological state (and so, again, each differs from belief). Because desires and volitions are not capable of "an agreement or disagreement either to the real relations of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact" it is "impossible ... they can be pronounced either true or false" (T 458). Their general functional role is that of "propense and averse motions of the mind" (T 574). To be sure, there are differences. The principal difference is that of specific functional location: desires are constituents in reasons for acting: volitions are constituents of (or otherwise implicated in) actions done for such reasons. This functional difference is tied to differences of content. To grasp the many relations among belief, desire and volition, when the first two serve as 4 reason for (and so cause of) the third, it is useful to plot their causal relations onto the elements in an Aristotelian practical syllogism. Desires function as causally salient major premises...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 1-24
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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