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25 MORALITY AS A BACK-UP SYSTEM: HUME'S VIEW? The sense of duty is a useful device for helping men to do what a really good man would do without a sense of duty..... Nowell-Smith A certain picture of morality — arguably a Humean one — has come to have a prominent place in contemporary philosophy. On this picture, morality, as Richard Brandt asserts, is "a back-up system, which operates when spontaneous personal caring fails 2 to motivate us to do as we ought." Morality — at least in the form of moral principles, whose force is felt through one's sense of duty — is, on this view, ideally superfluous. As a guide for one's own conduct it is needed only insofar as the agent's affective network is deficient. If one only spontaneously desired a, cared about b, cared for c, felt aversion towards d as, ideally, one should, moral principles and a sense of duty would be of no use. There are good reasons for supposing that this is Hume's view. After all, his characterization of acting from duty is more than a little disparaging: When any virtuous motive or principle is common in human nature, a person, who feels his heart devoid of that motive, may hate himself upon that account, and may perform the action without the motive, from a certain sense of duty, in order to acquire by practice, that virtuous principle, or at least, to disguise to himself, ,as much as possible, his want of it. I will argue, however, that there is tension in Hume's ethics between two lines of thought. According to the first line of thought, and the one 26 usually associated with Hume, good conduct is conduct which is spontaneously prompted by virtuous desires. Unless our desires either are not what they should be or are motivationally weak, there is no need for mediation or tempering by a sense of duty or moral principles. According to the second line, the very good desires of a very good person may nonetheless need to be filtered, tempered, redirected or checked. This line is most evident in "Of the Origin of the Natural Virtues and Vices." Before arguing that these strains of thought are in tension in Hume's ethics, I need to clarify what is at issue and to develop the two competing pictures of moral motivation. First the issue. The issue is not 'Who is better: someone with a sense of duty but corrupt desires or someone with no sense of duty but ideal desires?' Nor is the issue one of the moral worth of actions ('Can an action have moral worth if it is not performed out of duty?') The issue, rather, is how to characterize morally good (or right) conduct. What role, if any, does a sense of duty or a Butlerian principle of reflection, i.e., an overarching, guiding conception of what is right or good which is 'juridically' supreme within the self, play in good conduct? Is morally good conduct ideally a matter of acting as one should from the proper desires? Or should the desires be governed and guided by moral principles? Consider two models of moral conduct. Model I: Morality as a Back-Up System On this picture, wrongness in conduct is traceable to an affective deficiency. The claim underlying this picture seems to be as follows: One 27 acts wrongly because one's passions are not quite what they should be. One person cheats in her business dealings because she cares too little about the welfare of others (and too much about her own); another is harsh and abrupt to a student because he cares too little about his students' concerns and is jealous and possessive when it comes to 'his time.' In each case the problem can be traced to an affective deficiency. Hume appears to be supporting this view when he asserts, "it may be establish'd as an undoubted maxim, that no act can be virtuous, or morally good, unless there be in human nature some motive to produce it, distinct from a sense of its morality' (T 479). A few pages later he writes, "[E]very immorality...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 25-52
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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