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141. ON HARRISON'S INTERPRETATION OF TREATISE III ii 1 In Treatise III ii 1, Hume is concerned to argue that justice is an artificial virtue, not a natural one. Commenting on this Section, Jonathan Harrison has pointed out that, on his reading and interpretation, Hume's argument runs into many difficulties. I shall argue in this paper that a more sympathetic reading of Hume will show that his argument is a whole lot more plausible than Harrison takes it to be. Harrison raises many separate points, but instead of taking up these points one by one, I shall concentrate on one that seems to be most serious, and to lie at the heart of his criticism. The point is as follows. Hume's argument, designed to prove that justice is an artificial virtue as opposed to natural, proves too much: '(It) proves that justice is not a virtue at all' (HTJ 6). According to Harrison, Hume's first premise is [1] That actions are not duties unless there is in the mind of man a motive which normally prompts him to perform them, and the second premise is [2] That there is in the mind of man no motive which normally prompts him to perform just actions ( ibid. ) Harrison goes on to argue that we can derive from these two premises the 'embarrassing conclusion' that 'it cannot be a duty to perform just actions,' or that 'justice is not a virtue at all.' If Hume did indeed assert [1] and [2], the embarrassing conclusion would seem to follow. I shall argue that there is more than meets the eye as regards [1], and that Hume does not assert [2], 142. It would appear that in attributing [1] to Hume, Harrison has the following passage in mind: (It) may be establish'd as an undoubted maxim, that no action can be virtuous, or morally good, unless there be in human nature some motive to produce it, distinct from the sense of its morality (T 479). As I interpret this passage, the main point of the maxim is that the virtuousness of an action resides not in the sense of the morality of the action, as this is clearly circular, but in some other motive. This maxim does imply [1] above provided that we take Harrison's 'actions are not duties' to mean 'actions are not virtuous,' and his 'motive' to mean 'motive other than a sense of duty or morality.' In general, however, Harrison's way of rendering the passage above is quite unsatisfactory because it obscures what Hume means by 'duty' and what for Hume renders an action virtuous. To clarify matters, we need to look more closely at Hume's maxim. The first thing to note is that, while it is not clear what Harrison means by 'motive, ' Hume clearly uses the term 'motive' to mean 'passion.' Hume talks about 'the motives that produced' actions (T 477, my emphasis). Given Hume's psychology of actions, it is obvious that Hume is talking about the passions that produced actions. The sense of morality or duty, or the moral sentiment, is itself a passion which is capable of producing actions, and can do so 'without any other motive' (T 479). However, what Hume stresses in the passage above is that it is not the sense of duty that gives an action a good moral character, but some other motive, or passion. Hume is saying that the sense of duty is a derivative passion: an action has to 143, be established as virtuous in the first place for there to be a sense of duty concerning that action, or a sense of its morality; and it has to be so established by some other motive of which the sense of duty can be said to be derivative. Hume spells this out explicitly when he talks about humane actions. Thus, it is the humanity that 'bestows a merit on the actions' (T 478), not a regard to this merit, or a sense of duty concerning the actions, which is 'deriv'd from the antecedent principle of humanity' ( ibid. , my emphasis). Now a sense of duty or obligation has to be distinguished from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 141-153
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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