- The Cautious, Jealous Virtue: Hume on Justice by Annette C. Baier
Annette Baier was the dean of contemporary Hume studies and one of the most insightful and influential philosophers writing on Hume. Since the late 1970s, her writings and the example of her distinctive mode of scholarship have inspired generations of scholars to look with fresh eyes at Hume's work. The special turn of her philosophical mind and personal style of writing are especially well-suited to uncover, appreciate, and effectively communicate the rich, nuanced, and humane dimensions of Hume's moral philosophy. Her masterpiece, A Progress of Sentiments (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), for example, taught us that Hume's moral psychology underwrites his moral and social philosophy. The Cautious, Jealous Virtue continues this lesson, but even more it argues that Hume's late History of England offers a wealth of insight into Hume's mature moral theory.
Baier's new book is divided into two parts. The first is an extended, newly-composed essay on a set of closely related themes, interwoven over five chapters. The movement through these chapters is not linear; later discussions of the themes fold back on earlier ones, sometimes qualifying or elaborating them, sometimes strictly building on them. The second part includes five previously-published classics of Baier's Hume scholarship on themes cognate to those in Part I. The style of writing is richly suggestive and provocative rather than analytic and demonstrative, yielding nuanced discussions of her main themes that are a pleasure to read.
Emerging from her pages is a portrait of Hume's subtle and supple mind, active on the ground floor as well as on the mezzanine. A keen observer of human psychology, human relations, and the effect of social and political forces on them, Baier's Hume is attuned to criticism and to his own maturing understanding and observations. Yet, at several points Baier leaves readers the task of relating Hume's evolving understanding of justice to the theory articulated in the Treatise and the Enquiry. She offers several provocative proposals, but sometimes it is unclear whether they are interpretive or revisionary.
We can get a sense of the richness, insight, and ambiguity of Baier's discussions from a brief look at four major themes addressed in Part I of the book. First, she offers a novel interpretation of Hume's view of the "natural motive to justice" approved from the general point of view, which he introduces in the puzzling "circle argument" of Treatise 3.2.1 (SBN 477-79). In a discussion extending over parts of four chapters, Baier finds wanting all the recent proposals on offer and argues, rather, that the motive is the "interested passion" at its most intelligent, inventive, and cooperative (36, 41, 44). This "reasonable cooperativeness" (76) is [End Page 280] expressed in a willingness to work with rather than against others, prompted by a sense of common interest (and recognition of one's share in it), in the coordinated scheme of rights and obligations defined by the rules of justice (65, 66). This is a worthy competitor to rival proposals, and, to my eye, it is very close to right.
Second, Baier argues that Hume's History offers a rich set of observations about the range, complexity, and interactions among all the virtues, as well as evidence of a substantially enlarged account of justice. Baier abundantly documents Hume's attention in the History to matters ignored in the Enquiry's account of virtue. In the History, for example, Hume offers an expanded catalogue of the virtues, including the capacity for friendship and, surprisingly, the virtue of piety (or at least its public practice). He also illustrates how virtues interact, combine, conflict, and temper each other and how virtuous dispositions can turn vicious. Hume even seems to have entertained the Platonic thought that some virtues play a foundational role in establishing and maintaining an individual's character, Baier argues. Yet, she admits ruefully that Hume "left the...