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  • Setting the Standard: Don Garrett’s Hume
  • Louis E. Loeb (bio)

Who other than Don Garrett could construct a work this rigorous and comprehensive, encompassing Hume’s aesthetics, political philosophy, and philosophy of religion—not as add-ons but tightly integrated into a genuinely new interpretation? Garrett’s intricate reading has no equal in the architectonic it locates in Hume’s philosophical corpus. This elegantly crafted work will reinvigorate thinking about Hume’s theory of normativity across the epistemic and moral realms.1

1. Introductory Overview

I center my comments on a central line of argument in chapters 4, 5, and 7. In chapter 4, Garrett focuses on four “sense-based” concepts or pairs of such concepts: virtue (and vice), beauty (and deformity), causation, and probability. (Following Garrett, I place names of concepts in small capital letters. See Hume, xxii). The sense-based concepts arise from distinctive “senses” (Hume, 118; see also 5), “primitive capacities to have a specific kind of felt mental response” (Hume, 119; see also 137, 162). In this characterization, the mental response must be felt. This is by design. Hume’s account of causation and probable truth is “modeled” (Hume, 5) on his treatments of virtue and beauty, so that the two sets of concepts are “analogous in many crucial respects” (Hume, 117); “it is not unreasonable to suppose that the parallels . . . result at least in part from Hume’s extension, however conscious or unconscious,” of Hutcheson’s “conceptions of beauty and virtue as discerned by the ‘senses’” (Hume, 118). As Garrett appreciates, this thesis has affinities with a proposal due to Norman Kemp Smith: that Hume was guided [End Page 243] by “a realization prompted by reflection on the sentiment-based moral theory of Francis Hutcheson . . . specifically, that a similar feeling-based approach could be ‘carried over to the theoretical domain of belief’” (Hume, 13).2

Garrett identifies “four elements—best thought of as overlapping stages—in the full development of a Humean sense-based concept” (Hume, 119). I judge the third element, “natural correction” (Hume, 120), pivotal. According to Garrett, a sense-based concept involves a standard of judgment; correction results from proper application of the standard. At this level of description, the idea is familiar from Hume’s “steady and general points of view” or “common point of view” in the correction of moral judgment (Hume, 121). Judgments are “corrected and refined through convergence on a standard” (Hume, 139), “serv[ing] to reduce intrapersonal and interpersonal disagreement” (Hume, 126). Application of sense-based concepts is nevertheless susceptible to “blameless diversity” (Hume, 127) or “blameless disagreement” (Hume, 144) “as a result of openness in the specification of an idealized set of respondent qualities” (Hume, 141), and thus “openness of the standard of judgment” (Hume, 144).

Garrett does not distinguish between “ideal” points of view and ones idealized to some extent. Hume invokes a merely “judicious” spectator (T; SBN 581).3 Though one could stipulate that the “ideal” point of view is that on which humans converge, it is an interpretive question whether, for Hume, humans would converge on a standard involving endowments that are optimal or perfect. Garrett allows that “it might be better just to speak of a ‘standardized’ observer rather than an ‘ideal’ or ‘idealized’ observer” (“Replies,” n1). In order to preempt confusion, I will most often write that the corrected and refined judgments issue from the standardized or the standard point of view; similarly, I will refer to the occupant of that point of view as the standard observer.

Garrett writes, “In its general form, a standard of judgment for a sense-based concept consists of an idealized situation or ‘point of view’ from which to be responsive, plus idealized endowments or ‘qualities’ of a perceiver with which to be responsive” (Hume, 120). The standard of moral judgment consists in the point of view of the “individual [judged] himself together with those who ‘have a connexion with him’ (THN; THN”—Hume’s doctrine of the narrow circle—and respondent qualities that include “sympathy” and “strong but delicate moral sentiments” (Hume, 121).4 The standard of judgments of...


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pp. 243-278
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