Philosopher David Hume on an enquiry concerning the principles of morals Summary

SECTION I: on the General Principles of Morals

"concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong"

133. It is extremely irksome to dispute with those who are obstinate in their principles. In their blind adherence to their own arguments and their passion for sophistry and falsehood, they are immune to reason. They show contempt for those who disagree with them. They should be left alone for only then might they become wearied into siding with common sense and reason.

There are those who deny moral distinctions and inconceivably assume that all people should be held in high regard whatever their actions. However insensitive a person is, he must often feel that some things are Right and some Wrong and that other people have like impressions.

134-37. This is worthy of examination: whether the knowledge of Morals is like all sound judgments of truth (from reasoning and deduction making them the same for every rational person), or whether knowledge of them is, like beauty, from an immediate feeling and inner sense. [If beauty is in the mind of the beholder, why not also righteousness?]

The ancient philosophers considered virtue to be conformity to reason and yet morals to be derived by taste and sentiment. But our modern enquirers talk of the beauty of virtue yet turn to abstract, metaphysical principles for the difference from vice.

Instead, it should be acknowledged that moral distinctions are discernible by pure reason (hence all the arguments of reasoning given in discussion). But there is a difference between truth and taste: truth is disputable, taste is not. Geometric propositions may be proven, but poetry, passion and humour give immediate pleasure without rational analogies. One reasons concerning the justice of another's actions, but not concerning his appearance.

Those who would resolve all moral determinations into sentiment may try to show that here there can be drawn no conclusions by reason.

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The end of all moral speculations is to teach us our duty and corresponding habits. That which is honourable and noble motivates; but that which is intelligible and true procures only cool assent and the end of enquiry with no practical regulation of our lives and actions. Both reason and sentiment are required for drawing moral conclusions. It is our human nature that gives us this internal sense or feeling. At times our reaction to beauty is immediate. At other times we use reasoning to help us feel a proper sentiment, as is particularly true with moral beauty.


author Rev Dr Wally Shaw on an Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

138. If we can in this enquiry discover the true origins of morals, then we can discern how far either sentiment or reason enters into our conclusions. To do this we shall consider every attribute of the mind which determines whether a person is an object of affection or of hatred and every habit which implies praise or blame. The deciding factor will be whether a person would want this or that quality ascribed to him and whether such a quality would be that of a friend or of an enemy. Reasoning can be used following the experimental method to discover the circumstances which are common to these qualities, and this foundation of ethics can be used to find those universal principles from which praise and blame can be allocated. The method of first establishing a general abstract principle out with experience will not be used because it is not appropriate for the imperfection of human nature where it is a common source of illusion and mistake. Every system of ethics which is not founded on fact and observation will be rejected.

We will begin our enquiry by examining the social virtues of Benevolence and Justice.

David Hume quote on Morals

Extinguish all the warm feelings and prepossessions in favor of virtue, and all disgust or aversion to vice: render men totally indifferent towards these distinctions; and morality is no longer a practical study, nor has any tendency to regulate our lives and actions.
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Philosopher David Hume on An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals Summary

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