Philosopher David Hume on Qualities Immediately Agreeable to Ourselves Summary
SECTION VII: on Qualities Immediately Agreeable to Ourselves
203-04. Consider spending an evening with melancholy people, when a good-humoured, cheerful companion enters. Horace claimed that the melancholy hate the merry. I observe in such situations that the melancholy are caught up and enlivened by cheerfulness. It procures friendship and regard. Good humour is contagious.
Temperate and decent pleasure brings considerable merit. Dignity of character brings disdain of slavery. The Prince of Conde said that whenever Alexander the Great found men, he fancied he should find subjects. We never excuse the lack of dignity of character and submission to slavery. The lack of a degree of self-value and pride in the mind brings displeasure. (Subservience aggravates the vice of dominance.)
205-07. The utility of courage is an obvious foundation of merit. When it is depicted by artists and poets, we respond with admiration. We observe that uncultivated nations have considered courage to be the predominant excellence.
Philosophical tranquility elevates one above every accident of life and removes the need for good fortune. Such a person considers others as inferior in disposition in their pursuit of honours, riches, and every frivolous enjoyment. An extreme example of the totally tranquil person is too magnificent for human nature for the height of his grandeur. But such sublime tranquility offers a standard for securing sublime enjoyment and greatness of kind. It is a species of magnanimity.
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Everyone admires Socrates, his serenity with the acceptance of poverty, contempt for riches, and concern for preserving liberty. Epictetus did not even have a door to his hovel of a house; yet when his iron lamp -- his only valued possession -- was stolen, he peacefully replaced it with an earthen lamp.
208-10. Extremes in benevolence are considered as too good, meaning that they exceed their usefulness; such persons are considered too high-spirited or too indifferent about wealth. The excessive bravery of Charles XII ruined his own country and betrayed symptoms of madness and disorder. (Even cheerfulness in excess, which lacks a cause or subject, is considered folly and thereby disgusting.)
The Athenians claimed to be the inventors of agriculture and laws and valued themselves highly for these benefits. But it is observed that orators (such as Socrates and Plato) and poets who moved the passions exalted higher the persons who possessed them. Augustus in all his splendour was not equal to the fame of Virgil who offered nothing but the beauty of a poetical genius.
These species of merit are valued for the immediate pleasure they offer. They appear to lack utility or future benefit, but their sentiment is similar to that arising from public or private utility.