Philosopher David Hume on Qualities of Usefulness to Ourselves Summary
SECTION VI: on Qualities of Usefulness to Ourselves
191-99. It seems evident that the following are faults when they hinder a person in his work or action: indolence, negligence, lack of order, obstinacy, fickleness and rashness. They meet with our disapproval proportionate to their effect determined by utility. A person unconcerned for other human beings would be unconcerned for their qualities, whether good or not. Moral distinction, between good and bad, is determined by the difference between what is useful and what is pernicious. Discretion between enterprise and caution is made on the basis of which one is useful for a particular purpose. He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent who can suit his temper to any circumstance. In the fable, the slow tortoise beats the swift hare by his perseverance. To make good use of time is to be like a well cultivated field that brings extensive harvest. It is beneficial to be frugal, but its extreme, avarice, deprives possessions of their usefulness. Everyone seeks happiness, but only the strong minded -- able to resist present pleasure for greater distant enjoyment -- are able to attain it. Self-satisfaction puts the fool and the wise man on equal footing. The genius is celebrated not for his ability but for the use of his talent for society's benefit. Stoics and Cynics are not praised for their magnificent pronouncements but are held in disgust for their lack of performance. When used appropriately, these are to be praised: discretion, caution, enterprise, industry, frugality, good-sense, prudence, discernment, temperance, sobriety, patience, perseverance, forethought, considerateness, order and a thousand other virtues.
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Happiness, like sunshine, brings joy and satisfaction; misery, like a dark cloud, brings melancholy. Happiness, like a well-cultivated plain, brings joy and satisfaction; misery, like a barren landscape, brings melancholy.
Beauty in an animal is in the structure of its body for its form of life: its utility. Impotence in men and barrenness in women, and figures not justly balanced, convey the disagreeable ideas of harm because of their inutility.
Possession of riches and authority influence sentiment because of the utility of prosperity and happiness they communicate. Varying fortunes convey differing degrees of respect. Poverty conveys the contrasting images of want, hunger, dirty furniture and ragged clothes. But a person cured of greed, who knows that possessions are not a basic factor in happiness, has sentiments more influenced by personal character. In most countries of Europe, inherited wealth is marked with titles and pedigree, and genealogy and honour are merited; and there the idol of riches brings corruption to governments suited to monarchies. In England, regard is paid to earned wealth spurring industry where a republican government is more favourable.