My thesis is that Hume holds that morality is objective and it’s foundation is in sentiment. I will argue for this claim based on Hume’s: An Enquiry into Human Morals, and excerpts from A Treatise of Human Nature. I will show that if we interpret Hume as defending the objectivity of morality then its foundation in sentiment follows. I will then describe the distinction between internal and external reasons based on Williams’s paper: Internal and External Reasons and show how the belief that all reasons are internal it applies to and strengthens Hume’s arguments.
The objectivity of morality is investigated through several issues raised by Hume in his doctrines. First he presents the hypothesis, then discusses the human sentiment toward moral action, then explains what it is in moral action, the property of those qualities that makes humans deem it virtuous or vicious. Supports his view by citing the existence of certain language that proves it so and then explains the universality of human reactions moral dispositions.
Objectivity is the existence of knowledge that precedes any individual experience or thought, it is considered independent from the mental functions or perceptions of the individual self. This knowledge exists independently of the self, as opposed to subjective knowledge which relies on our experiences, perceptions or thoughts, and can be discovered only by, and through, oneself. Hume begins his classification of morality on the basis of subjectivity vs. bjectivity by stating its undeniable relationship with the former:
“Those who have denied the reality of moral distinctions may be ranked among the disingenuous disputants; nor is it conceivable that any human creature could ever seriously believe that all characters and actions were alike entitled to the affection and regard of everyone,…. by nature and then the gap is widened by education, example and habit so that one cant be so skeptical as to…. eny all distinction between them”1 but then dedicates much of the rest of Enquiry to it’s tie to the latter, beginning when he states “Let a man’s insensibility be ever so great, he must often be touched with the images of Right and Wrong; and let his prejudices by ever obstinate, he must observe that others are susceptible of like impression. “2 The fact is, there has to be some objectivity to morality because there is something that any human being in the world is sensitive to and by which he defines a person as virtuous or vicious, some standard as to which a person is worthy of praise or blame.
This phenomenon true of people all over the world must be investigated and explained. Through applying his empirical study to our mental capacities Hume believes that there are certain laws in human mental functions, which are similar to those of nature. These laws, which Hume defines in his associationist view, are related to the fact that certain human emotions follow certain kinds of experiences. This objectivity is accounted for by the human tendency or sentiment toward a certain type of character.
Here, once again, we can see his explanatory nature. Hume never tries to tell us how we should behave or what ought to be, he simply states that through observation the laws of how we truly are will become evident. He never tries to get behind our emotions and tells us the reason some occur and others do not, he merely explains that empirical study has proven that some generability does exist. “Would any man who is walking along tred as willingly on another’s fouty toes, who he has no quarrel with, as on the hard flint pavement? 3 The next logical step is to discover what that generability is. What is it that humans are affected by, that this sentiment is satisfied by, and makes us praise or blame the elicitor? We will begin by looking into what these properties or dispositions are that define an action or person as moral or no, a regularity of judgment.
This regularity of sentiment that is affected by some property that we are exposed to it derives the judgment. According to Hume the underlying property that we react to is utility. What praise, even of an inanimate form, if the regularity and elegance of its parts destroy not its fitness for any useful purpose! ” 4 It is the property of usefulness that seems generally perceived by humans as pleasing. It’s usefulness to individuals: the help of a person for us to finish our projects. But useful to the societies of all humans as well, in the structure and policy of laws which regulate the interaction of man to man and man to state….. “But useful, for what? For somebody’s interest, surely. Whose interest then?
Now our own only; for our approbation frequently extends farther”5 Hume now explains that we don’t only value utility for ourselves, self love, but utility for our fellow man and society as a whole. The existence universal sentiment toward the utile function of moral disposition is substantiated by the structure of our vary language. “It is built into our language that there is objectivity in morality” (75) Words like enemy and rival present how this person stands in relation to a self, they are distinctive and subjective, however the mere existence of hero or depraved evoke strong moral sentiment.
He is no longer just detrimental to me or you but to society at large. Language which describes those with certain dispositions as detrimental or valuable to society at large takes the particular point of view and builds an abstract pt of view which can excite sentiments of all human beings the mere existence of such vocabulary supports the position that there is something which is common to all, but what is this property?
Hume’s explanation of what this universally utile property is by comparing it to the universality to the reaction we get from an object being placed in front of us, and then explains why this is not the case for the explanation of morality. Since it is the utility in moral behaviour or the virtuous character we now have to examine this property and how it is generalized. This example is different from the generalization of the perceptions we get from a geometric shape place before us.
There will be a regularity of reactions to what that shape is, this shape has a certain property that we all react to- the octagonal properties. Those properties are distinct properties of the object. But the properties of moral behaviour are very different. When we encounter a situation and are made aware of its properties and their association to each other that we come to see as a “good state of affairs” the good is not a property of the object or situation. It is our reaction to all the properties. We create the property of good.
Morality is not some formal property of an action but it is the result of the formal properties of the action interacting with our sentiments and evoking or producing pleasing utility that equals moral behaviour. It is a projection of our human sentiment on to the world. Hume succeeds in presenting his case and shows the objectivity in morality and its necessity for the proper function of society “that the human mind is a natural process whose operations are governed by general laws similar to those governing the behaviour of the rest of the natural universe.
To prevent continual contradictions, and arrive at a more stable judgement of things, we fix on some steady and general points of view”6 For unless there are laws of behaviour there can be no rules of conduct no meaningful system of punishments and rewards and no notion of ethical responsibility”7 Now that we have discouvered that there are some qualities in people, or of the mind, that we esteem or praise, while being contemptuous of others, lets let Hume explore why? This question is answered by looking into the foundations of morality.
First Hume will state his position, then look at what role reason does play, then offer arguments into why it is not enough, and then finalize his position. “There has been a controversy started as of late, much better worth examination, concerning the general foundations of Morals; whether they be derived from Reason or Sentiment; whether we attain the knowledge of them by chain or argument and induction or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense”8 Hume’s answer to the foundation of morality is that we naturally have some disposition toward moral characters.
We praise those qualities because some sentiment in us is activated when it comes into contact with some property of some action. That is precisely why the foundation of morality is in sentiment, “moral distinctions depend entirely on certain peculiar sentiments of pain and pleasure. “9 In support of this hypothesis we uses two main arguments. Morality is based on our reaction to certain human characters by which we describe a moral or virtuous person.
And secondly that reason alone would never be enough to motivate us to act. For his first argument I will highlight how his view directly supports how we define morality. We judge a person as virtuous because his dispositions bring us pleasure and since pleasure and pain derive from sentiment moralitiy’s base must be there. But then adds that without reason our actions based on pure feelings would be biased to the relative proximity of the actors involved.
We all use our mental capacity to correct the biases just enough to create some universal character. “the inequalities of our internal emotions and perceptions” are corrected by reason 10 He supports his belief by presenting a second argument: reason alone is inactive and incapable of motivating moral action because it cannot distinguish between what we hold as valuable, from which we derive pleasure.
IN short reason cannot decide whether we will act morally or immorally because it can nither motivate us to act “Abstract or demonstrative reasoning, therefore, never influences our actions”(267) nor interfere with the motivations of the passions. “Nothing can oppose or retard the impulse of passion. ” (266) which leads us directly into Hume’s most famous phrase (266). An action that is based on the drive of the passion can therefore never be contradictory to the truth… even in morality).
“Tis impossible, therefore, that this passion can be oppos’d by, or be condratictory to ttruth and reason” (267) Hume does, however, admit that reason does play a crucial role in morality, in particular in determining what course of action, or set of rules will produce the most amount of utility, therefore providing us with a direction, but unless we have preference, some sentiment toward utility we have no reason to pick the one that we reason to have the most of it.
To put it basically it is because we have feelings of praise or blame that morality exits. “Tis from the prospect of pain or pleasure that the aversion or propensity arises towards any object. “(266) and since “Reason exerts itself without producing any sesible emotion”(267) and moral judgements, we all know, produce in us strong emotion we know that “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions. “(266) and is not the foundation of our morality.
We have is us some general sentiment to receive pleasure from therefore deem praisible certain dispositions of character, those we label as virtuous. The fact that the generability of sentiment toward the utility in morality means that at its core morality exists in sentiment, the feeling of pleasure we get from moral action. Because of his empirical form of study and prinicipals of association that Hume has observed certain generalities that occur in the world toward what sort of characters are praised or blame labeling them virtuaous or vicious.
Because he HAS observed these generalities he has come to know that morality is objective and the fact that we react to those characteristics or actions with pleasure or pain and label them virtuous or vicious accordingly supports the claim that morality must be rooted in sentiment. Through evaluating these arguments it is evident that morality is not based soley on the rigid mental capcities of reason. Hume’s enquirey is not into rules of morality or a prescription of the way it should be but instead an explanation of the way in which morality DOES work.
Morality lies in the “sentiments of pleasure or disgust”11 and althought it does require reason to keep these sentiments on track it would be wrong to say that the most vital role is played by reason. Hume can also then use these foundations to show once again how morality can be objective. It is easy to see that morality is an integral part of society. It is embedded into us as humans in general prinicipal that is structured around our experience in the world.
Reason calculates, deliberates and corrects biases but it is never enough to motivate us to behave in a moral fashion because “reason is just a slave to the passions. “12 Because of such Morality may seem subjective, since objectivity relies in the separation of human thoughts, perceptions and feelings but our moral distinctions depend on feelings, but objectivity prevails since human feelings about morality are based on universal generalities.
Since distinct feelings occur by education, training, habit and distance we all use sympathy(equating other peoples feelings with our own) and get to a general point of view to which all humanity abides. In his paper in Internal and External Reasons Williams first defines the difference between internal and external reasons and then will show how all human reason for action is internal. Internalists believe that all reasons to act stem from having a desire to reach a given end that the action will achieve that desire.
One can put this concept into application through this example. Hana has a desire to reach the end of becoming a lawyer, the action she needs to take to satisfy her desire of going to lawschool is to study for 3 hours every day. Williams’ definition of internal reson account for the roel of weighing and ordering of ones desires, as well as to account ofor the role that imagination can play in modyfing one’s desires (giving as a rational reason to act that on a false belief). For Williams these are the rational processes that inform desire.