Maarten Maartensz

Text Philosophy - Hume - Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals- section I
Notes
 


 


Notes to SECTION I. of the general principles of morals.

Introduction: This is the start of my notes to Hume's Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. It may be helpful if I remark that in the first two notes that follow I list a number of features of moral systems that are often swept or kept under the carpet, especially when discussing morals and ethics, and propose a distinction between the terms 'morals' and 'ethics' that seems useful to me.

Also, in my notes I make fairly extensive use of quotations from or links to my Philosophical Dictionary, while many of the question Hume discusses are also discussed in my review of P. Edwards' 'On the Logic of Moral Discourse'.

And indeed sometimes, as in the Notes 1 and 2 that follow, parts of my Notes have been bodily lifted from the last two items and copied here.


Note 1 : 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.

A. It is a curious fact that this has been denied by the post-modernists, who tended, from the 1970ies onwards, to maintain that truth does not exist (there only is the text and its interpretation) and that all morals are relative, and all persons equal or of equal value.

To make sense of this is not easy, at least not until you deal with these stances as postures and as rhetorical tropes, apart from the very stupid, who might believe this.

Part of the intention behind the posture and the trope is to confuse all manner of rational discussion, but most of post-modernism seems to be due to the desire to have one's cake and eat it: If truth does not exist, you can never be refuted; if all morals are relative, you are free to do what you please, however perverted; and if all men are equal, nobody can be better than you.

But so far this note can be taken as an aside, for post-modernism is not a philosophy one can treat seriously.

B. Far more serious, and related, is the fact that there are at least 9 features involved in very many moral judgments people make in fact that should be mentioned and should be reckoned with and indeed accounted for, since they make  moral judgments rather different from most non-moral judgments, and also tricky and difficult in quite a number of respects.

Here is a list of these nine features, with some brief comments:

1. Hypocrisy: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be hypocrisy: Many of the supposed adherents of a moral code, which they defend by word of mouth and occasional public action when this is neither dangerous nor onpopular, do not in fact adhere at all or for the most part to the codes they pretend to adhere to. They merely act as if because doing so profits them or because not doing so would hurt them, and lie while falsely pretending to practise moral norms they know that they do not practise.

2. Lies: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be lies, and not only because of hypocrisy but to mislead people. Already Plato discussed seriously the possibility and desirability for the political leaders of the type of society he preferred to lie to and mislead the ordinary people by pleasing myths, deceitful terms etc. Most succesful politicians since have been succesful liars, though it should be added this may, at times, have been motivated honorably.

3. Fraudulence: Very often the moral norms in a society are defended and maintained by people who are fraudulent and know themselves to be frauds. Three well-known examples of the types of men and fraudulence I have in mind are the Borgia-pope Alexander VI and the socialist humanists Stalin and Mao. But indeed there are and have been far more of such men and women, and it would seem that no well-known political party or religion is without its leading frauds, who to a large extent preach what they do not practice nor believe in to acquire power or influence over those they mislead or deceive. (See e.g. Machiavelli, Mandeville and De la Boétie.)

4. Bias: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be bias: In normal cases the vast majority of both the proponents and the opponents of given moral norms or judgments will have a biased view of the evidence, and indeed of what should count as evidence, while the vast majority of those contending about popular moral issues tend to be only informed about such evidence as they believe would strengthen their own point of view or weaken the case of their opponents.

5. Prejudice: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be prejudice: Not only will most proponents and opponents of contentious moral issue be biased, they will also be prejudiced, in that they hold points of view and censure points of view not on the basis of relevant knowledge and objective evidence, but on the basis of whether the supposed knowledge or evidence conforms to or weakens the ethical or other assumptions they already have.

6. Propaganda: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be propaganda: The moral norms will be defended and popularized by means that the popularizers know are slanted, biased, partial, prejudiced, improperly informed, or simply misleading, false or lies.

7. Wishful thinking: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be a lot of wishful thinking about what these moral norms would produce if only all or most men believed or practised them, and also usually a lot of wishful thinking about how bad, inferior, stupid or otherwise reprehensible the opponents (or non-comformers) are. Likewise:

8. Chauvinism: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be chauvinism, for moral norms are meant to serve and express the interests, norms, values, practices and ends of a certain society or group, and this tend to be combined with much that may sound more noble, moral and honorific than "Us is Good, Them is Bad", but which does not amount to much more than this.

9. Conformism: Wherever there are moral norms in a society, there will be conformism: Many people, rather than oppose what they disagree with or question what they don't see the rational point of, will conform rather than oppose or publicly disagree, simply because this is easier, more profitable, socially more popular, or indeed because they know that opposition or disagreement with the norms they conform to will be punished by the authorities. (The main difference between a conformer and a hypocrite is that the hypocrite lies in addition to being a conformer, and for the most part knows he lies, and knows he does so for some advantage to himself or his group. And it should be noted that there may be very good reasons in a totalitarian society or religion for people to conform.)

It seems to me these 9 features are quite important in the rational discussion of actual moral discourse, and it also seems to me they are not often taken seriously to the extent they deserve to be taken seriously.

After all, the yield of these 9 features is that very much about moral discourse and moral acting is neither what it seems nor what it is claimed to be nor what people pretend it is:

Much of moral discourse and moral acting is play-acting, role-playing, acting as if, external conformism, hypocrisy, and based on prejudice while furthered with propaganda. And it seems this aspect of morals has not often been seriously dealt with, though there are some examples of texts which do, if not in the context of a philosophical or logical discussion of moral discourse. I refer to E. Goffman's "The Presentation of Self in Ordinary Society" and to E. Berne's "Games People Play" and also to Machiavelli's "The Prince", which is quite clear and outspoken about this, and which is on my site with my own extensive notes and comments.

And I say something about a few of the above features and the reason why they exist in my "Fundamental Principles of Invalid Reasoning". Also, there is on my site an interesting moral poem about the role and importance of moral vice in ordinary life to ordinary people: Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees".

C. Some basic factual considerations relating to morals

Next, since this is the first Note to a long series of Notes dedicated to the Principles of Morals, here are four items that are quite relevant to morals in various ways:

I. Rummel's statistics:

Mr. Randolph J. Rummel has taken the trouble of finding out how many civilian persons have been murdered in the 20th Century apart from the many soldiers that were killed on battle-fields. He wrote a book about it called Death by Government, in which one can find, among other things, the following table - that lists only civilian deaths and no military deaths in wartime:

Dictator Ideology Country Years Deaths
Joseph Stalin Communist Soviet Union 1929-1953 42,672,000
Mao Tse-tung Communist China 1923-1976 37,828,000
Adolf Hitler Fascist Germany 1933-1945 20,946,000
Chiang Kai-shek Militarist/Fascist China 1921-1948 10,214,000
Vladimir Lenin Communist Soviet Union 1917-1924 4,017,000
Tojo Hideki Militarist/Fascist Japan 1941-1945 3,990,000
Pol Pot Communist Cambodia 1968-1987 2,397,000
Yahya Khan Militarist Pakistan 1971 1,500,000
Josip Broz Tito Communist Yugoslavia 1941-1987 1,172,000

 

 

 

 

 

 

II. Muller's question:

F. Muller is the only one who survived the Krematorium-kommando in Auschwitz. He is a Cech, and wrote a book about his experiences that has been translated as "Auschwitz Inferno". He poses the following question in it:


"How was it possible, I often asked myself, for a young man of average intelligence and normal personality to carry out the unspeakable atrocities demanded of him in the belief that thereby he was doing his patriotic duty, without ever realizing that he was being used as a tool by perverted political dictators?" (p. 301)


III. Milgram's experiments:

Stanley Milgram was an American psychologist who experimentally investigated the sort of question I just quoted from Mr. Muller. Here is one summary of his work, cited from a standard university course concerning psychology, namely "Introduction to Psychology" by Hilgard & Atkinson:



"A more recent and controversial series of studies on compliance has been reported by Milgram (...). In these studies, the experimenter required each subject to deliver a series of increasingly powerful electric shocks to another subject (the "learner") whenever te latter made an error while engaged in a learning task. The learner (who in fact was a confederate of the experimenter and did not actually receive any shocks) was strapped in a chair in an adjacent room and could be heard protesting as the "shocks" became more intense. As they got stronger, he began to shout and curse; at 300 volts he began to kick the wall; and at the next shock level (marked "extreme intensity shock" on the subject's apparatus panel) the learner no longer answered nor made any noise at all. The last shock in the series was marked 450 volts. As you would expect, subjects began to protest to the experimenter during ths excruciating procedure,pleading with him to call a halt. But the experimenter continued to push by saying tyhings like "please go on" or "the experiment requires that you continue".
 

In the basis experiment, 65 percent of the subjects continued to obey throughout the experiment, continuing to the end of the shock series (...). No subject stopped prior to administering 300 volts - the point at which the learner began kicking the wall. Milgram concludes that obedience to authority is a strong force in our society, since the majority of his subjects obeyed the experimenter even though they thought they were hurting another person.

Variations on the Milgram experiment show that the obedience rated drops significantly if (1) the subject is brought closer to the learner or put into the same with him when the shocks are administered, (2) the experiment is conducted in a run-down suite of offices not connected to a prestigious university as in the original experiment, and (3) the subject is made to feel more personally responsible for his behavior. The last factor is important." (p. 552 - 3)
 

"But perhaps the most important lesson of the (...) Milgram studies is not to be found in the results, but in OUR SURPRISE at them. Every year in is social psychology class, one psychologist asks students to predict whether they would continue to administer the shocks in the Milgram situation after the "learner" begins to pound on the wall. About 99 percent of the students say they would not (...). Milgram himself surveyed psychiatrists at a leading medical school; they predicted that most subjects would refuse to go on after reaching 150 volts, that only about 4 percent would go beyond 300 volts, and that fewer than 1 percent would go all the way to 450 volts." (p.554)


IV. Kohlberg's investigations and explanations:

Kohlberg is another psychologist who investigated the actual moral behavior and thinking of human beings. Again, I quote from the "Introduction to Psychology" by Hilgard & Atkinson:

Stages in the development of moral values

LEVELS AND STAGES

ILLUSTRATIVE BEHAVIOR


Level I. Premoral

1. Punishment and obedience orientation

Obeys rules in order to avoid punishment

2. Naive instrumental hedonism

Conforms to obtain rewards, to have favors returned.


Level II. Morality of conventional role-conformity
 

3. "Good-boy" morality of maintaining good relations, approval of others.

Conforms to avoid disapproval, maintaining good relations, dislike by others.

4. Authority maintaining morality.

Conforms to avoid censure by legitimate authorities, with resultant guilt


Level III. Morality of self-accepted moral principles

5. Morality of contract, of individual rights, and of democratically accepted law.

Conforms to maintain the respect of the impartial spectator judging in terms of community welfare.

6. Morality of individual principles and conscience.

Conforms to avoid self-condemnation.

 

"Kohlberg's studies indicate that the moral judgments of children who are seven and younger are predominantly at Level I - actions are evaluated in terms of whether they avoid punishment or lad to rewards. By age 13, a majority of the moral dilemmas are resolved at Level II - actions are evaluated in terms of maintaining a good image in the eyes of other people. This is the l
evel of conventional morality. In the first stage at this level (Stage 3) one seeks approval by being "nice"; this orientation expands in the next stage (Stage 4) to include "doing one's duty", showing respect for authority, and conforming to the social order in which one is raised.


"According to Kohlberg, many individuals never progress beyond Level II. He sees the stages of moral development as closely tied to Piaget's stages of cognitive development, and only if a person has achieved the later stages of formal operational thought is he capable of the kind of abstract thinking necessary for postconventional morality at Level III. The highest stage of moral development (Level III, stage 6) requires formulating abstract ethical principles and conforming to them to avoid self-condemnation. Kohlberg reports that less than 10 percent of his subjects over age 16 show (...) kind of "clear-principled" Stage 6 thinking (...)"

"Kohlberg describes the child as a "moral philosopher" who develops moral standards of his own; these standards do not necessarily come from parents or peers but emerge from the cognitive interaction of the child with his social environment. Movement from one stage to the next involves an internal cognitive reorganization rater than a simple acquisition of the moral concepts prevalent in his culture."
 

"Kohlberg claims that moral thought and moral action are closely related. For proof he cites a study in which college students were given an opportunity to cheat on a test. Only 11 percent of those who reached Level III on the moral dilemmas test cheated. In contrast, 42 percent of the students at the lower levels of moral judgement ceated (...)".

An important finding for morals is of course that "Kohlberg reports that less than 10 percent of his subjects over age 16 show (...) kind of "clear-principled" Stage 6 thinking (...)". The general suggestion is that the vast bulk of moral actions, moral feelings and moral argumentation consists of conformism and following and defending leaders.
 

Note 2 : The difference, which nature has placed between one man and another, is so wide, and this difference is still so much farther widened, by education, example, and habit, that, where the opposite extremes come at once under our apprehension, there is no scepticism so scrupulous, and scarce any assurance so determined, as absolutely to deny all distinction between them.

A. As I remarked in the beginning of the previous note, post-modernists have done so, and have insisted that "all men are equal", usually with the intent to obtain advantages for specific groups - women, homosexuals, blacks - normally by giving some of their prominent members (the feminist or homosexual or black leaders, as it happens mostly) special advantages to make them even more equal, and undo discrimination.

Again this stance was posturing and politics, and far from intellectually or morally sincere, so this note too is an aside.

This does not mean that these false, sophistical post-modernist stances about truth, morality and equality are not practically, politically or morally important, but it does mean that I don't want to discuss post-modernism while I am trying to write honest and rational philosophy.

B. In order to have some terminological clarity, it makes sense to distinguish morals and ethics as follows.

Morals are systems of ideas, rules, instructions and practices that concern how the members of a certain group should behave. A convenient pair of terms for what should and should not be done according to a moral system are right and wrong.

It should be noted, to start with, that it makes a lot of sense to distinguish between morals, as defined, that concerns behavior, and ethics, that is more abstract, and concerns ends and addresses the topics of good and bad. And indeed, most of the ethics most men profess, are not so much ethical theories, but moral rules and practices current in their own group or society.

Thus, morals, as defined, is concerned with more practical matters and behavior than ethics is, and those who want to reason about it should be aware that there are a number of real and practical features of moral norms that collectively imply that in moral matters things are usually not quite as they are claimed to be, for sound if 'human-all-too-human' reasons.

Ethics are theories of what one should and should not do, of what are good and bad, and what ends are desirable.

As defined, it should be noted to start with, ethics differs from morals, that tends to concern standards for behavior and practices in a social group rather than the intellectual foundations of such standards, or abstract questions about good and bad.

Five general remarks about ethics: Since much in ethics depends on the ends one desires to further, and on one's theory of human nature, it makes sense to make five general points:

  • I try to look upon ethics and morals rather in terms of harming and hurting or misery and suffering than in terms of more noble and more abstract motives, since what harms or hurts a human being is fairly evident, regardless of what one thinks human beings are or should be capable of, whereas the worst atrocities have been committed in the name of the noblest ends.
  • I note the fact that ethical and moral judgmens tend to include both a factual component (about what the facts are supposed to be) and a subjective component (about what someone desires that the facts should be like), and that at least as far as the - presumed or asserted - facts are concerned that
             "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone,
                 to believe anything upon insufficient evidence
    "
              (Clifford's dictum).
  • And I hold that
               it always makes sense to try to be rational and reasonable

    - since being rational in theorizing helps one find true or probable ideas, and without these one cannot hope to succeed in anything, and trying to be  reasonable in acting at least helps to give everyone his due - and also note that both are quite difficult to do well and consistently.
  • Since ethics is mostly about ends, the means to further these ends, if any, are essential, and I note that most ethical theories do not give clear plans and proposals about how the proposed ends could be realized from the situation one is in.

  • A considerable part of both ethics and morals can be derived from the needs to cooperate if one wants to achieve anything; to come to agreements  about facts, ends, assumptions and methods if one wants to cooperate; and to keep promises if one makes agreements to do things.

Meanwhile, having made the distinction, it makes sense to note that there is a considerable overlap between ethics and morals as defined, and that Hume normally speaks of morals.

My main reasons to distinguish the two are that ethics is the theoretical version of and reflection on a much more practical moral system, and that if one restricts oneself to what I called morals most moral and ethical problems are easily settled, at least in practice: It all depends on the group you are in, for it will almost always be considered good if you act as the majority and follow the leaders, and bad if you don't: "If in Rome, do as the Romans do", and if among cannibals, do as the cannibals do, tends to be the alpha and omega of moral behaviour in practice, for ordinary men.

Indeed, by reference to Kohlberg's moral stages in Note 1 it may be said that what I call ethics corresponds mostly to Kohlbergs level III stages - and then it surely must be a relevant consideration, also when thinking of some other moral facts listed in the previous Note, that 'less than 10 percent' seems to take naturally to this level of moral reasoning.


Note 3 : There has been a controversy started of late, much better worth examination, concerning the general foundation of Morals; whether they be derived from Reason, or from Sentiment; whether we attain the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and induction, or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense; whether, like all sound judgement of truth and falsehood, they should be the same to every rational intelligent being; or whether, like the perception of beauty and deformity, they be founded entirely on the particular fabric and constitution of the human species.

These are good questions, but it should be obvious in which direction the truth is to be sought: Both 'Reason' and 'Sentiment' are involved in 'Morals', since morals concerns the question what one should do, and the answer must be normally in terms of beliefs about what reality is like, and desires about what it should be made like.

And it makes sense to suppose that there are no genuine moral or ethical concerns that do not involve both beliefs and desires about reality. Also, it is important to see that in moral and ethical systems the beliefs and the desires tend to influence and color each other: What one believes the world is like depends at least in part on what one desires it should be like, and what one desires the world should be like depends at least in part on what one believes it is like.

Few persons are rational in the sense that their beliefs are independent from their desires.

Also, since we are still at the beginning of a long series of fairly often long Notes to a philosophical classics about morals, it may be helpful if I sketch some elementary semantical considerations concerning the term 'good' and explain a little about supposed ends of society.

What is called morally good tends to be called so, independently from what the speaker holds to be morally good, by reference to a fact and to a standard.

The fact is that what is judged to be morally good, again independently from what the speaker holds to be morally good, tends to be different from and regularly opposed to what feels or may feel pleasurable, both in the short term and the long run. Indeed, this fact is at the bottom of most moral codes, that tend to exist as moral codes in order to correct the natural human tendency to do what is or seems pleasurable here and now.

The standard is that people tend to judge that so-and-so is morally good (or bad, or indifferent) by reference to what they hold to be the ends of human society, whatever they believe or desire these to be, and by reference to what they believe about human nature.

If one thinks about this one realizes that such ends also ultimately depend on a person's desires, just like his non-moral and ordinary judgments that such-and-such is or feels good, but with a fairly important difference if the person who judges is not ignorant about human society, human history and human nature: That what he holds to be ends of human society must then have been judged these to be so by reference to what he believes or knows to be humanly, socially or historically possible and feasible. And this may and often does fall far short of what the person holds desirable without such realistic and sobering knowledge of human capacities and actions. (See Rummel, Muller, Milgram and Kohlberg.)

Next, here are three well-known examples of different ends of human society, and two examples of different theories of human nature. Since my aim here is mostly to clarify in what sense I mean the phrase 'the ends for society' I will only list the examples and will not discuss them. But to allow the reader of these notes to correct for my own biases, I will conclude this note by stating these in the present case.  

Three different conceptions of the ends of society as thought about in Europe since the 18th Century are conservatism, liberalism and socialism, where the last may be subdivided in social-democratic and marxist conceptions.

And two examples of different conceptions of human nature are religious and naturalistic: Whether human beings are created by some divine fiat or stand on their own as an evolved natural kind.

As the reader can find from the links I provided, my own biases are liberal and naturalistic.


Note 4 : Truth is disputable; not taste: what exists in the nature of things is the standard of our judgement; what each man feels within himself is the standard of sentiment. Propositions in geometry may be proved, systems in physics may be controverted; but the harmony of verse, the tenderness of passion, the brilliancy of wit, must give immediate pleasure. No man reasons concerning another’s beauty; but frequently concerning the justice or injustice of his actions.

This is well put, and what it shows is a difference between moral judgments and judgments of taste: Moral judgments often involve some amount of reasoning, usually about the supposed facts, whereas judgments of taste are almost always immediate, and indeed tend to depend on a person's needs, feelings and values, and not on extraneous facts, apart from such as made the person have the needs, feelings and values by which he makes judgements of taste.


Note 5 : The end of all moral speculations is to teach us our duty; and, by proper representations of the deformity of vice and beauty of virtue, beget correspondent habits, and engage us to avoid the one, and embrace the other.

This is a good statement about what morals is about: To teach people what they should do. But it makes sense to make a distinction between morals, that aims at teaching the members of a group how to behave, and ethics, that aims at explaining what are good and bad, and what ends and values a human society should adopt. For more, see Note 2 and Note 3.


Note 6 : What is honourable, what is fair, what is becoming, what is noble, what is generous, takes possession of the heart, and animates us to embrace and maintain it. What is intelligible, what is evident, what is probable, what is true, procures only the cool assent of the understanding; and gratifying a speculative curiosity, puts an end to our researches.

Yes, but moral norms and problems concern what human beings should and should not do to one another, and much concerns their interests, needs and desires, and therefore it is fairly obvious that moral issues do often and easily give rise to strong feelings.


Note 7 : These arguments on each side (and many more might be produced) are so plausible, that I am apt to suspect, they may, the one as well as the other, be solid and satisfactory, and that reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions.

Indeed, and see Note 3.


Note 8 : The final sentence, it is probable, which pronounces characters and actions amiable or odious, praise-worthy or blameable; that which stamps on them the mark of honour or infamy, approbation or censure; that which renders morality an active principle and constitutes virtue our happiness, and vice our misery: it is probable, I say, that this final sentence depends on some internal sense or feeling, which nature has made universal in the whole species.

This may suggest that there is an innate moral sense, and indeed this has often been assumed. In view of the large differences between moral systems men have practiced- see Hume's Dialogue for a good illustration - it seems to me that if there is an innate moral sense, it is at most like the supposedly innate universal grammar, that allows human beings to rapidly and easily learn any human language when young, but which is far less specific than any of the languages of which it facilitates the learning.

In short, if there is an innate moral sense it probably is one that counsels that it is good to follow one's own multitudes and leaders, if only out of self-interest, and that it is good to conform to what one's fellows do and think and want. And indeed a moral sense that is innate is likely to be one that is zoological rather than human: An instinct that helps keeping the horde together and cooperating, and that expresses itself in humans naturally as totalitarianism.

Yet there is also something which does play an important role in moral judgments and that is 'universal in the whole species': Almost every human being assumes, and has been educated on the basis of the assumption, that other human beings are and feel and think like oneself, and can be understood in analogy with oneself, and that in this respect there is a human nature, that is as similar in needs and feelings and thoughts as human bodies are similar in shape, construction and functioning.

The assumption of a common human nature that all humans share - that allows also for some rather small differences between adults and children, between men and women, and between the ill and the healthy - is important in moral reasoning, for no human individual has access to the experiences of any other human individual except by sympathy and by imagination.

Also, although it is an assumption, that is forced upon one due to the fact that no one can experience another's experiences, it is not a large assumption, for it amounts to the belief that all human beings belong to one species of which all the individuals react similarly when placed in similar circumstances, which is easily argued on the basis of the fargoing similarity of all humans as regards similar bodily structure, similar bodily needs, similar capacities, and similar reactions to food, poison, medicine etc.


Note 9 : For what else can have an influence of this nature? But in order to pave the way for such a sentiment, and give a proper discernment of its object, it is often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede, that nice distinctions be made, just conclusions drawn, distant comparsions formed, complicated relations examined, and general facts fixed and ascertained.

This is true, and one important reason for it is that moral norms and ends require for their application that the world has certain factual features. Here also enters the distinction between morals and ethics I made in Note 2, and the consideration of ends and facts I remarked upon in Note 3.


Note 10 : But in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the finer arts, it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper sentiment; and a false relish may frequently be corrected by argument and reflection. There are just grounds to conclude, that moral beauty partakes much of this latter species, and demands the assistance of our intellectual faculties, in order to give it a suitable influence on the human mind.

I doubt it - although maybe Hume does not express himself well, or I misunderstand him. In any case: I agree that both feeling and reasoning are involved in moral judgments (see Note 3), but I deny that it requires extensive education to learn to understand that a man with another color of skin than oneself very probably is hurt to the same extent by the same measures as oneself would be.

My reasons for this are in Note 8 where I discuss human nature: It is fairly obvious that creatures who are so much like ourselves in appearance and in bodily composition also have the same sort of feelings when in the same circumstances, and that the feeling you have when your tooth aches is of a very similar kind as mine if my tooth aches.

And indeed, Hume will argue along these lines in Section II, that concerns benevolence.


Note 11 : In order to attain this purpose, we shall endeavour to follow a very simple method: we shall analyse that complication of mental qualities, which form what, in common life, we call Personal Merit: we shall consider every attribute of the mind, which renders a man an object either of esteem and affection, or of hatred and contempt; every habit or sentiment or faculty, which, if ascribed to any person, implies either praise or blame, and may enter into any panegyric or satire of his character and manners.

This seems a good approach, except that earlier notes - Note 1, 2 and 8 - make it likely that the general answer in so far as morals are concerned must be of the form 'Good, in a certain society, is what most of the members or of the leaders hold to be helpful in maintaining the society'. Thus, among cannibals it is good to eat human flesh, and among Christians the eating of human flesh is bad, except if it is the Lord's flesh, in the form of special bread.

In other words: Hume's approach is helpful to find what most of the members of a given society will praise or blame, but not very helpful in finding what good and bad are irrespective of a given society, if anything.


Note 12 : The very nature of language guides us almost infallibly in forming a judgment of this nature; and as every tongue possesses one set of words which are taken in a good sense, and another in the opposite, the least acquaintance with the idiom suffices, without any reasoning, to direct us in collecting and arranging the estimable or blameable qualities of men.

This is true: Very many terms, and also the tones of voicing terms, indicate at least in part some moral attitude of the speaker.


Note 13 : The other scientific method, where a general abstract principle is first established, and is afterwards branched out into a variety of inferences and conclusions, may be more perfect in itself, but suits less the imperfection of human nature, and is a common source of illusion and mistake in this as well as in other subjects. Men are now cured of their passion for hypotheses and systems in natural philosophy, and will hearken to no arguments but those which are derived from experience. It is full time they should attempt a like reformation in all moral disquisitions; and reject every system of ethics, however subtle or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and observation.

For the beginning of this quotation, see Hume's Enquire concerning Human Understanding and my Notes to it.

The latter part of this quotation is mostly Humean wishful thinking, but it does outline his program, which may be quoted from the sub-title of Hume's 'Treatise of Human Nature' thus: "to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects", and to do so also concerning morals itself.

And this is of considerable importance, given that a large amount of moral reasoning is indeed 'not founded on fact and observation' but on religious speculation and dogma.