Hume and Humanity as 'The Foundation Of Morals'



Pitson T (2019) Hume and Humanity as 'The Foundation Of Morals'. Journal of Scottish Philosophy, 17 (1), pp. 39-59.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether there is a major difference between Hume's accounts of morality in the Treatise and the second Enquiry. This has tended to focus on the role of sympathy in each case, but more recently the greater emphasis on humanity in the Enquiry as compared with the Treatise has been used to support a non-reconciliation view of the relation between these accounts. So far as humanity's role in relation to the moral sentiments is concerned, I question whether it can provide the moral point of view associated with moral approval and disapproval. Considered as a motive to action, I question whether humanity always results in the kinds of action which would meet with general approbation. I also stress the limitations of humanity when viewed from the impartial perspective associated with the moral point of view. I further attempt to show that there is no real contradiction between Hume's claim in the Treatise that sympathy is ‘the chief source of moral distinctions’ and his claim in the Enquiry that the sentiments dependent on humanity ‘are the origin of morals’. I therefore conclude in favour of a reconciliatory view of the two accounts.

sympathy; humanity; virtue; approval; Hume

Journal of Scottish Philosophy: Volume 17, Issue 1

Publication date31/03/2019
Date accepted by journal01/03/2019

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Dr Tony Pitson

Dr Tony Pitson

Honorary Research Fellow, Philosophy