The Active Powers of the Human Mind.Ruth Boeker - 2023 - In Aaron Garrett & James A. Harris (eds.), Scottish Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century, Volume II: Method, Metaphysics, Mind, Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 255–292.details
This essay traces the development of the philosophical debates concerning active powers and human agency in eighteenth-century Scotland. I examine how and why Scottish philosophers such as Francis Hutcheson, George Turnbull, David Hume, and Henry Home, Lord Kames, depart from John Locke’s and other traditional conceptions of the will and how Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart reinstate Locke’s distinction between volition and desire. Moreover, I examine what role desires, passions, and motives play in the writings of these and other Scottish (...) Enlightenment philosophers on human agency and draw attention to their underlying disputes concerning liberty and necessity. I end by reflecting on how classifications of principles of actions changed in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Scottish philosophy. (shrink)
The article proposes an interpretation of the role of practical reason in Hume. The starting point is the distinction between strong practical reason and weak practical reason. The distinction concerns the assignment of values to states of affairs: strong practical reason is itself involved in this assignment of values, whereas weak practical reason only deliberates on the basis of given assignments. According to the author of the article Hume, showing how our choices are produced from a mechanics of passions, refutes (...) not only strong but also weak practical reason. In the last part of the article the author, relying on the distinction that Hume makes between calm and violent passions, attempts to defend a rationalist conception of the deliberative dynamic, which reserves for reason an arbiter role on the passions. (shrink)
Reid argues that Hume’s claim that justice is an artificial virtue is inconsistent with the fact that gratitude is a natural sentiment. This chapter shows that Reid’s argument succeeds only given a philosophy of mind and action that Hume rejects. Among other things, Reid assumes that one can conceive of one of a pair of contradictories only if one can conceive of the other—a claim that Hume denies. So, in the case of justice, the disagreement between Hume and Reid is, (...) at bottom, a disagreement over their respective conceptions of how the human mind works at its most fundamental level. (shrink)
In Slaves of the Passions, Mark Schroeder provides a systematic, rigorously argued defense of a Humean theory of reasons for action, taking pains to respond to influential objections to the view. While inspired by Hume, Schroeder makes it clear that he aims to develop a Humean theory, not necessarily one that Hume himself embraced, and for this reason little is said about Hume in the book. One respect in which Schroeder takes himself to be departing from Hume is in developing (...) a normative account. On his reading, Hume held that only beliefs could stand in the reason relation (187, n11), whereas Schroeder, like many contemporary Humeans, holds that actions can as well. He sets out to develop a theory of this .. (shrink)
Do the moral sentiments move us to act, according to Hume? And if so, how? Hume famously deploys the claim that moral evaluations move us to act to show that they are not derived from reason alone. Presumably, moral evaluations move us because (as Hume sees it) they are, or are the product of, moral sentiments. So, it would seem that moral approval and disapproval are or produce motives to action. This raises three interconnected interpretive questions. First, on Hume’s account, (...) we are moved to do many virtuous actions not by the sentiments of approval and disapproval, but by other sentiments, such as gratitude and parental love; so when and how do the moral sentiments themselves provide motives to act morally? The second question arises as a result of a position I defend here, that the moral sentiments are best understood as Humean indirect affections. Hume says that the four main indirect passions (pride, humility, love and hatred) do not directly move us to act. The second question, then, is whether their status as indirect affections nonetheless allows moral approval and disapproval to be or provide motives. Finally, if we make a natural assumption about how Hume thinks belief about future pleasure is connected to the desire to obtain it (I call it the signpost assumption), it turns out that the mechanisms for producing motives that most naturally come to mind are ones that are equally available to reason alone. This introduces the third question: given the constraints Hume imposes on the nature of the moral sentiments, is there a way in which they can move usto act that is not also a way in which reason alone does? I argue that, given the signpost assumption, while Hume has greatly constrained his options, his moral sentiments do have one very limited way of moving us to act that is not available to reason alone. However, there are reasons to doubt that Hume endorses the signpost assumption. Without it, our moral evaluations have a far greater capacity to produce motives to act. One important objection arises; but this problem can be solved by rejecting a further assumption about what counts as being produced by reason alone. (shrink)
In this closely argued book, Paul Russell challenges the standard way of capturing what Hume has to say on the subject of freedom and responsibility. The argument is not, however, one that derives from a narrow interest in discovering what Hume said and demonstrating its divergence from the common view. Russell’s goal is ultimately to use Hume “to shed light on contemporary philosophical problems”. Hume had already discovered, for example, the lesson that Strawson articulated in his critique of compatibilism and (...) its rivals in “Freedom and Resentment”; and Hume anticipates the work of Frankfurt, Nagel, and Hart, among others. (shrink)
This 1991 book is about the continuing influence of Hume's ideas on moral and political philosophy. In part, it is a critical exegesis of Hume's most impressive and challenging doctrines in Book III of the Treatise of Human Nature on such topics as morals, motivation, justice, and social institutions. However, the main thrust of the argument is to throw into relief the importance of that discussion for contemporary philosophy. While the author subjects most contemporary defences of Humean doctrines to intense (...) criticism, he also seeks to discover what versions of Hume's theories might still be defensible and viable. (shrink)
The Humean internalist finds Humean motivational theses and reasons internalism to be independently attractive. She therefore combines them, in the hope of creating a theory of reasons that is attractive for all of the reasons that each thesis is attractive. On this score, she succeeds. However, there is a drawback. Those who build a theory of reasons by combining Humean motivational theses and reasons internalism face a dilemma. If you combine these views, either you are committed to a theory of (...) reasons that allows all of a person’s reasons to simultaneously change, erratically and randomly, or you are committed to a theory of reasons that fixes a person’s reasons at birth, in which case they remain stable and unchanging over a lifetime. Neither alternative is attractive. Humean internalism cannot navigate a path between these two extremes, and this should worry the Humean internalist. (shrink)
The problem of trust is discussed in terms of David Hume’s meadow-draining example. This is analyzed in terms of rational choice, evolutionary game theory and a dynamic model of social network formation. The kind of explanation that postulates an innate predisposition to trust is seen to be unnecessary when social network dynamics is taken into account.
In this paper, I argue that Hume accepts two claims. The first is that it is not possible for a human agent, having adopted an end, to remain committed to it, have it in view, and be indifferent to what he or she acknowledges as the proper means of realizing it, where indifference is the absence of a favoring attitude.1 The second is that, other things being equal, an agent who fails through weak resolve to take the acknowledged means to (...) an acknowledged end violates a norm of practical agency akin to Kant’s hypothetical imperative understood as a command to take the means—that is, to do what has the prospect of realizing the ends one happens to have adopted. I begin with the first claim because some.. (shrink)
Covering an important theme in Humean studies, this book focuses on Hume's hugely influential attempt in book three of his _Treatise of Human Nature _to derive the conclusion that morality is a matter of feeling, not reason, from its link with action. Claiming that Hume's argument contains a fundamental contradiction that has gone unnoticed in modern debate, this fascinating volume contains a refreshing combination of historical-scholarly work and contemporary analysis that seeks to expose this contradiction and therefore provide a significant (...) contribution to current scholarship in the area. Sophie Botros begins by pointing out that a contradiction concerning whether reason can influence action, or is wholly powerless, occurs in the intermediary premiss. She then moves on to draw out the consequences for recent meta-ethics of the failure to acknowledge this contradiction. Finally, highlighting the root of the argument's power in an article of naturalistic dogma, she suggests how it may be possible to restore to our moral concepts their traditional and integral link with both truth and motivation. A significant and thought-provoking addition to this popular field of study, _Hume, Reason and Morality_ is undoubtedly an important resource for moral philosophers interested in meta-ethics and practical reason, as well as Humean scholars. (shrink)
This paper deals with Hume’s main claims on human action and morality. Three connected issues are considered: the so-called Humean theory of motivation, the sentimentalist basis for moral judgment and the consequential motivational internalism. After diagnosing a possible incoherency in Hume’s overall account, due to his aim of overcoming sheer subjectivism and to the resulting Possible Sentiment Problem, I present an alternative picture of the kind of sentiment involved in moral judgment that surmounts this problem and undoes the incoherency.
We often treat our basic, unmotivated desires as reason-giving: you’re thirsty and take yourself to have a reason to walk to the drinking fountain; you care intrinsically about your young daughter and take yourself to have a reason to feed and clothe her. We think these desires generate normative practical reasons. But are there basic desires that don’t? It might seem so, for we sometimes find ourselves impelled to do some very strange, and some very awful, things. For example, would (...) a loving mother with a violent impulse thereby come to have a reason to harm her beloved child? Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that there are basic desires, such as the mother’s, that fail to generate reasons. Can a subjectivist, a theorist in the Humean tradition, accept this thesis? Against the historical grain, I argue yes. I frame my discussion in terms of solving a puzzle in Harry Frankfurt’s subjectivist theory of rational agency and appeal to the concept of a personal ideal to reveal how a subjectivist, a follower of Hume, can countenance the existence of “rationally impotent basic desires.”. (shrink)
If Hume is correct that the descriptive and the normative are “entirely different” matters, then it would seem to follow that endorsing a given account of action-explanation does not restrict the account of practical normativity one may simultaneously endorse. In this essay, I challenge the antecedent of this conditional by targeting its consequent. Specifically, I argue that if one endorses a Humean account of action-explanation, which many find attractive, one is thereby committed to a Humean account of practical normativity, which (...) many find unattractive. The key to this argument is showing that the justificatory base of any anti-Humean normative view is a generic representation of ideal rationality, which precludes any such view from combining coherently with a Humean account of action-explanation. If my arguments are successful, they demonstrate a way in which one’s views in action theory can both limit and be limited by the ethical views one endorses. (shrink)
I examine Hume’s ‘construal of the basic structure of human agency’ and his ‘analysis of human agency’ as they arise in his investigation of causal power. Hume’s construal holds both that volition is separable from action and that the causal mechanism of voluntary action is incomprehensible. Hume’s analysis argues, on the basis of these two claims, that we cannot draw the concept of causal power from human agency. Some commentators suggest that Hume’s construal of human agency is untenable, unduly skeptical, (...) or uniquely entailed by the limits of empiricism. However, as I argue, these criticisms depend either on a misunderstanding of Hume’s analysis of human agency or on a neglect of the historical context of his view. (shrink)
Smith begins by noting the isomorphism between the rational transition to a psychological state from others and the derivation of a concluding proposition from premises in the deductive theoretical realm, and he argues that this isomorphism led Hume to think that the rationality of the psychological transition is to be explained by the deductive validity of the derivation. Generalizing, Smith argues, Hume concluded that the concept of a reason—that is, the concept of a consideration that justifies—must be prior to and (...) explain the concept of rationality. The fact that there is no such isomorphism in the practical and inductive realms is therefore, Smith suggests, what led Hume to his inductive and practical skepticism. Pace Hume, however, Smith argues that we need not agree that the concept of a reason is prior to the concept of rationality: we have an independent idea of the coherence of a set of psychological states and this is sufficient to provide us with an account of what it is for beliefs and desires to be justified. But it remains an open question whether the Kantians are right that practical coherence can be extended as far as yielding justified desires to do as morality bids. (shrink)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:275 DAVID HUME AND THE CONCEPT OF VOLITION Introduction The following two papers, though separately authored, belong together, not only because we, the authors, shared our views during the writing, but also because they are excerpts from a single story we are interested in telling. This is the story of a particular insight into the conceptual structure of human volition — the will. The insight is that volition — (...) or, more precisely, intention — is (or presupposes) a kind of knowledge, practical knowledge. Our larger goal is to show how this insight was developed from the time of Aristotle into the Middle Ages, and then fell into obscurity in modern philosophy until quite recently. This insight became especially clear in the writings of Thomas Aquinas. The epistemological development which obscured it was most powerfully furthered by David Hume. The recovery of the insight was initially the work of the later Wittgenstein. The first paper deals with Aquinas; the second with Wittgenstein; and both with Hume.... (shrink)
It has become increasingly common to interpret Hume as a `sceptic' of practical reason. This means that Hume supposedly contests, not only the ability of reason to provide demonstrable truths, in the conventional rationalist sense, but also reason's ability to guide our practical action. Proponents of this reading include Jean Hampton, Elijah Millgram and Christine Korsgaard. If this `sceptical reading' of Hume is correct, he would lack the philosophical resources to justify his account of political justice. However, if examined further, (...) this sceptical reading begins with deep-seated Kantian presuppositions about the role and function of practical reason. The paper critiques these presuppositions, arguing that they must be set aside in order to appreciate more fully how Hume does indeed have a proper theory of practical reason. Specifically, Hume believes practical reason encompasses the discursive articulation and evaluation of human character traits and moral values within the social context. These articulatory and intersubjective dimensions of practical reasoning emphasized in the Humean account could provide further theoretical inspiration for communitarian critiques of contemporary liberalism. (shrink)
Our beliefs about which actions we ought to perform clearly have an effect on what we do. But so-called “Humean” theories—holding that all motivation has its source in desire—insist on connecting such beliefs with an antecedent motive. Rationalists, on the other hand, allow normative beliefs a more independent role. I argue in favor of the rationalist view in two stages. First, I show that the Humean theory rules out some of the ways we ordinarily explain actions. This shifts the burden (...) of proof onto Humeans to motivate their more restrictive, revisionary account. Second, I show that they are unlikely to discharge this burden because the key arguments in favor of the Humean theory fail. I focus on some of the most potent and most recent lines of argument, which appeal to either parsimony, the teleological nature of motivation, or the structure of practical reasoning. (shrink)
In broad outlines, the first of these claims that beliefs and other cognitive states, on their own, can never motivate a new desire, intention, or action. Rather, on this view, what motivates us to desire, intend, or act is always the cooperation of some desire (or other conative state) with such cognitive states. Thus, on HTM, practical motivation is always the product of two fundamentally distinct categories of mental states operating in conjunction with one another.
In his important recent book Schroeder proposes a Humean theory of reasons that he calls hypotheticalism. His rigourous account of the weight of reasons is crucial to his theory, both as an element of the theory and constituting his defence to powerful standard objections to Humean theories of reasons. In this paper I examine that rigourous account and show it to face problems of vacuity and consonance. There are technical resources that may be brought to bear on the problem of (...) vacuity but implementation is not simple and philosophical motivation a further difficulty. Even supposing vacuity is fixed, the problems of consonance bring to light a different obstruction lying in Schroeder’s path. There is a difference between the general weighing of reasons and the context specificity of the correct placing of weight on them in deliberation and this difference cannot be fixed by the resources in the account. For these reasons we are still waiting for a plausible Humean theory of reasons. (shrink)
But for a very recent exception, Hume has generally been thought to deny that cognitive reason plays a distinctive role in morality. The cornerstone of this view has been his notorious remark that reason is and ought only to be the slave of passion and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey passion. But, this remark notwithstanding, Hume’s view about the significance of intention in moral processes suggests that he does assign to cognitive reason a (...) very crucial role in morality. This is what the present study establishes. (shrink)
The theory that practical reasoning is wholly instrumental says that the only practical function of reason is to tell agents the means to their ends, while their ends are fixed by something other than reason itself. In this essay I argue that Hume has an instrumentalist theory of practical reasoning. This thesis may sound as unexciting as the contention that Kant is a rationalist about morality. For who would have thought otherwise? After all, isn't the ‘instrumentalist’ line in contemporary discussions (...) of this topic descended directly from Hume himself? Contrast the following recent comment from Robert Audi's book on practical reasoning, holding the standard line, with the comment from Christine Korsgaard following it:Hume's conception of practical reasoning, so far as we can formulate it, can be located within … the foundationalist account of motivation in which reason plays the instrumentalist role … by virtue of arousing and directing our desires. (shrink)