The Moral Sentiments in Hume’s Treatise

Hume Studies 40 (1):73-94 (2014)
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In the Treatise, Hume writes several seemingly incompatible things about the moral sentiments, thus there is no general agreement about where they fit within his taxonomy of the perceptions. Some passages speak in favor of the view that moral sentiments are indirect passions, a few in favor of the view that they are direct passions, and yet a couple of explicit statements strongly suggest otherwise. Due to these tensions in Hume’s text, we find at least five competing characterizations in the literature: • Moral sentiments are calm emotions. • Moral sentiments are calm direct passions. • Moral sentiments are calm versions of the indirect passions of love or hatred. • Moral sentiments are unique species of calm indirect passions. • Moral sentiments are indirect secondary impressions. This paper assesses each of these interpretations. When their virtues are brought together, a new interpretation of the origin of moral sentiments starts to emerge.



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Åsa Carlson
Stockholm University

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