Artificial Virtues and the Sensible Knave

Hume Studies 18 (2):401-427 (1992)
  Copy   BIBTEX

Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Artificial Virtues and the Sensible Knave1 David Gauthier Hume's account in the Treatise ofthe artificial virtues, their obligation and motivation, resists easy interpretation. Two passages, taken from his discussion of promises, will introduce, the problems I propose to examine. First: No action can be requir'd of us as our duty, unless there be implanted in human nature some actuating passion or motive, capable of producing the action. This motive cannot be the sense of duty. A sense of duty supposes an antecedent obligation: And where an action is not requir'd by any natural passion, it cannot be requir'd by any natural obligation; since it may be omitted without proving any defect or imperfection in the mind and temper, and consequently without any vice. Now 'tis evident we have no motive leading us to the performance of promises, distinct from a sense of duty. If we thought, that promises had no moral obligation, we never shou'd feel any inclination to observe them.... But as there is naturally no inclination to observe promises, distinct from a sense of their obligation; it follows, that fidelity is no natural virtue, and that promises have no force, antecedent to human conventions.2 Ignore for the present the last sentence quoted. Hume seems clearly to be claiming that (1) an action can be a duty only if there is some motive to perform it other than a sense of duty, and (2) there is no motive to perform an act of promise-keeping other than a sense of duty. From (1) and (2) we may infer that (3) an act of promise-keeping can not be a duty. But since the sense of duty motivates an action only ifit is apprehended to be a duty, then from (2) and (3) we may conclude that (4) there is no motive to perform an act of promise-keeping that does not involve the mistaken apprehension that it is a duty. And the second passage: Afterwards a sentiment of morals concurs with interest, and becomes a new obligation upon mankind.... The difficulties, Volume XVIII Number 2 401 DAVID GAUTHIER that occur to us, in supposing a moral obligation to attend promises, we either surmount or elude. For instance; the expression of a resolution is not commonly suppos'd to be obligatory; and we cannot readily conceive how the making use of a certain form of words shou'd be able to cause any material difference. Here, therefore, we feign a new act ofthe mind, which we call the willing an obligation; and on this we suppose the morality to depend. But we have prov'd already, that there is no such act of the mind, and consequently that promises impose no natural obligation. (T 523) This time, ignore for the present the first sentence. The remainder would seem to confirm my reading ofthe first passage. Hume claims that (5) there is no natural obligation to perform an act of promise-keeping, but (6) we feign the willing of such an obligation. If, as Hume has claimed in the previous passage, (2) there is no motivation to perform an act ofpromise-keeping other than a sense ofduty, and if obligation and duty may be taken as equivalent, then we may conclude as before that (4) there is no motive to perform an act of promise-keeping that does not involve the mistaken apprehension that it is a duty. In his theory of the artificial virtues and vices, Hume considers "the three fundamental laws ofnature, thatofthestabilityofpossession, of its transference by consent, and of the performance of promises" (T 526). It would seem, from the passages cited, that Hume must suppose that there is no real obligation to keep promises, but only a feigned obligation. And since the reasoning that Hume employs in the first ofthe passages that I have cited is explicitly identified with "that reasoning, which prov'd justice in general to be an artificial virtue" (T 518), it seems clear that he must also suppose that there is no real obligation to uphold stability of possession and its transference by consent—no real obligation to observe the other laws of justice or equity.3...

Links

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 93,098

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Artificial Virtues and the Sensible Knave.David Gauthier - 1992 - Hume Studies 18 (2):401-427.
Hume's Obligations.Knud Haakonssen - 1978 - Hume Studies 4 (1):7-17.
Hume on promises and the peculiar act of the mind.Rachel Cohon - 2006 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 44 (1):25-45.
Hume on Promises and Their Obligation.Antony E. Pitson - 1988 - Hume Studies 14 (1):176-190.
Hume on Promises and Their Obligation.Antony E. Pitson - 1988 - Hume Studies 14 (1):176-190.
The Binding Force of Promises.Earl W. Spurgin Jr - 1995 - Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Analytics

Added to PP
2011-02-21

Downloads
98 (#181,426)

6 months
18 (#152,778)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references