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Hume's View Essay

899 words - 4 pages

In this essay I am going to evaluate Hume’s view of the origin of moral judgements based on his sympathy principle. I argue that Hume’s account, in some cases, is not sufficient for explaining the origin of moral judgements, especially the shaping of impartial moral judgements. First, I will give an introduction to Hume’s idea of ‘sympathy’ and explain how it forms the basis of our moral approval or disapproval of certain character traits and qualities of mind. Second, I will discuss the role of ‘judicious spectator’ in forming an impartial moral judgement. Then, I shall proceed to the discussion on questions and objections regarding the sympathy principle and the judicious spectator with ...view middle of the document...

On Hume’s account, sympathy is essential for approving and disapproving character traits thus making moral judgment. Hume argues that ‘Morality, therefore, is more properly felt than judged of’ (Sec II, Part I, Book III, Treatise). In other words, our moral distinctions are based on feelings. We observe the outward signs of a person’s character or action and sympathise with the acting person and the people who are affected by the conduct. If the effects, through sympathy, give us a particular pleasurable feeling, this pleasure constitutes our approval of the character or the act. If a particular kind of uneasiness arises in our minds, this uneasiness represents our disapproval of the character or the act. This is how sympathy gives rise to our moral judgements.

One problem with the sympathy principle in the moral judgement process is that sympathy is usually partial and variable. Hume solves this problem by introducing the device of ‘judicious spectator’. We naturally sympathise more with the people who are closer to us, our friends, family and loved ones, whereas sympathise the least with strangers far away from us. However, the same character traits of different people, no matter what kind of relationship they have with us, are equally virtuous or vicious. A judicious spectator is an ‘equidistant’ observer of the person with the traits and the people who are impacted (From Alex’s notes). To achieve impartiality, we contemplate sympathetically a character trait not from our own point of view, but from the judicious spectator’s point of view. We neglect our...

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