The Role of Feelings in Moral Reasoning
The discussion of how feelings affect morality is quite prevalent in both David Hume and Immanuel Kant’s works. While each philosopher touches on the topic of feelings, both men differ in their outlook on the role feelings play in our moral lives. While David Hume, seemed to feel that the human mind was nothing more then a series of sensations and feelings, Immanuel Kant argued that there exists more to our minds than just these feelings.
David Hume based his whole ideology on a pleasure vs. pain scale. According to Hume, in order to make a moral decision, we must look at the given situation, and decide which solution would give us the highest level of pleasure. If the pleasure of said solution would outweigh the pain caused by it, then we would be achieving morality. He says that we need to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Hume was an empiricist. He felt that knowledge began with the senses. Hume thought that a person could know nothing outside of experience. Experience is based on one’s subjective perceptions and never provides true knowledge of reality. For example, even the law of cause and effect was an unjustified belief. If a person drops an apple, he cannot be certain that it will fall to the ground. It is only possible, through past experience, that certain pairs of events, dropping an apple, and then the apple hitting the ground, have always accompanied one another.
Hume’s empiricism led him to the conclusion that we simply have feelings as to what is right and wrong. Reason would have nothing to do with morality, because we can not know what we have not experienced, and we can not reason what we do not know.
At first glance, we can see that Hume has a point. But his pleasure vs. pain scale is quite flawed in design. If we were to look at modern day examples of this pleasure vs. pain scale being utilized, we can easily see these flaws. Adolf Hitler is a prime example of this. When Hitler became dictator of Germany in 1933, he was aware that his country was in shambles. There was an economic depression resulting from World War I, and an absolute lack of national pride in his people. Hitler, and most of the German people, had a strong hatred of Jews. So in order to restore nationalism, Hitler decided that the pleasure of nationalism outweighed the pain of killing six million Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies. Even though his idea was able to bring back Germany’s economy and nationalism was stronger than ever; can we call this a moral decision? For years, Adolf Hitler has been regarded as an evil man, but on closer inspection, it seems that all he was doing was following David Hume’s ideology.
Immanuel Kant’s ideas completely and soundly dispute Hume’s thesis. Kant suggests that there exist three parts to the human mind,...