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This is a 33-minute preview of our vintage 1 hr, 46-minute episode.
Discussing parts of David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759).
Where do we get our moral ideas? Hume and Smith both thought that we get them by reflecting on our own moral judgments and on how we and others (including imaginary, hypothesized others) in turn judge those judgments. Mark, Wes, Seth, and guest Getty Lustila, a phil grad student at Georgia State University, hash through the Scottish stoicism to lay out the differences between these two gents and whether their views constitute an actual moral theory or just a descriptive enterprise.
We read the sections from the Treatise and from Smith in D.D. Raphael's collection British Moralists: 1650-1800 (Volumes 2): Volume II: Hume - Bentham, and Index Read more about the topic and selections.
End song: "Honest Judge" by New People from the 2010 album "Impossible Things," written and sung by Nate Pinney.
I haven’t listen yet because I’ve decided to listen to all the episodes in order. I just wanted to give a shout-out to Georgia State University. I’m thinking of applying to their program after I get my MLIS and I can’t find a job.
Foucault’s Discipline and Punish next? It’s soooo good!
Seth Paskin says
You’ve come back from the dead to hype your own book?
Andrew C says
Heh heh. Second breakfast.
David Buchanan says
“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” Isn’t that Hume’s main idea? It’s about the priority of “sentiments’ over rational thought, especially Rationalist thought. This is a general epistemology and not just a moral theory, no?
Have you heard about Frans De Wall’s work on primate morality? It’s all about empathy and a basic sense of fairness within the group. It’s not hard to make a case that our own evolutionary development would have included the same basic capacity for empathy and reciprocity. And so it seems that morality is more basic than rationality. I mean, to prioritize the passions is not to say they are better or higher but rather that it’s older, more basic and more primary. This supports Hume’s basic contention, I think, and it suggest a reasonably scientific and empirical approach by which to examine morality. It seems quite reasonable to suppose that morality has evolved, that it’s rooted in biology but also been profoundly shaped by cultural evolution.
One doesn’t have to be a Freudian to believe that most of what we call morality is a set of rules that restrain the biological appetites for sex and violence. Primates are a lot less neurotic, but we can have knives at the dinner table and we smell better. This kind of morality is what motivates vice cops and family values conservatives. It’s the kind of buttoned-up, well starched Victorian morality that Freud lived with. But there’s more to it than that. There are more than just these two layers of moral evolution. Isn’t the philosophical examination of morality a moral thing to do in it’s own way? We expect all kind of moral things from a person who wants to do that; they ought to committed and qualified. We expect such examiners to be honest and open to criticism, which entails submission to the facts and some humility about your conclusions. We could just about define philosophy as a critical examination of one’s own culture, as a willingness to scrutinize inherited moral values. Where the vice cops keep biological instincts in check, philosophers keep social demands in check. This social level morality it what civilized us and it’s “higher” than the laws of the jungle and but it has it’s limits. Vice cops are supposed to protect us from rape and murder, not from new ideas. Comedians and philosophers are supposed to be subversive and there’s a certain morality to the challenge posed by intellectual criticism. Questioning a culture’s values is just not at all like robbing banks or stealing bananas.
Derick Varn a.k.a. Skepoet says
“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.’-Yes, but it can’t really be justified as such if you par that with Hume’s induction problem and Hume’s is/ought distinction. In other words, it’s also equilivant to the stance of the skepticism of Sextus Empiricus.
” It’s not hard to make a case that our own evolutionary development would have included the same basic capacity for empathy and reciprocity. ”
It hard to take that from a descriptive case from a normative case though.
mark wieselquist says
seems small and unmathematical, but true, that each of us, all things, are of ourselves to begin with. right, Seth; our selfs contain direction toward survival and respect other entities and our selves the exact same way. We function toward surviving, at first. We adapt. and find that we don’t want what we don’t want. -like physical pain, even more than we want what we want. why, this far along, are there still such things as enemies? heck, why are there morals? so we can have law? please understand that no person ever felt sympathy for a dead person. It ain’ possible.
Seth Paskin says
Hey Mark. I think you can feel sympathy for a dead person – sympathy is just the mechanism where you identify and empathize with another person’s situation. Since the action is entirely internal, you can feel sympathy for a dead person by imagining yourself in their place. If that brings a shudder to your spine, it’s working.
Jay Jeffers says
I like the approach of not namedropping. After all we can learn a lot through riffing on a topic that has taken on a life of its own, and we don’t have to do the history of literature every step of the way. And simply telling someone to go read something doesn’t help since we should be able to talk about the concepts all on our own, even if the topic was inspired by historically famous thinkers. But I would like to add another caveat (along with the couple added in the discussion) to the rule to not namedrop.
*When Person A is perusing the comment section of a post relating to a topic Person A has a keen interest in, and
*sees Person B being very dismissive of what Person A believes is actually a pretty subtle issue,
*then Person A spends way too much time painstakingly explaining, pleading even, with Person B in an attempt to illuminate the issue,
*all while Person A’s efforts are frustrated by Person B’s determined pat denials,
*Person A is allowed to tell Person B they simply need to go read some stuff on the particular topic (naming particular articles even) before Person B continues to spout off.
This is all hypothetical, of course.
Since I’ve been reading and thinking over Hume I thought I’d listen to the Episode 17: Hume’s Empiricism: What Can We Know? and Episode 45: Moral Sense Theory: Hume and Smith podcasts again.
I’ve listened to them twice and I have really enjoyed them yet again.
I think bringing in others of his time like Smith really illustrates the conversations going on then, but it also blurs Hume himself.
I mean to get a better understanding of the conversation from Hume’s perspective I think you have to include his Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals because he clarifies or appends many of his positions/arguments.
In 45 guest Getty Lustila mentioned the theologian Bishop Butler that the way to bridge the is-ought gap is an idea of God which Hume’s first “is” that can not be used to base morality on is God.
“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, …. establishes the being of a God,”
The second which was mentioned is the reason of the Rationalists with the subjective Cartesian cogito who thought that knowledge could be derived from reason independently of the senses or others who just make up s#!* in their heads – non-empirically.
For Hume and the Empiricists morals are based in human sense experience and for Hume who clarifies later he is not really a non-cognitivist as he ways into the debate of are morals from reason or sentiment he says both
“…that reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions.” 137
There were many interesting thoughts about the third person observer but the most obvious one not mentioned since we’re talking about Empiricists and the scientific method. The “observer” is that morals are objective.
(although not in the sense that moral propositions refer to objective facts independent of human experience such as propositions in physics)
Hume “… reject every system of ethics, … which is not founded on fact and observation.” 138
“As this is a question of fact, not of abstract science, we can only expect success, by following the experimental method, and deducing general maxims from a comparison of particular instances. ” 138
“Those who have denied the reality of moral distinctions, may be ranked among the disingenuous disputants; nor is it conceivable, that any human creature could ever seriously believe, that all characters and actions were alike entitled to the affection and regard of everyone.” 133
from Hume’s Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals
Section I ‘The Principles of Morals’ – seven pages long
David Hume very much thought of his project as scientific “The science of man (or the science of human nature) is a topic in David Hume’s 18th century experimental philosophy A Treatise of Human Nature (1739). The science of man expanded the understanding of facets of human nature, including senses, impressions, ideas, imagination, passions, morality, justice, and society.”
Which was taken up by Charles Darwin and others that were and are influential in the development of the sciences of psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, etc. today.
To name only a few
‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ is a book by Charles Darwin, published in 1872
Darwin’s ideas were followed up in William James’ ‘What Is An Emotion?’
Freud’s early publications acknowledged debts to Darwin’s work on emotional expression.
Dr. Paul Ekman research on the specific biological correlates of specific emotions, demonstrating the universality and discreteness of emotions in a Darwinian approach.
Dacher Keltner current research in his Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory focuses on prosocial behavior, compassion, moral reasoning, and collective emotions
“In full time they should attempt a like reformation in all moral disquisitions; and reject every system of ethics, however subtle or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and observation.” 138
Wayne Schroeder says
I have been following your inquiry into morality via Hume and Darwin, and am impressed by your continued affirmation and engagement with these original pioneers in their time. Of course, what we do not learn from history, of philosophy, science, etc., we are doomed to repeat and we can avoid that by walking in previous footsteps, like those of Hume and Darwin.
I also recognize that your concern regarding morality is to keep it natural and scientific as Darwin and Hume propose, which certainly makes sense. Very cool how you include Darwin’s focus on emotions and their relationship to Freud and James, with a focus on fact and observation.
I guess coming from you, as with many others here at PEL, for whom I have a great amount of respect for even when we disagree, I thank you.
I personally prefer the term “physicalism” or really “embodiment” to “naturalism”.
I’m probably a bit influenced by my interest in the ancinet Greeks. And think philosophy and the scineces can get back to something like the ancinet Greeks – eudamonia – that philosophy was meaningful and important and practical like John Dewey philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer among others.
Much of philosophy while interesting is often untethered from reality. And many philosophers while brilliant do not embody their philosophy as the ancient Greeks or the Buddhists or Taoists do/did.
With Hume I think we are very much aware of his huge influences in philosophy on Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer, A. J. Ayer, Karl Popper, and in science like on Albert Einstein among others.
But an important and often over looked influence was on psychology, psychiatry, and the neurosciences.
I’m very much influenced the philosophy of embodiment and phenomenology of Merleau Ponty who engaged extensively with the sciences and especially with descriptive psychology. Many phenomenologists like Francisco Varela used the results of psychology and cognitive neuroscience.
Naturalizing Phenomenology: Contemporary Issues in Phenomenology and Cognitive Science
The View from Within: First-Person Methodologies in the Study of Consciousness
Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom and Cognition
The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience
Hume’s influence and work continues with Paul Ekaman, Keltner, Daniel Goleman, Dan Siegel, and many others too numerous to mention
where we’re at
in schools and education
The Hawn Foundation – The MindUp Program
An Introduction to Social and Emotional Learning
TEDxBlue – Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
much respect Wayne
Angela McLoughlin says
I know this is a response to a podcast done like years ago, 2011!, but I would just like it marked that this podcast has proven incredibly useful for my current university course on Jane Austen, who was directly influenced by both Hume and Smith in moral sentiment and the development of sympathy/empathy for others through the activity of reading. Thank you!
Jonathon Jones says
I had never heard this about Austen, and I am suddenly much more interested in exploring her work. Are there any secondary sources you would recommend regarding her philosophical thought?
Eric Parkinson says
Listened to this episode recently during a cross-country plane ride. There was some discussion within it about the intellectual environment Hume was reacting to and influenced by. Coincidentally, I was (and am) in the midst of reading James A. Harris’ “Hume: An Intellectual Biography” and wanted to make note of it here as a wonderful source to explore Hume’s context.
From his early experimentation with Stoicism (he abandoned it), the importance of Bernard Mandeville’s “The Fable of the Bees,” the role of Shaftesbury, Bayle, and Hutcheson — this is a very thorough account of the influences.
Just wanted to jot this down here for folks who are interested to consider.
Chris Marchetti says
The citizens link is broken – as of 2 May 2016, it points to Episode 17 instead of Episode 45.