How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues

By Roger Crisp | Go to book overview

8
Natural and Artificial Virtues A Vindication of Hume's Scheme

DAVID WIGGINS

All moral duties may be divided into two kinds. The first are those to which men are impelled by a natural instinct or immediate propensity which operates on them independent of all ideas of obligation and of all views either to public or private utility. Of this nature are love of children, gratitude to benefactors, pity to the unfortunate. When we reflect on the advantage which results to society from such humane instincts, we pay them the just tribute of moral approbation and esteem. But the person actuated by them feels their power and influence antecedent to any such reflection.

The second kind of moral duties are such as are not supported by any original instinct of nature, but are performed entirely from a sense of obligation when we consider the necessities of human society and the impossibility of supporting it if these duties were neglected. It is thus that justice or a regard to the property of others, fidelity or the observance of promises, become obligatory, and acquire an authority over mankind. For as it is evident that every man loves himself better than any other person, he is naturally impelled to extend his acquisitions as much as possible; and nothing can restrain him in this propensity but reflection and experience, by which he learns the pernicious effects of that licence, and the total dissolution of society which must ensue from it. His original inclination, therefore, or instinct is here checked and restrained by a subsequent judgement or observation.

David Hume, "'Of the Original Contract'"1

I. Hume's account of morality rests in the first instance upon his account of how the weak but fortifiable sentiment of benevolence and the

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1
D. Hume, "'Of the original contract'" ( 1752), in Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. E. F. Miller, rev. edn. ( Indianapolis, 1987), 465-87, pp. 479-80. Punctuation here and in subsequent quotations simplified.

-131-

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