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Hume on Sentiments and Reason

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In Appendix I., Concerning Moral Sentiment, David Hume looks to find a place in morality for reason, and sentiment. Through, five principles he ultimately concludes that reason has no place within the concept of morality, but rather is something that can only assist sentiment in matters concerning morality. And while reason can be true or false, those truths or falsities apply to facts, not to morality. He then argues morals are the direct result of sentiment, or the inner feeling within a human being. These sentiments are what intrinsically drive and thus create morality within a being. Sentiments such as beauty, revenge, pleasure, pain, create moral motivation, and action, and are immune to falsity and truth. They are the foundation for which morals are built, and exist themselves apart from any reasoning. Thesis: In moral motivation, the role of sentiment is to drive an intrinsically instilled presence within us to examine what we would deem a moral act or an immoral act, and act accordingly, and accurately upon the sentiments that apply. These sentiments may be assisted by reasons, but the reason alone does not drive us to do what we would feel necessary. They can only guide us towards the final result of moral motivation which (by now it's painfully clear) is sentiment.

Hume gives five considerations to the roles of reason and sentiment within the confines of moral motivation. These considerations are his premises for the final supposition which links sentiment and morality immaculately together, and rejects reason as a plausible explanation form oral motivation. His first consideration allows for reason to be presumed true, as the causation of moral motivation. It follows however that reason "judges either matter of fact or of relations. (Hume 84) When considering the moral crime of ingratitude as Hume does, it seems foolhardy to relate ingratitude with a matter of fact, and when I speak of matter of fact I imply the likes of the geometry, chemistry, algebra etc. A matter of fact that can be proven true or false and will always be true and false and can be learned by a leaner and taught by a teacher (though ingratitude might be taught and learned I suppose. Ingratitude is certainly not a matter of fact then, and so it must be discounted because it "arises from complication of circumstances which excite the sentiment of blame. (84) So then we must look at moral motivation as a result of relations. When speaking of relations Hume is talking about the relation between one being and another, and how their individual experience and circumstances when applied to a moral law will always then apply for every instance, since these relations compose the very fiber that is morality. In short how one man acts towards another man. As quickly as this idea comes up it is dismissed because relating to one with good-will or ill-will are themselves sentiments. Acting indifferent towards one who has born ill-will, or expressing good-will to one who has still shown nothing but ill-will can only be described by some inner workings of our moral consciousness, created by a sentiment of patience, or compassion, or understanding, which by no means can be deemed true or false, or furthermore (dealing with relation) explain how all individuals would reply to ill-will in any set of circumstances.

In the second consideration Hume says that "in moral decisions, all the circumstances and relations must be previously known; and the mindÐ'...feels some new impression of affection or disgust, esteem or contempt, approbation or blame." (84) This leads to the "mistake" as he calls it, between what one person might see as right, or as fact. In a more generic example I will sight this difference: A man unknowingly kills another man due to his ignorance, he does not know all the facts before hand, and thus his actions result in judgments formed incorrectly. The fact the man killed another is certainly different than the moral views (right/wrong) behind the action. Since he did not have all the knowledge or relation necessary how can we hold him accountable for his actions, or much less tell him he was wrong in these dealings? However, a man who before hand knows of all the necessary facts, but used the sentiment of vengeance, to kill a man knowingly, is of a very different variety. We can see that there was no relation of which he was unaware, but rather we sense sentiments that lead to moral judgments, that this man knew what he was doing, and thus his actions were morally wrong based on those very sentiments, not based on fact or relation.

Thus far (I hope), the role of reason and the role of sentiment are clear and quite different in regards to moral motivation. Reason may appear on the surface to motivate morality, but in actuality moral motivation can be broken down further. Reason is only motivating sentiment, which is the end result of morality. One drives the other, and accordingly morals are created. Sentiments role is to communicate with our inner being which then allows us the option of acting according to morals, and have morality, or to feel these things and choose to not be moral, and be void of any morality. Whichever path is chosen it becomes more clear that we take that road by way our of inner sentiments and not by reason or relation.

Hume's third consideration deals with taste and beauty. Beauty he says, is the "proportion, relation, and position of

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