Hume's Moral Philosophy - Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1965 Words
Date:  2021-04-23


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Hume is a great and highly acknowledged philosopher and the questioner of moral standards of society. He is known for making inquiries on a different subject such as morality, religion, leadership, power, governance and superstition. He proposed a number of argumentative approaches with which ideas and thoughts could be differentiated. His main argument is idea are inherently generated from the past experiences of individuals, in this regard he stated that ideas could be broken down ad infinitum. In this regard, one can acknowledge that our moral ideas of what is right and what is wrong are solely based on the perceivers perspective and not entirely related to other societal norms or traditions.

Hume attempts to differentiate between virtues and vice, later he expounds on the differentiation of these ideas from sounds and colors. He is clearly cut out the impression of vice as pain and the impression of virtues as pleasure. These two traits have to live in harmony as they are both calm elements, in this regards, he states that for one to live a morally right life, one has to strike a balance between pain and pleasure. On issues of morality, he states that moral impression is an elicited by human actions and not the actions of inanimate objects. On the other hand, he also says that moral impressions are usually solely generated from a social point of view, this is true because our actions are judged based on how they affect the other people that surround us. He points out clearly that sympathy, the feelings of people that surround us, as the foundation of the moral obligations we strive to adhere to.

Arbitrariness Objection

Taking an outlook of sentimentalism of Hume, it is questioned that; do we approve and disprove of character traits for the reason that they are virtuous and vicious or do we approve and disapprove of character traits on the basis on no moral reason. A simple example is an aspect of approving benevolence for the reason that is virtuous or is it approved on the basis of no moral reason?

P1: If character traits are virtuous because we approve of them then we must approve them for no further moral reason:


It is difficult to argue out that we approve of virtuous acts just on the basis that they are acceptable among different individuals. Humes states that humanity places moral judgment of the actions of fellow human beings based on how it affects them. In this regard, one can easily argue that moral reasons do not play a role in the decision making of a virtuous or acts of vice. Humes explains that morality is usually a facet of human ideological perception of what is right or wrong.

Based on the above-mentioned proposition, morality is decided by men; the fact is that human emotion and perspectives to what is wrong or right changes every time. As the years go by, perception changes, ideological revolutions occur that render some school of thought as defunct. It is with this regards that one can argue out clearly that the moral philosophy of men based on what individuals feel about a vice or act of virtue is not a fixed scale. Acts of virtue will change with time and acts of vice can be deemed as less of a vice, it contradicts the main philosophy of morality. This argument clearly supports that in situations that a judgment on an act is made, then the moral reason is not put to use.

P2: If we approve of them for no further moral reason them the moral status of virtuous (and vice) character traits is arbitrary.


The above point is highly sensible in regards to the decision making on morality goes. If virtues and vice are made in regards to the feelings of the majority, then moral reasons do not stand a chance. Moral reasons are placed below the decision made out of the feelings of individuals. It beats logic when an individual kills for a good reason, the majority would concur with the reasons and the circumstances with which certain actions took place. On the other hand following up to the rules of moral reason, the act of killing by itself is a vice. Basing the decision on moral reason, the individual needs to be judged for his actions as it defies the principles of moral reason. Arbitrariness arises when moral reason is pushed away in support to feelings of the majority.

The arbitrariness of moral reason over the popular vote comes alive when decision making is solely based on feelings. Feelings can be that of sympathy, remorse, anger and disdain, the variations of human emotions is uncontrollable, and it can be nonsensical. Different opinions over a given case scenario would elicit splits in decision making, in this regards the next sought out option will be the moral reason. Moral reason is highly defined, and it is inclusive of all situations, the rules are highly distinctive, and they clearly give steps and measures to abate a given situation. Entertaining the idea of the arbitrariness of moral reason can be catastrophic as feelings change over time, ideologies change and this leads to indecisiveness in critical situations.

P3: If the moral status of virtuous (and vicious) character traits is arbitrary, then we have no reason to cultivate or avoid them.


It is a practical a matter of fact when a certain artifact of morality is not put to use then it makes no sense to avoid it or cultivate it. This is an argument based on logic, if the moral reason is disdained by all and sundry, then it would seem pointless to cultivate or even avoid them. The decision making structures according to Humes philosophy can either lie on the fronts of moral reason or that of feeling. In the world where popular majority feeling reigns over moral reason, it is hence difficult to try and propose the use of moral reason. Moral reason becomes defunct in regards to feeling, arbitrariness develops, and hence the usage of moral reason dies out.

It would be difficult to argue out that moral reason is worthless when compared to feelings. When moral reasons and status is considered to be arbitrary, practicing them would not help as it is feelings of a majority that is going to be the yardstick of decision making. It is clear to note that arbitrariness kills motivation to partake in certain actions of following certain guidelines. Life in a society where feelings are used as decision tools, then it can fall short of achieving its target of maintaining morality in society. It is important to consider the arbitrariness of moral reason as the cause of drifts in decision making and instability of the decision making committees as peoples opinions always change with every new perception acquired about a situation.

C: If character traits are virtuous because we approve of them then we have no reason to cultivate virtuous character traits.


Acts of virtue are highly sentient, it is perceived by what we see, feel and touch. It is then left to human perception to decide what is virtuous or not. Point to note is that human perception is highly influenced by a number of structures such religious beliefs, societal norms and the media. For instance, gay acts were seen to be sinful back in the 50s, and over the years the issue has been normalized by popular culture media. These past few years people have become accustomed to gay and lesbians. In this regard, one can argue that human perception of certain acts of virtue or vice is malleable. The practice of virtuous character traits are hence discouraged to be practiced as the people who decide are also victims of the same, a decision can either go left or right as there are no cultivated moral reasons to uphold. It would be practical to argue out that acts of virtue should not be practiced or cultivated in a society where acts require the approval of the many.

For Hume, morality is not a subjective matter but that, which is controlled by statutes of moral reason. Morality is not a matter of fact derived from the experiences of people, experiences differ, and hence opinion differs with time. Humes suggests that individuals should examine themselves in regards to supposed moral misdeeds like murder. Looking into murder, we dont arrive at certain ideas that show the quality of morality. Hence this is an indicator that people find murder as just a disdainful act that needs to be condemned. It clearly elaborates that morality is subject to passions or the sentiment of an individual and not reason. Reason plays a role in helping to explain the feelings that people have, but it is not the origin. This is a tale of how immoral decisions are not immoral because they are irrational but because of the elicit feelings of disdain.

In this regards, it is clear to note that moral standings and beliefs should be created based on how certain activities affect individuals. Moral reasons should be curved out of feelings that of happiness and sympathy, pain and pleasure. Humes ascribes the moral decisions of individuals to the passions; he does this bay stating the above reasons. Passion is a viable replacement for reason; the moral reason should be congruent to passion. This clear tears down the relationship between morality and reason. It is out of reason, a fact, and a past experience that we base our moral standings, so morality and reason are totally different but also highly related.

Moral sense plays a critical role in the distinction between virtues and vices. It is for this reason that we see something as immoral or not. Moral judgment is a combination of moral sense and reason. If these two are combined, the work in synchrony to help alleviate the challenge of ideological differences between following up moral reason or going by with feelings. Virtues are highly malleable, and they differ from one society to another, with this school of thought, virtues can be split into natural and artificial virtues. Artificial virtues consist of allegiance, promises, treaties, respect, justice and modesty. All these traits are maintained by individuals in order to cultivate a harmonious living; they are respected in order for society to instill law and order. One cannot be judged to be immoral on insulting individuals as there is no logical reason barring one from such. On the other hand, moral reason and moral senses deny individual such power hence it is difficult to articulate clearly what should pass as a moral judgment and by what standards.

According to Korsgaard in The Sources of Normativity, she states that people believe in standards and people alight their actions in line with them. Ethical standards are normative in nature, they claim, they command and invoke respect. Moral standards are the expectations of a fellow human to another. When individuals are subjected to moral reason, they still have the will to oblige or disregards it completely. Hume, Korsgaard and Christian Miller on Euthyphro dilemma all ascribe to the existence of reason as a trigger towards the development of ethical codes of conduct. Standards play a critical role in society, creation of the arbitrariness of virtues and vices leaves it open for men to do as they desire. Creation of this arbitrariness can lead to a disaster, moral standards, senses, and judgment should be developed from passions and pain principles. They should be written down by man for man.


Korsaard, c. (2013). The sources of normativity. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, C. (n.d.). Moral character. 1st ed.

Ross, A. (2000). An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (review). Journal of the History of Philosophy, 38(2), pp.280-281.

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