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A SHORT HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

ARCHIBALD B. D. ALEXANDER - 1922 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Voltaire.
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.

 

A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos
Fénelon

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt

 

A SHORT HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

 

INTRODUCTION

Part I. GREEK PHILOSOPHY


Its origin and character

PHYSICAL PERIOD
MONASTIC THEORIES
PLURALISTIC THEORIES

MORAL PERIOD
THE SOPHISTS
SOCRATES. Cynics and Cyrenaics

SYSTEMATIC PERIOD
PLATO
ARISTOTLE

Part II. PHILOSOPHY IN THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD

ETHICAL THEORIES
Stoicism. Epicureanism
Scepticism

RELIGIOUS TENDENCIES
Roman Moralists: Seneca, Epictetus, M. Aurelius
Alexandrian Mystics: Philo, Plotinus, Proclus

Part III. PHILOSOPHY OF MIDDLE AGES

THE PATRISTIC PERIOD Augustine and Church Fathers

SCHOLASTIC PERIOD Nominalism and Realism

PLATONIC INFLUENCE
Anselm, Abelard, Peter Lombard

ARISTOTELIAN INFLUENCE
1. Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas
2. Duns Scotus, Francis of Assisi, William of Occam
 

Part IV. REVIVAL OF PHILOSOPHY

TRANSITION PERIOD
1. Revival of Learning
2. Reformation
3. Rise of Sciences
Bruno, Böhme, Montaigne

REALISTIC TENDENCY
Bacon
Gassendi
Hobbes

IDEALISTIC TENDENCY
Descartes

PANTHEISTIC TENDENCY
Geulinx, Occasionalism
Malebranche, Pantheism
Spinoza, Acosmism

Part V. PHILOSOPHY OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT

[Introduction]

SECT. I. ENLIGHTENMENT IN BRITAIN
Empiricism-Locke
Development of empiricism-Berkeley
Sceptical Conclusion-Hume

THEOLOGICAL AND ETHICAL QUESTIONS
Natural Philosophy
Theological Controversy
Ethical Theories
Scottish Philosophy

SECT. 2. ENLIGHTENMENT IN FRANCE
Earlier Rationalism
Bossuet, Fontenelle, Bayle, Montesquieu, Condillac, Helvetius
Materialistic Tendencies
Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alembert,  La Mettrie, Holbach, Rousseau

SECT. 3. ENLIGHTENMENT IN GERMANY
INDIVIDUAL IDEALISM—LEIBNITZ

FOLLOWERS OF LEIBNITZ
Thomasius, Tschirnhausen, Wolff

POPULAR PHILOSOPHY
Mendelssohn, Nicolai
Lessing

Part VI. GERMAN IDEALISM


SECT. I. CRITICAL PHILOSOPHY—KANT
INTRODUCTION

KANT'S THEORETIC PHILOSOPHY

KANT'S MORAL PHILOSOPHY

PHILOSOPHY OF ART AND RELIGION

SECT. 2. DEVELOPMENT OF IDEALISM

PHILOSOPHY OF FEELING
Hamann, Herder, Jacobi
Schiller and Humboldt

SUBJECTIVE IDEALISM—FICHTE
1. Science of Knowledge
2. Its Theoretic Principles
3. Its Practical Sphere

OBJECTIVE IDEALISM—SCHELLING
1. Philosophy of Nature
2. Philosophy of Identity
3. Mythology and Revelation

ROMANTIC SCHOOL
1. Novalis and Schlegel
2. Baader and Krause
3. Schleiermacher

 

SECT. 3. ABSOLUTE IDEALISM—HEGELIANISM
CONCEPTION AND METHOD
STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT
REACTION AGAINST HEGELIANISM
1. Herbart
2. Beneke
3. Schopenhauer

Part VII. MOVEMENTS SINCE HEGEL TO THE PRESENT


GERMAN THOUGHT—AFTER HEGEL
1. Influence of Hegelianism
2. Materialistic Tendency—Haeckel
3. Idealistic Tendency
Fechner, Lotze, Hartmann, Wundt
4. Modern Psychology
5. Neo-Kantianism
Dühring, Schuppe, Ritschl
6. Eucken and Activist Tendency

FRENCH THOUGHT—FROM THE REVOLUTION
1. Cousin and Eclecticism
2. Comte and Positivism
3. Religious Philosophy
4. Philosophy of Development—Taine, Renan, Fouillée

BRITISH PHILOSOPHY IN THE VICTORIAN ERA
1. Utilitarianism—Bentham and Mill
2. Evolution—Darwin and Spencer. Maurice, Newman, Martineau
3. Influence of German Idealism. Caird, Green, Bradley, etc.

THE TREND OF THOUGHT IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Anti-Conceptualism—Bergson
Pragmatism—Wm. James
Neo-Realism. Revival of Idealism in Italy. The Philosophy of the Gifford Lectures

 

CONCLUSION

 

BOOKS OF REFERENCE

 

Part V. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT - Sect. 1. British Enlightenment

Chap. III. Sceptical conclusion: Hume

Scepticism is the third and last phase of Empiricism, a phase which we find presented to us in the writings of David Hume. Berkeley desired to avoid scepticism, and his idealism was a-valiant attempt to save the truths of the soul and of God from the destroying hands of materialism. But he did not realize that in denying the existence of matter he had prepared the way for the denial of the spiritual world as well. If we can know nothing but what the senses reveal, there is no room for a knowledge of mind. With a philosophic consistency which neither Locke nor Berkeley could claim, Hume drew the sceptical inferences which are logically implied in empiricism. Adopting Berkeley's analytic method, he founded modern scepticism. Like Berkeley, he accepts only what is immediately revealed to us by our senses. Berkeley had shown that we have no experience of an external world apart from perception, and had, therefore, pronounced matter to be a figment. But, said Hume, must not mind be also a figment? We know nothing from experience of a substance of any kind, either spiritual or material. We are only conscious of a collection of sensations. Our internal like our external experience gives us nothing but perceptions. The idea of an ego or self is, therefore, reducible to a series of sensations. Certainty has only one source—our immediate experience. "Since nothing is ever present to the mind but perceptions, and since all ideas are derived from something antecedently present to the mind, it follows that 'tis impossible for us so much as to conceive or form an idea of anything specifically different from ideas and impressions."

David Hume was born in Edinburgh in 1711. Of his early years we know nothing except that he studied at the university of his native town. In his youth he spent three years in France, and at the age of twenty-four he produced his first and most notable work—A Treatise of Human Nature. The neglect of this early work induced him years after to recast it in a more popular form, under the title of—Inquiry Concerning the Human Understanding, which appeared as the second volume of a series of essays. He expected to astonish the world with the novelty of his views, but, as he said, his work "fell dead-born from the press." His other writings are Political Essays, constituting the third volume of Essays, Political and Moral; his Dialogues on Natural Religion; and his History of England. His outward life was uneventful. Good health, easy circumstances, literary labours, in which he found never-failing enjoyment, brightened with social relaxation and combined, as he tells us in his autobiography, with evenness of temperament and absence of morbidness, made the current of his life smooth and tranquil. His only occupation beyond his literary work was the performance of the not very arduous duties of Librarian to the Advocates' Library—a post he held for many years. In 1763 he was appointed Secretary to the French Embassy, which necessitated his residence in Paris, where his philosophical fame procured him admission to the highest literary circles. His last years were spent in Edinburgh among the cultivated society which at that time distinguished the Scottish capital.

 

The philosophy of Hume is an attempt to carry out to their logical consequences the findings of Locke and Berkeley. He largely accepts not only the starting-point, but the mental data of his predecessors. We know nothing but our sensations, nothing except what experience supplies us with. His problem, therefore, is how thought remains possible on that hypothesis, how we are to account for the contents of our consciousness as we find it without reference to any material world which our senses do not supply.

(1) Impressions and Ideas. Hume agrees with Locke in maintaining that the first elements of all knowledge are simple perceptions, which are received passively by us. These perceptions, however, Hume divides into two kinds, which he calls Impressions and Ideas. The difference between them consists in the degree of force or liveliness with which they strike the mind. Those perceptions which enter the mind with more force he terms Impressions. Ideas, on the other hand, are "but the faint images of impressions in thinking and reasoning." In a note Hume tells us that by the term "Impression" he does not mean "to express the manner in which our perceptions are produced in the soul." Of this outside world experience teaches us nothing, and we must be silent. The real background of ideas is ignored by Hume. At the same time, we may say in passing that he invariably uses language which implies some cause for our sensations. Indeed, the very metaphor contained in the word "impression" assumes a particular theory as to the existence in some form of an external world which gives rise to them, and this theory, tacitly assumed all through, is the basis of his whole system. It follows from the definition of impressions and ideas that we can only have ideas when we have had previous impressions. "It must be some impression which gives rise to every real idea." Impressions, then, are the ultimate standard of reality by which we may test every thought we have. "When we entertain any suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without meaning, we need but inquire from what impression is that supposed idea derived." Everything in our thoughts which cannot be traced back to some distinct impression must be regarded as mere illusion or irrational assumption. At the same time, Hume agrees with Locke in holding that we have complex ideas which do not always resemble our impressions, but are rather formed by the help of the understanding or the imagination out of a number of simple ideas. "Ideas produce the images of themselves in new ideas." But as the first ideas are derived from impressions, we may hold that all our simple ideas proceed mediately or immediately from their corresponding impressions. By proving the priority of impressions to ideas, Hume professes to have answered the much-disputed question as to whether the mind has innate ideas.

Hume also agrees with Locke in dividing impressions into two kinds, those of Sensation and those of Reflection. The first arises in the soul originally from unknown causes. The second is derived from our ideas. But since all reflective activity is really called forth by impressions of the external world, and is but a copy of them, the ideas as well as the impressions of sensation must precede those of reflection. We must have feelings or sensations before we can reflect upon them.

The only other distinction which Hume makes, at the outset, is that between the ideas of memory and those of imagination. The former, being more directly copies or repetitions of our perceptions, are more lively and strong; the latter, those of imagination, are less so. Memory preserves the original form in which the objects were presented, whereas the imagination takes the liberty of transposing and changing its ideas. In other words, imagination goes beyond experience and produces errors or makes assumptions which cannot be proved.

(2) Relation of Ideas. When, then, Hume examines the contents of his mind, he finds there nothing but feelings with their copies. At the same time, he finds also that all these ideas are being constantly separated and united again by the imagination. It is inconceivable that those loose and unconnected ideas are only joined together by chance. There must, therefore, be some connecting principle or associating quality by which one idea introduces another. These, he affirms, are three, viz.—Resemblance, Contiguity in time or place, and Cause and Effect. As all objects of human reason or inquiry are either relations of ideas or matters of fact, they must fall under one or other of these three principles of connection. Mathematics, Algebra, and Arithmetic, in short, every affirmation which is intuitively or demonstrably certain, belong to the first. Upon the second are founded the sciences of nature and the mind. On the third,—that of causality, —are founded all reasonings concerning matters of fact. Mathematical propositions "are discernible by the mere operation of thought without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never was a square or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence." Of these three relations, that of causation is the most extensive, and that which we have most to do with in common life. It bears upon everything which is not a mere abstraction. Therefore, Hume subjects this idea to a searching examination, with the object of showing that we know nothing of the nature of this alleged necessary association. Experience tells us of the conjunction of what is called a cause and what is called an effect, but it reveals to us nothing of their actual connection.

Before, however, proceeding to this question, which he deals with in Part III. under the head of Knowledge and Probability, he disposes of several prior matters under Part I., viz., Relations, Modes, and Substances, into which complex ideas may be divided.

With regard to Substances, Hume follows Berkeley in affirming that we have no idea of an external substance apart from its qualities, but he goes further and maintains that we have also no notion of the substance of the mind distinct from particular perceptions. Substance can be derived neither from sensation nor reflection. If it were derived from the senses, it must needs be a colour, sound, or taste. If it be derived from reflection, it must be a passion or an emotion. But it is none of these. We have, therefore, no idea of substance, which is nothing else than a collection of particular qualities united by the imagination and having a particular name assigned to it.

Modes, Hume examines in connection with the doctrine of Abstract or general ideas. A mode is also a number of united qualities, and has no real existence. It is just a form of general idea which is nothing but an abstract name given to a particular thing.

At this point he enters upon an elaborate examination of the origin of our ideas of time and space, which is interesting from the fact that it gave a starting-point to Kant's subsequent doctrine that space and time are mere forms of the mind which have no corresponding reality. "It is from the disposition," says Hume, "of visible and tangible objects we receive the idea of space, and from the succession of ideas and impressions we form the idea of time." He further says, "the ideas of time and space are, therefore, no separate or distinct ideas, but merely those of the manner or order in which objects exist." These passages are interesting as showing that Hume is obliged to call to his aid something more than unrelated particulars—to assume, in short, that the mind contributes certain ideas which are not to be found in any impression.

(3) Having disposed of these preliminary matters, Hume has now to face the subject of Knowledge and Probability, and has first to enumerate the philosophical relations of the mind, which are evidently an expansion of the natural relations he has already named. These are seven in number—Resemblance, Identity, Space and Time, Quantity, Degree, Contrariety, Cause and Effect. These relations he divides into two classes: "Such as depend on the ideas which we compare together, and such as may be changed without any change in the ideas." The first four belong to the first class as having to do with ideas alone. The last three seem to carry us beyond to outward things, but as by means of two of these—viz., Identity and Succession—we can never go beyond what is immediately present to the senses, these relations can tell us nothing as to the real existence of objects. It is, therefore, only causation which produces such a connection as to give us assurance, from the existence or action of one object that it is followed or decided by any other existence or action. The Idea of Causality, therefore, demands his attention, and his object is to show that it is a purely delusive notion arising from no given impression, and that it acquires its apparent validity solely from custom. The question which he has to answer is, assuming that all things are merely isolated particulars, how has the illusion of a causal connection between mutually indifferent units arisen? We must bring this idea, like every other, to the test of all reality. What, then, is the impression from which the idea of Cause is derived?

It cannot be an intuitive idea, for there are no innate ideas. Moreover, knowledge à priori could only extend to things which are identical, but an effect is totally different from its cause, and can never be discovered in it. No amount of scrutiny or analysis of the one can ever yield the other. A billiard ball moves and knocks against another, which then begins to move also. But there is nothing in the motion of the first to suggest the motion of the second. Nor can experience afford this idea of necessary connection. All that our senses give us is one sensation and then another, simply a sequence of the isolated events with no intervening or connecting link between them. All that we really perceive is first a spark and then an explosion of gunpowder; at one moment I see a flame and at the next feel heat. All that I am aware of are the two relations of contiguity and succession. But these do not explain what I mean by causation. A thing may be beside or prior in time to another without being regarded as its cause. There is, therefore, another element which I add, and that is the idea of necessity. Whence , then this notion of necessary connection which is invariably associated with the idea of cause and effect? What is my warrant for transforming a perceived succession into a causal connection? Now, it will be noticed that we do not attribute necessity to every pair of successive events, but only to those which have been repeatedly observed together. So long as I regard only one instance, I can observe nothing beyond the relations of contiguity or succession. But if I enlarge my view to embrace instances where I find like objects always existing in like relations, I discover that every fresh repetition produces a new impression or determination of the mind, which gradually affords the idea of necessity. It is, therefore, by an association of ideas that we are led to connect one thing with another. It is custom or habit which leads us to conclude that because certain objects have always been connected in the past, they must in the future be similarly connected. The essence of necessity is, as Hume puts it, "the propensity which custom produces to pass from one object to the idea of its usual attendant." The principle of causality is wholly based on feeling, it is a subjective habit or trick of the imagination which leads us to suppose a nexus, which has no existence except in the mind conceiving it. "Necessity is nothing but an internal impression of the mind, or a determination to carry our thoughts from one object to another." I can never demonstrate the connection between two facts, but I have an instinctive belief in the connection. I expect by an involuntary feeling that when one fact occurs the other will not be wanting. Thus for Hume there can be neither necessary truths nor true principles since he reduces everything to habit and experience. It is, therefore, an arbitrary distinction, and one not permissible to Hume's theory, to attribute to mathematical truths as being discernible by the simple operation of thought, a validity which does not apply to matters of fact. If all operations of thought are to be traced simply to particular impressions, then there is no room in his system for necessary truths.

What holds good of causality obtains, according to Hume, in respect to all other relations of necessity, to ideas of efficacy, agency, power, force, energy, and all productive qualities. Destroy the link of necessity and the whole structure of our knowledge of the world crumbles away into nonentity. He extends his analysis to the material world, to our belief in the uniformity of nature, to our belief in a first cause, and to the action of the spirit and will. "So far from perceiving the connection betwixt an act of volition and a motion of the body, 'tis allowed that no effect is more inexplicable from the powers and essences of thought and matter. Nor is the empire of the will over the mind more intelligible. The effect is there distinguishable and separable from the cause, and could not be foreseen without the experience of their constant conjunction." Here again it is custom which produces the transition of the imagination; and this again is identical with belief.

(4) Illusion of External World. This same principle of custom and association is applied to explain the illusion also of a permanent world. And here Hume asks two questions: " Why do we attribute a continued existence to objects, even when they are not present; and why do we suppose them to have an existence distinct from the mind and perception"? As to the first, he shows that the senses give us nothing but a present perception. I see my table. I go out of the room and come back in an hour. How do I know that it is the same table I see? It is only custom and association that convinces me of the continuance of the table. All that I am legitimately aware of are two isolated particulars, two separate impressions of tables. As to the second question, Hume answers, that our perceptions being of ourselves, they can never give us the least intimation of anything beyond. What have been called secondary qualities of objects do not exist outside the mind that thinks them. We cannot immediately perceive our bodily frames, for we only know impressions. We can never get beyond the facts of our consciousness. The world is simply a complex of sensations. How then do we come to think of it otherwise? How do we attribute constancy and coherence to certain of our impressions? The answer is to be found in a peculiar tendency of the imagination "to go on in the line in which it has been put." Thought slides from one impression to others with which it has been joined, and reckons them the same, mistaking the succession of things for the identity of objects. Moreover, impressions are distinguished from ideas only by their superior liveliness; and by close association with an impression, an idea acquires so much of this liveliness, that it also appears to be real. Reason corrects the illusions of the imagination. Hence arises "the hypothesis of a double existence of perceptions and objects which pleases our reason in allowing that our dependent perceptions are different, and, at the same time, is agreeable to the imagination in attributing a continued existence to something else which we call objects." This philosophical system is the monstrous offspring of two principles which arc contrary to each other. Not being able to reconcile these opposed theories, we successively grant both, and thus feign a double existence.

We have thus reached the result that "all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences, and the mind never perceives any real connection among distinct existences."

Hume proceeds to demolish also the notion of a permanent self by subjecting it to the usual test as to whether it represents any real impression. If all our knowledge consists of sense impressions, to what impression is the idea of personal identity due? We have no impressions which continue invariable and constant through the whole course of our lives. Pain and pleasure and all the feelings and passions of our mind succeed each other in constant flux, and never even exist together at the same time. There is really no such idea. All we are aware of is a bundle of fleeting sensations without any connecting bond, and what we call mind or self is nothing but a fiction of the imagination.

 

It might be fairly objected that while Hume only discards the mind or self at the end of the Treatise, he takes advantage of a connecting mind all through his discussion; indeed, it might be urged that those connecting qualities, or "natural relations," which he discovers in the mind, imply its unity and identity,—indeed, whether he calls the principle memory, imagination, or self, matters little,— there is an ego assumed as the basis of Hume's whole reasoning.

It is clear if the mind be only a heap of isolated impressions, then the immateriality and the immortality of the soul are destroyed. To speak of the soul as either material or spiritual has no meaning for Hume, for he knows nothing of either matter or spirit. His theory also undermines the argument for the existence of a Divine Being. In his Dialogues on Natural Religion he deals with this question. We can know nothing of cause except as the observed antecedent of its effect. But we can form no inference unless we have seen the two events together. We can infer a watchmaker from a watch, for we have observed them together. But as we have no experience of the making of a world, we cannot argue that the existence of a world implies a creator. Reid met Hume here by urging that the traces of design in nature imply an intelligent cause. But Hume rejoined that if we are compelled to seek a cause for everything, then we must seek a cause for the Divine Being Himself. He also argues, as Kant did after him, that the order of the universe implies only a finite and not an infinite or perfect cause.

In his essay on Miracles, he assails the supernatural revelation,—not its possibility—he was precluded from that by his denial of necessary sequence—but the evidence of it. He shows that there has been an invariable experience in favour of the uniformity of nature, and that a miracle, being a violation of the laws of nature, cannot be established by as strong a proof as that which can be advanced against it. He disparages the evidence usually brought forward for miraculous occurrences, by showing how apt mankind is to be swayed in such matters by fear, wonder, and fancy. It might be urged that Hume reveals a very superficial knowledge of the evidences of Christianity, but it is more to the point to question his right to regard a miracle as a violation of nature. According to his theory, a break, or unusual occurrence, ought only to be regarded as a new perception, another fact of experience. One would rather expect that the whole tendency of his argument would be to favour the possibility of the miraculous, or at least the unusual, in nature. If there is no conception of objective order, no necessary uniformity, then there can be no absolute expectation that no break or variety will take place. Moreover, if the alleged miracle had been believed in by any (for that is his test), it would be on a par with other occurrences. A miracle, according to Hume, might be an unusual event, but could not strictly speaking be regarded as a violation of the laws of nature.

The ethical views of Hume were first expounded in the second volume of the Treatise, but the final statement of them is to be found in his Inquiry into the Principles of Morals, and his Dissertation on the Passions, as well as in the Essays generally.

He regards the inquiry into moral action as more important than mere theoretic research. The laws of conduct are subject to a mechanism, he holds, not less regular than the laws of motion and optics. None the less, his treatment of man's moral nature is somewhat discursive, and nowhere does he enter upon a methodical analysis of the springs of action. In general he assumes that the actuating principle of the human mind is pleasure and pain, to which we owe our notions of good and evil. Hume is a thorough-going determinist. He applies the doctrine of causality to the problem of freedom. The same causes are always followed by the same effects. So it is in character. Given a man's nature, you can predict how he will act. All history, politics, ethics, are based on the inference that certain actions flow from certain motives. If, then, human action may thus be foreseen, the motives being given, it follows that what we call freedom is an illusion.

But though we cannot speak of the freedom of the will in determining action, it does not follow that virtue and vice, even though they are involuntary and necessary, call for no praise or blame. We give our admiration to beauty and talent, though they are independent of our will.

Nor does the determining ground of moral action lie in the reason. Reason is a purely theoretic faculty. "It is no motive to action," except so far as it "directs the impulse received from appetite or inclination." It shows us what is true, but it cannot really influence our conduct.

The only motives of action are the feelings or passions, and these Hume subjects to a somewhat searching examination. He first divides all passions into calm and violent. The calm include beauty and deformity; the violent, love and hatred, grief and joy, pride and humility. He draws a distinction between the cause of a passion and the object of it. While love has for its object some other person, the cause of that passion is the relation of that person to oneself. This leads Hume to make a further division of the passions into direct and indirect. By direct, he understands those which arise immediately from good or evil, that is from pleasure or pain. Under this head he includes desire, aversion, grief, joy, hope, fear. These direct passions are the basis of the more complex indirect, where, beside the cause that produces the satisfaction, there comes into play another object to which that cause belongs. If this object is one's self, joy and sorrow assume the form of pride and humiliation; if some other, they become love and hate. By a law of association these several passions may pass into one another.

In the third book of the Treatise, Hume treats of moral questions, and examines the criterion or standard of moral judgment. Here again he differs from those who make reason the judge of actions. Morals, he holds, rest on feeling, and he agrees with Hutcheson in deducing the perception and approval of good from a moral sense or instinct. All moral distinctions rest ultimately on a feeling of pleasure or displeasure which an action excites in him who beholds it. Virtue is accordingly a quality of spirit which calls forth in a beholder the feeling of pleasure or the sense of approval.

The reason why the actions of others please us depends on a peculiar capacity in human beings of entering into the feelings of others. By the help of the imagination we transfer ourselves into the position of another, and praise or blame that in him which would occasion pride or humiliation if it belonged to ourselves. This feeling of "sympathy" lies at the root of all moral approbation. It is a mistake, Hume holds, to say that we are actuated chiefly or always by self-love. "We frequently bestow praise on virtuous action performed in distant times and remote countries, and a brave deed performed by an adversary commands our approbation though its consequences may be acknowledged prejudicial to our peculiar interest." In short, sympathy with the happiness or misery of others must be regarded as a principle of human nature beyond which we cannot hope to find any principle more general.

If we now ask what is the ultimate end of all action, Hume answers, agreeableness or utility, and he accordingly proceeds to a survey of those qualities or virtues which he finds are always either useful or agreeable (1) to ourselves, and (2) to others. There are some qualities, such as cheerfulness, courtesy, modesty, which, "without any utility or tendency to further good," charm the beholder and excite his approbation; but, for the most part, utility is the foundation of our chief virtues, including fidelity, veracity, and integrity, and even such virtues as go beyond ourselves, justice and generosity. Thus while in general Hume recognises that the good is equivalent to the useful, it is not always the private utility of the agents, but general utility which he commends. If the benevolent affections have a higher value than the selfish inclinations, it is not because of their intrinsic nature, but in virtue of their greater utility. The former tend to the good of all men; the latter only to the good of the individual. While private virtues have their worth, such as skill and prudence, benevolence and justice should be preferred, so that the lesser utility may not prevail over the greater. Hume does not, indeed, recognise any obligation to virtue except that of the agent's interest, but he attempts to show that all duties to others are the true interest, in the end, of the individual.

The moral theory of Hume is open to the objections which are to be brought against all forms of Utilitarianism, viz.—first, that utility and pleasure do not account for our highest virtues, and that such an explanation of conduct does not reach to the roots of moral action. They do not answer the question, why I should pursue the useful? nor do they succeed in reconciling private interest with the desire for the general good. The fundamental error of Hume's position is that he bases conduct on mere feeling and makes the passions the only motives of action. You cannot divide the Self into reason and passions, and treat the passions as wholly irrational. Reason not only enters into and transforms all the desires of a rational being, but also gives significance and worth to every object he seeks. The end of moral action is not the satisfaction of any particular desire isolated from the others, but the realization of the self as a whole, and when we begin to reflect on the meaning of self, we find that it involves relations to other selves, without which it has no meaning, or, indeed, existence.

In the realm of pure philosophy our country has probably produced no profounder intellect than that of Hume. He and Locke represent the high-water mark of English thought. In general the philosophy of Hume is the last word of Empiricism. It shows that a theory of knowledge based on mere sensationalism leads inevitably to Scepticism. Reason is employed to show the weakness of reason. Knowledge is turned against itself. Hume's attitude in theoretic as well as practical matters is one of despair. He thus closes his Inquiry: "When we trace up the Human Understanding to its first principles, we find it to lead us into such sentiments as seem to turn to ridicule all our past pains and industry and to discourage us from further inquiries." No one, he expects, will accept the results he comes to. Reason furnishes no assured test of thought or action. Our beliefs are due simply to custom and instinct. We can never guard ourselves against the assaults of scepticism. It is impossible, he says, on any system to defend either our understanding or our senses. "Reason entirely subverts itself and leaves not the lowest degree of evidence on any proposition either in philosophy or common life." Beyond experience there is no knowledge. We have not final certainty with regard to anything. Custom is our only guarantee, and probability our only guide in life.

Modern philosophy. Empiricism. Berkeley                                 Enlightenment in Britain. Natural Philosophy

 

 

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