David Hume's Distinction Between Natural and Artificial Virtues Essay

David Hume's Distinction Between Natural and Artificial Virtues Essay

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In David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, he divides the virtues of human beings into two types: natural and artificial. He argues that laws are artificial and a human invention. Therefore, he makes the point that justice is an artificial virtue instead of a natural virtue. He believed that human beings are moral by nature – they were born with some sense of morality and that in order to understand our “moral conceptions,” studying human psychology is the key (Moehler). In this paper, I will argue for Hume’s distinction between the natural and artificial virtues.
Hume believes that natural virtues are instinctive and are more intrinsically motivated than natural virtues. He believes that natural virtues are like moral instincts (Moehler). Hobbes is a radical egoist, believing that people are predominantly self-interested. However, Hume argues against this by stating that hums also have certain moral feelings; that if you want to explain human behavior, self-interest is not enough.
In a general sense, according to Hume, natural virtues originate in nature and are more universal. He describes them as virtues that humans have in nature without a social structure, such as a government. Hume takes ideas from Thomas Hobbes’ State of Nature to develop his ideas, by presenting the idea of human existence as sole individual beings, without social constraints.
Natural virtues are immediate, instinctive, and emotional responses to situations. Human beings do not have to learn these. They are certain moral instincts we “naturally” have. Hume states that there are two categories within natural virtues: social and non-social. Non-social natural virtues are useful to the person themselves, such as prudence and temperance. Social natural v...

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...fair to be skeptical about the second half of this claim, the first half of it does in fact seems reasonable. Therefore, justice does only seem to be the virtue of resolving conflicts amongst other things, which does makes it artificial in a sense.
Hume believes that we cannot rely on everyone doing what is his or her own best self-interest. Therefore, artificial values are put into place to keep the system from collapsing. This in turn puts a cooperative scheme in society. This leads to the Hume’s assumption that fairness is an artificial virtue. He is sometimes also presented as a contractarian; in a more specific sense, a proto-utilitarian. According to which, he judges an action based on whether the action makes you happy or sad.

Works Cited

Moehler, M. Natural and Artificial Virtues (PowerPoint slides). Retrieved from http://www.moehler.org/ITE/Notes/16.pdf

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