Hume's Argument on the Distinction Benevolence and Self-love

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Hume's Argument on the Distinction Benevolence and Self-love In his Enquiry Concerning the Principle of Morals, Hume rebukes the arguments of skeptical, philosophers who deny the existence of moral distinctions. He doubts that an individual can be so indifferent that he or she is unable to distinguish between right and wrong. Hume believes that the differences between men arise from nature, from habit, and from education. Hume believes no skeptic, no matter how doubtful, can claim that there are absolutely no moral distinctions. Also, he accepts if we disregard these skeptics, we find that they eventually give up their unconvincing claims and come over to the side of common sense and reason. In this paper, it will be shown that ultimately Hume maintains that benevolence is not the basis for self-love, rather it focuses on the utility to please, and the need for benevolence for its own sake. The particular instances on which Hume first focuses are those relating to two social virtues: benevolence and justice. It is obvious, he says, that our benevolent qualities are important. To say of a person that he or she is sociable, good-natured, humane, merciful, grateful, friendly, generous, is to 'express the highest merit, which human nature is capable of attaining'(29). It is equally apparent, he suggests, that these qualities are esteemed because they proved for, "the happiness of mankind, the order of society, the harmony of families, the mutual support of friends…over the breasts of men"(34). The usefulness of these forms of benevolence is an essential condition of the attention we give to them, a inference that is understood, once morals acts of a particular type cease to be useful, they cease to be valued (30-32). In addit... ... middle of paper ... ...nevolence, however small, instilled in our hearts(67). These benevolent doctrines, however weak they may be, are sufficiently strong to lead us to prefer that which is "useful and serviceable to mankind, above what is pernicious and dangerous"(72). Hume affirms that moral distinctions are contrived for the purpose that we have the predilection to benefit human society. The presence of this sentiment means that we respond with approval or disapproval to certain actions or qualities that we experience others to have. Hume agrees that there are genuine and significant differences between characters and the actions resulting from them. Some are beneficial to mankind, and some are baneful. These are actions we react with approval or disapproval, and thus we create moral distinctions, and call actions assisting the public morally good and those leaning toward evil morals.

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