Hume 's Moral Sense Theory Essays

Hume 's Moral Sense Theory Essays

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David Hume, who is considered to be one of the most important figures of Western philosophy is known for his significant contributions to moral philosophy and while there is no doubt that a great part of Hume’s moral writing focused on utilitarianism, it is evidently clear that Hume’s understanding of morality is rooted in terms of the moral sense theory, which states that like sight and hearing, morals are a perceptive sense derived from our emotional responses.
That being said, much disagreement exists today amongst various critics concerning whether Hume was purely a utilitarian or a moral sense theorist. This is due in part to Hume seeming to support many varied philosophical doctrines throughout his works. For instance, there is much in his writing to propose that he was a utilitarian, which can be seen through his considerable amount of writing done on the subject of the utility of morals, and even claiming that many forms of morality may be based on a form of utilitarianism. At the same time, Hume believed that morality may be grounded in sense and emotions rather than reason or divine will. However, above all, the moral sense theory, which claims that morality is based on sentiments rather than reason, is what seems to resonate best with Hume’s understanding of morality. To start off, one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that points to Hume being more of a prominent defender of the moral sense theory is outlined in his discussion of morality in Book 3 of his Treatise of Human Nature. In Hume’s argument on the basis of morals in the book A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume asserts, “Thus the course of the argument leads us to conclude, that since vice and virtue are not discoverable merely by reason, or the compa...


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...ral sense theorist. Hume’s main moral philosophy involved the notion that judgments and recommendations of traditional morality arise not from reason, but from a moral sense or feeling, which seems to be intrinsically within us as a personal sentiment and ultimately determines whether an action is morally right or wrong. Also, based on the concepts expressed in Hume’s writing, his viewpoint most accurately correlates with the fact that morality, as perceived by humans, is based more on emotions, feelings and instincts rather than on analytical thinking, logic, or reason and that morals are ultimately linked to emotions or feelings. Thus, given these points, while I believe that Hume certainly has both elements of utilitarianism and moral sense theory in his literature, the theory which aligns most with his understanding of morality is that of the moral sense theory.

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