Moral Feelings Motivate Us To Act

Hume’s philosophy explores the truth of laws that govern us. He aims to teach us our duty and properly show us the “deformity of vices” and the “beauty of virtue” (Hume 14). He tries to understand the origin of morals by basing moral judgement on studying human nature. He focuses on the big question, whether moral judgements are based on “reason” or “sentiment of approbation” in certain situations (Hume 85)?. It is through the “experimental” method, which is relying on observation and human experience that Hume comes to the basic understanding that moral judgments inherently motivates us, but “understanding”, according to hume is the faculty of reason, which cannot be motivating (Pinkard Lecture).

He finds that we use sentiment in making moral judgments. But, Hume encounters the sensible knave, his counterargument. The sensible knave is a freerider that tries to get away with breaking laws. The sensible knave believes that it is one’s own interest to be virtuous and that there can be a desirability to be selfish and break the rules. It is through reason that the sensible knave will act relatively virtuous. The sensible knave is an individual who gets the benefits thats origins come from practicing without rules and knows how to take advantage of social cooperation (Hume 23). This sensible knave may think that occasional wrongdoing add to his fortune without of causing any considerable breach in the social union (Pinkard Lecture). Hume’s argument against the sensible knave is that, for individuals, it may not be in our interest to always follow the rules.

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It is this single act of injustice, according to Hume, that can collapse the entire institution. Hume’s argument against the sensible Knave is not convincing, and even Hume recognizes this. Hume does not like the sensible knave because the sensible knave proves that morality can be based on reason, and not sentiment. The sensible knave will generally follow rules and will do the “right thing” and act virtuously relative to utility, but they can encounter situation where they can break the rules and not get caught. This shows the individuals may not always act for the good of society as Hume argues. Humes does not think that it is promising that knave is not acting rationally and that eventually there will be consequences (Pinkard Lecture).

Hume speculates that the means to an end is subjective, and this if you push your questions far enough you will find a desire. For example, ask a man why he exercises, this is because he doesn’t want to get sick; why so? This is because sickness is pain and he doesn’t want to feel pain. Hume shows that it is impossible that he can give any (Pinkard Lecture). Whats seems to be Hume’s conception of motivation is that we can be motivated ultimately in terms of something we already care about. And to Hume this is an ultimate end, to get what you want (Pinkard Lecture). Hume finds that the ultimate ends of human actions have no reason, which is why we can be motivated only in terms of things we already care about–the sentiment. But, the sensible knave counteracts this premise and shows that actions based on reason contribute to the interests of all of humanity. People can be immoral if they are contrary to the interests of humanity, according the Hume, but the sensible knave says that not everyone wants the same things (Pinkard Lecture).

Hume believes that moral decisions come from feelings of good and bad, and not reason. He argues that reason cannot motivate action because your morals concern your actions. He believes that reason can influence our actions in two ways. One way is that reason can lead us down a right path, that will motivate our action because of the second way, which is that reasons can “deliberate” about the means to an end that we want (Pinkard Lecture). Hume also address his counter argument, the sensible knave, that shows that there is a chance that we could mistake a right path for a wrong path and that also would mean that we would be pursuing a means to an end that is not desired, like the sensible knave (Pinkard Lecture).

As a final point, Hume believes that moral sentiments motivates us to act; and sentiment along with utility further our enquiries to action (Pinkard Lecture). In a sense most of us are like Hume. I can follow Humes logic that we must care about the outcome if we are to care about the means to achieve the outcome. Meaning, we become virtuous because it is useful to us. But, sensible knave disagrees with this, and I would disagree with the sensible knave. I think it is false that the an act of “iniquity” would add to your fortune. Hume’s idea that “honesty is the best policy” may have many exceptions that the sensible knave will take advantage of (Hume 82). But, the sensible knave will come to learn this actions will catch up with them when the action is immoral. In the end, Hume says that the knaves are the “greatest dupes” and the gains will be worthless (Hume 82). This speak truth since the consequences of the sensible knave will risk lose everything and reputation.

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Moral Feelings Motivate Us To Act. (2023, Jan 17). Retrieved from