Thesis – Moral Sentiment Theory (and the distinction between “is” and “ought”) provides no reliable criteria for ethics, for sentiment is not a reliable criterion for the outcome of an action.
Moral Sentiment Theory claims three things: A – human beings are motivated by passion and not reason. B – An action is either good if it is produced by a good sentiment or the sentiment is good in itself and C- human beings typically utilizing experience can determine whether or not an action is good or bad by their own sentiments to the action. One of the main thinkers to give accounts of ethics from the Moral Sentimentalist narrative is David Hume – I will be focusing on his account of moral psychology, law and ethics generally speaking to demonstrate that the “passions” do not provide general utility and that his account of laws and social norms betrays a type of naïve quality that supports the status-quo and condemns those who are contrary to the norms of society.
Hume frequently references the end or purpose of a thing being its utility, and mentions that justice would not exist if not for its need and utility in our society (An Enquiry Concerning the Principals of Morals p.10). Assuming Moral Sentiment Theory has the utility of people be its main barometer, it betrays this by (although it claims utility is its final concern) also holding the ludicrous notion that what people are attracted to is good (because it will in theory create utility, not simply because they’re attracted to it) and what they are repulsed by is bad and asides from claiming what people feel is good is so because they feel it is and vice-versa, I’m not sure how such a obvious form of relativism could be achieved.
It should here be stated that although Hume like Rousseau believes that most human beings are by their nature “good” at-least in the ability to naturally be attracted towards virtue and repelled towards vice, he is not a relativist in the sense of what most people express or feel defines the good, instead, the “good” sentiment is the barometer of what is good. In other words, beneficence is almost in-a-sense a type of “good in itself” or is deemed as such a strong indicator of utility for the species it in-a-sense is deemed a primary good. However, Moral Sentiment Theory is unworkable in this way for sentiments can be quite different than the results one might expect. For example, out of beneficence, a father might heavily medicate his son, destroying his potential and verve because the father was ignorant and honestly believed he was helping. Positive sentiments are a factor in generally favorable results, but not in the essentially linear and automatic way that Hume contends.
I early on warned against a easily refuted “relativist” interpretation of Hume, but he himself in his optimistic niavity slips into it at-times (ECPM p.32 & 41) which would seem he would have to both accept and reject essentially all of humanities blunders, for they were all felt with large amounts of approbation and revulsion in one age or another.
Hume mentions how human beings can be misled by “monkish” virtues (ECPM p.67 ) but by-en-large it seems he feels most are not “taken in” by the cult of “monkish people” or those who Nietzsche would call “anti-life.” Though there is much history to contradict this notion, the cult-worship of people such as Mother Teresa and her worship of poverty (calling it a gift from God) should be enough as-of-now to discredit Hume’s notion that most people are by-en-large reasonable and retain some innate tendency to evaluate the virtues according to their natural utility. Hume fails to realize that there are a large variety of incredibly important aspects to human nature (such as the increases of science) that are largely without strong sentiment for most human beings.
Hume also relays on the rightness of his native lands own laws, customs and social norms to prove the validity and logic of his moral theory, and to disastrous results. For example, like Aristotle he forgets (or wishes to ignore) that human beings were raised communally for thousands of years, and he says in so many words that the puritan and sexist attitude towards women in his country is justified (ECPM p.25) and by doing so commits two crimes at once: The crime of condemning women for not conforming to monogamy and the crime of believing that crime will change a man’s step (overall) for the better and punishment and abuse rather than aid and support are the correct response to moral wrongs – assuming that we should view all alternatives of life and all actions as either “crimes” (which infidelity was in his age but not our own) or deeds worthy of reward rather than simply various options which we should way based on their likely utility, not necestatting that those who act contrarily to maximal utility are committing a “crime” but instead a moral blunder they should be educated of or “helped with.”
With the massive increase in standards of living, with the fundamental alteration in human beings and the way they live today versus ancient or medieval man, the Moral Sentimentalist must claim one of two things: A) this resulted because instead of material conditions changing moral sentiment (the Marxist and Social Anarchist answer), a vast improvement in ethical psychology in the last century (the same century that murdered more people than many centuries put together) produced the material means for the material and ethical prosperity (though there is still much lacking and to be achieved) that we have attained or B) the increase in livelihood, opportunities, potential and the blessings of modern technology have nothing to do with ethics. I hope the absurdity of both is clear to the reader.
Thesis II – Utilitarianism is incompatible with Moral Sentiment Theory both due-to MST’s claim that sentiment guides how to determine the good and its assertion of “blame.”
David Hume is incorrectly labeled a Utilitarian (an adherent to the ethical philosophy that an action’s moral worth is determined by the “happiness” created by said act) because he loosely focuses on creating happiness as a moral end and constantly uses the word in his works (particularly the one I’ve referenced). However, because both his Moral Sentimentalism and his notion of not being able to breach the supposed gulf ‘tween “is” and “ought” conflicts with Utilitarianism, I contend that he should be categorized a Moral Sentiment Theorist and such a position on ethics should be made clearly distinct with Utilitarianism. And here I will do so.
Utilitarians realize that sentiments can have moral import (utility) but lack it in-themselves, while Hume argues that essentially all traits good are those which are agreeable (once again, due-to utility and not “in-themselves” but such a form of relativism essentially breaks utilitarianism by becoming the method of how we discover the good and being so unreliable in doing so) and all things of detriment are found by most with perniciousness (ECPM p. 69). How he would respond to the widely held praise of Hitler or the apathy of Americans (claiming they spend too much on foreign-aid) to the sufferings of others is of question.
Though strangely enough, Hume actually in a sense is far-too naïve in his belief in humanities “automatic” Utilitarian nature of policy and action to be a true Utilitarian. For a true Utilitarian examines the facts of any given action, custom or law, adds the joys and sorrows and comes to a conclusion about the act’s moral validity or fallaciousness. This is seen the most clearly in his idiotic support of the laws of his land (ECPM p. 16 & 17). The fact that the notions of interest particularly of class but also of religious denomination, race, sex, political affiliation or any other reason why a law might be passed is frankly astonishing. So obvious is Marx’s proclamation that the interests of the ruling group are seen by the ignorant common man as the interests of society as a whole that I often forget how many base and unknowing people are out there who affirm this truth by their ignorance of it.
If one were to look at the state of affairs for most living in Scotland in the 18th century, I would be willing to wager they would not be viewing a depiction of paradise on Earth minus computers and the toilet. Of course part of this is due-to lack in technology and general knowledge (as my reference to the toilet was meant to indicate) but only a sheer buffoon would believe the people in charge of said society (or essentially any society for incredibly large reaches of human history) enacted laws to actually benefit the majority of those who live within their borders. The sheer poverty, ignorance, stupidity, rampant moral condemnation of human beings, and height of moral debauchery the elite (e.g. kings, aristocrats, senators, capitalists etc.) is explicit for anyone who is looking objectively. The fact of the class-nature of society is equally self-evident to anyone who simply looks at who makes the majority of laws and owns the majority of the resources and then their living conditions – and who are directly affected by said law-makers and shameful accumulations of capital and their living conditions.
In concert with the notion of just moral blame, such a myopic theory of intention in laws leads one to view Hume as one of the main representatives and defenders of the status-quo in adopting a Conservative mentality where the laws are essentially good and just and the law-breaker or revolutionary is necessarily irrational or immoral.
This brings me to Hume’s Compatibilism, which I hold as simply a way of justifying the psychological tendency and desire to fundamentally morally condemn those who break social norms or legitimately do wrong, while still believing in causality – or rather that we are all machines without the ability to do otherwise than what physical law dictates.
6/27 four hours total that night. For those who are ignorant of terminology, Compatibilism is that school of thought that contends the deterministic (so they hold it to be) operations of our Universe is not in contradiction with a notion of free will and moral judgment. Hume’s Compatibilism is part linguistic contrivance part mentality of assigning blame through arbitrary differentiation of thought with causal mechanics – retaining the sin of the dualist while trying to break free of them.
Hume claims we must give a definition of ‘liberty’ that conforms with necessity (enquiry on human understanding pg. 43) but fails to recognize or acknowledge that ‘liberty’ as meant in the context of free will, metaphysical free will, as opposed to say political free will which has nothing to do with a Man’s capacity to do such and such (except in the sense of increasing his potential via positive liberty) but rather his opportunity to act according to his nature (what he is destined to do) and not meet consequence from his government does not conform to necessity and if one attempts to make it so, they are making it inconsistent with itself, or rather, what is meant by it.
It should be noted that Hume seems to focus on the notion that punishment be “consequential” in nature by deterring crime (Enquiry pg. 44), rather than the deontological argument that those who do wrong should be punished based on moral “desert.” But then he speaks of how it is only proper to hate and feel bloodlust towards an entity of thought and consciousness. Essentially saying there is something radically different with beings of consciousness that justifies moral “fundamental” rather than “utilitarian” blame or praise and aligning himself with the Dualists in-a-sense as I’ve mentioned (Enquiry pg. 44).
Also this highlights one of the main distinctions ‘tween MST and Utilitarianism. A MST like Hume holds we can fundamentally blame a human being, but only when the act “comes” from his nature. A Utilitarian only makes such distinction if an action coming from a person’s nature often creates more pain or pleasure – which it often does due-to the likelihood of a reoccurrence as Hume notes. And if an act “outside” of a Man’s nature produces more harm than a lifetime of actions based on his nature (killing a child while drunk for example) than the Utilitarian would claim that action has more moral significance and whether or not his “nature” is involved has absolutely nothing to do with how we view the deed in-itself.
However, Hume states that we can’t rightly blame a man of temper (Enquiry pg. 45) – or as much – because he is not acting according to his nature. Firstly, is temper not a defining element of a man’s nature? Secondly, if he means that we shouldn’t be so hard on the temperamental because they don’t intend harm (though many do but later regret it) but are acting in a fit of weakness, then how is this fundamentally different than someone who is acting according to faulty reasoning and later comes to be enlightened of his error? Why is it that we, to Hume, rightfully condemn the man who believes someone should die and kills them, but cannot judge those who murder someone due-to intense rage or mental illness?
Is mental illness merely a brain diagnosed to produce “bad” or “out-of-order” thoughts? If this is true, then aren’t all who do anything irrationally or improperly (if we are to assume the proper function of the mind is to act according to the dictates of reason and general dictates of “health” such as happiness, productivity etc) functioning from a type of illness whether it can be generalized, understood, diagnosed and treated by today’s physicians and psychologists? If we are truly material machines, and all of our attributes come from either our nature, or how such nature was molded by our environment, then we must yield that our thoughts too, are merely a product of said relations, are not radically different except by their potential to change reality, and do not deserve moral blame or fundamental judgment.
Thoughts are merely the form of mental cognition in the human animal. There is no more reasoning available to assign fundamental moral blame to the man who plans-out and kills based on what he did not choose (his nature and/or actions of the world upon him) than a bear who kills according to raw instinct. Our evolved psychology wishes us to assign blame to the man, in-part because we wish to see aspects of ourselves in others (which we can only scarcely do in animals) and understand their minds for our own safety among other things, but the impulse to assign moral-blame to Man due-to his capacity to think soberly (but either incorrectly or be guided by a covalence of other factors potentially leading towards a cheap rationalization for example – though there are numerous reasons a person does a morally wrong thing – or an act not guided by his thoughts but instead by raw feeling; though of course thoughts and emotions are intricately connected, which is why it is so difficult to diagnose one as the sole source of action and to label a Man’s thought-based-actions as a type of blameworthy trait, as some perverse form of “thought crime.”) is in no way a rational reason to do so or evidence for its position.
In conclusion, Hume’s Compatibilism and ethics broadly is the essence of both most of Man’s moral sentiments (which is why he so often proclaims his view with the essence of the majority of mankind) and the current legal system in America which wrongly assumes both the existence of free will and that we should (or it is right to) morally blame and punish others for their wrong-doings rather than first and foremost try to repair them as the machines that they are. It is the essence of the Liberal system to be half-way between the Materialist Socialist and the Christian. To want to judge but still confess a man has a nature he cannot control. To demonize but begrudgingly and with sympathies to the condemned. To view that our sentiments (e.g. rights, property, desert, etc) are more important than their consequences and that our intents are more important than the physicality that produced such intents of good or ill towards other or their consequences which is the only thing of significance.
 That public utility is the sole origin of justice, and that reflections on the beneficial consequences of this virtue are the sole foundation of its merit.
 Such frequent occasion, indeed, have we, in common life, to pronounce all kinds of moral determinations, that no object of this kind can be new or unusual to us; nor could any false views or prepossessions maintain their ground against an experience, so common and familiar. Experience being chiefly what forms the associations of ideas, it is impossible that any associate could establish and support itself, in direct opposition to that principle.
 On the other hand, were it doubtful, whether there were, implanted in our nature, any general principle of moral blame and approbation, yet when we see, in numberless instances, the influence of humanity, we ought thence to conclude, that it is impossible, but that everything which promotes the interest of society must communicate pleasure, and that is pernicious give uneasiness.
 …where men judge of things by their natural, unprejudiced reason, without the delusive glosses of superstition and false religion. Celibacy, fasting, penance, mortification, self-denial, humility, silence, solitude, and the whole train of monkish virtues; for what reason are they everywhere rejected by men of sense, but because they serve to no manner of purpose…they cross all (these) desirable ends; stupefy the understanding and harden the heart, obscure the fancy and sour the temper. We justly, therefore…place them in the catalogue of vices; nor has any superstition force sufficient among men of the world, to pervert entirely these natural sentiments. A gloomy, hair-brained enthusiast, after his death, may have a place in the calendar; but will scarcely ever be admitted, when alive, into intimacy and society, except by those who are as delirious and dismal as himself.
 The long and helpless infancy of man requires the combination of parents for the subsistence of their young; and that combination requires the virtue of chastity or fidelity to the marriage bed. Without such a utility, it will readily be owned, that such a virtue would never have been thought of.
An infidelity of this nature is much more pernicious in women than in men. Hence the laws of chastity are much stricter over the one sex than over the other.
 And though this affection of humanity may not generally be esteemed so strong as vanity or ambition, yet, being common to all men, it can alone be the foundation of morals, or of any-general system of blame or praise.
 But if you represent a tyrannical, insolent, or barbarous behavior, in any country or in any age of the world, I soon carry my eye to the pernicious tendency of such a conduct, and feel the sentiment of repugnance and displeasure towards it. No character can be so remote as to be, in this light, wholly indifferent to me. What is beneficial to society or to the person himself must still be preferred. And every quality or action, of every human being, must, by this means, be ranked under some class or denomination, expressive of general censure or applause.
 If we examine the particular laws, by which justice is directed, and property determined; we shall still be presented with the same conclusion. The good of mankind is the only object of all these laws and regulations.
 What other reason, indeed, could writers ever give, why this must be mine and that yours; since uninstructed nature surely never made any such distinction? The objects which receive those appellations are, of themselves, foreign to us; they are totally disjoined and separated from us; and nothing but the general interests of society can form the connexion.
 Whatever definition we may give of liberty, we should be careful to observe two requisite circumstances; first, that it be consistent with plain matter of fact; secondly, that it be consistent with itself. If we observe these circumstances, and render our definition intelligible, I am persuaded that all mankind will be found of one opinion with regard to it.
 All laws being founded on rewards and punishments, it is supposed as a fundamental principle, that these motives have a regular and uniform influence on the mind, and both produce the good and prevent the evil actions. We may give to this influence what name we please; but, as it is usually conjoined with the action, it must be esteemed a cause, and be looked upon as an instance of that necessity, which we would here establish.
 The only proper object of hatred or vengeance is a person or creature, endowed with thought and consciousness; and when any criminal or injurious actions excite that passion, it is only by their relation to the person, or connexion with him.
 Men are less blamed for such actions as they perform hastily and unpremeditately than for such as proceed from deliberation. For what reason? but because a hasty temper, though a constant cause or principle in the mind, operates only by intervals, and infects not the whole character. Again, repentance wipes off every crime, if attended with a reformation of life and manners.