Hume’s Ethics: Ancient or Modern?

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At Treatise 581ff., Hume seems to ground moral distinctions in therational deliberations of the observer, thereby making sentiment expendable.Is Hume then an example of an early modern ethicist, for whom moral distinctions are derived from reason alone? I argue that Hume's use of strategiesfrom ancient ethics can help explain how reason remains subordinate to sentiment.For if to take up the point of view of the judicious spectator we musthave the right constellation of sentiments and passions (the right character, asthe ancients might say), then moral distinctions are only derivatively based onreason.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Occidental College

Publication date: September 1, 2000

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