Sunday, May 10, 2009

39d David Hume on the Self and Morals

Hume is a milestone in the development of Western philosophy. In all his skepticism he is the culmination of the process of emancipation of the mind, freeing it from all a priori (non empirical) answers, which are characteristic of religious believes.

We have seen how he developed his theory on knowledge by sense impressions, on causation and inductive reasoning. His conclusions are still of great importance nowadays.

And it all happens in man's mind. But what is that mind? Descartes made the mind into a "thing" by his Cogito, ergo sum. Hume chooses a completely different approach and comes to a puzzling conclusion.

To conceive, to know or to believe are nothing but to have ideas. Ideas are merely copies of our impressions. Therefore we can not conceive of, or know of or believe in anything of which we have no impressions.

We have no impressions of the mind, save as an assemblage or "bundle" of impressions and ideas. We have no impressions of a physical thing distinct from our impressions of it. "Spiritual substances" are therefore meaningless metaphysical jargon.

Yet we seem to be able to believe in and talk quite significantly about ourselves, but Hume had to conclude that the mind is nothing but a bundle of perceptions related by resemblance, succession and causation to which we ascribe an identity by a kind of fiction.

And here we are at the cradle of a fundamental philosophical discourse on the concept of personal identity. I'll not elaborate on the issue right now. We'll look into it some more, when I'll introduce you to Thomas Reid in the next lecture.

Hume is close to a materialist interpretation of the mind. There is no room for any kind of spiritual, non empirical substances. So, there is no higher spirit or revelation from which he could derive moral standards. Is ethics possible without such references? Let's have a closer look on how Hume solves this problem.

In his days, at least in England, a number of philosophers had developed an analysis to explain the possibility of moral behavior. Hume elaborates on that conceptual model.

This was the model: The moral AGENT is the person who performs an action, such as stealing a car; the RECEIVER is the person affected by the conduct, such as the owner of the stolen car; and the moral SPECTATOR is the person who observes and, in this case, disapproves of the agent's action.

Now, what makes an action good or bad? Hume came up with a very interesting observation. He defined reason as "the discovery of truth or falsehood" a definition according to which moral distictions cannot be the offspring of reason.

What does that mean? Judgements of facts, like judgements concerning the relations of ideas can be true or false. Judgements of taste and of morals can not. This means, that you can have statements of facts, which are true or false, but you can not deduce from them moral statements.

An is winter and it is cold. We know that the fire will warm us. From these statements of fact we could deduce the statement: you ought to sit by the fire to prevent catching a cold. We all may agree, but you have to admit that there isnt any link between this what IS and the OUGHT.

So where does the OUGHT come from. Hume was very straight in his answer. He attributed a moral sentiment to man, based on usefullness. The moral sentiment is pleasant if it is a feeling of approval, unpleasant if one of disapproval.

I know that all this should be discussed in more depth. Definitely, but it would take us another three hours. Besides, here you have got plenty of material to dig in yourself and dont worry, we still have about 60 philosophers to go and this subject will emerge again without question.

The Discussion

[13:25] itsme Frederix: Herman your example of winter & fire ..
[13:25] arabella Ella: would u call Hume a utilitarian Herman?
[13:25] Osrum Sands: Hume's thing on moral is difficult - eg a person gets approval for killing someone - does that make it right?
[13:25] Herman Bergson: I think so Arabella...He paved the way for J S Mill
[13:25] itsme Frederix: isn't there the wish for the IS which generates the OUGHT for the pre-position
[13:26] arabella Ella: ok ty i think Mill was brilliant
[13:26] arabella Ella: and Hume too
[13:26] Herman Bergson: Let's get to Itsme....
[13:26] Herman Bergson: Hume was the first one to point out the logical problems of the IS - OUGHT question
[13:27] Herman Bergson: He stated that you cannot deduce prescriptions from matters of fact statements
[13:28] Herman Bergson: which cant say, because this is thus and that is so, you have to do this or that
[13:28] Herman Bergson: and that is a very interesting observation
[13:29] AristotleVon Doobie: so there must be an excercise of free will to manifest the ought
[13:29] Herman Bergson: because we have to find a justification for why we CAN say you HAVE TO do this or that
[13:29] Alarice Beaumont: well.. i think the ought is set from a whole group of people not an individual
[13:29] Manfred Pessoa: througout history for example killing was not morally wrong ... or think about the subject of homosexuality ... ancient greece and now fe.
[13:29] itsme Frederix: well I came up with the wish as justification!
[13:30] Herman Bergson: Hume chooses for a social justification
[13:30] Osrum Sands: Society justifies killing in times of war
[13:31] itsme Frederix: what is social about sitting near the fire to get it warm??
[13:31] Manfred Pessoa: true
[13:31] Herman Bergson: and in that he is a utilitarian
[13:31] arabella Ella: but it has to be a so called 'just war' Osrum
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: so, for Hume does moral sentiment become a universal?
[13:31] Herman Bergson: you are overlooking a social premise Itsme
[13:31] Osrum Sands: 'just war' another issue and big one
[13:31] itsme Frederix: well utilization it is, its utilizing heat but social ..
[13:31] itsme Frederix: oke show me
[13:32] arabella Ella: yes Osrum i agree that the concept of 'just war' is a tough one
[13:32] Cailleach Shan: It's only a 'just' war to the victors.
[13:32] Herman Bergson: We have a "rule" that you should not seek to fall ill
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: there is no just war short of defense
[13:32] itsme Frederix: Herman, still think thats mostly of individual importance
[13:33] Herman Bergson: no...for when you get ill you harm society
[13:33] Manfred Pessoa: historically we had a lot of just wars ... in the eyes of the what hume calls AGENTS
[13:33] Herman Bergson: we need you on th e job
[13:33] itsme Frederix: oke Herman, but I think most ill people will First think about themself and say f... society
[13:33] Manfred Pessoa: was hume historically conscious herman ?
[13:34] Alarice Beaumont: well it depends on the pressure the society put on the person
[13:34] Herman Bergson: maybe true, but it doesnt disqualify the rule that we need you on the job
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: nevertheless we are all individula cogs in the giant machine
[13:34] itsme Frederix: sure, but maybe you are over playing your hand in this example
[13:34] Herman Bergson: The 'just war' thing is another issue indeed..
[13:35] itsme Frederix: can I deduce Hume was very utilizing & materialistic about people's importance
[13:36] Herman Bergson: As I said in my lecture...we cant start a fundamental debate on the basics of ethics here
[13:36] Herman Bergson: I guess you could say that Itsme
[13:36] itsme Frederix: i agree about that Herman, and maybe rule is indeed more social funded
[13:36] arabella Ella: heman could u please tell us something about Hume's influence on Kant?
[13:37] itsme Frederix: he
[13:37] Herman Bergson: Well...Kant disagreed with Hume fundamentally
[13:37] Herman Bergson: Kant accepted the existence of a priori knowledge
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: hmm
[13:37] itsme Frederix: yep
[13:38] arabella Ella: yes but i know i read somewhere that Hume woke Kant from his dogmatic slumber?
[13:38] Herman Bergson: it is as if the mind has a framework in which it fits in the sensory experiences
[13:38] itsme Frederix: always worth a discussion Aristotle
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: :)
[13:38] itsme Frederix: I think rousseau is of big importance for kant
[13:38] Cailleach Shan: Brain maps.
[13:39] Herman Bergson: Rousseau?
[13:39] itsme Frederix: yep
[13:39] arabella Ella: i have never heard of a link between rousseau and kant??
[13:39] Herman Bergson: Neither have I
[13:39] arabella Ella: but it seems Hume and Kant corresponded
[13:39] itsme Frederix: welll that gives an opportunity
[13:39] Herman Bergson: Rousseau wasnt dealing with epistemology
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: how far off is Kant for lecture?
[13:40] Herman Bergson: five or six philosophers I think
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: yes six
[13:40] itsme Frederix: Herman, I will prepare some statement about my idea - maybe -
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: and Rousseau three
[13:40] Herman Bergson: sure...good idea Itsme..
[13:41] Herman Bergson: we can discuss them when we get to Rousseau..
[13:41] Herman Bergson: there is little indication that Hume knew Kant
[13:42] arabella Ella: oh i was under the impression they corresponded?
[13:42] arabella Ella: but i may be mistaken
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: From the amout of time we have devoted to Hume, you feel he is very important?
[13:42] Osrum Sands: I have been taken by Hume's thought that for his work / thinking to work the future must resemble the past
[13:42] Herman Bergson: Kant was born in 1726 and Hume died in they were contemporaries
[13:43] arabella Ella: i love his ideas on causality
[13:43] Herman Bergson: You mean Hume's idea Arabella?
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: yess Humes influence on the path of philisophy
[13:44] Herman Bergson: yes...his thoughts about causality and induction were of fundamental importance for the future
[13:45] Herman Bergson: He also was the first philosopher who formulated an ethical theory without reference to any god or religious believe
[13:45] arabella Ella: yes Herman
[13:45] arabella Ella: he is brilliant where causality is concerned
[13:45] Herman Bergson: I agree...
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: of course I feel that is utmost import
[13:46] Osrum Sands: That appears to come down to 'mob rule'
[13:46] Herman Bergson: what do you mean Osrum
[13:46] Osrum Sands: well if right depends on social acceptance
[13:46] Osrum Sands: then the biggest group
[13:46] Osrum Sands: will hold sway
[13:46] Osrum Sands: like democracy
[13:47] itsme Frederix: Yes thats what I do not like about the hume conclusions
[13:47] Herman Bergson: yes..I think so indeed Osrum
[13:47] Osrum Sands: so if the mob thought that killing was ok
[13:47] Osrum Sands: then ...
[13:47] Osrum Sands: eg the french revolution
[13:47] itsme Frederix: it makes "thruct" about non-facts and even facts very relative
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: well isnt that how we rationalize killing folks over resources?
[13:48] Osrum Sands: yes
[13:48] Osrum Sands: sadly
[13:48] Herman Bergson: as I said in my lecture on induction....there is no absolute truth
[13:48] Osrum Sands: ok
[13:48] Osrum Sands: just working it out in my head
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: we are only fooling ourselves then.
[13:48] arabella Ella: and i suppose one could also take the death penalty in the US as another example
[13:48] Herman Bergson: No Aristotle...
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: yes
[13:48] itsme Frederix: Herman thats oke, but I do absolute not want thruthened by the mob
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: oh?
[13:49] Herman Bergson: beware..!
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: from a social standpoint we justify war
[13:49] Osrum Sands: the other one is 'if it feel good'
[13:49] Herman Bergson: Using the word 'mob' is misleading....
[13:49] Osrum Sands: even more difficult
[13:49] Osrum Sands: ok
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: yes group of people is more correct
[13:49] Herman Bergson: it is not a clean rational word
[13:50] Osrum Sands: mob is emotive agree
[13:50] Herman Bergson: yes Osrum...
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: 6 people do not have the natural right to dominate 4 others
[13:50] itsme Frederix: seems not misleading but very clear what is ment I think
[13:50] arabella Ella: but if he was a utilitarian it must have been the greatest good for the greatest number of people
[13:50] Osrum Sands: call it a tribe a nation a religion what ever
[13:50] arabella Ella: altho again good is not easy to define
[13:51] Manfred Pessoa: but each are free thinking individuals .... so even if 6 agree that might mean that four dont ... and thus dont do it !
[13:51] itsme Frederix: yep arabella ...
[13:51] Osrum Sands: its the grou in power and with power to say what is socially accptabel
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: as long as the lesser number of people are not causing harm when they should be left alone
[13:51] Osrum Sands: and for me that has problems
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: that to me is ethics
[13:52] itsme Frederix: well anyway we got one big advantage - the guy stood with 2 feet on the ground and was not somewhere in the clouds with his arguments
[13:52] Manfred Pessoa: moral and values ...
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Itsme
[13:52] itsme Frederix: so if we could show an empirical "fact" ...
[13:52] Osrum Sands: I understand Herman that you not saying this guy was 'right' just giving us an idea of his thinking
[13:53] Osrum Sands: and its influence on others
[13:53] Herman Bergson: Well..Osrum...listening to the debate...we have touched on a big problem
[13:53] itsme Frederix: again
[13:53] Herman Bergson: the question someone has the right theory or the wrong theory isnt the issue
[13:54] Manfred Pessoa: so what defines right and wrong would be a good question ...
[13:54] Osrum Sands: agree
[13:54] itsme Frederix: sure
[13:54] Herman Bergson: what we are looking at is the arguments, the reasoning and the logic..
[13:54] Osrum Sands: seen
[13:54] Herman Bergson: we try to figure out what is NOT said for instance
[13:54] itsme Frederix: sure, and a little bit the outcome
[13:55] Herman Bergson: I dont think philosophy is looking for results or answers...
[13:55] Herman Bergson: Like Betrand Russell said..
[13:55] Herman Bergson: when you have an answer to a question it stops to be a philosophical has become science
[13:55] Manfred Pessoa: philosophy is about asking questions ... questioning things ...
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: the harm done to Hume's RECEIVER clearly defines morality
[13:56] Osrum Sands: Is not "what can I know for sure" suggesting an answer ?
[13:56] arabella Ella: yes and philosophy raises more questions than it actually answers
[13:56] Osrum Sands: or a search for an answer at least
[13:56] Herman Bergson: true keeps us awake
[13:56] Osrum Sands: harm to whose definition Aris
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: harm is visible
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: empathy is th test
[13:57] Herman Bergson: there are intersting observations in Hume's ideas...
[13:57] Herman Bergson: He talks of approval/disapproval based on what is pleasant and unpleasant..
[13:58] Herman Bergson: you will see that agian in behaviorism...
[13:58] AristotleVon Doobie: yes and I think that empathy create ethics
[13:58] Osrum Sands: well there is modern ethics for sure
[13:58] itsme Frederix: sound very utilizing
[13:59] Herman Bergson: yes...and you find it in ethology....Desmond Morris" The Naked Ape for instance, Conrad Lorenz..
[13:59] Osrum Sands: if it feels good etc
[13:59] itsme Frederix: hedonistic?
[13:59] Herman Bergson: Yes Itsme..all these elements are present
[13:59] itsme Frederix: well try to find a pattern for it
[13:59] arabella Ella: plesasure principle?
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: if it feels good is a sound principle as long as it harms no one else
[14:00] Cailleach Shan: mmm.... I wonder what Hume would think of B & D in sl!
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: ah a good question
[14:00] herman Bergson smiles
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: no acutal pain
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: only virtual
[14:00] itsme Frederix: no actual fun
[14:00] itsme Frederix: only virtual
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: but what of the mind?
[14:01] Cailleach Shan: Absolutely.... the pain is in the brain....
[14:01] Osrum Sands: and emotions
[14:01] AristotleVon Doobie: the same argument can be applied to violent video games
[14:01] Osrum Sands: lots of RL emotional pain caused in SL
[14:01] Herman Bergson: Well...let me make a final statement...
[14:01] Rasana Destiny nods
[14:01] itsme Frederix: which makes sl (effects) as real as real life
[14:02] Alarice Beaumont: the brain, itsme
[14:02] Herman Bergson: When you look at our present discussion there is one thing that gets my attention
[14:02] AristotleVon Doobie: agreed Al
[14:02] itsme Frederix: what else is there besides the brain alaice?
[14:02] Osrum Sands: shh please for herman
[14:02] Herman Bergson: ok..again
[14:02] Herman Bergson: When you look at our present discussion there is one thing that gets my attention
[14:03] Alarice Beaumont: well... feelings are controlled with the brain, too
[14:03] itsme Frederix: ssst
[14:03] AristotleVon Doobie: waiting for Herman summation
[14:03] Herman Bergson: after 1700 years of philosophical development we find in Hume someone who only thinks horizontal...
[14:04] Herman Bergson: there is no reference at all to something from above or from below...
[14:04] Herman Bergson: and now we are forced to find an answer to the basics of moral rules...
[14:04] Herman Bergson: that is our situation...
[14:05] Manfred Pessoa: i'd go to the existensialists ... make our on stories .... :-) oops did say that out loud ...
[14:05] Herman Bergson: and as a consolation maybe...this all started already 300 years ago
[14:05] AristotleVon Doobie: and the search continues
[14:06] Herman Bergson: Yes..and I think it is great, that we can Aristotle
[14:06] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. it shows that the problems of societies stay nearly the same over the centuries
[14:06] AristotleVon Doobie: amen
[14:06] Cailleach Shan: LOL
[14:06] Alarice Beaumont: lol
[14:06] Osrum Sands: Itsme has reminded us of the 3 BIG q"S
[14:06] Herman Bergson: Right Alarice
[14:06] itsme Frederix: not only the problems of society Alarice
[14:06] itsme Frederix: Osrum?
[14:07] Alarice Beaumont: but it's somehow shocking.. no? People don't really seem to learn
[14:07] itsme Frederix: Yep, its my mantra
[14:07] Osrum Sands: or is that the truth of human nature
[14:07] Herman Bergson: Is it shocking?
[14:07] AristotleVon Doobie: it is because of tabula rasa Al
[14:07] Manfred Pessoa: that is giving it a value alarice
[14:07] Osrum Sands: the human being does not fundermentally change over time
[14:07] Cailleach Shan: I don't think so.
[14:07] Alarice Beaumont: i think somehow yes.. cause mistake will repeat itself :-(
[14:08] Cailleach Shan: It's just what happens.
[14:08] Alarice Beaumont: more or less
[14:08] Alarice Beaumont: yes Cailleach
[14:08] AristotleVon Doobie: it depends on how lazy the parents or the preceding generation is
[14:08] Cailleach Shan: Life lived in each moment...
[14:08] arabella Ella: but we are less superstitious today
[14:08] Alarice Beaumont: yeah.. that is quite true Aristo
[14:08] arabella Ella: and it is unfortunate to some extent that science attempts to de-mystify so much stuff
[14:08] itsme Frederix: are we arabell, less supersticious? ....
[14:09] Osrum Sands: I was wondering that also re less
[14:09] arabella Ella: yes we are as we can explain a lot of natural happenings
[14:09] arabella Ella: earthquakes, etc
[14:09] Herman Bergson: yes..true arabella
[14:09] Alarice Beaumont: oh really, Arabella? I heard of an american movements which declines the creation of the earth true the big bang
[14:09] AristotleVon Doobie: yes but we still seem to gravitate the supernatural
[14:09] Osrum Sands: some would say we can explain how they happen and not why
[14:10] Alarice Beaumont: yes
[14:10] Cailleach Shan: Come and live in NZ and experience the earthquakes and then form your own ipinion.
[14:10] itsme Frederix: well I would say we have a model that better gives some propositions
[14:10] Osrum Sands: just open you eyes and you will see a lot of superstition
[14:10] Herman Bergson: the big bang theory is just a metaphore
[14:10] Alarice Beaumont: lol
[14:10] Manfred Pessoa: but yet we attempt to explain why
[14:10] arabella Ella: well even the human body can be better explained today ... except for the mind of course
[14:10] Osrum Sands: metaphore herman ?
[14:10] itsme Frederix: human's always attempted to explain why manfred
[14:11] Alarice Beaumont: well it isn't totally explained by science yet.. yes that's right
[14:11] arabella Ella: unfortunately tho every discipline attempts to follow the model of science
[14:11] Manfred Pessoa: explore maybe ... explain i'm not to sure ...
[14:11] itsme Frederix: mostly because what we hoped wasn't fullfilled
[14:11] arabella Ella: including psychology
[14:11] arabella Ella: and surely that cannot be the right way to do things
[14:11] AristotleVon Doobie: like Zeno's arrow, once it is has flown by, the past is only referential
[14:12] AristotleVon Doobie: the moment is whats important
[14:12] Cailleach Shan: Lots of fun looking back though...
[14:12] Herman Bergson: Well....we can go on forever.....
[14:12] AristotleVon Doobie: yes indeed Cal
[14:12] Alarice Beaumont: :-)
[14:12] Manfred Pessoa: looking ahead to ....
[14:13] Manfred Pessoa: it's what makes us create
[14:13] Herman Bergson: What touches me is to see how many philosphical questions are alive among you..
[14:13] AristotleVon Doobie: yeah and all because of you Herman
[14:13] AristotleVon Doobie: thank you
[14:13] Manfred Pessoa: yes herman .... and we thought you had all the answers ... thanks for dissappointing us (teasing badly)
[14:13] arabella Ella: it's great to have this opportunity to discuss stuff herman
[14:13] Herman Bergson: let's continue our journey and see what all new philosophers will bring us
[14:13] Alarice Beaumont: yes. Ari is right. And the discussion here :-)
[14:13] Osrum Sands: Indeed, I have enjoyed the break but being back is better
[14:14] Herman Bergson: I am really sorry I let you down Manfred....really..^_^
[14:14] Manfred Pessoa: hahaha
[14:14] AristotleVon Doobie: no no
[14:14] itsme Frederix: the benefits af a break Osrum
[14:14] Manfred Pessoa: :-)
[14:14] arabella Ella: nicely refreshed then herman eh?
[14:14] Herman Bergson: thank you for this really fine discussion today...
[14:14] AristotleVon Doobie: yes
[14:15] arabella Ella: thank u so much too herman
[14:15] Rasana Destiny: thank you herman
[14:15] Rasana Destiny: : )
[14:15] Mickorod Renard: thank you all
[14:15] Manfred Pessoa: thank you herman !
[14:15] itsme Frederix: well I would say applause for Herman, keeping a course going
[14:15] Cailleach Shan: Maybe we can study the philosophy of dancing..
[14:15] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. thank you Herman :-9
[14:16] itsme Frederix: Cal you like latin?
[14:16] Manfred Pessoa: argentinian tango cailleach ?
[14:16] Cailleach Shan: Hahaha.... yep
[14:16] Manfred Pessoa: count me in
[14:16] Herman Bergson: I love Salsa..:-)
[14:16] Rasana Destiny: sounds like a party
[14:16] Alarice Beaumont: would be great :-)
[14:16] Herman Bergson: ok...come outside and we have salsa

Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-02-11 12:48:26

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