The Driving and Guiding Forces of Morality

'According to Hume, reason alone does not move us to act, though our moral opinions do, and he rightly infers from this that reason cannot be the source of our moral opinions.' Discuss.

Hume rightly points out that the human capacity for reason is a powerful faculty. We can compare and contrast ideas from things that are similar, to things that do not seem so at first glance. The term relational frame theory wouldn't come about in psychology until hundreds of years after Hume, but it points out the power of this human ability. For instance, how are a pig and a chair related? Most people's first reaction is that they aren't, but then if they think about it for two seconds they come up with something. Such as, both of them have four legs. As the mind starts to turn the possibilities become immense and you begin to realize that the chair manufacturer probably eats pork, the pork company's accountant sits in a chair, a wooden chair had a life as a tree that ended and so will the pig's, etc.

In addition to being able to compare and contrast ideas the human reasoning faculty can find links between ideas, such as causal links. Why did a specific thing occur? Does this cause and effect relationship exist consistently? Can you thus know the future from the past and present situation? Can you manipulate the current circumstances to thus create a certain effect in the future? This ability to find causal links often results in errors of immense proportions, and yet it is key to the unique abilities that humans have among living creatures.

And yet, comparing ideas and finding causal links between them does not lead to doing anything. There is not contained within the reasoning faculty itself an impetus to action. Knowing what is and knowing what could be does not mean do. And we do do things. We do not lay still waiting for dehydration to carry us into the afterlife, knowing what is happening and what will happen. We take action, and we take immense action. Thus, there must be something other than reason that drives us to such action.

Hume posits that the thing that drives us to action is sentiment, or feeling. The different types of feelings of satisfaction and discomfort that result from innate mechanisms, plus the socialization process that occurs to both adjust those innate mechanisms and to instill more, the tension between self-interest and sympathy, and other such complexities offer a lifetime of experience and contemplation.

Our advanced notions of ethics grow out of this interaction of sentiment as the driving force and, ideally, reason as a guiding force.



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