Friday, June 01, 2007

Homie David Hume

"""In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. "" (From the Treatise of Human Nature).

As a secularist, Hume holds that values and virtues, however beneficial to society, are not at all necessary; they are conventions: one could just as easily be attracted to and stimulated by, say, witnessing the invasion of Basra, and define that as a good, as by giving a few shekels to Santa in front of K-mart. Hume's virtue ethics is based on self-interest and pleasure; and justice is not for Hume objective or a universal. ( most hysterical moralists of left and right--even so called "Darwinists"--- never quite grasped Hume's is-ought distinction). Ethics then for Humeans is constructive, stipulative, and alas somewhat subjective (most read him as a precursor to Bentham and Mill) . So how does what is termed "ethics"--or expanding the scope, even democracy--- work if large proportions of the population are criminals and sadists? What did an ethical person do in the Old West, or during the rise of the fascists or stalinists, or in 20s Chicago when Al Capon-ay ruled the city and the cops and judges were "in the pocket"? We here at Contingencies suggest bourgeois ethics (or Big Al Gore style corporate liberalism) depends on a faulty premise that people will, more often than not, do what is rational or proper in the conventional sense, and that is not at all a premise Hume would grant (or should), nor would Malthus or Darwin or BF Skinner, or William S. Burroughs for that matter. Ethics in Vegas might entail robbing casinos.

""Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense, which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities."

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