An Enquiry Concerning The Principles of Morals - Summary - Sympathy, Altruism, and Egoism

Sympathy, Altruism, and Egoism

According to Hume, our sympathy-based sentiments can motivate us towards the pursuit of non-selfish ends, like the utility of others. For Hume, and for fellow sympathy-theorist Adam Smith, the term "sympathy" is meant to capture much more than concern for the suffering of others. Sympathy, for Hume, is a principle for the communication and sharing of sentiments, both positive and negative. In this sense, it is akin to what contemporary psychologists and philosophers call empathy. In developing this sympathy-based moral sentimentalism, Hume surpasses the divinely-implanted moral sense theory of his predecessor, Francis Hutcheson, by elaborating a naturalistic, moral psychological basis for the moral sense, in terms of the operation of sympathy.

After providing various examples, Hume comes to the conclusion that most, though not all, of the behaviors we approve of increase public utility. Does this then mean that we make moral judgments on self-interest alone? Unlike his fellow empiricist Thomas Hobbes, Hume argues that this is not in fact the case, rejecting psychological egoism--the view that all intentional actions are ultimately self-interested.

In addition to considerations of self-interest, Hume maintains that we can be moved by our sympathy for others, which can provide a person with thoroughly non-selfish concerns and motivations, indeed, what contemporary theorists would call, altruistic concern.

Read more about this topic:  An Enquiry Concerning The Principles Of Morals, Summary

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