Thursday, November 25, 2010

Humean Subjectivism

Note to reader:

The following post is a continuation of a series of posts on this blog entitled "The Distinction Between Morailty and Ethics". Please refer to the previous posts for my overview of other moral disciplines, namely: Socratic Ethics, Relativism &; Subjectivism. For a short introduction to the distinction between morality and ethics, please go here.

Humean Subjectivism

"The hypothesis we embrace is plain. It maintains that morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be 'whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation', and vice the contrary. We must acknowledge that immorailty is no particular fact or relation, which can be the object of the understanding, but arises entirely from sentiment of disapprobation, which, by the structure of human nature, we unavoidably feel on the apprehension of barbarity or treachery." David Hume - (Inquiry into the Principles of Morals, Appendix 1) 

For the 18th century Scottish Philospher cum Economist cum Historian- David Hume- moral beliefs and judgements were expressions of an individual's feelings attitudes, desires or preferences. However, he also thought that people from all cultures share common feelings, desires and preferences. That they were outraged by cruelty to children, they desired health and sanity and they preferred peace to war.  

The problem with the Humean view that we share common sentiments is that if there are existent, certain moral rights or wrongs that we seem to share amongst us, no matter who we are; if every community is for example, outraged by cruelty to children, then how do we explain certain African tribes practicing female circumcision?   


  1. female circumcision is not unlike male circumcision to the communities in africa that still practice it. The aim of the process is not very dissimilar to male circumcision done for religious and hygienic purposes. What I mean to say is the communities do not see it as being cruel to a child, rather they see it as something beneficial at the end of the day where the child is unable to engage in coitus till her marriage day. although barbaric and harmful the practice still isnt really viewed by the people undertaking it as cruel, rather just something they do to ensure premarital virginity.

  2. Exactly, so if there is no unity amongst human societies pertaining to what is cruel to children, then how is there a "common" abhorrence towards cruelty towards children?

    Please refer to more examples I have given here:

    Besides, male circumcision is pretty cruel too. Children die during this procedure pretty often.