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Humes Ways Of Reasoning Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1196 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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How convincing is Hume’s argument for the claim that reason is and ought only to be a slave to the passions?

David Hume’s argument is formulated upon the two types of reasoning: Firstly, relations of ideas, which pertain to a “world of ideas”. This form of reasoning makes use of mathematical influences, due to the belief that mathematics lends itself to every aspect of “art and profession; and secondly relations of objects or logic, which humanity derive through experience or their knowledge of how objects within the world connect to society. The first type of reasoning (relations of ideas) has little influence upon initiating an action, whilst relations of objects produce a feeling of either pain or pleasure from the object we interact with, hence the consequent emotion or passion compels one to know what object caused the feeling within them. This leads to the feeling of “aversion or propensity” or whether we merely want it or if we repeal the object. The process incurred is a method of reasoning. The impulse or passion is only “directed by reason and not caused by it.” [1] 

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I agree with the statement “… reason is and ought only to be a slave to the passions” It has been established already that “…impulse arises not from reason, but is only directed by it.” (Hume 1978: 414). Reason cannot solely cause any form of action or desire or prevent desire. Hence, we later ascertain that there is no force to hinder or oppose the impulse of passion, unless a contrary impulse is founded. “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” (Ibid) Furthermore, “a passion is an original existence”, in other words passion has little bearing upon other objects in the world. Passion is can be evident through fury, illness or one’s mere thirst. It is for such reasons that passion cannot be contested or contrary to truth or reason. This is attributed to the fact that the contradiction only arises due to the dissent between objects and/or concepts/perceptions. If objects have reference to truth or reason, only then they are contrary thereof.

Hume is rather compelling in his views that a desire can only be unwarranted if supplemented by a belief – such as an opinion or a judgment. Either a desire is based upon a belief that an object ceases to subsist in any from or alternatively when one expresses a desire (within an action), yet the chosen method fails to satisfy the proposed desire or outcome. Desires are by no means contrary to reason other than the aforementioned. Therefore, the desires somewhat “triumph” over reason without challenge. Later, it is deduced that desires and beliefs fail to counter one another when governing actions.

It is evident throughout the text that reasoning alone is not enough to produce powerful emotions. Such emotions are referred to as “calm desires”, as their effect is more potent as opposed to the experience. Often these calm desires/passions (which determine will), yield marginal emotion within someone and are thus identified by their effects (as previously mentioned) and not by the immediate sensation. Moreover, such emotions are divided into two possible types: impulses within one’s nature, such as feelings of love and adoration, or alternatively an overall inclination to explore the source of goodness or depravity within humanity. Calm passions fail to produce any turmoil within one’s moral fibre and consequently are occasionally misconstrued as reason. With such rife misconceptions, the “direction-of-fit” was devised, in order to differentiate between calm passions and reason. The direction-of-fit refers to when beliefs are mind-to-world. Hence, the mind is ‘manipulated’ to fit the world, so that the belief is correlated to how the world functions. A desire however, is “world-to-mind”, so basically the world is constructed in a way that is satisfactory to how the mind functions and ‘desires’ the world to be. [2] 

Violent passions/emotions are sometimes similar to calm passions. Violent passions are directly experienced and subsequently cause a sensation, such as an enduring an injury from one’s neighbour, which in turn causes one to desire ‘revenge’ or a similar misfortune upon the culprit. Hume states that “When I am immediately threatened with any grievous ill, my fears, apprehensions, and aversions rise to a great height, and produce a sensible emotion”. (Hume 1978:418) “Strength of mind” suggests the dominance of the calm passions above that of the violent passions, as a person craves passions and desires. [3] 

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Desires are capable of motivating one’s actions due to the fact that desires are tailored almost according to how we aspire the world to fit our needs. According to Hume, reason has been established as having no impact upon our passions and actions, despite the subject of morality. Morality is by popular thought intended to influence passions and actions, as moral human beings generally make their life choices and decisions based upon rules and moral codes. However, such choices are not as a result of reason, as a sense of morality can either evoke or deter actions from being committed. Hume later deduces that reason cannot prohibit or incur any action from occurring. Reason however, is the mere detection of “truth or falsehood”. Hence, one’s passions and desires are not subject to truths and fallacies alike. Reason however, can affect one’s behaviour in two ways: either by galvanizing passions whereby one is enlightened regarding the presence of an object or when the link between cause and effect, allowing passions to be exercised. [4] 

Reason is incapable of compelling one to perpetrate an action or oppose the passion within us. This is because actions are “laudable” (admirable) or “blameable”; yet “cannot be reasonable or unreasonable”. For these reasons, reason is the slave to the passions. As human beings we need impressions of reflections to induce an action (as previously stated an “aversion or propensity” towards an object). The fervent desire within a human being is what urges one to act and is essentially propelled by an impulse or passion (which we cannot have control over and quite simply is an intrinsic reflex of our emotions) , and not by rigid decorum associated with logic and reasoning.


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