Hume and Passion

10 October 2016

Hume argues that reason cannot combat a passion. How do you think Aristotle would respond? How would you continue this conversation? In Hume’s treatise of human nature, he presents an argument, which states that reason cannot combat a passion. His argument commences by the discussion, that “reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will”(Hume, 803). Hume states that reason cannot be derived from actions, because reasons come from ideas. He gives an example of a merchant, “a merchant is desirous of knowing the sum total of his accounts with any person: why?

But that he may learn what sum will have the same effects in paying his debt, and going to the market, as all particular articles taken together” (Hume, 804), he gives this example to explain that mathematics itself doesn’t influence a merchant, it is the purpose or idea of finding out the sum of what people owe him that influences him to use mathematics. Similarly, reasoning does not affect actions, however it “directs our judgment concerning causes and effects”(Hume, 804).

In other words, reasoning can only direct us towards what we are inquisitive about or are passionate about, but cannot influence our actions overall. His second premise states that we form a connection to everything. If we like an object, we form a liking to it, or connect to it as a positive object and everything that relates directly to that object, similarly, if we dislike something, we form a dislike or negative relation to that object, and everything that is connected to that object. Hume explains, that “But it is evident in this case that the impulse arises not from reason, but is only directed by it.

It is from the prospect of pain or pleasure that the aversion or propensity arises towards any object: And these emotions extend themselves to the causes and effects of that object, as they are pointed out to us by reason and experience” (Hume, 804) having stated that impulses to perform any action are not derived from reason and that cause and effect is a direct consequent of pleasure and pain, Hume concludes that cause and effect are produced by passions and emotions. To sum up his argument, Hume states that: Nothing can oppose or retard the impulse of passion, but a contrary impulse; and if this contrary impulse ever arises from reason, that latter faculty must have an original influence on the will, and must be able to cause, as well as hinder any act of volition. But if reason has no original influence, it is impossible it can withstand any principle, which has such an efficacy, or ever keep the mind in suspense a moment. Thus it appears, that the principle, which opposes our passion, cannot be the same with reason, and is only called so in an improper sense. (Hume, 804) David Hume concludes his argument by stating that the only thing that can combat a passion is something that can influence the will and influence action. That being said, since reason has no influence, it cannot combat passion. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, discusses the concept of virtue. Virtue according to Aristotle can be described as a part of the soul, which then is divided into more complex parts, which works in accordance to the soul.

This is seen when Aristotle states, “by human virtue, we mean virtue of the soul, not of the body, since we also say that happiness is an activity of the soul” (Aristotle, 264) He continues to explain what virtue is and discusses the reasoning and non reasoning part of virtue, and the divisions of those already divided parts. Aristotle says, “One will have reason fully, by having it within itself; the other will have reason by listening to reason as to a father” (Aristotle, 265). By making this statement, Aristotle confirms that virtue includes reasoning and a person’s virtue can reason and listen to reason.

Keeping that in mind, Aristotle seems to understand that virtues are directly linked to actions, which in turn, are linked to pleasure. This is illustrated, when he says, “Further, virtues are concerned with actions and feeling; but every feeling and every action implies pleasure or pain; hence for this reason too, virtue is about pleasures and pain” (Aristotle, 267). Aristotle relates virtue to action and action to pleasure and pain. According to him, virtue performs actions, by reasoning. He discusses that pleasure and pain makes people base their decisions concerning virtues and vices both.

He says, “We assume then, that virtue is the sort of state that does the best actions concerning pleasures and pains, and that vice is the contrary state” (Aristotle, 267). Here, Aristotle means that virtue does good, or the best actions when it is effected by pleasure and pain, and anything negative that virtue does, is the contrary state of pleasure. To sum up his argument, Aristotle says, “To sum up: Virtue is about pleasures and pains; the actions that are its sources also increase it or, if they are done badly ruin it; and its activity is about the same actions as those that are its sources” (Aristotle, 268).

All in all, Aristotle relates virtue, action and passions together or in other words, interconnects them. Hume and Aristotle have different views about reason and passion. Hume segregates reason from action and passion, whereas Aristotle intertwines all three of them almost as acting upon each other. Aristotle would disagree with Hume upon the fact that reason does not influence action. This is because Aristotle thinks that virtues perform actions based on reasons, which are derived from pleasures and pains.

Hume on the other hand, would argue that reason has nothing to do with actions. Reason, according to Hume, is only there to direct a person towards cause and effect, which come directly from pleasures and pains. Although similar, the two arguments present different ideas about reason and pleasure. The conversation would probably continue with Aristotle explaining virtue to Hume, and Hume responding back with his explanations about impressions and ideas. The conversation would carry on about the soul and whether or not it reasons independently or not. Hume does not add too much about any negative actions and how they are derived and what cause and effect has to do in relation to them. On that note, Hume also does not expand on what the contrary of passions is.

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