Concerning the Principles of Morals By David Hume Study Help Essay Questions

1. When and where did David Hume live? Mention several of the more important events in his life, and tell how they influenced his writings.

2. Make a list of Hume's published writings in the approximate order in which they appeared. What is meant by his interest in the field of epistemology. Why did he think it was important?

3. What is meant by the empirical method in philosophy? Why did Hume think this method was the appropriate one to use in the investigation of morals? How did this method differ from the rationalistic method?

4. How is the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals related to the Treatise of Human Nature?

5. One of the major issues in moral philosophy has been the question of whether the basis for moral distinctions is to be found in the reason or in the feelings. What difference does it make with reference to moral beliefs?

6. What, according to Hume, has been the chief source of dogmatism in the field of morals? What are some of the evil consequences that follow from it? How can these be avoided?

7. According to Hume, ethical judgments can be neither true nor false. Why? State the reasons why you do or do not agree with this position.

8. Explain in some detail Hume's account of the origin of the virtue of benevolence. Do you think there is anything permanent or unchanging about this virtue? Give reasons for your answer.

9. Do you agree with Hume's statement when he says that in an ideal society where all the needs of all the people are supplied in abundance justice, would not exist at all? Explain your answer.

10. Hume tells us that in times of famine, shipwreck, or other major disasters, the meaning of justice is not the same as it is under normal circumstances. Tell why you do or do not think this is a correct statement.

11. Who were the Levellers, and what did they believe concerning the way in which the wealth of society should be distributed? What was Hume's criticism with reference to this belief?

12. Compare Hume's account concerning the origin of justice with the one given by Thomas Hobbes. What do these two views have in common, and in what respects are they different?

13. Is there anything that is permanent and unchanging about the meaning of justice? If your answer is "no," tell why. If it is "yes," state what you think the unchanging element is. In either case, try to justify your answer.

14. Some writers make a sharp distinction between the real meaning of justice and our human understanding of it. Tell why you do or do not regard this distinction as a valid one.

15. Hume tells us that the rules and regulations concerning international affairs are not binding in quite the same way as the ones that have to do with relationships within a single state. What are his reasons? If you do not agree with him, tell why.

16. Why is it, according to Hume, that utility is pleasant and agreeable to all the members of a human society? Do you think his argument on this point is a valid one?

17. What is meant by a "crucial experiment"? What example does Hume use to prove that at least some actions are not necessarily selfish? Under what conditions are selfishness and altruism necessarily opposed? When are they not opposed?

18. Discuss at some length Hume's conception of sympathy, and tell what place he gives to it in his moral philosophy.

19. After enumerating qualities which are useful to ourselves, Hume explains that each of these must be interpreted in the light of Aristotle's doctrine of the golden mean. What does this mean?

20. What reasons are given by Hume in support of his statement that the moral rules and regulations concerning chastity are not the same for both sexes?

21. Mention several of the qualities which are immediately agreeable to ourselves and to others, and explain why Hume has included these in his account of the virtues.

22. Hume tells us there are many types of action regarded as virtues which ought to be regarded as vices. Name several of them. Tell why they have been regarded as virtues and why Hume thinks they are really vices.

23. Describe at some length Hume's position relative to the proper use of reason in the field of ethics. What, in his judgment are some of the things that reason is incompetent to do? In this connection, what is his criticism of Immanuel Kant's system of ethics?

24. How, according to Hume, is the sense of obligation related to that which is pleasant and agreeable? Does this mean that whatever is pleasant and agreeable is therefore good? Explain.

25. What do you regard as Hume's most important contributions to the study of ethics?

26. What inconsistencies, if any, do you find in Hume's writings?

27. Describe in a general way the influence of Hume's teachings on the subsequent development of moral philosophy.

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