My aim in this project is to shed some light on the discussion of moral responsibility by considering Hume’s theory of passion. To this end, we need to examine the way in which Hume extends the problem of ‘causal necessity’ in Book One to the problem ...
My aim in this project is to shed some light on the discussion of moral responsibility by considering Hume’s theory of passion. To this end, we need to examine the way in which Hume extends the problem of ‘causal necessity’ in Book One to the problem of ‘liberty and Necessity’ in Book Two of the Treatise. Hume attempts to apply the way of investigating ‘causal necessity’ in physical world in Book One to the way of exploring ‘liberty and necessity’ of the mental world in Book Two of the Treatise. It is worth noting why he discusses the ‘liberty and necessity’ in the context of dealing with his theory of passion. In order to understand this, we need to appreciate Hume’s moral psychology showing us the relation between passion and character-traits or virtue.
In discussing the nature and the condition of moral responsibility, I shall focus on moral sentiment which is an essential element of Hume’s moral philosophy. In ascribing a moral responsibility to someone, we should regard him /her as the object of moral sense. Hume tries to describe a "regular mechanism" causing such moral sense.
In order to appreciate the importance of Hume’s "reconciling project" of liberty and necessity, we need to understand causal mechanism eliciting moral sense. In view of this, Hume’s position of liberty and necessity and moral responsibility quite differs from the classical compatibilist such as Hobbes and Schlick. For the classic compatabilists read Hume as a soft-determinism based on the regularity theory, but it is difficult to justify ascribing moral responsibility to agent on the basis of the regularity. The interpretation of soft-determinism according to which Hume deprives a compulsion of a necessity traditionally understood is too weak to avoid the implication of compulsion, but it is not enough to be strong to attribute the responsibility to the agent. According to Hume, the necessity is essential to a morality in order for the agent and action to be connected. Yet, this necessity, for Hume, should not be compelled us. For we need not be responsible for the forced action. A forced action is not a free action, and it is not an action derived from the agent. Hence, we can attribute a moral responsibility to the agent on the action not caused by compulsion but elicted by agent. In order to satisfy this requirement, Hume finds the fact that an action is caused by an agent in an agent’s durable quality, i.e., character-traits.
We shall focus on the analysis of Hume’s two definitions of cause of Book One in the Treatise. According to his first definition, causal relation is derived from regularity, while the necessity above regularity comes from ‘mind’s inference, or ‘mental determination’ in his second definition. If we apply this definition to the explanation of human action, we can say as follows: once we observe the regularity between motive and action of the agent, we ascribe character-traits having been showing the regularities to the agent in terms of ‘mind’s inference and determination, and require the agent the responsibility for the action derived from the character-traits. According to Hume, since moral character is not formed spontaneously, the character and action derived from the character influence on many people. Since these naturally evoke our sympathy and moral sentiment, therefore, moral qualities "at least actions derived from those qualities can be altered in terms of punishment and rewards, and praise and blame." (T. 609).
Given this, since for Hume the moral qualities of which an individual possess elicit moral sentiment to others and we can correct our character-traits in terms of these continuous emotional responses, we are responsible for our character that we do not correct, although the opportunities of correction of it in terms of external condition of control have been open to us.