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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Battle of the Books, Part One

Here is an account, similar to Finnis' Incommensurability thesis, but informed by Hume, thus without a Natural Law potential.  It comes from James Fitzjames Stephen's Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

To give a specific illustration, Hume's doctrine,'that personal merit consists entirely in the usefulness or agreeableness of qualities to the person himself possessed of them, or to others who have any intercourse with him,' and that,' every man who has any regard to his own happiness and welfare will best find his account in the practice of every moral duty,' is quite independent of religion in my sense of the word.  That up to a certain point 'true self love and social are the same' does not admit of serious dispute(p176).  Happiness has a very different meaning to a fierce pastoral tribe in Central Asia;  to an ignorant husbandman in Bengal;  to a cultivated modern European;  to a naked savage in Central Africa, to say nothing of the different conceptions of happiness which are formed by different individuals similarly situated.  But what does this prove?  Merely that morality is not fixed but varying, that there is no such thing as absolute, unchangeable morality, and that it is hardly possible that there should be moral intuitions, and this is the plain truth and the ultimate result of these speculations.  Bring any considerable number of human beings into relations with each other.  Let them talk, fight, eat, drink, continue their species, make observations, form a society, in short, however rough or however polished, and experience proves that they will form a conception more or less definite of what for them constitutes happiness;  that they will also form a conception of the rules of conduct by which happiness may be increased or diminished;  that they will enforce such rules upon each other by different sanctions, and that such rules and sanctions will produce an influence upon individual conduct varying according to circumstances(p225, Liberty Fund ed.)

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