In CoPhi today: David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (LH), Millican on Hume, Phillipson on Hume’s pal Adam Smith, and Melissa Lane on Rousseau.
Also note: not assigned but highly recommended, Alison Gopnik’s recent PB discussion of the Hume-Buddhist connection.
David Hume (follow his little finger) has a public “walk” in Edinburgh.
In 1724 the town council bought Calton Hill, making it one of the first public parks in the country. The famous philosopher David Hume lobbied the council to build a walk ‘for the health and amusement of the inhabitants’, and you can still stroll along ‘Hume Walk’ to this day.
He agreed with Diderot that good and honest people don’t need threats to make them so, they just need to be well nurtured and postively reinforced in the customs and habits of a good and honest society. Divine justice, he thought, is an oxymoron. “Epicurus’ old questions are still unanswered… (continues)”
Everyday morality is based on the simple fact that doing good brings you peace of mind and praise from others and doing evil brings rejection and sorrow. We don’t need religion for morality… religion itself got its morality from everyday morality in the first place… JMH
Hume was an interestingly-birfurcated empiricist/skeptic, doubting metaphysics and causal demonstrations but still sure that “we can know the world of daily life.” That’s because the life-world is full of people collaboratively correcting one another’s errors. Hume and friends “believed morality was available to anyone through reason,” though not moral “knowledge” in the absolute and indubitable Cartesian sense. Custom is fallible but (fortunately) fixable. [Hume at 300… in 3 minutes… Belief in miracles subverts understanding]
On the question of Design, intelligent or otherwise, Hume would definitely join in the February celebration of Darwin Day. Scientific thinking is a natural human instinct, for him, for “clever animals” like ourselves, providing “the only basis we have for learning from experience.” (Millican) [Hume vs. design (PB)… Hume on religion (SEP)]
“Open your eyes,” Richard Dawkins likes to say. They really are an incredible evolutionary design. Not “perfect” or previsioned, but naturally astounding.
An early episode of the new Cosmos takes a good look at the eye as well.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an emotional thinker with a romantically-inflated opinion of human nature and the “noble savages” who would have embodied it in a hypothetical state of nature.
What’s most interesting to me about Rousseau is that his Emile so arrested the attention of Immanuel Kant that he allowed it to disrupt his daily walking routine “for a few days.” Nothing short of seriously-incapacitating illness would do that to me. Apparently Kant was typically the same way, except for just that once.
Kant could get very upset if well-meaning acquaintances disturbed his routines. Accepting on one occasion an invitation to an outing into the country, Kant got very nervous when he realised that he would be home later than his usual bedtime, and when he was finally delivered to his doorstep just a few minutes after ten, he was shaken with worry and disgruntlement, making it at once one of his principles never to go on such a tour again.
So what’s in Emile that could so dis-comport a creature of such deeply ingrained habit? A generally-favorable evaluation of human nature, and a prescription for education reflective of that evaluation. Kant thought highly enough of Rousseau’s point of view to hold us all to a high standard of reasoned conduct. We should always treat others as ends in themselves, never as mere means to our own ends. We have a duty to regard one another with mutual respect.
The character of Emile begins learning important moral lessons from his infancy, through childhood, and into early adulthood. His education relies on the tutor’s constant supervision. The tutor must even manipulate the environment in order to teach sometimes difficult moral lessons about humility, chastity, and honesty. IEP
Yes, fine. But what precisely in Emile kept Kant off the streets, until he was finished with it?
Could have something to do with other characters in the story. “Rousseau discusses in great detail how the young pupil is to be brought up to regard women and sexuality.” Now maybe we’re getting somewhere.
Or not. Rousseau’s observations regarding women sound pretty sexist and ill-informed, nothing Kant (as a relatively un-Enlightenend male) wouldn’t already have shared.
Maybe it’s what Emile says about freedom that so arrested Kant? “The will is known to me in its action, not in its nature.”
Or religion? “It is categorically opposed to orthodox Christian views, specifically the claim that Christianity is the one true religion.” Maybe.
The Vicar claims that the correct view of the universe is to see oneself not at the center of things, but rather on the circumference, with all people realizing that we have a common center. This same notion is expressed in Rousseau’s political theory, particularly in the concept of the general will.
I wonder if the mystery of Kant’s lost walks could be related, too, to another of fellow-pedestrian Rousseau’s books, Reveries of the Solitary Walker?
The work is divided into ten “walks” in which Rousseau reflects on his life, what he sees as his contribution to the public good, and how he and his work have been misunderstood. It is interesting that Rousseau returns to nature, which he had always praised throughout his career… The Reveries, like many of Rousseau’s other works, is part story and part philosophical treatise. The reader sees in it, not only philosophy, but also the reflections of the philosopher himself.
That may not be a clue but it’s a definite inspiration for my own Philosophy Walks project, still seeking its legs.
Melissa Lane, like me, is very interested in Rousseau’s walking.
BTW: we know Rousseau had a dog. Did Kant? If so, wasn’t he neglecting his duty to walk her?
Some discussion topics today:
1. What’s your reaction to the claim that nature is full of design without a designer (as reflected in the eye), complexity without a goal, adaptation and survival without any ulterior purpose? Is this marvelous or weird or grand (as in “grandeur”) or what?
2. Have you encountered or directly experienced an event you would consider a “miracle” in Hume’s sense of the term? Was it a “miracle on ice” when the U.S. beat the U.S.S.R. in 1980? Is it a miracle that K.C. almost won the World Series? Is it a miracle that you and I are alive? Do we need a better word for these events?
3. Do you think we should attempt to balance personal freedom with the public interest? Are taxes and other civic obligations (including voting) examples of an attempt to do that? Can anyone ever be compelled to be free? Can an individual be truly free while others remain “chained”? Would life in a “state of nature” be a form of freedom worth having? Is anti-government libertarianism a step forward or back, progress or regress? If Rand Paul had been President in the 1960s, would there have been an effective Civil Rights movement in America?
4. Are you an Inductivist? Do you regularly anticipate, worry about, plan for the events of the day? Would it be reasonable or prudent to do otherwise? What is the practical point of entertaining Humean skeptical arguments about what we can know, based on our experience? Do such considerations make you kinder and gentler, less judgmental, more humble and carefree? Or do they annoy you?
5. Do you trust the marketplace to provide justice, fairness, security, and a shot at (the pursuit of) happiness for all? Are there some things money cannot buy, but that the public interest requires us to try and provide for one another? Is there an internal mechanism (“hand”) in capitalism to insure the public interest’s being met? Is capitalism inherently geared to short-term private profit, not long-term public good? Can a market-oriented economy deal adequately with climate change? (On this issue, see Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.)
6. Asking again: Are you happy? Would you be happier if you had better access to health care, if college costs were lower, if career competition were less intense, if you didn’t have to commute to school and work, if your neighbors were your closest friends, if your community was more supportive and caring, …? What if any or all of that could be achieved through higher taxes and a more activist government?
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