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.
Julia Sweeney’s ex-boyfriend notwithstanding, an evolving eye is quite a useful adaptation at every stage.
Hume, open-eyed but possibly blind to the worst implications of his skeptical brand of empiricism, is on Team Aristotle. Russell, though, says we must look hard for an escape from the “dead-end” conclusion that real knowledge must always elude us, that (for instance) we cannot refute “the lunatic who believes that he is a poached egg.” Russell says this is a “desperate” result. I say it would be more desperate to feel compelled to refute Mr. Egg in the first place. Remember the old Groucho line? “My brother thinks he’s a chicken – we don’t talk him out of it because we need the eggs.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, of Team Plato along with other celebrants (like the other Marx) of “a communitarian ideal based on men’s dreams,” 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
We talked miracles earlier in the semester, so this may be redundant. But so many of us were so sure that we’d encountered or directly experienced suspensions of natural law that it seems worth a second pass. 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? Isn’t it a miracle that you and I are alive? Or that your friend or loved one, who’d received the very bad prognosis, is? Well, not exactly. All of those are plenty improbable, given certain assumptions. But none of them is an obvious law-breaker. We need a better word for these events, a word that conveys astonished and grateful surprise but does not court woo. Or I do, anyway.
More Rousseau-inspired challenges: Are we happy? Would we be happier if we 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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