About this product Product Information This volume collects thirty years worth of articles on the emotions written by the distinguished philosopher Robert Solomon. Solomon's thesis is that we are significantly responsible for our emotions, which are evaluative judgments that in effect we choose. This is the first of several volumes the second is In Defence of Sentimentality that document work in the emotions.
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Is reason the slave of the passions? | Prospect Magazine
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Shipped from. Campus Book Rentals. Login to see store details. The context is his discussion of what is sometimes called "moral psychology", the study of how we are motivated to act morally. In particular, he raises a question about the role of practical reason in moral motivation. Hume vehemently opposes the view, held by philosophers before him and after him , that to act morally is have a rational grasp of moral truths.
He defends an instrumental conception of practical reason, according to which the role of reason is only to find out which means helps achieve a given goal.
Reason or the intellect plays no part in determining the goals. Our goals are set exclusively by what Hume calls the passions and what today is most often called desires. Desires cannot be evaluated as true or false or as reasonable or unreasonable - they are "original existences" in our mind and arise from unknown natural causes.
We cannot be criticized rationally for our desires As Hume remarks, it is "not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger" p Reason is the slave of the passions in the sense that practical reason alone cannot give rise to moral motivation; it is altogether dependent on pre-existing desires that furnish motivational force.
For Hume, this is not a fact we should lament as moralists do but a basic fact about our psychology. You can apply this quotation in many different contexts as far as Hume's thought is concerned - in general I think the best way to read it is as an outgrowth of his radical empiricism which in the case of ethics descends into his famous advocacy of emotivism.
The point is that reason will never reach out into the world - the passions are what we get when the world reaches into us. So here are some ways to understand this general tendency, as expressed in the famous maxim you quote:. Hume's argument is that all preferences and motives are emotional.
There is no such thing as an unemotional or purely rational decision, because to decide, by its nature, is to have a preference for, i. Reason's i. But this is merely cold information, devoid of any significance on its own. Rational categories have no value or priority without feeling. The passions i. Decisionmaking is neither an rational nor "irrational" whatever the hell that means process: it is based on preferences, which must arise from emotional states and can never just magically be produced by reason alone.
What reason does is enable things to become positive or negative by association. I have a goal that I care about, and reason suggests to me that a previously unimportant object will help me achieve it. Thus the object itself becomes important to me.
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Reason creates the association--it's a telescope that allows me to see the distant or indirect emotional consequences of the object--but the emotion itself remains my only motive and only decider. In short: there are beliefs and desires. Beliefs and rationality reason are just an instrument, a slave, for achieving the goals given by the desires.
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To use an analogy, a map by itself does not tell you where to go, only how to get there once you have decided. Hume is saying that reason, or logic, cannot tell how you how to act or what to choose. It is a "slave" to your "passion" similar to how a map is a slave of choosing where you want to go. This is in contrast to Kant, who believed that reason can tell you how to act morally.