David Hume's Distinction Between Natural and Artificial Virtues

1060 Words Jul 12th, 2018 5 Pages
In David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, he divides the virtues of human beings into two types: natural and artificial. He argues that laws are artificial and a human invention. Therefore, he makes the point that justice is an artificial virtue instead of a natural virtue. He believed that human beings are moral by nature – they were born with some sense of morality and that in order to understand our “moral conceptions,” studying human psychology is the key (Moehler). In this paper, I will argue for Hume’s distinction between the natural and artificial virtues. Hume believes that natural virtues are instinctive and are more intrinsically motivated than natural virtues. He believes that natural virtues are like moral instincts …show more content…
Hume regards these external goods as the main cause of conflict in a state of nature. He discusses limited generosity and scarcity of resources to show how essential artificial virtues, in particular, justice, is to maintaining order, control, and a manner of living in social harmony. Hume claims justice to be an artificial virtue; he denies that there is anything natural or rational about justice at all. Unlike Hobbes, he denies the any element of reason by which humans leave the state of nature as well. He states that justice is systematic, and thus cannot be explained by the natural virtues, which include self-interest or benevolence because if justice consisted of self-interest then we would not obey it if it were not in our best interest to do so. If it consisted in benevolence, then we would not obey it if someone wanted to take from the poor to give to the rich. Hume believes that “the idea of justice will arise and manifest itself in conventions” which is “a rule that prescribes how one should act in a particular situation of interaction” (Moehler). Conventions are not promises or contracts, but are real agreements between individuals who show their agreement by following them; they are implicit and behavioral. As Michael states, Hume believes that they evolve over time from self-interest and the understanding that reciprocal behavior is likely to be
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