David Hume's Theory of Ethics Essay

1675 Words 7 Pages
David Hume is considered to be one of the big three British empiricists, along with Hobbes and Locke, and lived near the end of the Enlightenment. The Catholic Church was losing its control over science, politics and philosophy and the Aristotelian world view was being swallowed up by a more mechanistic viewpoint. Galileo found the theory provided by Copernicus to be correct, that our earth was not the center of everything, but the celestial bodies including the earth circled the sun. Mathematicians abounded. Pascal developed the first mechanical calculator and Newtonian physics was breaking new ground. Not even the arts were immune. Within the same era Mary Shelley authored Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus. The main theme for this …show more content…
The latter being the kind that he uses as a naturalist.
David Hume's most famous quote is “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” To understand the implications of this quote as a basis for an ethical theory you need to understand that every other ethical theory attempts to derive how things ought to be from how things are. The jumps from matters of fact and relations of ideas perceived by reason, to value judgments perceived by emotions, are made in Hume’s opinion with no logical reason. There is nothing contradictory in the statement the sun will not rise in the morning, it is not unreasonable. We only feel that it “ought to” continue rising in the morning. The scientific method uses inductive reasoning to construct a hypothesis and Hume does not contend that it should not be used. It has been useful thus far in making predictions and it is the only tool that we have for understanding the world around us.
David Hume's ethical theory sits between philosophy and modern day psychology. He uses the empirical method to study the natural tendencies of human beings to engage their emotions, and in our emotions is where morality could be understood best. One must remember
Open Document