Thank you Denise, and welcome to Booktalk. I look forward to reading Haidt's article on The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology. I continue to suspect that Haidt applies an empirical method derived from Hume which neglects the deep moral insight into the role of principle seen in Plato and Kant. We can see this problem arising in Hume's account of duty:denisecummins wrote:A short but excellent article written by Haidt that lays out clearly and succinctly his position can be found here: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_url?h ... i=scholarr
Incidentally, I must object to the claim that Hume had no sense of moral duty. Hume introduced the notion of utility into moral theory; we approve of moral acts in part because they have utility – they are useful. But, in a section titled Why Utility Pleases (Section V of Hume, 1751), he argues that we approve of such useful actions because of our ability to sympathize with the recipients of those actions. He also believed that the highest merit a human can achieve was benevolence.
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, by David HumeDavid Hume wrote:The end of all moral speculations is to teach us our duty; and, by proper representations of the deformity of vice and beauty of virtue, beget correspondent habits, and engage us to avoid the one, and embrace the other. But is this ever to be expected from inferences and conclusions of the understanding, which of themselves have no hold of the affections or set in motion the active powers of men? They discover truths: but where the truths which they discover are indifferent, and beget no desire or aversion, they can have no influence on conduct and behaviour. What is honourable, what is fair, what is becoming, what is noble, what is generous, takes possession of the heart, and animates us to embrace and maintain it. What is intelligible, what is evident, what is probable, what is true, procures only the cool assent of the understanding; and gratifying a speculative curiosity, puts an end to our researches.
Hume's deprecation of thought as cold illustrates how Hume saw morals as solely practical, and rejected the idea of necessary truth that Kant was to make the foundation of idealism. Duty functions in Kantian philosophy as an abstract principle of moral law, a high ideal that forms a worldview. But Hume's emphasis on affections opened the path to his extreme skepticism, his sense that all authority of moral principle must be constantly validated by experience.
While Hume's view of moral duty as sentimental animation of the heart is a plausible and powerful theory, Kant held that it leads to a nihilistic collapse of moral vision, which has to be founded in the principle of duty to treat others as ends rather than means. So it is not that Hume had no theory of duty, but rather that his theory of duty is wrong because it lacks a sense of principle and undermines moral authority, leading to an atomistic individualism where all claims of duty are subject to constant review by personal reason. The intelligible does not 'put an end to our researches' but provides a rational foundation for the emotional assent that Hume suggests is the sole condition of morality. The heart has its reasons, but superior morality grounds such emotional reasons in the head.
Hume's attitude that morality is based on sentiment rather than intelligence is imprtant to modern liberal thought, and provides some of its power. But at the same time, Hume's theory produces a collapse of social bonds of belonging and respect for authority. Such a collapse may well be justified in some circumstances, especially where authority is wrong and irrational, but the attitude 'if I can't understand it and benefit from it then I won't support it' is contrary to communitarian ideas of duty such as sacrifice and loyalty.