Hume’s Theory of Moral Responsibility

According to Hume, holding an individual morally responsible is to approve of his actions or blame him or her in virtue of their actions (Cohon). He associates blame to a fainter, imperceptible love, or hatred. In this theory, Hume tries to understand how an act must be related to an individual to hold them responsible (Cohon). Holding a person accountable is to approve or to blame them in reference to their actions, but moral approval is nothing more than a fainter, love, or hatred. In explaining his view of moral responsibility, Hume differentiates between the object of love, hatred as well as their causes (Cohon). He said that the object of pride and humility is the identical person, whose actions people are conscious about. On the other hand, the object of hatred and love is the other person, whose actions individuals are not aware about.

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Love and hatred are caused by qualities such as mental ability, bodily features such as beauty and strength as well as the family position of an individual. However, the above named qualities must be related to the person who is the object of love or hatred. For instance, mental ability and bodily features of a person must be able to induce pleasure or displeasure to generate such feelings. Secondly, a beautiful palace cannot be used to raise an esteem of a king, unless the latter is related to the palace, for instance, by owning it. In his understanding, Hume believes that pain and pleasure that is produced by an action of an individual is necessary, but it is not a sufficient reason for the production of love or hatred (Cohon).

The theory of moral responsibility and its compatibility with personal identity is, however, still a matter of philosophical analysis. Hume describes a person as sensible and a thinking being, which remains numerically unchanged through time (Cohon). His definition does not express an idea, but signifies an illusory notion of the latter. As such, it implies that a person can be held responsible even if he or she is a fiction. People who are prisoners of illusions consider fantasies to be realities. For instance, a desert traveler may express joy to see what he or she considers a pool of water, which turns out to be just a mirage; similarly, an object of hatred and love may be a fiction that is believed to be real.

Hume also defines a person as a succession of perception, which is related to cause and effect (Cohon). He refers to the object of pride and humility as a connected succession of perceptions (Cohon). In fact, one can differentiate between the object of love as the lover conceives of it as well as the real nature of the one. Lovers and haters believe that the subject of their respective feelings is a persistent identical person. For instance, if a person caused pain to another in the past, and the behavior that has resulted into hurting was caused by the will issue with the aim of causing harm, then the intentions as well as the acts of will are treated as the successions of the related perceptions. As such, an individual cannot be disapproved based on account of what he has done. Thus, the actions are not compatible with the personal identity.


Work Cited

Cohon, Rachel. “Hume’s Moral Philosophy.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2010. Accessed 19 Dec. 2017.