Hume, Justice and Sympathy: A Reversal of the Natural Order?

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Sophie Botros


Hume’s view that the object of moral feeling is a natural passion,  motivating action, causes problems for  justice. There is apparently no appropriate natural motive, whilst, if there were, its “partiality” would unfit it to ground the requisite impartial approval.  We offer a critique of such solutions as that the missing non-moral motive is enlightened self-interest (Baier), or that it is feigned (Haakonssen), or that it consists in a just disposition (Gauthier).  We reject Cohon’s postulation of a moral motive for just acts, and also Harris’s attempt to dispense with motive as the source of their merit, by invoking extensive sympathy, and citing their  beneficial societal consequences. These solutions assume that, if Hume remains a virtue ethicist, the natural virtues supply the paradigm. Taylor claims that a revolution in motivational psychology follows the inauguration of the artificial convention of justice, remoulding the natural virtues. This solution founders, we argue, upon unresolved contradictions besetting  even these virtues


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How to Cite
Botros, Sophie. 2015. “Hume, Justice and Sympathy: A Reversal of the Natural Order?”. Diametros, no. 44 (June):110-39.
Special Topic - Justice and Compassion – Hume’s Moral Philosophy and Contemporary Practical Ethics
Author Biography

Sophie Botros, University of London

Dr Sophie BotrosResearch FellowInstitute of PhilosophySchool of Advanced StudyUniversity of LondonSenate HouseMalet StreetLondon WC1E 7HUUnited Kingdom E-mail:

Sophie Botros is the author of Hume, Reason and Morality:  A Legacy of Contradiction, Routledge, Oxford (2006), and of numerous articles.  She reviewed Rachel Cohon’s Hume’s Morality:  Feeling and Fabrication (2008) for Hume Studies (2008), and for the Philosophical Review (2012), and Annette Baier’s The Cautious Jealous Virtue  (2010) for the Review of Metaphysics (2010).  She is  Honorary Research Associate at the Institute of Philosophy, University of London, and was previously Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, London, and has  taught in the Universities of Stirling, Essex, and King’s College, London.

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