Location: Edgecliffe G03
Title: Hume’s Account of Virtue and Its Place in the History of Ethics
Abstract: Hume’s account of virtue is notoriously puzzling. On the one hand, he claims that the virtues are qualities useful or agreeable to oneself or to others. On the other, he says that they are qualities which give a pleasing sentiment of approbation to a spectator. In this paper, I argue that these two claims are part of one unified definition of virtue and that Hume’s apparently idiosyncratic account is best explained historically. To do so, I show that Hume inherited from Natural Law theorists (such as Pufendorf and Locke) the problem of squaring the existence of morality with the belief that physical entities have, in themselves, no moral relevance. The solution offered by his predecessors, however, was not available to Hume who refused to ground morality in the authoritative command of God. I claim that Hume’s account of virtue has to be explained as an attempt to introduce a naturalistic and secular solution to this central problem in the history of ethics.