Superphysics Superphysics
Section 10

Property And Riches

by David Hume Icon
10 minutes  • 2080 words
Table of contents

The relation of property most commonly produces pride and is the closest to it.

Justice and other moral virtues must be explained first before this relation can be fully explained.

Property is a relation between a person and an object which permits him its free use and possession, but does not forbid any other, without violating the laws of justice and moral equity.

Therefore, if justice is a virtue which has a natural and original influence on the mind, property may be regarded as a particular species of causation, whether we: ▪ consider the liberty it gives the proprietor to operate as he pleases on the object, or ▪ the advantages he reaps from it. ◦ It is the same case if justice is an artificial and not a natural virtue. ▪ For then honour, custom, and civil laws: • supply the place of natural conscience • produce the same effects. • The mention of the property naturally carries our thought to the proprietor, and of the proprietor to the property. ◦ This is a proof of a perfect relation of ideas. • A relation of ideas, joined to that of impressions, always produces a transition of affections. ◦ If the foregoing system is solid and satisfactory, whenever any pleasure or pain arises from an object connected with us by property, pride or humility must arise from this conjunction of relations. ◦ This can be proven by the most cursory view of human life. • Everything belonging to a vain man is the best that is to be found anywhere. ◦ His houses, equipage, furniture, clothes, horses, hounds, excel all others in his conceit. ◦ He draws a new subject of pride and vanity from the smallest advantage in any of these. • If you’ll believe him: ◦ his wine has a finer flavour than any other ◦ his cookery is more exquisite ◦ his table is more orderly ◦ his servants are more expert ◦ the air he lives in is more healthful ◦ the soil he cultivates is more fertile ◦ his fruits ripen earlier and more perfectly. • Such a thing is remarkable for its novelty; such another for its antiquity. ◦ This is the workmanship of a famous artist that belonged once to a prince or great man. • All objects that are useful, beautiful or surprising, or are related to such, may cause vanity through property. ◦ These agree in giving pleasure and in nothing else. ◦ This alone is common to them. ◦ Therefore, it must be the quality that produces vanity, which is their common effect. • Every new instance is a new argument. ◦ The instances are here innumerable. ◦ No other system has ever been so fully proved by experience as my system.

Hume on Money and Riches

If the property of anything that gives pleasure also produces also pride by a double relation of impressions and ideas, we should not be surprised that the power of acquiring this property should have the same effect. ◦ Riches are the power of acquiring the property of what pleases. ▪ They influence the passions only because of this. • Paper will be considered as riches because it may convey the power of acquiring money. ◦ Money is not riches. ▪ It is a metal endowed with qualities of solidity, weight and fusibility. ▪ It is only riches as long as it has a relation to the life’s pleasures and conveniences.

• We may draw from this, one of my strongest arguments to prove the influence of the double relations on pride and humility.

• The distinction we sometimes make between a power and its exercise is entirely frivolous.
    ◦ Man or any other being should never be thought having any ability, unless it is exerted and put in action.
    ◦ This is strictly true in a just and philosophical way of thinking.
• But this is not the philosophy of our passions.
    ◦ Many things operate on our passions through the idea and supposition of power, independent of its actual exercise.
• We are pleased when we get an ability to procure pleasure.
    ◦ We are displeased when another gets a power of giving pain.
• To explain this and to account for this satisfaction and uneasiness, we must weigh the following reflections.
• The error of distinguishing power from its exercise proceeds not entirely from the scholastic doctrine of free-will.
    ◦ This enters very little into common life.
    ◦ It has but small influence on our vulgar and popular ways of thinking.
• According to that doctrine, motives do not:
    ◦ deprive us of free-will
    ◦ take away our power of performing or refraining from any action.
• A man has no power if he has very considerable motives between him and the satisfaction of his desires but is unable to do it.
    ◦ I do not think I have fallen into my enemy’s power, when I see him pass me in the streets with a sword by his side while I do not have any weapon.
    ◦ I know that:
        ▪ the fear of the civil magistrate is as strong a restraint as any of iron
        ▪ I am in as perfect safety as if he were chained or imprisoned.
• But I attribute a full power to him and consider myself as his subject if he gets such an authority over me, that:
    ◦ there is no external obstacle to his actions
    ◦ he may punish or reward me as he pleases, without any dread of punishment in his turn.
• One person has very strong motives of interest or safety to refrain from any action.
    ◦ Another person lies under no such obligation.
• If we compare these two persons, we shall find that the only known difference between them is that the first person will never perform that action, but the second person will probably perform it.
• Nothing is more fluctuating and inconstant than man’s will.
• Only strong motives can give us an absolute certainty in his future actions.
    ◦ When we see a person free from these motives, we suppose a possibility or probability of his acting or forbearing.
• We may conclude him to be determined by motives and causes.
    ◦ Yet this does not remove:
        ▪ the uncertainty of our judgment on these causes, or
        ▪ the influence of that uncertainty on the passions.
• Since we ascribe a power of performing an action to everyone who has no very powerful motive to refrain from it, and refuse it to people who have such a motive, we may conclude that:
    ◦ power has always a reference to its actual or probable exercise
    ◦ we consider a person as endowed with any ability when we find from past experience, that it is probable, or at least possible he may exert it.
• Our passions always regard the real existence of objects.
    ◦ We always judge of this reality from past instances.
    ◦ That power consists in the possibility or probability of any action, as discovered by experience.
• Wherever a person is in such a situation with regard to me, that there is no very powerful motive to deter him from injuring me.
    ◦ Consequently, it is uncertain whether he will injure me or not.
• I must be:
    ◦ uneasy in such a situation
    ◦ sensibly concerned in the possibility or probability of that injury.
• The passions are affected by:
    ◦ such events that are certain and infallible
    ◦ events that are possible and contingent, though in an inferior degree.
• I never really feel any harm from the person who never had any power of harming me, since he did not exert any.
    ◦ But this does not prevent my uneasiness from the preceding uncertainty.
• The agreeable passions may here:
    ◦ operate as well as the uneasy passions.
    ◦ convey a pleasure when I perceive a possible or probable good from the possibility or probability of another giving it to me, after the removal of any strong motives which might have formerly hindered him.
• This satisfaction increases when:
    ◦ any good approaches in such a way that it is in one’s own power to take or leave it
    ◦ there is no:
        ▪ physical impediment or
        ▪ any very strong motive to hinder our enjoyment.
• All men desire pleasure.
    ◦ It will exist when there is no external obstacle to produce it.
• Men perceive no danger in following their inclinations.
    ◦ In that case their imagination easily:
        ▪ anticipates the satisfaction
        ▪ conveys the same joy, as if they were persuaded of its real and actual existence.
• But this does not sufficiently explain the satisfaction from riches.
• A miser receives delight from his money or the power it affords him of procuring all of life’s pleasures and conveniences, even if he has never used his riches for 40 years.
    ◦ Consequently, he cannot reason that the real existence of these pleasures is closer than if he had no money at all.
    ◦ But he still imagines these pleasures to approach nearer, whenever all external obstacles are removed along with the more powerful motives of interest and danger which oppose it.
• For this, I must refer to my account of the will.
    ◦ In Part 3, Sec. 2, I shall explain that false sensation of liberty, which makes us imagine we can do anything that is not very dangerous or destructive.
• Whenever any other person is under no strong obligations of interest to refrain from any pleasure, we judge that:
    ◦ the pleasure will exist
    ◦ he will probably obtain it.
• But when ourselves are in that situation, we judge from an illusion of the fancy, that the pleasure is still closer and more immediate.
    ◦ The will seems to:
        ▪ move easily every way
        ▪ cast a shadow or image of itself, even to that side on which it did not settle.
• Through this image, the enjoyment seems to:
    ◦ approach nearer to us
    ◦ give us the same lively satisfaction as if it were perfectly certain and unavoidable.
• I will now prove that riches produce any pride or vanity in their possessors only through a double relation of impressions and ideas.
• The very essence of riches consists in the power of procuring life’s pleasures and conveniences.
    ◦ The very essence of this is in:
        ▪ the probability of its exercise
        ▪ its causing us to anticipate, by a true or false reasoning, the real existence of the pleasure.
• This anticipation of pleasure is, in itself, a very considerable pleasure.
    ◦ Its cause is some possession or property which:
        ▪ we enjoy
        ▪ is thereby related to us, we here dearly see all the parts of the foregoing system most exactly and distinctly drawn out before us.
• The same reason explains why:
    ◦ riches and power cause pleasure and pride
    ◦ poverty and slavery excites uneasiness and humility.
• Power or an authority over others makes us capable of satisfying all our desires
    ◦ Slavery subjects us to the will of others and exposes us to a thousand wants and mortifications.
• The vanity of power or shame of slavery, are much augmented by the consideration of the persons:
    ◦ over whom we exercise our authority, or
    ◦ who exercise authority over us.
• Supposing it were possible to build moving statues that could move and act according to the will.
    ◦ Owning them would give us pleasure and pride.
    ◦ But not to such a degree as when we have the same authority over sensible and rational creatures.
        ▪ Their condition, compared to our own, makes the authority seem more agreeable and honourable.
• In every case, comparison is a sure method of augmenting our esteem of anything.
    ◦ A rich man feels the felicity of his condition better by opposing it to that of a beggar.

But there is a peculiar advantage in power, by the contrast, which is, in a manner, presented to us, between ourselves and the person we command. ◦ The comparison is obvious and natural: ◦ The imagination finds it in the very subject. ◦ The passage of the thought to its conception is smooth and easy. ◦ Our examination of the nature of malice and envy later will reveal that this circumstance has a considerable effect in augmenting its influence.

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