Superphysics Superphysics
Section 7


by David Hume Icon
5 minutes  • 998 words

The desire of the happiness or misery of others is an arbitrary and original instinct implanted in our nature. It may:

  • be counterfeited on many occasions
  • arise from secondary principles.

Pity is a concern for the misery of others.

Malice is a joy in the misery of others.

In both, no friendship or enmity occasions this concern or joy.

  • We pity even strangers who are perfectly indifferent to us.

If our ill-will to another proceed from any harm or injury, it is not malice, but revenge. ◦ Pity and malice are secondary affections arising from original ones which are varied by some turn of thought and imagination. • It will be easy to explain pity from the precedent reasoning on sympathy. ◦ We have a lively idea of everything related to us. ◦ All human creatures are related to us by resemblance. ◦ Therefore, their persons, interests, passions, pains and pleasures must: ▪ strike us in a lively manner ▪ produce an emotion similar to the original one. • Since a lively idea is easily converted into an impression. • If this is true in general, it must be more true of affliction and sorrow. ◦ These always have a stronger and more lasting influence than any pleasure or enjoyment.

A spectator of a tragedy passes through a long train of grief, terror, indignation, and other affections, which the poet represents in his poem’s characters. ◦ Many tragedies end happily. ◦ All excellent tragedies have some reverses of fortune. ◦ The spectator must: ▪ sympathize with all these changes ▪ receive the fictitious joy as well as every other passion. • All passions arise from that principle, unless every distinct passion: ◦ is communicated by a distinct original quality, ◦ is not derived from the general principle of sympathy above-explained. • It is highly unreasonable to have any passion as an exception. ◦ All passions first present in the mind of one person. ◦ Afterwards they appear in the mind of another. ◦ The manner of their appearance is first as an idea, then as an impression. ▪ This is the same in every case. ▪ Thus, the transition must arise from the same principle. • This method of reasoning would be certain in natural philosophy or common life. • Pity depends, in a great measure, on the contiguity and even sight of the object. • This is a proof that it is derived from the imagination. • Women and children are most guided by the imagination. ◦ Thus, they are most subject to pity. ◦ This infirmity makes them: ▪ faint at the sight of a naked sword, though in the hands of their best friend ▪ pity those they find in any grief or affliction greatly. • Some philosophers derive pity from some unknown reflections on: ◦ the instability of fortune ◦ our being liable to the same miseries we see. • They will find this easy observation, and many others, contrary to them. • Regarding pity, it is remarkable that the communicated sympathy: ◦ sometimes acquires strength from the weakness of its original sympathy ◦ even arises by a transition from non-existent affections. • When a person obtains any honourable office, or inherits a great fortune, we always are happier for his prosperity: ◦ the less sense he seems to have of it ◦ the greater equanimity and indifference he shows in its enjoyment. • Similarly, we more lament a man who is not dejected by misfortunes by his patience. ◦ Our compassion increases if his patience utterly removes all his sense of uneasiness.

When a person of merit falls into a great misfortune, we form a notion of his condition. ◦ We carry our fancy from the cause to the usual effect. ◦ We first conceive a lively idea of his sorrow. ◦ We then feel an impression of it. ◦ His mind’s greatness which elevates him above such emotions. ▪ We: • entirely overlook this, or • only consider it to increase our admiration, love and tenderness for him. • We find from experience that such a degree of passion is usually connected with such a misfortune. ◦ Though this is an exception in the present case, the imagination is affected by the general rule. ▪ It makes us: • conceive a lively idea of the passion, or • rather feel the passion itself in the same way as if the person were really actuated by it. • This is why we blush for people who behave foolishly before us, though they: ◦ show no sense of shame ◦ do not seem conscious of their folly. • All this proceeds from a partial kind of sympathy. ◦ It views its objects only on one side, without considering the other, which has a contrary effect, and would entirely destroy that emotion from the first appearance. • There are instances when an indifference and insensibility under misfortune increases our concern for the unfortunate, even if the indifference does not proceed from virtue and magnanimity. • Persons killed in their sleep is aggravated murder. ◦ Historians observe that any infant prince, killed in this way by his enemies, is worthier of compassion the less sensible he is of his miserable condition. • Here, we are acquainted with the person’s wretched situation. ◦ It gives us a lively idea and sensation of sorrow attending it. ◦ This idea becomes more lively. ◦ The sensation becomes more violent by a contrast with that security and indifference, which we observe in the person himself. • A contrast of any kind never fails to affect the imagination, especially when: ◦ presented by the subject ◦ that pity depends entirely on the imagination.

Footnote 11. • To prevent all ambiguity, when I oppose the imagination to the memory, I generally mean the imagination that presents our fainter ideas. • In all other places, particularly when it is opposed to the understanding, the same imagination only excludes our demonstrative and probable reasonings.

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