Superphysics Superphysics
Section 3


by David Hume Icon
4 minutes  • 833 words

The combat of passion and reason is the most usual talk in philosophy and common life.

Reason is preferred.

Philosophers assert that men are virtuous if they conform to reason.

They say that:

  • every rational creature should regulate his actions by reason.
  • he should oppose any other motive or principle that challenges reason.

He should entirely subdue it make it conform to reason.

Most ancient and modern moral philosophy seems to be founded on this way of thinking.

Metaphysical arguments are also founded on this supposed pre-eminence of reason above passion.

The eternity, invariableness, and divine origin of reason has been displayed to the best advantage. ◦ The blindness, unconstancy, and deceitfulness of passion has been as strongly insisted on.

To show the fallacy of all this philosophy, I shall prove that reason alone: ◦ can never be a motive to any action of the will ◦ can never oppose passion in the direction of the will.

The understanding exerts itself in two different ways:

  • as it judges from demonstration or probability
  • as it regards the abstract relations of our ideas, or those relations of objects, of which experience only gives us information.

I believe that reasoning alone is ever the cause of any action.

The proper province of reason is the world of ideas.

The will always places us in the province of realities. ▪ Demonstration and volition seem, on that account, to be totally removed from each other.

Mathematics is useful in all mechanical operations. ◦ Arithmetic is useful in almost every art and profession. ◦ But they themselves do not have any influence.

Mechanics is the art of regulating the motions of bodies to some designed purpose. ◦ We employ arithmetic in fixing the proportions of numbers only so that we may discover the proportions of their influence and operation. • A merchant wants to know the total of his accounts with anyone. ◦ Why? So that he may learn what amount sum will be needed to: ▪ pay his debt ▪ go to market, as all the articles taken together. • Abstract or demonstrative reasoning, therefore, never influences any of our actions, but only as it directs our judgement concerning causes and effects. ◦ This leads us to the second operation of the understanding.

When we have the prospect of pain or pleasure from any object, we: ◦ feel a consequent emotion of aversion or propensity ◦ avoid or embrace what will give us this uneasiness or satisfaction.

This emotion does not rest here. ◦ It makes us cast our view on every side. ◦ It comprehends whatever objects are connected with its original one by the relation of cause and effect. • Reasoning takes place to discover this relation. ◦ Our actions receive a subsequent variation according as our reasoning varies. ◦ But the impulse does not arise from reason, but is only directed by it. • It is from the prospect of pain or pleasure that the aversion or propensity arises towards any object. ◦ These emotions extend themselves to the causes and effects of that object, as they are pointed out to us by reason and experience. • It can never concern us to know that such objects are causes and others effects, if both the causes and effects are indifferent to us. ◦ If the objects themselves do not affect us, their connection can never give them any influence. ◦ Reason is nothing but the discovery of this connection. ▪ The objects are able to affect us not through reason.

Since reason alone can never produce any action, or give rise to volition, I infer that the same faculty is as incapable of:

  • preventing volition, or
  • disputing the preference with any passion or emotion.

This consequence is necessary.

It is impossible that reason could have the latter effect of preventing volition, but by giving an impulse in a contrary direction to our passion; ◦ and that impulse, had it operated alone, would have been able to produce volition. • Nothing can oppose or retard the impulse of passion, but a contrary impulse. ◦ If this contrary impulse ever arises from reason, that latter faculty must have an original influence on the will, and must be able to cause, as well as hinder any act of volition. • But if reason has no original influence, it is impossible it can withstand any principle, which has such an efficacy, or ever keep the mind in suspense a moment. • Thus the principle which opposes our passion cannot be the same with reason. ◦ It is only called so in an improper sense. • We do not speak strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. ◦ Reason is, and should only be the slave of the passions. ▪ It can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. • This opinion may appear extraordinary. ◦ It may not be improper to confirm it by some other considerations.

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