Otto Lehto's Reviews > An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals by David Hume
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really liked it
Read 2 times. Last read January 9, 2018 to January 16, 2018.

Hume's essay appears modest, but it cuts deep. Much like its author, the text is genteel and unassuming, but surreptitiously radical.

Hume writes beautifully and argues elegantly. Sure, there is a floweriness to the style that might be off-putting to modern readers but, at the same time, many of his phrases are memorable and witty. All levels of readers will be able to follow. And the rhetorical surface, innocent and smiling, helps the deadly magma underneath to fester and seep through while the reader is pleasantly lost in dreamland.

The core message contains at least the following insights: 1) public and private utility are the foundation of morality, 2) good and bad conduct are relative to the psychological constitution of human beings, who are naturally both self-interested and sympathetic towards each other, 3) conventions and imaginations join the passions in determining the content of moral feelings.

Most of it is good, but there is also some filler. Hume doesn't argue very systematically, which sometimes harms his case. Stylistically, he is a winner, but many of Hume's empirical examples are tedious, and I could have used a few less quotations (often in Latin) from classical antiquity.

Overall, the failure to incorporate a sufficiently rigorous skeleton harms the effect of the book (at least on this analytically obsessed reader). But there is just so much there, and the overall effect is so pleasant to read, that the strange absence of a firm foundation doesn't matter much. Besides - and this is the crucial point - if you want a firm rational foundation, you probably shouldn't look for it in a skeptical sentimentalist philosopher whose main mission is to seed emotive doubt.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 9, 2018 – Started Reading
January 16, 2018 – Shelved
January 16, 2018 – Finished Reading

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