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The Enlightenment of SympathyJustice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today$
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Michael L. Frazer

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195390667

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195390667.001.0001

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Hume’s Conservative Sentimentalism

Hume’s Conservative Sentimentalism

(p.65) Chapter 3 Hume’s Conservative Sentimentalism
The Enlightenment of Sympathy

Michael L. Frazer (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Since reflective sentimentalism begins from the social-psychological forces which are responsible for our accepting the norms and standards that we do, one might reasonably worry that sentimentalism can never successfully criticize existing institutions or practices, that it may be too complacent or conservative. Hume himself was sometimes unduly complacent toward existing standards and practices—although he was also sometimes an adamant advocate of moral, political, and economic reform. Nowhere is Hume’s undue conservatism more evident than in his theory of justice, which describes justice as the virtue of obeying existing social conventions which promote the public interest. Yet this chapter argues that, far from there being a direct connection between Hume’s moral sentimentalism and his political conservatism, the two aspects of his philosophy are in fact incompatible. When sentimentalists are excessively complacent, it is simply because they have failed to subject their convictions to the test of sufficient sentimentalist reflection.

Keywords:   David Hume, convention, artificial virtue, John Rawls, justice, conservatism, utilitarianism, sensible knave, sympathy, humanity

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