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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 31, Issue 3, 2021

Do We Need a New Enlightenment for the Twenty-First Century? Part II

Meng Zhang
Pages 197-215

Passionate Enlightenment Redeeming Modernity through David Hume

This paper aims to redeem part of the Enlightenment project through a critical appreciation of David Hume’s practical philosophy. It argues that Hume’s practical philosophy, if interpreted correctly, is immune to two major charges leveled against the Enlightenment in critical theories and in philosophical ethics, respectively. One trend is represented by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, who claim that inherent to the advocacy of rationality typical of the Enlightenment is the irrational adoration of instrumental reason, which obliterates individual particularity, commodifies human relationships, and oppresses the human urge to express passionately. The other trend is represented by Alasdair McIntyre, who claims that the Enlightenment project is doomed to fail because it ventures to justify a historically and culturally conditioned morality as universal. Against the first critique, I argue that Hume’s reliance on the affective tendencies to derive a standard of moral values avoids the idolatry of rationality. Against the second critique, I argue that Hume’s characterization of virtues as qualities of personality that facilitate interpersonal relationships allows ample room for the cultural variance of values.