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Hume Studies

Volume 47, Issue 1, April 2022

Enrico Galvagni
Pages 131-155

Secret Sentiments: Hume on Pride, Decency, and Virtue

In this paper, I reconstruct Hume’s account of decency, the virtue associated with a limited display of pride, and show how it presents a significant challenge to standard virtue ethical interpretations of Hume. In section I, I explore his ambivalent conception of pride as both virtuous (because useful and agreeable to oneself) and vi­cious (when excessive and disagreeable to others). In section II, I show how the virtue of decency provides a practical solution to these two clashing aspects of pride. In doing so, I demonstrate that decency is a merely behavioural virtue that requires no virtuous motive and consists of nothing more than “a fair outside.” I argue that this account of decency represents a serious and underexplored challenge to standard interpretations of Hume as a virtue ethicist committed to the idea that actions derive their moral value from underlying motives. In section III, I reply to some objections.