Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 14, 1988/1989

Douglas Chismar
Pages 237-246

Hume’s Confusion About Sympathy

David Hume argues that the prevalence of human sympathizing justifies our attributing to humans a certain degree of benevolence. This move from sympathy to having a concern for others has been challenged by recent critics. A more fine-grained look at Hume’s concept of sympathy may reveal the reasons why he thought that experiencing sympathy implied having a benevolent attitude. Two arguments from the Treatise are analyzed and found wanting. It is suggested that Hume’s confusion may derive from ambiguities surrounding the term “sympathy” and a lack of attention given to the intentional aspects of sympathizing.