Volume 7, 2000
Marcia L. Homiak
Does Hume Have an Ethics of Virtue?
Some Observations on Character and Reasoning in Hume and Aristotle
I argue that Hume’s ethics can be characterized as a virtue ethics, by which I mean a view according to which character has priority over action and the principles governing action. In a traditional utilitarian or Kantian ethics, character is subordinate to practical deliberation. I first outline this approach in Aristotle’s ethics, then draw parallels to Hume. I argue that virtuous character in Aristotle is understood in terms of “self-love.” A virtuous agent’s self-love enables sizing up practical situations properly and exhibiting the virtue called for by the situation. But if an agent’s character is defective, the practical situation will be misapprehended and responded to improperly. I then argue that although Hume claims moral judgments are the product of sympathy, they are actually the result of a complex process of practical reflection and deliberation.