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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Hume's ethics of belief Kelleher, James


Hume’s theory of belief and his normative standard or ethics of belief are founded on empirically observable, natural principles, principles which have been misunderstood by those who view Hume’s belief theory as one based on the forcefulness and liveliness of our ideas. In this dissertation, I argue that, according to Hume, both factual and value judgments are arrived at via the same basic, natural processes of the mind. All human judgments are ultimately derived from feeling or affect, that is, from internal impressions which arise within the human mind in tandem with, or in reaction to, its experience of ideational content, that is, the “parts or composition of the idea, which we conceive.” According to Hume, then, our feelings, operating in concert with the sensory and cognitive functions of the mind, provide us with our final standards of judgment, whether factual or evaluative. Our ethics of belief—our normative standards of belief—are therefore, like belief itself, more properly ascribable to the “sensitive” or feeling part of our nature, than to the non-affective, rational, or cogitative aspects of cognition. In sum, for Hume, belief is a complex but wholly natural cognitive phenomenon, consisting of, firstly, our experience of ideational content, and secondly, our feeling of cognitive commitment—the feeling of believing in the ideational content experienced. All judgments, factual and evaluative, are composed in this way.

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