Study Questions on Hume's Enquiry
Concerning the Principles of Morals

included in Cahn and Markie, eds, Ethics
(Oxford University Press, 2009)

Questions composed by Dr. Jan Garrett

Last updated July 26, 2010.

Arabic numbers refer to page and column numbers in Cahn and Markie.


Section I -- Section II, -- Section III -- Section V -- Appendix I

Section I

1. What does Hume think inconceivable? (255.1, 2nd ¶)

2. What controversy is more worthy of study than the one he began with? (255.2 top)

3. What do ancient philosophers often affirm? (255.2)

4. How do "modern enquirers" try to explain morals? (255.2)

5. How might one argue that moral distinctions can be discovered by pure reason? (255.2 bottom)

6. How might one argue that all moral judgments resolve into sentiment (roughly: feeling)? (256.1)

7. What is the purpose of moral reflection? What do conclusions of the understanding achieve? What do they not influence? (256.1 last ¶)

8. How does Hume contrast the understanding and the heart at p. 256.1-2?

9. What does H. say is probable about the final sentence in moral determinations (judgments)? On the other hand, what often precedes this judgment? (256.2)

10. How is moral judgment similar to judgment regarding beauty, especially in the "finer arts"? (256.2 bottom)

11. What "very simple method" does H propose to follow? (257.1)

12. What role does "enter[ing] into his own breast" (reflection about his own feelings?) play in this method? (257.1)

13. What role does language play? What relatively minor function does reason perform? (257.1)

14. Is Hume, in his view, following an empirical method or the method, common to mathematics and some philosophical systems, of deducing conclusions from very abstract premises? (257.1)

15. What comparison is Hume making between his procedure in moral inquiry and the procedure of modern scientists of his time (18th century)? (257.1)

Section II

16. What does H mean by "benevolence"? (257.2) What seems to happen whenever qualities related to benevolence appear? (258.1)

17. What may be concluded regarding the merit of the "social virtues"? (258.2) That is, what seems to be common to them all that explains why they are praised?

18. What circumstance is primarily under consideration in judgments concerning morality and the extent of one's duty? (259.1-2) How do controversies about giving alms confirm or disconfirm H's point? (259.2) Tyrannicide? (259.2) Liberality in princes? (259.2)

Section III. Of Justice

Part I

19. What thought experiment does Hume perform at p. 260.1 bottom - 260.2 top? What conclusion may be drawn? (260.2, 1st full ¶)

20. What point does Hume make about the ownership of large bodies of water (up to his time)? (260.2, 2nd full ¶) How has this changed since then? Does the change refute H's perspective?

21. What thought experiment does H perform at p. 260.2 bottom - 261.1 top? What conclusion does he draw?

22. What thought experiments does H perform on pp. 261.2 top ¶? What conclusions does he draw regarding justice? (262.1, last full ¶)

23. What is the "common situation" regarding society? How does justice acquire merit and become an obligation? (262.1 bottom - 262.2 top)

24. How do myths regarding the Golden Age and the philosophical fiction of a Hobbesian "state of nature" support H's theory? (262.2)

25. Can justice exist between humans and nonhuman animals? (263.1) Between men and women? (263.1-2) How does H explain his answers to these questions?

26. What point is H making about the boundaries of justice? (263.2 bottom - 264.1 top) What changes would he likely predict with the growing economic interdependence of peoples that seems characteristic of capitalist globalization?

Part II

27. How does H argue that that equality of possessions is harmful to society? (264.2 last ¶ - 265.1 top)

28. What rules regarding property does H claim it useful for society to follow? (265.1, 2nd full para) Note: These are roughly the same rules that the great early modern natural law theorist, Hugo Grotius, claims to follow from the law of nature, which is rooted in human nature [ultimately created by God]. (The "rules of natural justice" to which H refers on p. 265.2 last full ¶ are identical to the rules about property he mentions on 265.1.)

29. Is there any mark, in the nature of an external object, that it is mine or thine? What conclusion does H draw from this? (265.1, last two full paras.)

30. What role do analogy and imagination play in reasoning about justice? Emergency situations? (265.1-2)

31. Why do we often have recourse to civil laws? In what ways are they useful? (265.2 last full ¶)

32. What do you suppose H means by "sentiment of justice" on p. 266.2 (bottom)?

33. What two possible explanations for the origin of the sentiment of justice does H consider? Why does he rule out one of them? (266.2 - 267.1 top).

34. What is the point of the contrast between how birds of the same species build their nests and how human beings make buildings? (267.2 top)

35. Are we always conscious of the pernicious results of injustice? Why might this seem to be an argument against H's theory? How does he respond to it? (267.2 bottom)

36. What rule of philosophizing does H claim to share with (the great natural philosopher Sir Isaac) Newton? (268.1 top)

Section V, Part I

37. Why are the social virtues allowed to have a natural beauty and amiableness? (269.1 1st full ¶) What part does self-love have in this? Does Hume agree with Polybius and Thomas Hobbes? (269.2 last ¶ - 269.2.3 [2nd column, line 3])

38. What evidence is there against the "selfish theory"? (269.2 - 270.1 1st full ¶)

39. How does H answer the question "useful for whose interest?" (270.2 1st ¶)

Section V, Part II

40. What is meant by "experimentum crucis"? (270.2 bottom) What experimentum crucis compels us to reject the theory that "accounts for every moral sentiment by the principle of self-love"? (270.2 bottom - 271.1 top, full ¶)

41. Put the various real or imagined cases described by H on pp. 271.1 bottom - 273.1 top into a small number of categories. (List the categories.) What conclusion does H believe these types of cases support?

Note the analogy between the judgment of taste (with regard to beauty) and moral evaluation indicated on 273.1 top.

42. What kind of person is H describing on pp. 273.1 - 273.2 top. Does this case support his perspective on the cause of moral judgment? If so, how?

43. What kind of person is H describing on pp. 273.2 last ¶? What point is H trying to make here?

44. In what way does sympathy affect judgments that would otherwise proceed from our narrowly self-interested perceptions and feelings? What enhances the effects of sympathy? (274.1-274.2)

45. What conclusion does he draw regarding the source of the "merit… ascribed to the social virtues"? (274.2 bottom) 46. What sorts of mental practices would contribute to feelings (and possibly actions) that more or less accord with virtue? (275.1 top)

47. Pages 275.1 ("Again …") - 275.2 middle seem to summarize what has gone before. State in your own words the point H is making about specific virtues, utility, and "the force of the benevolent principle."

Appendix I

48. What general function does reason serve in the determination of [what is worthy of] moral praise? (275.2; 2nd ¶ of App., first sentence)

Reason plays a special role in the determination of the moral praise due to justice. (276.1 top ¶)

49. Does sentiment play a role? If so, what sentiment and what role? (276.1 last full ¶)

50. What considerations (arguments) does H. present against the view that reason is the sole source of morals? (276.2 bottom - 279.2)

In the Treatise of Human Nature Hume wrote when he was fresh out of college, he addresses more or less the same questions he discusses in this Appendix. Some of his formulations are often more colorful and more shocking: "Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger."