The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hum(e)an philosophy

Thank you, dear reader, for your patience during this blogging abeyance. This post is dedicated to both Ted and Dr. J, for reasons that will become clear to them.
I have recently been re-tackling one of David Hume's lesser known works, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. For whatever reason, Hume considered it his best work, an opinion neither I nor critics share (I guess the notion of "I'm my own worst critics," i.e., judge, is accurate). The book is not his best written nor does it contain his best writing.
This is not the place for a summary of the work (besides, I'm too thick to provide one), but he has some interesting observations. Hume discusses Utility as the base of many of our morals and ideas. To put it briefly, if Justice and Government were not useful, they would never have existed. Similarly, to quote the man Humeself (boo): "Produce extreme abundance or extreme necessity: Implant in the human breast perfect moderation and humanit, or perfect rapaciousness and malice...[this would] render justice totally useless" (24). Ted?

According to Hume, chastity, especially of the female kind, receives approbation merely because it is useful: "Without such a utility, it will readily be owned, that such a virtue would never have been thought of" (35). Interesting.

On a lighter note (and Dr. J should enjoy this rare exhibition of silliness on my part), I noticed one of those passages that, wholly innocuous in Hume's time, take on an entirely different meaning in our day. For the benefit of less sensitive readers, I have italicized the terms in question:

"When a number of political societies are erected, and maintain a great intercourse together, a new set of rules are immediately discovered to be useful..."

Similarly, one sees the word "ejaculate" often used in "clean" contexts in 19th century fiction, including the Sherlock Holmes books.


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