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Leobelo Jofel Delicana Modern Philosophy

AB Philosophy on David Humes Moral Philosophy



Reason guided by Benevolence: Basis of Morality
We are often caught in instances when we have to make decisions that require immediate
response. Oftentimes, these instances are those which concern morality, the goodness or badness
of an act. In the broad sense, one could be doing bad things by action or by failure to do
something one is ought to do. This is also true in being good. One could be good because of
ones actions. Also, he is good if he is not doing something considered wrong.
David Humes moral philosophy made me reflect about my personal notion of what is
good. I somehow had the thinking about morality like Descartes. I agree to Descartes in his view
that reason guides us in finding morality. However, after reading Humes critique to that view of
Descartes I somehow admit in some sense that Hume was right.
I remember a past experience last semester. I was on my way back to the house where I
board when I happen to see a little boy. The kid was wearing a uniform of a typical elementary
pupil who goes to the school where I always pass (that is Vilo Elementary School). The kid was
even with his backpack and appeared to be looking for something. I asked him what he was
doing and he said he was looking for the five-peso coin he dropped and seems to be lost. He told
me that he saved one peso everyday from his allowance of two pesos a day so that he could buy
the toy he promised his younger brother. The five-peso coin he lost was the savings. I looked
around. Reason told me in my observation that darkness was already falling for it was about past
6:00 pm. Reason told me that there was this boy eager to find his money. Reason told me I was
there passing so that I could return to my boarding house. Reason told me that I myself could not
see any five-peso coin n the ground. Reason provided me these facts, yet it was sympathy and
sentiment that drove me to say to the boy: Gabi na baka nahulog na yun sa kanal, eto bibigyan
kita ng bente. Bilhin mo ung laruan na pinangako mo sa kapatid mo pero yun lang ha? At ang
matitira sa pagkain mo gastusin. After my words I immediately handed an old twenty-peso bill.
Then, there was another scene; reason told me that I saw the child received the money and
smiled after doing so. Reason told me that I heard words of gratefulness. Yet again, it was
sentiment and a sudden feeling of joy that rushed through my chest that made me feel so blissful.
That night I wasnt able to sleep early as I pondered through that experience.
Here it is clear that reason cannot account for our judgment of right and wrong. It may
only present facts but it is oblivious of a deeper meaning if without sentiment towards an action.
If reason will be our sole basis for morality, it may even only question us: Why would I help this
child who is not a relative of mine or whom I do not even know? What good does it give me if I
would give any sympathy to this child? Therefore, to make an urgent or a spontaneous act of
goodness, one has to look within his own heart. One must examine his or her feeling or
sentiment.
With this reflection, I also thought about the bad side of sentiment, of feelings in
decisions. What if an erroneous sentiment is what we follow? This again made me reflect deeper
about Humes moral philosophy. Hume believed that these feeling or sentiment comes from the
basis of what benefits us, of what would be pragmatic in our context. In some situations, we may
be led to acts considered wrong in the eyes of society because of negative feelings such as envy,
gluttony, pride, anger, vendetta, preservation of self interest and many more. We again come to
ask, what about these kinds of feelings and sentiments? Do we have to follow them? The sole
clear answer would be no. What Hume asserted is that all people praise and blame the same
actions. What we consider good, just and noble pleases our sensibilities. Actions that offend our
moral sensitivity we regard as bad, unjust, and despicable. One thing I would like to highlight
or give emphasis in Humes view is this: Morality is not a matter of selfish desire, it is a matter
of benevolence.
It is clear that acts that please our moral sensibilities are the ones to be considered
benevolent acts of every person. Another important key to remember is that, Morality is not a
set of rules; it is a universal agreement. As rational individuals though unique in our own way,
most if not all would agree that benevolent acts are the ones that are useful and agreeable. It is
society itself that could help determine the benevolence of an act.
As for me, I do believe that benevolence can be inculcated in an individual. It can be like
a sculpture aided by the fine work of a sculptor. A young child, therefore, must be made aware of
benevolent acts and how it is good. I would like to quote Mahatma Gandhi: Mere mental
training is nothing if it is not accompanied by a true training of the heart. This is a challenge to
us to use look into benevolent feelings and sentiments in our hearts in making our decisions.
With this, I now believe that ones reason guided by benevolence must be the basis of our
morality.