Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Saturday, 3 May 2014

David Hume : Benevolence

Biblical Passage : 1 Cor.13

Love as Grace

For the Apostle Paul, Love is implanted in the human heart by the Divine Spirit; making it possible to fulfil and perform the requirements of the Holy Law and commandments. 

In an analogous position to that of Plato, Paul takes the view that the heart is a purified heart - focused on love, and therefore through the spiritual heart we are capable of doing what is good and kind. He warns us that we are unable to fulfil the law ( what is morally right ) without divine aid - love. Romans 7, tells us that as human beings we certainly know what is good, and want what is good; however we do not always act in the good way that we know and will. This is of course due to our sinful nature - a consequence of the fall. 

Augustine : 'Love and do what you will ! '

Our desires must be shaped by Christian education and teaching - the entire Church gives us this opportunity to positively shape and improve our desires throughout our lives : Scripture, prayer, confession and repentance, catechism and instruction, and reading the lives of the saints. For Augustine, this is the central moral task in the Christian life. As God is Love, Augustine says that love is the highest good; and to love Him is to cleave to this highest good, which is what the soul is there for. Therefore Augustine highlights that love is of course the highest virtue.

David Hume, who's ideas shaped those of Kant, Darwin and Bentham, is an empiricist. He clearly dismisses the reality of the invisible world ( which his classical and Christian contemporaries generally accepted ). He is known as the 'supreme sceptic'. While he disputes the idea of reason being the sole explanation of morality, Hume disagrees with the idea that morality is illusory, or can be simplified to mean self-interest. Interestingly, it is benevolence that is proof for Hume, that morality is far more than simply self-interest. He even says that benevolence ( or we could go as far as saying love, and compassion and kindness ) is a virtue, that is universally admired and expressed. He realises that benevolence is what brings the world together, morally and ethically. Consequently he feels that this love and kindness, that is admittedly so central not only to morality but to the whole of humanity, disproves the argument that morality is simply an individual's selfish illusion. Love completely abolishes selfishness, and it is something that is unexplainable ( as it is Divine)  and very much part of the 'invisible world', so this is a compelling stance from Hume.

Hume claims that benevolence is the supreme moral virtue - the amount of joy, happiness and satisfaction that love brings to individuals, and society as a whole, does not fail to amaze him. Even though he does not accept divine revelation as being a source of morality, he certainly accepts that these 'sentiments and feelings' are the source - and it could be argued that these moral 'sentiments' are not shaped by society alone, but shaped by the true Love of Christ. Surely we cannot separate the consequences of love that Hume describes - such as being charitable and kind, with the source of love and life : God.

It would be very dangerous however, to base morality on sentiments and feelings, especially from the viewpoint of David Hume that these feelings are not divinely inspired.  When our sentiments and feelings are not divinely inspired and bound to God, then they can go awry ( away from the right path that God expects us to go along ). The psychiatrist James Gilligan, with his interesting book 'why some politicians are more dangerous than others' emphasises such danger. Perhaps his book is in a slightly different context : politically based, however it does highlight why sentiments and feelings alone can lead us away from God's moral law and commandments. His book shows that rates of violent crime, suicide and homicide, drastically and dramatically increase under extreme conservative political power. This is due to their general targeting of the poor, increasing unemployment and inequality. Gilligan argues that this is because of sentiments and ideas that such parties seem to hold and carry, which opposes Christ's loving commandment of respecting and loving the poor and weak. 

Law Love and Liberty

We are freed from the law of sin and death through our Lord and Saviour Christ. Love is the 'highest law', and therefore those who follow this divine love and act according to it, need no law or set of rules - hence they are truly free. Hebert McCabe, beautifully writes that ' the truly loving act demands that we  ignore or go beyond the rules.' Moral laws are of course important, and represent accumulated wisdom of the ages : they tell us the best things to do in certain situations, however they leave us in a slight dilemma. It is us who have to make the final decision. The actual judgement. This is why they are 'rules of art' , a moral apprenticeship ; allowing us to go ahead and make our very own judgements without the rules in front of us. We can only do this when we act out of love, and in a way Hume identifies this love, or 'benevolence' as he calls it, and highlights how it is the most important virtue, and guide in our lives. 

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