Hume argues that there is no such thing, as someone’s will be tugged one way by reason and another way by passion (415). He states that reason cannot combat the impulse provided by passion because it cannot supply a contrary impulse; the forces of the two are different. Hume however forgives many previous philosophers for making this “mistake” and provides the following explanation. He explains that there are two different kinds of passion. One kind enters the soul with great violence, while the other kind enters the soul mildly and has a certain calamity about it.
He points out that it is easy to notice violent passions because they produce a disturbance in the soul, but it is not as easy to notice the calm passions. Hume divides these harder to recognize passions into two categories. Those that produce little disturbance in the soul – aroused by things like beauty, listening to a peaceful symphony or looking at art – (417) and self-interest which is not linked to any emotion at all, but is nonetheless a passion. It is this passion, which he says is the most easily confused with reason, he concludes the previous philosophers mistook for reason.
Hume demonstrates this subtle difference with the following example about the origin of justice. The origin of justice occurred when people who no longer wanted their personal possessions being taken from them, refrained from taking other people’s things in return. Thus, the justice system began because they acted through a desire to promote self-interest (489). The third argument that Hume makes is that there is no such thing as an unreasonable passion (416). He says passions are not, by any means, accurate representations of the world, thus we cannot say that a passion is true or false.
Since passions are not copies of the real world it does not make sense to call them true or false, as there is no copy to compare them to (415, 458). Hume does say, however, that passions can (loosely) be deemed unreasonable if they are accompanied by judgment. This can occur in two different ways: when the facts one has about his passion is incorrect, or when one’s notion of cause and effect is incorrect. The first situation would occur if, for example, someone who one really loved peaches and realized, through reason, that there was a peach in the other room, got the peach only to realize that it was actually made out of wax.
If one’s notion of cause and effect are incorrect, this can result in choosing the wrong means. If, for example someone wanted to visit London, England, and accidentally booked a flight to London, Ontario, one could say that his means were incorrect and thus his passion was unreasonable. One query I have about Hume’s account of reason and passion is the way he assumes that reason is not a passion. Hume says that they are entirely different things; reason is the search for truth or falsehood and passions are things we feel and desire. Could reason not be a feeling or desire?
Hume believes it cannot but because his method involves mainly self-inference, I do not feel he is justified in making such sweeping statements about human nature. I for one can think of plenty of times I have acted not out of self-interest, but purely to know the truth. For example, it is not unusual that when doing a puzzle entirely for fun, I find myself looking in text books to find the solution even though knowing the answer will benefit me in no way. Other times, people try to find out the truth even when finding the truth will do everything but advance self interest.
For instance, sometimes married men or women hire detectives to find out if their spouse is cheating on them. He or she risks either destroying his or her marriage or risks being incorrect and spending thousand of dollars for nothing. If we assume that reason can promote actions in themselves, then according to Hume’s definitions, reason itself must be a passion. If this is true, all his other arguments fall apart, for if reason is a passion that can cause us to act, then, when opposed to another passion it will be able to combat it.
As well, if reason is a passion then, we can compare it to other passions. Hume’s Treatise argues that reason and passions arise in us differently. He argues that because reason comes from ideas, and passions come from the soul, reason cannot motivate us to act, while passions can. Because of their different nature, Hume argues, there can be no battle between the two. Finally, he states that there is no such thing as an unreasonable passion because passion and reason are incomparable. My argument is that I believe reason is actually a passion, something that Hume assumes is incorrect and fails to prove.