David Hume Sympathy Analysis

763 Words4 Pages
2) The importance of sympathy in the Humean framework Using the experimental method, the three books of Treatise discuss the following three wide-ranging topics: human understanding, the passions and morals. The notion of sympathy has a pivotal role in the last two books. Hume describes sympathy as a “very powerful principle in human nature,” which can change our sentiments and ways of thinking, or at least “disturb the easy course” of our thought. The laudation of sympathy as the most remarkable quality in human nature praises our propensity to “receive by communication their [the others’] inclinations and sentiments.” In the Humean account of human nature, sympathy is the mechanism through which we have the ability to “enter so deep into…show more content…
Not only children “embrace every opinion propos’d to them,” and feel the passions which arise in their fellows through sympathy, but “men of the greatest judgement and understanding” are also under the effect of sympathizing with others’ inclinations and sentiments. Observing man in society, Hume finds that no one is immune to the passions which arise in others, feelings have a tendency to spread among members of a group through sympathy. Using the medical adjective ‘contagious,’ Hume describes the passions as easily transmissible, similar to infections, which “pass with the greatest facility from one person to another, and produce correspondent movements in all human breasts.” The metaphor of contagiousness depicts how powerful the communication of the passions is: the passing of emotions happens instantaneously and involuntarily, it does not seem to be possible for anyone not be affected by sympathetic feelings. In revealing the principles of human nature, Hume finds that indifference cannot be attached to the mechanism of the communication of the passions. It is our happiness for which sympathetic feelings are crucial since no true contentment is conceivable without them. The explanation for this observation relies…show more content…
Our inclination for aspiring to social partaking makes perfect solitude “the greatest punishment we can suffer.” One would feel deeply despondent without the chance to share the passions, Hume describes even happiness as a miserable state when there is no company to share it with. Harris (2015) finds the description of human nature as intensely social and in passionate need of the society of others an account which is “almost claustrophobically social.” Besides this animating nature and its all-embracing power, the mechanism of sympathy is essential in the Humean explanatory schema in the process of approbation, too. In his moral experiments, Hume discovers that one would not approve of the character of the other if it was not for sympathetic feelings. The mechanism of sympathy, the “intercourse of sentiments (…) in society and conversation” renders us capable of forming
Open Document