Of passion and reason.
As Hume was nearing his prime years, in an exchanging war of ink and paper with the rationalist who took an staunch attitude towards the practically of an objective truth in man’s moral, he famously quoted, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Which halted the harrying of letters until the rise of Kant and his conversation and commendation of a dead man.
As a partisan of Hume, it’s a brilliant and concise phrase that addressed most problems of Epistemology and the eternal battle of what morals really are, it’s not until lately I had a breather to closely assess the complete meaning of it. And when I did, I thought differently.
The first part of the phrase should be easily comprehended, that reason will always be under the domination of passion and it would be impractical for us to belief in anything without passion. As reasoning would mean to assert a judgment and that requires a definite level of consciousness and saipiency which is where the inevitability of passion joins the picture. The second part of the phrase says that it’s impossible for us to reason while denying the influence of our tentative passion or attempting to reason without it. And all attempts of so can only be either futile or a pretense.
Here’s my problem with Hume’s idea, neurological causation. Which ironically, is an idea found by the same man himself.
Causation is usually an argument for compatibilitst to debunk determinism by claiming that no state can be made possible without any preceding ones. That no effect can be known as an effect unless an original state was known before it and inevitably, it’s precedence will always govern what comes after. In simpler words, that the casual connection of all of man’s experience is in fact a constant conjunction made inevitable by the structure of time and nature.
The similar phenomenon shoehorns the gap between neurology and epistemology. In his rebuttal, Hume was claiming that reason ought only to be the slave of passion and reason as explained, requires saipency and consciousness. Therefore, before it’s impossible for reason to exist without any passion or emotion, it cannot exist without intellectual life. Making intellectual life a third element to form a complete conjunction with passion and reason.
As his response is made towards the rationalists assertion of the possibility of a practical objective morals, in it’s context, it may be a rational argument but not necessarily a strongly cogent one after introducing a third element to the equation.
To think of reason as “sheeps” and passion as the “shepard”. It’s not wrong to say that the sheeps of farm X may never escape the dominance of the shepards and will always be under the influence of it, but what precedes it’s dominance making it’s existence and design possible? The sheeps are neither made possible or a creation by the shepards instead of evolution and to some, God. And it’s life design was never to be controlled by the shepards. The sheeps will be controlled by the shepards but it’s only a phenomenon that can be possible without breaking the link of what created it.
Now, Hume was merely bridging and expressing the inevitable gap between passion and reason, which he is right. But that does not automatically debunk that an objective truth may still co-exist with his idea.
With all due respect to Hume, arguably the greatest thinker in history, although the quote itself suffers from no illogicality, the angle and method of how it was posed, I suspect, may actually suffer from a false dilemma fallacy and that doesn’t answer if objective morals do exist.