Delight Springs

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hume and Rousseau

Back from the break, which graced middle Tennessee with wonderful weather. Walked my path both days, and enjoyed the MLB postseason. How about those comeback Cubbies!

David Hume, unlike some students, knew how to take a break. His occasional friend Jean-Jacques Rousseau knew how to take a walk and enjoy a reverie too, but had a temperament unfit for public office. Ironic that he would make his name as a defender of the public interest ("General Will") and of inborn human civility.

Hume's disappearing Self has important implications for metaphysics, theology, and knowledge, but perhaps its biggest potential impact is in deconstructing the kind of ego-centrism that made Rousseau such a difficult fellow. To be Humean in this respect is to understand that the bundle of perceptions terminating in your present perception is not inherently more isolated, persecuted, or privileged than the other bundles. Empathy and fellow-feeling follow from this insight, and perhaps a mistrust of intellect and pure reason. We don't know as much as we think we do, we don't know cause; but we should still value what we feel. “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions," and that's why Hume advised philosophers to get away from the desk and out of the study, when their metaphysical cogitations became oppressive. He'd also have advised less screen time.

"'Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.” Hume said that, meaning nothing vicious. At his worst, though, Rousseau instantiated the vicious version of the sentiment.

Rousseau's position on civilization is paradoxical. He didn't think it improved us, but unlike Hobbes he didn't think we "naturally" contaminated it. He did think our civilizing institutions, though necessary, naturally take on a pernicious life of their own. So why did he embrace the "general will" rather than question its institutional sources?

Tough questions like that call for a walk. And a ballgame. Be a philosopher, but amid all your philosophy be still a man.” And be a diligent student, but take a break when you can or must.

6:15/6:53, 54/81, 6:13

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