Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 January 2021
While moral philosophers have traditionally distinguished between moral virtues like benevolence and talents like wit and eloquence, Hume blurred the line between the two, arguing that such talents indeed count as genuine moral virtues. His position was inspired by Cicero, and he defended it by arguing that there is no adequate criterion to distinguish talents from virtues. I argue that Hume’s view of talents is misguided, and the source of the problem is his conception of publicly agreeable qualities. Hume devised a four-pronged test designating that a moral actor’s mental quality is a genuine virtue if it proves either (1) useful to others, (2) useful to oneself, (3) agreeable to oneself, or (4) agreeable to others. Talents like wit and eloquence fall into the fourth category. The problem is that all of the agreeable mental qualities that Hume lists are also useful ones, and it is more reasonable to see utility as the sole source of a quality’s morality, and agreeableness as only an extra feeling of nonmoral admiration experienced by the spectator. I suggest that Hume could have avoided the problem of grouping talents with virtues if he dropped down to a two-pronged test.
To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.
To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.
To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.