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Hume considered his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals to be one of his best works. In it he offers his most elegant and approachable account of the origins and scope of morality. With the hope of reaching a broad audience, he argues that morality is neither rigid nor austere, but is rather a product of sentiments that all human beings share, and which they are naturally inclined to recognize and act upon. In this Critical Guide, a team of distinguished scholars discuss each section of the Enquiry, its place in Hume's philosophy as a whole, and its historical context; their topics include the nature of morals, talents and moral virtues, benevolence, sympathy, and the sources of moral disagreement. The volume will be valuable for scholars and advanced students working on Hume.
In this chapter I argue that despite Hume’s explicit criticisms of enthusiasm and superstition in the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (EPM), his more important targets are the orthodox and moderate Protestants of his time who would also scorn enthusiasm and superstition, and those philosophers who mixed Protestant accounts of virtue and duty with their philosophy. I show that Hume rejects central aspects of two prominent Protestant texts, The Whole Duty of Man and the Westminster Confession of Faith, but also borrows some of their language and mimics their style. Hume rejects The Whole Duty of Man’s catalog of duties limited to voluntary traits, and the Confession’s account of the sole purpose of man as well as its view of human nature. Still, in EPM Hume seems to use the style and language of these texts in order to be equally influential, to push religion back into the temple (and out of the public space), and to bring his moral philosophy out of the closet into common life in order to give it more extensive recognition as the accurate description of virtue and vice. EPM, therefore, is Hume’s own secular but religiously styled credo on duty and virtue.
In the Introduction to this Critical Guide to Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (EPM) we bring to light several reasons for which this book merits attention, and we offer an overview of the chapters. The Guide reveals Hume’s commitment to his earlier principles but also his shift in style and focus. It contributes to a general understanding of Hume’s position in his time, as a typical Enlightenment philosopher with an unorthodox agenda, and in ours, as a thinker whose views are alive in contemporary debates. EPM was Hume’s favorite performance, and this guide supports Hume’s ambition to see EPM receive the attention and study he thought it deserved.