Reason in Hume’s Passions
Hume, passions, desires, reason, fulfillment, emotions
Hume is famous for the view that "reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions." His claim that "we are no sooner acquainted with the impossibility of satisfying any desire, than the desire itself vanishes" is less well known. Each seems, in opposite ways, shocking to common sense. This paper explores the latter claim, looking for its source in Hume's account of the passions and exploring its compatibility with his associationist psychology. We are led to the conclusion that this view—that desires vanish when fulfilment is deemed impossible—endows reason with a power over the passions that is at odds with its role as slave, and ultimately incompatible with a proper understanding of emotions such as grief. Such emotions involve continuing to want what one believes to be impossible. The human (and Humean) imagination can sustain desires without the belief that fulfilment is possible.
Original Publication Citation
Brett, N. and K. Paxman. (2008) “Reason in Hume’s Passions”. Hume Studies, 34(1): 43-59.
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Brett, Nathan and Paxman, Katharina, "Reason in Hume’s Passions" (2008). Philosophy Faculty Publications. 18.