On Why Hume's “General Point of View” Isn't Ideal–and Shouldn't Be

Social Philosophy and Policy 11 (1):202-228 (1994)
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It is tempting and not at all uncommon to find the striking—even noble—visage of an Ideal Observer staring out from the center of Hume's moral theory. When Hume claims, for instance, that virtue is “ whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation ,” it is only natural to think that he must have in mind not just any spectator but a spectator who is fully informed and unsullied by prejudice. And when Hume writes that “the true standard of taste and beauty” is set by those who exhibit “[s]trong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice,” he appears to describe a character no ordinary human could actually possess. Indeed, Hume's frequent appeals to the moral sentiments of spectators, his insistence that those sentiments depend upon taking “the general survey,” and his persistent invocation of the general point of view , together make the temptation almost irresistible



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Geoffrey Sayre-McCord
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

References found in this work

A Treatise of Human Nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1958 - Philosophical Quarterly 8 (33):379-380.
Moral realism.Peter Railton - 1986 - Philosophical Review 95 (2):163-207.
A Theory of the Good and the Right.Richard B. Brandt - 1979 - Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung 35 (2):307-310.

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