Jump to content

It seems evident, that reason, in a strict sense, as meaning the judgment of truth and falshood, can never, of itself, be any motive to the will, and can have no influence but so far as it touches some passion or affection. Abstract relations of ideas are the object of curiosity, not of volition.

David Hume, Dissertations of the Passions, section V, §1

Just as beauty, which is simply (and inexplicably) cause of pleasure, will is itself directly linked to feelings, emotions, out of reach from reason. We cannot will will, says Hume: there must be some sort of passion that makes us willing to want something. In other words: we want what we like, but we chose not what we like; reason can be of no help here.

On this topic, Hume suddenly becomes more polemical, suggesting that “reason” (in its common accepting), is nothing more than a facade obfuscating other, more moderate, passions:

What is commonly, in a popular sense, called reason, and is so much recommended in moral discourses, is nothing but a general and a calm passion, which takes a comprehensive and distant view of its object, and actuates the will, without exciting any sensible emotion.

David Hume, Dissertations of the Passions, section V, §2

To act in a moderate fashion (even “reasonably”) is therefore not, according to Hume, the consequent of a cold and rational decision: rather, it is the manifestation of an underlying passion, less obvious but real nevertheless.

Is every human reaction necessarily passionate, driven by emotions?