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Hume’s Passions: More Vanity

Every thing, belonging to a vain man, is the best that is any where to be found. His houses, equipage, furniture, cloaths, horses, hounds, excel all others in his conceit; and it is easy to observe, that, from the least advantage in any of these, he draws a new subject of pride and vanity. His wine, if you will believe him, has a finer flavour than any other; his cookery is more exquisite; his table more orderly; his servants more expert; the air, in which he lives, more healthful; the soil, which he cultivates, more fertile; his fruits ripen earlier, and in greater perfection: Such a thing is remarkable for it’s novelty; such another for it’s antiquity: This is the workmanship of a famous artist; that belonged once to such a prince or great man. … As every new instance is a new argument, and as the instances are here without number; it would seem, that this theory is sufficiently confirmed by experience.

David Hume, Dissertations of the Passions, section II, §9

The argument reflects Hume’s philosophical style, empiricism (one draws the conclusion from what one sees, from true examples). The end of the passage gains strength from an apparent infinite regression (“the instances are here without number”); the weight of such argument makes it difficult not to consent.

To be a lover by mere pride (vanity) would mean neglecting the other for the sake of one’s own pride (because being a lover means finding their pride in someone else, says Hume). In the specific case of love by pure vanity, the loss of the “loved one” becomes unavoidable, since the amorous pleasure exists not for the happiness of each of the parties, but for the pride of a single one. “Loss” because the loved one is no longer object of property—not as in a material possession but rather in a relational sense (the relation from the loved one to the Self is broken). This “loss” will cause anger, sadness, envy—unpleasant sensations that may come as a surprise in contrast to the amorous passion, which could be understood naively as well meaning and empathic (it is not the case.

In vain love, the loss of the loved one (in whom is found the pride of the lover) causes such anger, which Hume studies later on.

Is Hume warning us against a trap in love (that of being a lover by pride, by vanity), thus suggesting a “good way” of being a lover, in a… non-vain fashion?