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Hume’s Passions: Approval and Contradiction

The uneasiness and satisfaction, produced in the spectator, are essential to vice and virtue. To approve of a character, is to feel a delight upon its appearance. To disapprove of it, is to be sensible of an uneasiness. The pain and pleasure, therefore, being, in a manner, the primary source of blame or praise, must also be the causes of all their effects; and consequently, the causes of pride and humility, which are the unavoidable attendants of that distinction.

David Hume, Dissertations of the Passions, section II, §8

To agree or to disagree: two ways of naturally provoking the passions, the positive and the negative ones, satisfaction and uneasiness—thus, pride and humility, the two fundamental passions.

Except when in the company of a philosopher who takes (vain?) pleasure in pure spirit of contradiction, it is advised to butter up the other in order to generate pleasure, because everyone naturally takes pleasure in receiving approval from others (even philosophers), to “be right” (maybe especially philosophers1).


  1. Who other than philosophers are more flattered of “being right”? ↩︎