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Hume’s “Of Self-Love”

March 24, 2010

David Hume’s “Of Self-Love” presents the philosophy that all human actions and emotions are fundamentally dictated by self-interest. Emotions such as pity, for example, can be derived as simply the feeling one experiences when they observe a person feeling pain that they could also see themselves feeling. Hume argues that those who submit to this philosophy are incapable of feeling any true benevolence because they believe that benevolence is simply a disguise for one’s underlying self-interest. Hume also goes so far to say that he hates those who act only in their self-interest, even if their self-interest results in actions which are beneficial to society. According to Hume, there can be such genuine feelings as benevolence and generosity that are not grounded in self-interest. He refers to loving animals and mothers as examples of seemingly benevolent beings.

Although I agree with Hume’s argument, I also wish to posit that all of one’s actions are fundamentally based on one’s personal free will. It is important to distinguish between one’s will and one’s self-interests because they are two distinct methods of thought. One’s will is one’s fundamental motive for action that is free from influence and law; it creates influence and law. One’s self-interest, however, is simply one’s desires, usually based on one’s pursuit of pleasure and emotional satisfaction. From this line of thought, one can see how one’s will and one’s desires are not only conceptually different, but different in manifestation. Someone, for example, could will a genuinely benevolent action, even if that action conflicts with their desire. This is because free will, by definition, is free from law and desire is just an instinctive law. Therefore, if one is a free-willing individual, then one is free from self-love and is able to have genuine compassionate for others.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Richard permalink
    March 28, 2011 3:37 pm

    Loving animals and mothers are benevolent towards their offspring: fundamentally this is a manifestation of self-interest, the interest of propagating one’s own genes.

    “Free will, by definition, is free from law” in much the same way that unicorns, by definition, have a single horn on their heads.

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