Chapter

Family Trees: Sympathy, Comparison, and the Proliferation of the Passions in Hume and his Predecessors

Amy M. Schmitter

in Emotion and Cognitive Life in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199579914
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745959 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199579914.003.0014
Family Trees: Sympathy, Comparison, and the Proliferation of the Passions in Hume and his Predecessors

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Hume dubbed his Treatise account of the passions “new and extraordinary” — an assessment echoed by many contemporary scholars, who find his analysis of the social operation of the emotions particularly innovative. But Hume's explanation of how passions and sentiments are transferred, shared, reflected, and reverberate among persons through the mechanisms of sympathy, has several important precursors, including both Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. Even more strikingly, Malebranche describes mechanisms for the communication of passions remarkably similar to Hume's “sympathy” and “comparison”. Many of the roles that Hume assigns our socially generated and transmitted passions in generating social cohesion and shared standards of rationality may also be anticipated by Hobbes (and Spinoza). What remains most distinctive of Hume's account is his view that both social cohesion and epistemic authority can be founded on, and forwarded by, a genuine division of affective labor.

Keywords: Hume; Shaftesbury; Hutcheson; Malebranche; Spinoza; passion; sentiment; reflection (reflexion); sympathy; comparison

Chapter.  12252 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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