Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Hanley, Ryan P.
In this dissertation I examine Hume’s secular re-definition and re-evaluation of the traditional Christian understanding of pride and humility as part of his project to establish a fully secular account of ethics and to undermine what he thought to be the harmful aspects of religious morality. Christians traditionally have seen humility, understood as receptivity to God, to be crucial for individual and social flourishing, and pride as the root of individual and social disorder. By contrast, Hume, who conceives of pride and humility immanently in terms of our self-appraisals, sees pride as a key virtue that serves as the ultimate source of moral motivation and deems humility a ‘monkish virtue’ (i.e., a vice). Hume, moreover, sees religious appeals to a transcendent moral source to be a threat to individual flourishing in that they encourage the formation of what he calls ‘artificial lives’ (of which the monkish virtues are an expression) as well as a threat to social concord, insofar as they foster unnecessary religious factions, intolerance, and theologically sanctioned violence. In part to combat this, Hume promotes a wholly secular ethic rooted in common life. I uncover the real points of agreement and disagreement that underlie Hume and traditional Christian conceptions of pride and humility in order to articulate what is essentially at issue between these contrasting perspectives and, ultimately, to identify some of what is gained or lost in Hume’s secularization of ethics. I, thus, explore the reasons that Hume rejects Christian morality and seeks to replace it with a secular one. I then assess whether Hume’s secular perspective has sufficient resources for addressing the biased judgments and rivalries that can arise precisely because of what Hume sees as our natural desire for the ‘passion of pride’ (i.e., for a positive sense of ourselves before others). I conclude both that Hume identifies genuine dangers in attempting to go beyond the human and also that there are genuine dangers in Hume’s attempt to close the window to a transcendent moral source. I, therefore, contend that any adequate view of human flourishing must take account of both these dangers.
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