Study Guide

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals Compassion and Forgiveness

By David Hume

Compassion and Forgiveness

There's no way that Hume is going to accept that compassion is a mask for selfishness. Hume recognizes that we have a sense of self-interest and that there's nothing wrong with that—people are too quick to label this as a vice. However, Hume's convinced that we have a natural sense of humanity.

Unlike some other virtues, compassion isn't something that's created or learned. It's just there. Hume recognizes that some people can be lacking in these qualities, but he's an optimist and feels that, on the whole, human beings are good. Yep, this guy's a regular Pollyanna.

Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness

  1. Why does Hume see human companionship as so important? Do you agree with his view?
  2. Hume suggests that, even when an event took place in the distant past or a faraway country, we can still feel an emotional response to it in some cases. So, what qualities help bring people and events closer to us?
  3. Do you feel that sympathy and self-interest are incompatible? And is selfishness always bad?

Chew on This

We're always going to feel strongest about stuff that's closest to us. We may feel compassion and sadness in response to things that don't directly concern us, but it's never going to be on the same level.

Hume sees compassion as a natural virtue, but we could say that it's a social convention, too. We learn what kinds of characteristics are valued in society and model ourselves to be good citizens.

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