Study Guide

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals Principles

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Sticking to your principles is good advice, in Hume's opinion. Principles help keep us on track and talk us out of being foolish and acting on impulse. Sure, living in the moment has its appeal, and this is something that poetry often revels in. There's nothing wrong with that, but Hume's saying that we need to take a reality check sometimes. Being sensible and cautious may seem snooze-worthy, but Hume emphasizes that it's important. Remember, this is the real world—not fiction.

Sometimes, we may think that it's okay to compromise our principles if there's something we can get out of it. Hume, however, isn't gonna be swayed on this topic: he believes that any advantages or profits to be gained are less important than being honorable and sincere. Yessiree, Hume's a guy who definitely has the courage of his convictions.

Questions About Principles

  1. While poets sometimes bask in immediate pleasures, Hume warns against taking this approach to real life. Why is this? Do you share his outlook?
  2. Some people have suggested that the principle of benevolence is just a mask. Do you agree that benevolence is just a front for selfishness? Or do you think it can be sincere?
  3. Is it important to stick to our principles at all costs? Or do we need to be flexible in some cases?

Chew on This

There's no reason why we shouldn't tell lies if we don't think we're doing any harm. A little white lie never hurt anyone.

It's sometimes good to live in the moment rather than dwelling on future plans and what might happen.

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