Study Guide

An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals Strength and Skill

By David Hume

Strength and Skill

Strength and skill are virtues for sure, but we need to think about the particular situation where they're being used—or not. As Hume points out throughout Enquiry, some attributes can be valued more or less depending on the time period or setting. So, physical strength was a big deal back in ancient times when men relied on this in battle. The same goes for agility.

It's not just about physical stuff, though. Another quality valued in ancient times was the talent for public speaking. This is still seen as a skill today, but back then it was essential for folks who wanted to make a name for themselves.

Questions About Strength and Skill

  1. What criteria do we use when classing something as a skill? Is it enough to be really good at something, or are there any other factors that we need to take into account?
  2. In what kind of scenario is physical strength likely to give someone an advantage? And is it always an advantage or can other qualities sometimes be more valuable?
  3. Does having loads of trophies and achievements single someone out as being virtuous?
  4. Hume suggests that physical weakness is sometimes seen as a fault and looked on in a negative light. Why is this? And do we always respond this way or are there exceptions?

Chew on This

A skill can be valuable in one situation but useless in another. That's why we have to think about context.

We shouldn't just judge skills based on their usefulness to society. If they're useful and/or agreeable to the individual, then that's good enough. Not everything has to come back to society. Sheesh!

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