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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (Great Books in Philosophy) Paperback – May 1, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-1591021469 ISBN-10: 1591021464

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Product Details

  • Series: Great Books in Philosophy
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (May 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591021464
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591021469
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,137,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


`These new Oxford University Press editions have been meticulously collated from various exatant versions. Each text has an excellent introduction including an overview of Hume's thought and an account of his life and times. Even the difficult, and rarely commented-on, chapters on space and time are elucidated. There are also useful notes on the text and glossary. These scholarly new editions are ideally adapted for a whole range of readers, from beginners to experts.' Jane O'Grady, Catholic Herald, 4/8/00. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian, as well as an important figure of Western philosophy and of the Scottish Enlightenment. Tom L. Beauchamp is at Georgetown University. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Great book, wonderful classic, formatted well for the Kindle.
The morally good person is one whose actions are for the good of himself and for the good of others, and this is why we approve of such people.
The bottomline about "An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals" is that it's a great place to begin a study of philosophical ethics.
not me

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is another outstanding edition in the Oxford Philosophical Texts series. This is a first rate book for both students and experts on Hume. It contains an excellent annotated edition of the Enquiry itself, excellent background information on Hume, a very nice introduction to the Enquiry written by Tom Beauchamp, a leading Hume scholar and moral philosopher, an outstanding guide to the Hume literature, and a good glossary. All for a very reasonable price.
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (EPM) is one of the cornerstone texts in Western philosophy and is written with Hume's characteristic combination of incisive analysis and charming style. Hume's goal is to describe the bases of human moral conduct. As stated by Tom Beauchamp, EPM is descriptive rather than prescriptive. While Hume clearly has strong opinions about what constitutes appropriate moral conduct, in EPM his focus is really on moral psychology rather than moral direction. This approach is what would now be called metaethical. As with his work on epistemology, Hume is also concerned with establishing the limits of human reason. In Hume's analysis, reason has an important but limited role in moral judgements, crucial for reaching appropriate judgements but does not establish the basic principles for moral judgement. Hume sees morality as based on an interesting interplay of moral sentiments, which he sees as intrinsic to human nature, self-interest, and social utility. The importance of each of these varies with considerably in different social settings. In family life and close personal relationships, moral sentiments dominate but the force of moral sentiment weakens as the range of socieity increases. In more complex social settings, Hume sees a form of utilitarianism as restraining self-interest. For Hume, specific moral systems are variable, somewhat situation dependent, and historically contingent. Thought provoking and very readable.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By ctdreyer on May 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
Hume, for most people, is largely defined by his work in metaphysics and epistemology. There's no doubt that his work in these areas is of signal importance, but I think a tendency to focus on these areas at the expense of his moral thinking suggests a somewhat misleading interpretation of what he's up to. It's really only in his non-moral works that the picture of Hume as a radical skeptic has much plausibility. For here it seems clear that Hume's primary aim in his moral works is to ground his philosophical theses in a careful consideration of human nature; and it's also clear that he doesn't intend this to be a skeptical and debunking account of morality.

Now, it's true that there are ways in which Hume is skeptical about a certain way of thinking about the origin and nature of morality. The fact that he thinks morality is based in human sentiments show that he is, in some sense, a subjectivist about morality. He doesn't think there is any plausible account of our moral thinking as based on reason or empirical inquiry alone. Against the view that our awareness of moral distinctions is based on the exercise of reason, he argues that we do not figure out whether a person is virtuous or vicious, or an action good or bad, simply by thinking about things. And against the view that our awareness of moral distinctions is empirical, he argues that we do not figure out which things possess which moral qualities by going out and looking or by anything else of this sort. Morality, then, is more a matter of feeling than a matter of thinking, observing, and reasoning.
Hume's basic argument for the conclusion that morality is based on human sentiment is that the essential practicality of morality requires us to understand its basis in this way.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By D. S. Heersink on March 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
Hume treats of morals in two distinct fashions. His major and last contribution is his "Enquiry," which was written late in his life; the other is Part III of his "Treatise on Human Nature," which was written much earlier in life. The two treatments are very different, and of the two, I much prefer the latter, as it is "demonstrated" a posteriori that man has a "natural inclincation" to maximize pleasure and to avoid pain. Besed on this natural inclination, humans endeavor to do those things that produce happiness, pride, joy, etc., because it maximizes pleasure, whereas humans endeavor to avoid those things that produce uneasiness, disturbances, misery, etc., because those things produce pain. From this a posteriori of natural inclinations, Hume explores the reasons why some things count as virtures (because they maximize pleasure), while some things count as vices (because they produce pain).

His "Enquiry," however, takes an altogether different approach, one based on the sentiments of utility and beneficence. Here humans do things that maximize their usefulness to themselves and to society that concomitantly bring beneficence. Those sentiments that are distinguished in natural language such as dexterity, perserverance, chastity, endurance, honesty, etc., count as virtues because they are "useful," while those that produce in natural language such things as sloth, lethargy, dishonesty, misery, etc., count as vice because they are "not useful." Our language itself is the measure of their untility.

The two theories, juxtaposed, are not at odds with each other, but definitely have distinctively different aetiologies.
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