Emotive Theory

A discussion of David Hume’s philosophy that emotion and not reason drives or motivates a person to do what seems the right thing to do.

This paper examines Hume’s emotive theory that whatever motivates a person is not reason “as rationalists and other thinkers did and do” but emotion and that reason cannot provide that motive and reason is not a desire. It analyzes Hume’s two types of emotions: the self-regarding and the non-self-regarding and how pride is a typical example of the first type, whereby one takes pride in an achievement or possession because it is his or hers and how benevolence and sympathy are examples of the second type which do not consider any connection between the person/s receiving the emotions and the giver. It shows that the emotive theory of Hume is really an ethics of brotherhood, of humaneness and of love, which approximates the teachings of the New Testament on charity and in a much deeper way, resounds true brotherhood as taught by Christianity. This theory makes Hume sound less of a skeptic that he claims to be and more Christian than many pontificators.
Hume also maintains that the goodness or rightness of human acts does not lie outside of the person performing such acts, but only inside of him. His philosophy is based only what is directly and physically experienced by the senses, which rejects reason. Good or evil acts, according to him, cannot be observed physically as the objective property of anything, and therefore, can come only from the observer’s mind. An act or thing is good because the observer feels it is good and it is bad because it repulses the observer. If it cannot be demonstrated, experienced, measured or proved empirically, to Hume it cannot be a fact.