Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

Talk at Bilkent: Emre Arda Erdenk, “Hume’s Sympathy Mechanism and Perceptual Intuitionism”

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The Department of Philosophy at Bilkent University is pleased to invite you 
to the following talk:
Friday, April 24, 2015, 17:40, at G 160

David Hume’s Sympathy Mechanism and Perceptual Intuitionism

Assist. Prof. Dr. Emre Arda Erdenk

Karamanoglu Mehmetbey University, Department of Philosophy


In A Treatise of Human Nature, one of David Hume’s crucial works is his account of how moral deliberation can be done based on our passions and emotions. The sympathy mechanism by which we receive others’ pain and pleasure enables us to produce some feelings of approbation or disapprobation of the act or the situation of others. As an empiricist, one of Hume’s main problems with the sympathy mechanism is his use of general rules along with sensory experience. In the absence of efficient or proper data collected by impressions of sensation, Hume claims that we apply our customs and general rules in order to sympathize with the feelings of others. However, Hume has no sufficient explanation of how and when we rely on our cognitive states in such cases. All cognitive states are ideas and all ideas must be derived from impressions. In this sense, if our moral judgments depend on these general rules, then this seems at face value inconsistent with Hume’s empiricism. As an inference to the best explanation I claim that our moral experiences can be best explained by perceptual intuitionism (or ethical perception). Accordingly, if our experiences are cognitively penetrated, then there is no need to rely on general rules. In this sense, when I experience an instance of murder –parallel to Siegel’s tree example– there must be a match between the memory representation and perceptual input of murder. In Hume’s words the experience of murder is an instance of the general idea of murder. In this way we do not need the causal priority of experience to the judgment or the evaluation of the external input. Ultimately, I conclude that perceptual intuitionism helps us to strengthen Hume’s account of sympathy by providing a way to get rid of its inconsistency with Hume’s own empiricism.

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