Beauty and Virtue in the Moral Theory of David Hume and Adam Smith
thesisposted on 01.08.2019 by Zaccheus Daniel Harmon
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The relationship between ethical and aesthetic values has remained an important topic of philosophical debate from the time of the Enlightenment to the present day. This dissertation examines the distinctive accounts of this relationship found in the works of David Hume and Adam Smith. The first two chapters consider Hume’s sentimentalist theories of beauty and virtue and argue that, although Hume does not entirely assimilate these two forms of value, he does trace them back to a common psychological source and maintains that they influence our actions and judgments in remarkably similar ways. The third and fourth chapters takes up Smith’s contribution to this debate and argue that, unlike his predecessor, Smith does not grant either the aesthetic sentiments or the faculty of taste any essential role in moral judgment. The fifth chapter considers each thinker’s response to the question of what impact moral considerations ought to have on our aesthetic judgments. The final three chapters argue that Smith’s account of the relationship between aesthetics and morals enjoys certain advantages over Hume’s due to the former’s greater willingness to stress the distinctions between these two domains of value. The dissertation concludes by laying out some of the potential attractions of Smith’s account for contemporary moral and aesthetic theorists working in the sentimentalist tradition.