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Hume's Theory of Human Nature--A Mild Tragedy: The Role of Custom and Its Inescapably Negative Effects
AuthorMcLaughlin, Maxwell J.
AdvisorWilliams, Christopher T
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It is common for philosophers to reject thinking based on custom--from habits and education--as it is seen to be variable between different individuals and groups, thus leading to conflict and confusion. Instead they prefer thinking based on a faculty of reason, which appeals to universal truths. David Hume, however, argues that all thinking is based on custom, including what we call reason, though he does not deny that it produces negative effects that lead to confused thought. For him, this inherent confusion makes the human condition "whimsical", but I argue that things are worse. As Hume explains, tyrants and knaves are able to take advantage of custom's negative effects in order to commit their crimes and cause people pain. Though we are able to counter some of their actions through reflection and re-observance of reality, this is not enough to avoid the pain brought upon us by these criminals. As a result, Hume's theory of human nature is a mild tragedy, where the principle by which we are able to think also leads to painful circumstances, softened only slightly by reflection and review.