Jean-Baptiste Du Bos’ Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting and Hume’s Treatise

Jean-Baptiste Du Bos’ Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting and Hume’s Treatise Abstract It has long been known that Jean-Baptiste Du Bos (and, in particular, his book Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting) exercised a considerable influence on Hume’s essays and, in particular, on the ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ and ‘Of Tragedy’. It has also been noted that some passages in the Treatise bear marks of Du Bos’ influence. In this essay, we identify many more passages in the Treatise that bear unmistakable signs of Du Bos’ influence. We demonstrate that Du Bos certainly had a significant impact on Hume as he wrote the Treatise. We go on to argue that Hume’s views on morality are an extension to the moral realm of Du Bos’ views on beauty and criticism. Du Bos may also have influenced Hume’s distinction between ideas and impressions. 1. Introduction Jean-Baptiste Du Bos’ influence on Hume’s ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ and other essays is significant and well documented.1 However, while Du Bos’ impact on Hume’s essays has been recognized, the extent of his influence on the Treatise is not yet fully appreciated. The preparation of our new translation of Du Bos’ Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting2 makes it possible to confirm that Du Bos had a major impact on Hume’s essays. More importantly, we can now identify many passages of the Treatise where Hume is indebted to Du Bos. We even have evidence that Du Bos had a significant impact on some of Hume’s signature philosophical views. In the mid-eighteenth century Du Bos’ Réflexions critiques sur la poësie et sur la peinture was an influential and widely read book.3 Voltaire wrote that it was ‘the most useful book ever written on these matters in any European country’.4 It has been described as a book that was ‘for at least fifty years … the most influential work of its kind’.5 Du Bos can be shown to have influenced French thinkers such as Batteux, Diderot, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, and others. British writers such as James Harris, Lord Kames, and Alexander Gerard discussed Du Bos’ ideas. In Germany, Baumgarten, Herder, Lessing, Mendelssohn, and Winckelmann were all influenced by Du Bos.6 Though little read today, Du Bos was an important and influential figure in his time. Hume was among the figures influenced by Du Bos. Hume certainly owned the 1732 edition of Critical Reflections.7 Likely it was one of the first books that he acquired after his move to France. Moreover, we can be certain that Hume read at least some of Du Bos’ book since he mentions passages from it in his ‘Early Memoranda’ of 1729–40.8 As well, Du Bos is mentioned by name in Hume’s ‘Of Tragedy’. As already mentioned, his impact is also apparent in several essays, including, most importantly, ‘Of the Standard of Taste’. What is less well known is that Du Bos’ influence is already found in the Treatise of Human Nature.9 Norton and Norton, in their magisterial critical edition of the Treatise,10 find some evidence of Du Bos’ influence. In general, however, this influence is neglected. A recent and excellent essay on Hume’s intellectual development does no more than mention that Hume owned a copy of Critical Reflections and that it had an impact on ‘Of Tragedy’ and ‘Of the Standard of Taste’.11 It turns out, however, that even those, such as Norton and Norton, who are aware of Du Bos’ impact on the Treatise, seriously under-estimate the extent of this influence. We first will consider a series of passages in the Treatise that so closely resemble passages from Critical Reflections that Du Bos’ influence on them is manifest. Next, we shall consider the extent to which Du Bos helped shape some of Hume’s key doctrines and, in particular, his views on beauty and virtue. 2. Poetry and painting arouse the passions of ordinary life, but they are fainter Many passages in the Treatise that are concerned, even tangentially, with poetry or other fine arts bear signs of Du Bos’ influence. Consider, for example, this passage: There is no passion of the human mind but what may arise from poetry; though at the same time the feelings of the passions are very different when excited by poetical fictions, from what they are when they are from belief and reality. A passion, which is disagreeable in real life, may afford the highest entertainment in a tragedy, or epic poem. In the latter case, it lies not with that weight upon us: It feels less firm and solid: And has no other than the agreeable effect of exciting the spirits, and rouzing the attention. (T 1.3.10.10; SBN 630–631)12 Here Hume articulates two themes found in Du Bos: (1) poetry may arouse all of the emotions that are aroused in ordinary experience; (2) the emotions aroused by poetry are pleasing, even when they are emotions that are unpleasant in ordinary experience. Once we know where to look, it is easy to identify the passages from Critical Reflections that influenced Hume in this passage of the Treatise. Du Bos writes that: ‘Painters and poets excite these artificial passions in us by presenting imitations of objects capable of exciting true passions in us. That is, the impression that these imitations make on us is the same type of impressions that the object imitated by the painter or the poet would have made on us.’ (CR 1.3) Du Bos, like Hume, believes that passions that in real life are displeasing can be pleasing when aroused by art: ‘The passions which give people the most intense pleasures also cause the most painful and enduring suffering; but men still fear more the boredom that follows inaction and they find in the activities of life and in the intoxication of the passions an excitement that keeps them occupied.’ (CR 1.1) Hume and Du Bos also agree that the emotions aroused by painting and poetry are less vivid than those in real life. Here is the passage where Hume says that the emotions aroused by poetry and painting are less vivid than those aroused by real objects: The raptures of poetry and music frequently rise to the greatest height; while those other impressions, properly call’d passions, may decay into so soft an emotion, as to become, in a manner, imperceptible. But as in general the passions are more violent than the emotions arising from beauty and deformity, these impressions have been commonly distinguish’d from each other. (T 2.1.1.3; SBN 276) This passage was foreshadowed earlier: We shall afterwards have occasion to remark both the resemblances and differences betwixt a poetical enthusiasm, and a serious conviction. In the mean time I cannot forbear observing, that the great difference in their feeling proceeds in some measure from reflection and general rules. We observe, that the vigour of conception, which fictions receive from poetry and eloquence, is a circumstance merely accidental, of which every idea is equally susceptible; and that such fictions are connected with nothing that is real. This observation makes us only lend ourselves, so to speak, to the fiction: But causes the idea to feel very different from the eternal establish’d persuasions founded on memory and custom. They are somewhat of the same kind: But the one is much inferior to the other, both in its causes and effects. (T 1.3.10.11; SBN 631–632) Here is the corresponding passage from Critical Reflections: It [an imitation] ought to excite in our soul a passion that resembles what the object imitated would have been able to excite there. The copy of the object should, so to speak, excite in us a copy of the passion that the object would have excited there. But the impression that the imitation makes is not as deep as the impression that the object itself would have made, or as serious. This is because the impression an imitation makes does not affect reason; for reason finds no illusion in these experiences. (CR 1.3) Notice that Hume and Du Bos agree about why the passions aroused by imitation are less vivid. Both hold that the mind is able to distinguish between the passion aroused by an object and a passion aroused by an imitation. Consequently, the imitation does not give rise to belief. Again, the positions of Hume and Du Bos are strikingly similar. 3. Humans desperately require relief from boredom Early on in Critical Reflections we find a passage that caught the attention of a number of writers in the eighteenth century. According to Du Bos, human life is plagued by boredom. This passage of Critical Reflections: The soul has its needs as well as the body and one of the greatest human needs is to have the mind occupied. The boredom that soon follows inaction of the soul is a sickness so painful for people that they often undertake the most painful labours so that they are spared the pain of being tormented by boredom. It is easy to conceive how bodily exertions, even those that seem to demand the least application, cannot fail to occupy the mind. Apart from these opportunities [for bodily exertion], the soul can only be occupied in two ways: either the soul submits to the impressions that external objects make on it, and we call this sensation; or it supports itself by speculation on certain matters, some useful, some intriguing, and we call this reflection or meditation. (CR 1.1) Almost anything is preferable, Du Bos believes, to boredom. He explains why we are willing to undergo the pains of viewing a tragedy, saying that these pains are preferable to our prevailing boredom.13 We also turn to gambling to escape this unpleasant state of mind: ‘games of chance … keep the soul in a kind of ecstasy and keep it there without the soul needing to contribute to its pleasure by paying serious attention, which our natural laziness always seeks to avoid. Laziness is a vice that people can sometimes overcome, but it can never be suppressed.’ (CR 1.2) The similarities between these passages from Du Bos and certain passages in the Treatise are so striking that these cannot be coincidental. Consider for example the passage in which Hume writes that Those, who take a pleasure in declaiming against human nature, have observ’d, that man is altogether insufficient to support himself; and that when you loosen all the holds, which he has of external objects, he immediately drops down into the deepest melancholy and despair. From this, say they, proceeds that continual search after amusement in gaming, in hunting, in business; by which we endeavour to forget ourselves, and excite our spirits from the languid state, into which they fall, when not sustain’d by some brisk and lively emotion. To this method of thinking I so far agree, that I own the mind to be insufficient, of itself, to its own entertainment, and that it naturally seeks after foreign objects, which may produce a lively sensation, and agitate the spirits. (T 2.2.4.4; SBN 352–353) Hume has someone in mind when he speaks of those who take a pleasure in declaiming against human nature. This can only be Du Bos. Hume and Du Bos even use the same examples to illustrate the view that the soul requires constant occupation. Consider this passage from the Treatise: If we want another parallel to these affections, we may consider the passion of gaming, which affords a pleasure from the same principles as hunting and philosophy. It has been remarked, that the pleasure of gaming arises not from interest alone; since many leave a sure gain for this entertainment: Neither is it derived from the game alone; since the same persons have no satisfaction, when they play for nothing: But proceeds from both these causes united, though separately they have no effect ... The interest, which we have in any game, engages our attention, without which we can have no enjoyment, either in that or in any other action. Our attention being once engaged, the difficulty, variety, and sudden reverses of fortune, still farther interest us; and it is from that concern our satisfaction arises. Human life is so tiresome a scene, and men generally are of such indolent dispositions, that whatever amuses them, though by a passion mixt with pain, does in the main give them a sensible pleasure. (T 2.3.10.9–10; SBN 452) One may well wonder who remarked that that the pleasure of gaming does not arise from interest alone. He can only have been Du Bos. The first of the two paragraphs just quoted comes from this passage of Critical Reflections many people are ruined by gambling, not out of avarice, but by the attractions of gaming. In fact, a habitual gambler who is gifted with the ability to calculate an infinity of odds and properly draw the correct consequences can have certain winnings every day and not risk his money in games where success depends more on the ability of the players than on the luck of cards and dice. However, he prefers games where winning entirely depends on the caprice of the dice and cards and in which his ability does not give him superiority over the other players. (CR 1.2) The second of the paragraphs just quoted from Hume is a summary of some of the doctrines stated in the first two chapters of Critical Reflections. The idea that human life is tiresome is Du Bos’ starting point. The idea that we are willing to accept pain as an alternative to the boredom of daily life is also straight out of Du Bos. 4. Du Bos and Hume on painting and poetry In many passages where Hume says anything about poetry or painting, the influence of Du Bos is manifest. Consider, for example, a passage in which Hume speaks of the consistency of tone that we expect in poetry and painting. He adopts precisely the view that Du Bos articulates in Critical Reflections. In the passage to which I refer, Hume speaks of comparisons that give rise to envy and then he remarks that rules of art and criticism require consistency of tone in a treatise. A treatise ought not to have one part ‘serious and profound’ and another part ‘light and humorous’. However, Hume goes on to observe that this makes us not blame Mr. Prior for joining his Alma and his Solomon in the same volume; tho’ that admirable poet has succeeded perfectly well in the gaiety of the one, as well as in the melancholy of the other. Even supposing the reader shou’d peruse these two compositions without any interval, he wou’d feel little or no difficulty in the change of passions: Why, but because he considers these performances as entirely different, and by this break in the ideas, breaks the progress of the affections, and hinders the one from influencing or contradicting the other? (T 2.2.8.18; SBN 379–380) The case of painting is completely different. There we are troubled by inconsistency: ‘An heroic and burlesque design, united in one picture, wou’d be monstrous; tho’ we place two pictures of so opposite a character in the same chamber, and even close by each other, without any scruple or difficulty.’ (T 2.2.8.19; SBN 380) Here Hume apparently adopts a position that Du Bos has defended in Critical Reflections. Problems in the composition of a poem are, Du Bos holds, jarring: ‘We can see without difficulty a painting’s relational defects when we simultaneously perceive objects that do not stand in the proper relations.’ (CR 1.32) In contrast, similar defects in a poem do not trouble us because it takes time to view a drama or read an epic. ‘Consequently, defects in the arrangement or organization of these poems do not jump out at us in the way that similar defects in a picture do.’ (CR 1.32) It is unlikely that Hume, who knew next to nothing about art criticism would venture to make a judgement of the sort he does without relying on some authority. Given the similarity between the position Hume adopts and Du Bos’ position, that authority can only have been Du Bos. The next passage to be considered concerns the way in which poets give their works verisimilitude or, as Du Bos says, vraisemblance. In one passage, Hume discusses how the frequent repetition of ideas inclines us to certain beliefs. He then adds that: In like manner tragedians always borrow their fable, or at least the names of their principal actors, from some known passage in history; and that not in order to deceive the spectators; for they will frankly confess, that truth is not in any circumstance inviolably observed; but in order to procure a more easy reception into the imagination for those extraordinary events, which they represent. (T 1.3.10.6; SBN 121–122) In the next paragraph, Hume continues in the same vein: This mixture of truth and falshood in the fables of tragic poets not only serves our present purpose, by shewing, that the imagination can be satisfy’d without any absolute belief or assurance; but may in another view be regarded as a very strong confirmation of this system. ’Tis evident, that poets make use of this artifice of borrowing the names of their persons, and the chief events of their poems, from history, in order to procure a more easy reception for the whole, and cause it to make a deeper impression on the fancy and affections. The several incidents of the piece acquire a kind of relation by being united into one poem or representation; and if any of these incidents be an object of belief, it bestows a force and vivacity on the others, which are related to it. (T 1.3.10.7; SBN 122) Norton and Norton identify Aristotle and Dryden as possible influences on this passage.14 However, when we look at this passage beside a passage from Du Bos, this claim becomes implausible. The close resemblance between what Du Bos and Hume say makes clear that Hume had Du Bos in mind. Here is a comparable passage from Du Bos: ‘I believe that a tragic poet compromises his art when he sins too greatly against history, chronology, and geography in advancing facts that are contradicted by these sciences. When what he says contradicts what is widely known, his error harms his work more.’ (CR 1.29) Bos spends a whole chapter developing this point. Again, especially given that we know that Hume had recently read Du Bos, he is the obvious source for this passage. We will mention one more passage in which Hume mentions poetry in terms highly reminiscent of Du Bos. In this passage, Hume mentions the tendency of artists to decline into insanity. He writes that a ‘lively imagination very often degenerates into madness or folly’ (T 1.3.10.9; SBN 123). Hume could certainly have come across this idea in a number of sources. The suggestion that artists are inclined to madness is not unusual and can be traced to antiquity and to the works Plato and Aristotle. Hume certainly, however, came across it in the Critical Reflections. There we find Du Bos writing that: It is well known that they are embraced by a sort of enthusiasm which produces their ideas. Aristotle even speaks of a poet who never composed better than when his poetic fervour amounted almost to a frenzy. Tasso only gave birth to those admirable pictures of Arminda and Clorinda at the cost of a disposition to real insanity, into which he fell towards the end of his life. Apollo has his drunkenness as well as Bacchus. Do you believe, asked Cicero, that Pacuvius composed in cold blood? That could not be. (CR 2.2) Again, under the circumstances, it is reasonable to conclude that Du Bos influenced Hume’s view that artists tend to madness. 5. Hume and Du Bos on national characters Although in the Treatise Hume adopted Du Bos’ views on a number of points, he also explicitly rejected Du Bos’ views on occasion. In particular, the views of Hume and Du Bos are diametrically opposed on the question of the origin of national characters. Consider a passage in which Hume discusses the sympathy that humans have for each other. He attributes this sympathy to ‘the great uniformity we may observe in the humours and turn of thinking of those of the same nation’. He then goes on to say that, ‘’tis much more probable, that this resemblance arises from sympathy than from any influence of the soil and climate’ (T 2.1.11.2; SBN 316—17). Norton and Norton identify a number of writers that Hume has in mind here, including Issac Barrow.15 They do not mention Du Bos but he is the obvious source of the view that Hume rejects. Du Bos devotes nine chapters of Volume Two (CR 2.12–20) of the Critical Reflections to a discussion of how factors such as soil, climate, and food affect national characters. Given that Du Bos discusses the impact of soil and climate so extensively, and Hume had apparently read Du Bos so recently, we need not look any further for the writer Hume had in mind here. Hume returned to this question in his essay ‘Of National Characters’: Different reasons are assigned for these national characters; while some account for them from moral, others from physical causes. By moral causes, I mean all circumstances, which are fitted to work on the mind as motives or reasons, and which render a peculiar set of manners habitual to us. Of this kind are, the nature of the government, the revolutions of public affairs, the plenty or penury in which the people live, the situation of the nation with regard to its neighbours, and such like circumstances. By physical causes I mean those qualities of the air and climate, which are supposed to work insensibly on the temper, by altering the tone and habit of the body, and giving a particular complexion, which, though reflection and reason may sometimes overcome it, will yet prevail among the generality of mankind, and have an influence on their manners.16 This distinction between moral (that is, social) and physical causes is taken straight out of Critical Reflections (CR 2.13). Here too, however, Hume rejects Du Bos’ belief that physical causes are paramount: ‘As to physical causes, I am inclined to doubt altogether of their operation in this particular; nor do I think, that men owe any thing of their temper or genius to the air, food, or climate.’17 6. Du Bos and Hume’s core philosophical commitments So far, it must be admitted, Du Bos’ influence on Hume is manifest. Critical Reflections made a huge impression on the young Scotsman, but it is not clear that Critical Reflections had a major impact on Hume’s core philosophical beliefs. Demonstrating that Du Bos had an impact on Hume’s core philosophical beliefs is more difficult than demonstrating that he influenced particular passages in the Treatise. Nevertheless, certain passages indicate that Critical Reflections helped shape Hume’s thinking in important ways. Du Bos certainly influenced Hume’s views on beauty and criticism. Moreover, Du Bos seems to have had an impact on Hume’s signature view that morality is a matter of sentiment. Hume’s views on virtue may have been an extension of Du Bos’ views on beauty from the aesthetic realm to the moral realm. Du Bos may also have had an impact on Hume’s philosophical starting point, the distinction between ideas and impressions. Let us first consider this distinction. The Treatise begins with a distinction between ideas and impressions. Impressions are lively, vivid perceptions, while ideas are fainter, less lively perceptions. They are copies of impressions. This distinction is not found in earlier empiricists, such as Locke and Berkeley. It is, however, perhaps foreshadowed in a passage from Critical Reflections. When Du Bos’ describes sentiments, he calls them: ‘The first ideas born in the soul, when it receives a lively stimulus.’ (CR 1.33) It is, perhaps, not fanciful to see an echo of this passage in the very first paragraph of the Treatise. There, Hume refers to ‘those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name impressions; and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul’ (T 1.1.1.1; SBN 1). Hume’s impressions, like Du Bos’ sentiments, are the first perceptions to make an appearance in the soul. Hume’s impressions and Du Bos’ are both described as ‘lively’. Arguably, Du Bos’ influence is found as early as the first paragraph of the Treatise. Turn now to a consideration of the suggestion that Hume adopted Du Bos’ views on aesthetic properties such as beauty. Consider, for example, this passage from the Treatise: If we consider all the hypotheses … to explain the difference betwixt beauty and deformity, we shall find that all of them resolve into this, that beauty is such an order and construction of parts, … is fitted to give a pleasure and satisfaction to the soul. This is the distinguishing character of beauty, and forms all the difference betwixt it and deformity, whose natural tendency is to produce uneasiness. Pleasure and pain, therefore, are not only necessary attendants of beauty and deformity, but constitute their very essence. (T 2.1.8.2; SBN 299) A related passage is found in ‘Of the Standard of Taste’, no sentiment represents what is really in the object. It only marks a certain conformity or relation between the object and the organs or faculties of the mind; and if that conformity did not really exist, the sentiment could never possibly have being. Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.18 Hume anticipated this position in his early essay, ‘The Sceptic’, where he wrote that, ‘beauty, properly speaking, lies not in the poem, but in the sentiment or taste of the reader’.19 In other words, beauty, like virtue and vice, is a response-dependent property. That is, a poem is beautiful because we experience certain sentiments of approbation when we experience it. We suggest that Hume acquired from Du Bos the idea that the criticism of poetry, painting, and other arts is a matter of sentiment. That is, our sentiments inform us that a work is beautiful. This much has been apparent since the work of Jones, but Du Bos’ influence is already found in the Treatise. The subjectivist picture of beauty that we find there originates in Du Bos. Du Bos introduced talk of sentiments into philosophy of art and made our subjective responses the criterion of goodness in poetry and painting. Here are some typical passages from Du Bos: According to Du Bos, the questions ‘Does the work please, or not?’ and ‘Is the work, on the whole, good or bad?’ amount to the same question. He adds that: ‘For us, the greatest painter is the one whose works give us the greatest pleasure.’ (CR 1.49) Later he adds that ‘poems and paintings are only good works to the degree that they move us and engage us’. (CR 2.22) Other writers were, by the time Hume wrote the Treatise, already adopting Du Bos’ views on aesthetics. It seems likely, however, that Hume was directly influenced by Du Bos, particularly since we know that Hume had so recently read Critical Reflections when he wrote the Treatise. It is also plausible to find Du Bos’ influence in what Hume says about morality. We suggest that Hume’s views on virtue are an extension of Du Bos’ views on beauty to the moral realm. In a famous passage from the Treatise Hume writes that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind: And this discovery in morals, like that other in physics, is to be regarded as a considerable advancement of the speculative sciences; tho’, like that too, it has little or no influence on practice. Nothing can be more real, or concern us more, than our own sentiments of pleasure and uneasiness; and if these be favourable to virtue, and unfavourable to vice, no more can be requisite to the regulation of our conduct and behaviour. (T 3.1.1.26; SBN 469) In making morality a matter of sentiment, virtue becomes a response-dependent property: something is virtuous because it inspires certain sentiments. It is plausible to see Hume as extending to morality the view that Du Bos had adopted with regard to beauty. Just as Hume makes virtue a response-dependent property, Du Bos makes beauty a response-dependent property. The sentiments that Hume holds we have in response to actions and characters are sentiments of pleasure or uneasiness (displeasure). The sentiments that Du Bos says that we have in response to works of art are sentiments of pleasure or displeasure. Hume says that we have a moral sense that enables us to have these sentiments. Du Bos says that we have a sense of beauty that enables us to have the sentiments of which we are speaking. The parallels are striking. Let us consider another passage that suggests that Du Bos shaped Hume’s thinking on morality. The passage in question is found in the Introduction to the Treatise. There Hume writes that: ‘The sole end of logic is to explain the principles and operations of our reasoning faculty, and the nature of our ideas: morals and criticism regard our tastes and sentiments: and politics consider men as united in society, and dependent on each other.’ (T Introduction 5; SBN 15) In the same connection, consider also this passage: ‘’Tis not solely in poetry and music, we must follow our taste and sentiment, but likewise in philosophy.’ (T 1.3.8.12; SBN 103) Focus for a moment on the claim that morals and criticism are matters of sentiment. The suggestion that criticism is a matter of taste and sentiment is now a commonplace. However, such an account of criticism was not widespread prior to Du Bos and, indeed, he was responsible for the spread of this doctrine in the early eighteenth century. His single most important contribution to philosophy of art is the view that artworks arouse emotions, or as he calls them, sentiments, in audience members. Even Hume’s choice of Du Bos’ word ‘sentiment’ in this context suggests that Du Bos has influenced Hume. The use of the word ‘taste’ is also telling. At one point, Hume even speaks of a ‘moral taste’: ‘The approbation of moral qualities most certainly is not deriv’d from reason, or any comparison of ideas; but proceeds entirely from a moral taste, and from certain sentiments of pleasure or disgust, which arise upon the contemplation and view of particular qualities or characters.’ (T 3.3.1.15; SBN 581) The use of the word ‘taste’ in this context is unusual, but it is common in discussions of beauty, including such discussions in Du Bos. Approval of some moral properties is a result of our having sentiments of pleasure, just as we have, according to Du Bos, sentiments of pleasure in response to poetry and painting. We suggest that this is more evidence that Hume is extending Du Bos’ account of beauty to moral qualities. In another passage Hume groups together judgements about virtue and judgements about beauty. In this passage he writes that: We do not infer a character to be virtuous, because it pleases: But in feeling that it pleases after such a particular manner, we in effect feel that it is virtuous. The case is the same as in our judgements concerning all kinds of beauty, and tastes, and sensations. Our approbation is imply’d in the immediate pleasure they convey to us. (T 3.1.2.4; SBN 471) The view that judgements about beauty are judgements about the pleasure that artworks convey to us is Du Bos’. Hume has simply extended this view to judgements about virtue. A final passage needs to be mentioned in defence of the hypothesis that Hume’s view of virtue is an extension of Du Bos’ views on beauty. Hume writes that: ‘In what sense we can talk either of a right or a wrong taste in morals, eloquence, or beauty, shall be consider’d afterwards. In the mean time, it may be observ’d, that there is such an uniformity in the general sentiments of mankind, as to render such questions of but small importance.’ (T n. 80; SBN 547) This passage is noteworthy for two reasons. For a start, it is another in which morals and beauty are classified together. Just as importantly, in this passage Hume espouses the view that the sentiments of humanity are very much alike in these matters. This was also the view of Du Bos. According to Hume, we are able to have the sentiments that give rise to response-dependent properties because we have a moral sense. He tells us that ‘morality … is more properly felt than judged of’ (T 3.1.2.1; SBN 470). This view is also akin to a view adopted by Du Bos. Du Bos also believed that we have a moral sense. He wrote, for example, that we have a ‘natural emotion that is automatically aroused in us when we see our fellows in danger or misfortune’ (CR 1.2). Du Bos’ views on a moral sense, as well as his views on a sense of beauty, may have had an impact on Hume. Du Bos was not the only influence on Hume’s views of morality and criticism. Several authorities hold that Hutcheson had an impact on views where we detect the influence of Du Bos.20 Others are more sceptical about the claim that Hutcheson had an impact on Hume.21 Here we do not take a stand on this debate. Our view is perfectly consistent with the view that Hutcheson also influenced Hume. Whatever the relationship between Hutcheson and Hume, the relationship between Du Bos and Hume has been neglected and is readily apparent from a comparison of the Treatise and Critical Reflections. 5. Conclusion Du Bos certainly had an impact on the Treatise greater than has been previously recognized. Many more passages can now be identified as bearing marks of Du Bos’ influence than anyone had previously suspected. Given that the influence of Du Bos on particular passages is so palpable, it seems likely that certain of Hume’s core doctrines, and in particular his view that criticism and morality are matters of sentiment, were influenced by Du Bos’ Critical Reflections. His distinction between ideas and impressions may also have been influenced by Du Bos. We cannot, perhaps, say with absolute certainty that Du Bos influenced Hume’s view that moral and aesthetic properties are response-dependent. There are other plausible sources of Hume’s view including, as Hume himself notes at a number of places, the primary/secondary quality distinction. Nevertheless, it is plausible to see Critical Reflections as one of the sources of Hume’s views on moral and aesthetic properties and his views on the existence of a moral sense. Unexpectedly, perhaps, a work devoted to philosophy of art seems to have had a significant impact on one of the most important works of Western philosophy. Even if this influence is recognized, it must be admitted that Hume developed his views on morality with a philosophical sophistication and insight that is incomparably greater than anything found in Du Bos. Our claim is merely that Critical Reflections had a significant impact on the Treatise. Footnotes 1 Peter Jones, Hume’s Sentiments (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1982). See also, Peter Jones, ‘Hume on Art, Criticism and Language: Debts and Premises’, Philosophical Studies 33 (1978), 109–134; Peter Jones, ‘Hume on the Arts and “The Standard of Taste”’, in David Fate Norton and Jacqueline Taylor (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Hume, second edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 414–446; and Roberto Gilardi, ‘Hume, Addison e l’Abate Du Bos: Indagni Intorno a un Possibile Influsso dello “Spectator” e delle Réflexions Critiques sulla Genesi di A Treatise of Human Nature’, Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scholastica 69 (1997), 3–47. 2 Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting, trans. Margaret Cameron and James O. Young (forthcoming). References to this work will be cited in text in brackets, and prefaced with the letters CR. 3 Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, Réflexions critiques sur la poësie et sur la peinture (Paris: Pissot, 1755). The first edition of the Critical Reflections appeared in 1719. This work will be cited by volume and chapter. These references will apply to the 1740 edition and all subsequent editions of the work. 4 Louis Moland (ed.), Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, vol. 14 (Paris: Garnier, 1877–85), 66. 5 Peter Jones, Hume’s Sentiments, 93. 6 Du Bos, Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting, Introduction. 7 David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton, The David Hume Library (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Bibliographical Society and the National Library of Scotland, 1996), 88. Hume also owned three other books by Du Bos. 8 Ernest Campbell Mossner, ‘Hume’s Early Memoranda, 1729–40: The Complete Text’, Journal of the History of Ideas 9 (1948), 500. 9 A recent and excellent essay on Hume’s intellectual development does no more than mention that Hume owned a copy of the Critical Reflections and that its influence is found in ‘Of Tragedy’ and ‘Of the Standard of Taste’. See M. A. Stewart, ‘Hume’s Intellectual Development, 1711–1752’, in Marina Frasca-Spada and P. J. E. Kail (eds), Impressions of Hume (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 17–58. 10 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (Oxford: OUP, 2007). One of the four passages identified by Norton and Norton is T 2.1.3.4; SBN 280: ‘in all nations and ages, the same objects still give rise to pride and humility’. Perhaps Du Bos influenced this passage, but it is unlikely. Du Bos says nothing about pride and humility in the course of Critical Reflections. More importantly, Du Bos says at various points that taste varies from nation to nation. Indeed, one of the themes running through Critical Reflections is that there are important differences between nations and eras. Norton and Norton are right about the other three passages in which they detect Du Bos’ influence. They are discussed below. 11 M. A. Stewart, ‘Hume’s Intellectual Development, 1711–1752’, in Marina Frasca-Spada and P. J. E. Kail (eds), Impressions of Hume (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 17–58. Henning Jensen, ‘Comments on Peter Jones’ “Hume on Art, Criticism and Language: Debts and Premises”’, Philosophical Studies 33 (1978), 135–140 is sceptical about the suggestion that Du Bos had an impact of the Treatise. 12 References are to Book, Part, Section and Paragraph numbers in the Norton and Norton edition of the Treatise (e.g. ‘T 1.3.10.10’) and to pages of the Treatise of Human Nature, 2nd edn, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: OUP, 1978) (e.g. ‘SBN 630-631’). 13 For a discussion of this point, see Paisley Livingston, ‘Du Bos’ Paradox’, BJA 53 (2013), 393–406. 14 Norton and Norton, Treatise of Human Nature, 751. 15 Norton and Norton, Treatise of Human Nature, 837. 16 David Hume, ‘On National Characters’ in his Essays: Literary, Moral, and Political (London: Ward, Lock and Tyler, nd.), 116. 17 ‘On National Characters’, 118–119. 18 ‘Of the Standard of Taste’, in David Hume, Four Dissertations (London: A. Millar, 1777), 230. 19 David Hume, ‘The Sceptic’ in his Essays: Literary, Moral, and Political (London: Ward, Lock, and Tyler, n.d.), 97. 20 David Fate Norton, ‘Hume and Hutcheson: The Question of Influence’, Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 2 (2005), 211–56. 21 James Moore, ‘Hume and Hutcheson’, in M. A. Stewart and John P. Wright (eds), Hume and Hume’s Connexions (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994), 23–57; Luigi Turco, ‘Hutcheson and Hume in a Recent Polemic’, in Emilio Mazza and Emanuele Ronchetti (eds), New Essays on David Hume (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2007), 171–198. © British Society of Aesthetics 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Aesthetics Oxford University Press

Jean-Baptiste Du Bos’ Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting and Hume’s Treatise

Loading next page...
 
/lp/ou_press/jean-baptiste-du-bos-critical-reflections-on-poetry-and-painting-and-DGy0f3M4Zq
Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© British Society of Aesthetics 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
ISSN
0007-0904
eISSN
1468-2842
D.O.I.
10.1093/aesthj/ayy006
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Abstract It has long been known that Jean-Baptiste Du Bos (and, in particular, his book Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting) exercised a considerable influence on Hume’s essays and, in particular, on the ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ and ‘Of Tragedy’. It has also been noted that some passages in the Treatise bear marks of Du Bos’ influence. In this essay, we identify many more passages in the Treatise that bear unmistakable signs of Du Bos’ influence. We demonstrate that Du Bos certainly had a significant impact on Hume as he wrote the Treatise. We go on to argue that Hume’s views on morality are an extension to the moral realm of Du Bos’ views on beauty and criticism. Du Bos may also have influenced Hume’s distinction between ideas and impressions. 1. Introduction Jean-Baptiste Du Bos’ influence on Hume’s ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ and other essays is significant and well documented.1 However, while Du Bos’ impact on Hume’s essays has been recognized, the extent of his influence on the Treatise is not yet fully appreciated. The preparation of our new translation of Du Bos’ Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting2 makes it possible to confirm that Du Bos had a major impact on Hume’s essays. More importantly, we can now identify many passages of the Treatise where Hume is indebted to Du Bos. We even have evidence that Du Bos had a significant impact on some of Hume’s signature philosophical views. In the mid-eighteenth century Du Bos’ Réflexions critiques sur la poësie et sur la peinture was an influential and widely read book.3 Voltaire wrote that it was ‘the most useful book ever written on these matters in any European country’.4 It has been described as a book that was ‘for at least fifty years … the most influential work of its kind’.5 Du Bos can be shown to have influenced French thinkers such as Batteux, Diderot, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, and others. British writers such as James Harris, Lord Kames, and Alexander Gerard discussed Du Bos’ ideas. In Germany, Baumgarten, Herder, Lessing, Mendelssohn, and Winckelmann were all influenced by Du Bos.6 Though little read today, Du Bos was an important and influential figure in his time. Hume was among the figures influenced by Du Bos. Hume certainly owned the 1732 edition of Critical Reflections.7 Likely it was one of the first books that he acquired after his move to France. Moreover, we can be certain that Hume read at least some of Du Bos’ book since he mentions passages from it in his ‘Early Memoranda’ of 1729–40.8 As well, Du Bos is mentioned by name in Hume’s ‘Of Tragedy’. As already mentioned, his impact is also apparent in several essays, including, most importantly, ‘Of the Standard of Taste’. What is less well known is that Du Bos’ influence is already found in the Treatise of Human Nature.9 Norton and Norton, in their magisterial critical edition of the Treatise,10 find some evidence of Du Bos’ influence. In general, however, this influence is neglected. A recent and excellent essay on Hume’s intellectual development does no more than mention that Hume owned a copy of Critical Reflections and that it had an impact on ‘Of Tragedy’ and ‘Of the Standard of Taste’.11 It turns out, however, that even those, such as Norton and Norton, who are aware of Du Bos’ impact on the Treatise, seriously under-estimate the extent of this influence. We first will consider a series of passages in the Treatise that so closely resemble passages from Critical Reflections that Du Bos’ influence on them is manifest. Next, we shall consider the extent to which Du Bos helped shape some of Hume’s key doctrines and, in particular, his views on beauty and virtue. 2. Poetry and painting arouse the passions of ordinary life, but they are fainter Many passages in the Treatise that are concerned, even tangentially, with poetry or other fine arts bear signs of Du Bos’ influence. Consider, for example, this passage: There is no passion of the human mind but what may arise from poetry; though at the same time the feelings of the passions are very different when excited by poetical fictions, from what they are when they are from belief and reality. A passion, which is disagreeable in real life, may afford the highest entertainment in a tragedy, or epic poem. In the latter case, it lies not with that weight upon us: It feels less firm and solid: And has no other than the agreeable effect of exciting the spirits, and rouzing the attention. (T 1.3.10.10; SBN 630–631)12 Here Hume articulates two themes found in Du Bos: (1) poetry may arouse all of the emotions that are aroused in ordinary experience; (2) the emotions aroused by poetry are pleasing, even when they are emotions that are unpleasant in ordinary experience. Once we know where to look, it is easy to identify the passages from Critical Reflections that influenced Hume in this passage of the Treatise. Du Bos writes that: ‘Painters and poets excite these artificial passions in us by presenting imitations of objects capable of exciting true passions in us. That is, the impression that these imitations make on us is the same type of impressions that the object imitated by the painter or the poet would have made on us.’ (CR 1.3) Du Bos, like Hume, believes that passions that in real life are displeasing can be pleasing when aroused by art: ‘The passions which give people the most intense pleasures also cause the most painful and enduring suffering; but men still fear more the boredom that follows inaction and they find in the activities of life and in the intoxication of the passions an excitement that keeps them occupied.’ (CR 1.1) Hume and Du Bos also agree that the emotions aroused by painting and poetry are less vivid than those in real life. Here is the passage where Hume says that the emotions aroused by poetry and painting are less vivid than those aroused by real objects: The raptures of poetry and music frequently rise to the greatest height; while those other impressions, properly call’d passions, may decay into so soft an emotion, as to become, in a manner, imperceptible. But as in general the passions are more violent than the emotions arising from beauty and deformity, these impressions have been commonly distinguish’d from each other. (T 2.1.1.3; SBN 276) This passage was foreshadowed earlier: We shall afterwards have occasion to remark both the resemblances and differences betwixt a poetical enthusiasm, and a serious conviction. In the mean time I cannot forbear observing, that the great difference in their feeling proceeds in some measure from reflection and general rules. We observe, that the vigour of conception, which fictions receive from poetry and eloquence, is a circumstance merely accidental, of which every idea is equally susceptible; and that such fictions are connected with nothing that is real. This observation makes us only lend ourselves, so to speak, to the fiction: But causes the idea to feel very different from the eternal establish’d persuasions founded on memory and custom. They are somewhat of the same kind: But the one is much inferior to the other, both in its causes and effects. (T 1.3.10.11; SBN 631–632) Here is the corresponding passage from Critical Reflections: It [an imitation] ought to excite in our soul a passion that resembles what the object imitated would have been able to excite there. The copy of the object should, so to speak, excite in us a copy of the passion that the object would have excited there. But the impression that the imitation makes is not as deep as the impression that the object itself would have made, or as serious. This is because the impression an imitation makes does not affect reason; for reason finds no illusion in these experiences. (CR 1.3) Notice that Hume and Du Bos agree about why the passions aroused by imitation are less vivid. Both hold that the mind is able to distinguish between the passion aroused by an object and a passion aroused by an imitation. Consequently, the imitation does not give rise to belief. Again, the positions of Hume and Du Bos are strikingly similar. 3. Humans desperately require relief from boredom Early on in Critical Reflections we find a passage that caught the attention of a number of writers in the eighteenth century. According to Du Bos, human life is plagued by boredom. This passage of Critical Reflections: The soul has its needs as well as the body and one of the greatest human needs is to have the mind occupied. The boredom that soon follows inaction of the soul is a sickness so painful for people that they often undertake the most painful labours so that they are spared the pain of being tormented by boredom. It is easy to conceive how bodily exertions, even those that seem to demand the least application, cannot fail to occupy the mind. Apart from these opportunities [for bodily exertion], the soul can only be occupied in two ways: either the soul submits to the impressions that external objects make on it, and we call this sensation; or it supports itself by speculation on certain matters, some useful, some intriguing, and we call this reflection or meditation. (CR 1.1) Almost anything is preferable, Du Bos believes, to boredom. He explains why we are willing to undergo the pains of viewing a tragedy, saying that these pains are preferable to our prevailing boredom.13 We also turn to gambling to escape this unpleasant state of mind: ‘games of chance … keep the soul in a kind of ecstasy and keep it there without the soul needing to contribute to its pleasure by paying serious attention, which our natural laziness always seeks to avoid. Laziness is a vice that people can sometimes overcome, but it can never be suppressed.’ (CR 1.2) The similarities between these passages from Du Bos and certain passages in the Treatise are so striking that these cannot be coincidental. Consider for example the passage in which Hume writes that Those, who take a pleasure in declaiming against human nature, have observ’d, that man is altogether insufficient to support himself; and that when you loosen all the holds, which he has of external objects, he immediately drops down into the deepest melancholy and despair. From this, say they, proceeds that continual search after amusement in gaming, in hunting, in business; by which we endeavour to forget ourselves, and excite our spirits from the languid state, into which they fall, when not sustain’d by some brisk and lively emotion. To this method of thinking I so far agree, that I own the mind to be insufficient, of itself, to its own entertainment, and that it naturally seeks after foreign objects, which may produce a lively sensation, and agitate the spirits. (T 2.2.4.4; SBN 352–353) Hume has someone in mind when he speaks of those who take a pleasure in declaiming against human nature. This can only be Du Bos. Hume and Du Bos even use the same examples to illustrate the view that the soul requires constant occupation. Consider this passage from the Treatise: If we want another parallel to these affections, we may consider the passion of gaming, which affords a pleasure from the same principles as hunting and philosophy. It has been remarked, that the pleasure of gaming arises not from interest alone; since many leave a sure gain for this entertainment: Neither is it derived from the game alone; since the same persons have no satisfaction, when they play for nothing: But proceeds from both these causes united, though separately they have no effect ... The interest, which we have in any game, engages our attention, without which we can have no enjoyment, either in that or in any other action. Our attention being once engaged, the difficulty, variety, and sudden reverses of fortune, still farther interest us; and it is from that concern our satisfaction arises. Human life is so tiresome a scene, and men generally are of such indolent dispositions, that whatever amuses them, though by a passion mixt with pain, does in the main give them a sensible pleasure. (T 2.3.10.9–10; SBN 452) One may well wonder who remarked that that the pleasure of gaming does not arise from interest alone. He can only have been Du Bos. The first of the two paragraphs just quoted comes from this passage of Critical Reflections many people are ruined by gambling, not out of avarice, but by the attractions of gaming. In fact, a habitual gambler who is gifted with the ability to calculate an infinity of odds and properly draw the correct consequences can have certain winnings every day and not risk his money in games where success depends more on the ability of the players than on the luck of cards and dice. However, he prefers games where winning entirely depends on the caprice of the dice and cards and in which his ability does not give him superiority over the other players. (CR 1.2) The second of the paragraphs just quoted from Hume is a summary of some of the doctrines stated in the first two chapters of Critical Reflections. The idea that human life is tiresome is Du Bos’ starting point. The idea that we are willing to accept pain as an alternative to the boredom of daily life is also straight out of Du Bos. 4. Du Bos and Hume on painting and poetry In many passages where Hume says anything about poetry or painting, the influence of Du Bos is manifest. Consider, for example, a passage in which Hume speaks of the consistency of tone that we expect in poetry and painting. He adopts precisely the view that Du Bos articulates in Critical Reflections. In the passage to which I refer, Hume speaks of comparisons that give rise to envy and then he remarks that rules of art and criticism require consistency of tone in a treatise. A treatise ought not to have one part ‘serious and profound’ and another part ‘light and humorous’. However, Hume goes on to observe that this makes us not blame Mr. Prior for joining his Alma and his Solomon in the same volume; tho’ that admirable poet has succeeded perfectly well in the gaiety of the one, as well as in the melancholy of the other. Even supposing the reader shou’d peruse these two compositions without any interval, he wou’d feel little or no difficulty in the change of passions: Why, but because he considers these performances as entirely different, and by this break in the ideas, breaks the progress of the affections, and hinders the one from influencing or contradicting the other? (T 2.2.8.18; SBN 379–380) The case of painting is completely different. There we are troubled by inconsistency: ‘An heroic and burlesque design, united in one picture, wou’d be monstrous; tho’ we place two pictures of so opposite a character in the same chamber, and even close by each other, without any scruple or difficulty.’ (T 2.2.8.19; SBN 380) Here Hume apparently adopts a position that Du Bos has defended in Critical Reflections. Problems in the composition of a poem are, Du Bos holds, jarring: ‘We can see without difficulty a painting’s relational defects when we simultaneously perceive objects that do not stand in the proper relations.’ (CR 1.32) In contrast, similar defects in a poem do not trouble us because it takes time to view a drama or read an epic. ‘Consequently, defects in the arrangement or organization of these poems do not jump out at us in the way that similar defects in a picture do.’ (CR 1.32) It is unlikely that Hume, who knew next to nothing about art criticism would venture to make a judgement of the sort he does without relying on some authority. Given the similarity between the position Hume adopts and Du Bos’ position, that authority can only have been Du Bos. The next passage to be considered concerns the way in which poets give their works verisimilitude or, as Du Bos says, vraisemblance. In one passage, Hume discusses how the frequent repetition of ideas inclines us to certain beliefs. He then adds that: In like manner tragedians always borrow their fable, or at least the names of their principal actors, from some known passage in history; and that not in order to deceive the spectators; for they will frankly confess, that truth is not in any circumstance inviolably observed; but in order to procure a more easy reception into the imagination for those extraordinary events, which they represent. (T 1.3.10.6; SBN 121–122) In the next paragraph, Hume continues in the same vein: This mixture of truth and falshood in the fables of tragic poets not only serves our present purpose, by shewing, that the imagination can be satisfy’d without any absolute belief or assurance; but may in another view be regarded as a very strong confirmation of this system. ’Tis evident, that poets make use of this artifice of borrowing the names of their persons, and the chief events of their poems, from history, in order to procure a more easy reception for the whole, and cause it to make a deeper impression on the fancy and affections. The several incidents of the piece acquire a kind of relation by being united into one poem or representation; and if any of these incidents be an object of belief, it bestows a force and vivacity on the others, which are related to it. (T 1.3.10.7; SBN 122) Norton and Norton identify Aristotle and Dryden as possible influences on this passage.14 However, when we look at this passage beside a passage from Du Bos, this claim becomes implausible. The close resemblance between what Du Bos and Hume say makes clear that Hume had Du Bos in mind. Here is a comparable passage from Du Bos: ‘I believe that a tragic poet compromises his art when he sins too greatly against history, chronology, and geography in advancing facts that are contradicted by these sciences. When what he says contradicts what is widely known, his error harms his work more.’ (CR 1.29) Bos spends a whole chapter developing this point. Again, especially given that we know that Hume had recently read Du Bos, he is the obvious source for this passage. We will mention one more passage in which Hume mentions poetry in terms highly reminiscent of Du Bos. In this passage, Hume mentions the tendency of artists to decline into insanity. He writes that a ‘lively imagination very often degenerates into madness or folly’ (T 1.3.10.9; SBN 123). Hume could certainly have come across this idea in a number of sources. The suggestion that artists are inclined to madness is not unusual and can be traced to antiquity and to the works Plato and Aristotle. Hume certainly, however, came across it in the Critical Reflections. There we find Du Bos writing that: It is well known that they are embraced by a sort of enthusiasm which produces their ideas. Aristotle even speaks of a poet who never composed better than when his poetic fervour amounted almost to a frenzy. Tasso only gave birth to those admirable pictures of Arminda and Clorinda at the cost of a disposition to real insanity, into which he fell towards the end of his life. Apollo has his drunkenness as well as Bacchus. Do you believe, asked Cicero, that Pacuvius composed in cold blood? That could not be. (CR 2.2) Again, under the circumstances, it is reasonable to conclude that Du Bos influenced Hume’s view that artists tend to madness. 5. Hume and Du Bos on national characters Although in the Treatise Hume adopted Du Bos’ views on a number of points, he also explicitly rejected Du Bos’ views on occasion. In particular, the views of Hume and Du Bos are diametrically opposed on the question of the origin of national characters. Consider a passage in which Hume discusses the sympathy that humans have for each other. He attributes this sympathy to ‘the great uniformity we may observe in the humours and turn of thinking of those of the same nation’. He then goes on to say that, ‘’tis much more probable, that this resemblance arises from sympathy than from any influence of the soil and climate’ (T 2.1.11.2; SBN 316—17). Norton and Norton identify a number of writers that Hume has in mind here, including Issac Barrow.15 They do not mention Du Bos but he is the obvious source of the view that Hume rejects. Du Bos devotes nine chapters of Volume Two (CR 2.12–20) of the Critical Reflections to a discussion of how factors such as soil, climate, and food affect national characters. Given that Du Bos discusses the impact of soil and climate so extensively, and Hume had apparently read Du Bos so recently, we need not look any further for the writer Hume had in mind here. Hume returned to this question in his essay ‘Of National Characters’: Different reasons are assigned for these national characters; while some account for them from moral, others from physical causes. By moral causes, I mean all circumstances, which are fitted to work on the mind as motives or reasons, and which render a peculiar set of manners habitual to us. Of this kind are, the nature of the government, the revolutions of public affairs, the plenty or penury in which the people live, the situation of the nation with regard to its neighbours, and such like circumstances. By physical causes I mean those qualities of the air and climate, which are supposed to work insensibly on the temper, by altering the tone and habit of the body, and giving a particular complexion, which, though reflection and reason may sometimes overcome it, will yet prevail among the generality of mankind, and have an influence on their manners.16 This distinction between moral (that is, social) and physical causes is taken straight out of Critical Reflections (CR 2.13). Here too, however, Hume rejects Du Bos’ belief that physical causes are paramount: ‘As to physical causes, I am inclined to doubt altogether of their operation in this particular; nor do I think, that men owe any thing of their temper or genius to the air, food, or climate.’17 6. Du Bos and Hume’s core philosophical commitments So far, it must be admitted, Du Bos’ influence on Hume is manifest. Critical Reflections made a huge impression on the young Scotsman, but it is not clear that Critical Reflections had a major impact on Hume’s core philosophical beliefs. Demonstrating that Du Bos had an impact on Hume’s core philosophical beliefs is more difficult than demonstrating that he influenced particular passages in the Treatise. Nevertheless, certain passages indicate that Critical Reflections helped shape Hume’s thinking in important ways. Du Bos certainly influenced Hume’s views on beauty and criticism. Moreover, Du Bos seems to have had an impact on Hume’s signature view that morality is a matter of sentiment. Hume’s views on virtue may have been an extension of Du Bos’ views on beauty from the aesthetic realm to the moral realm. Du Bos may also have had an impact on Hume’s philosophical starting point, the distinction between ideas and impressions. Let us first consider this distinction. The Treatise begins with a distinction between ideas and impressions. Impressions are lively, vivid perceptions, while ideas are fainter, less lively perceptions. They are copies of impressions. This distinction is not found in earlier empiricists, such as Locke and Berkeley. It is, however, perhaps foreshadowed in a passage from Critical Reflections. When Du Bos’ describes sentiments, he calls them: ‘The first ideas born in the soul, when it receives a lively stimulus.’ (CR 1.33) It is, perhaps, not fanciful to see an echo of this passage in the very first paragraph of the Treatise. There, Hume refers to ‘those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name impressions; and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul’ (T 1.1.1.1; SBN 1). Hume’s impressions, like Du Bos’ sentiments, are the first perceptions to make an appearance in the soul. Hume’s impressions and Du Bos’ are both described as ‘lively’. Arguably, Du Bos’ influence is found as early as the first paragraph of the Treatise. Turn now to a consideration of the suggestion that Hume adopted Du Bos’ views on aesthetic properties such as beauty. Consider, for example, this passage from the Treatise: If we consider all the hypotheses … to explain the difference betwixt beauty and deformity, we shall find that all of them resolve into this, that beauty is such an order and construction of parts, … is fitted to give a pleasure and satisfaction to the soul. This is the distinguishing character of beauty, and forms all the difference betwixt it and deformity, whose natural tendency is to produce uneasiness. Pleasure and pain, therefore, are not only necessary attendants of beauty and deformity, but constitute their very essence. (T 2.1.8.2; SBN 299) A related passage is found in ‘Of the Standard of Taste’, no sentiment represents what is really in the object. It only marks a certain conformity or relation between the object and the organs or faculties of the mind; and if that conformity did not really exist, the sentiment could never possibly have being. Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.18 Hume anticipated this position in his early essay, ‘The Sceptic’, where he wrote that, ‘beauty, properly speaking, lies not in the poem, but in the sentiment or taste of the reader’.19 In other words, beauty, like virtue and vice, is a response-dependent property. That is, a poem is beautiful because we experience certain sentiments of approbation when we experience it. We suggest that Hume acquired from Du Bos the idea that the criticism of poetry, painting, and other arts is a matter of sentiment. That is, our sentiments inform us that a work is beautiful. This much has been apparent since the work of Jones, but Du Bos’ influence is already found in the Treatise. The subjectivist picture of beauty that we find there originates in Du Bos. Du Bos introduced talk of sentiments into philosophy of art and made our subjective responses the criterion of goodness in poetry and painting. Here are some typical passages from Du Bos: According to Du Bos, the questions ‘Does the work please, or not?’ and ‘Is the work, on the whole, good or bad?’ amount to the same question. He adds that: ‘For us, the greatest painter is the one whose works give us the greatest pleasure.’ (CR 1.49) Later he adds that ‘poems and paintings are only good works to the degree that they move us and engage us’. (CR 2.22) Other writers were, by the time Hume wrote the Treatise, already adopting Du Bos’ views on aesthetics. It seems likely, however, that Hume was directly influenced by Du Bos, particularly since we know that Hume had so recently read Critical Reflections when he wrote the Treatise. It is also plausible to find Du Bos’ influence in what Hume says about morality. We suggest that Hume’s views on virtue are an extension of Du Bos’ views on beauty to the moral realm. In a famous passage from the Treatise Hume writes that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind: And this discovery in morals, like that other in physics, is to be regarded as a considerable advancement of the speculative sciences; tho’, like that too, it has little or no influence on practice. Nothing can be more real, or concern us more, than our own sentiments of pleasure and uneasiness; and if these be favourable to virtue, and unfavourable to vice, no more can be requisite to the regulation of our conduct and behaviour. (T 3.1.1.26; SBN 469) In making morality a matter of sentiment, virtue becomes a response-dependent property: something is virtuous because it inspires certain sentiments. It is plausible to see Hume as extending to morality the view that Du Bos had adopted with regard to beauty. Just as Hume makes virtue a response-dependent property, Du Bos makes beauty a response-dependent property. The sentiments that Hume holds we have in response to actions and characters are sentiments of pleasure or uneasiness (displeasure). The sentiments that Du Bos says that we have in response to works of art are sentiments of pleasure or displeasure. Hume says that we have a moral sense that enables us to have these sentiments. Du Bos says that we have a sense of beauty that enables us to have the sentiments of which we are speaking. The parallels are striking. Let us consider another passage that suggests that Du Bos shaped Hume’s thinking on morality. The passage in question is found in the Introduction to the Treatise. There Hume writes that: ‘The sole end of logic is to explain the principles and operations of our reasoning faculty, and the nature of our ideas: morals and criticism regard our tastes and sentiments: and politics consider men as united in society, and dependent on each other.’ (T Introduction 5; SBN 15) In the same connection, consider also this passage: ‘’Tis not solely in poetry and music, we must follow our taste and sentiment, but likewise in philosophy.’ (T 1.3.8.12; SBN 103) Focus for a moment on the claim that morals and criticism are matters of sentiment. The suggestion that criticism is a matter of taste and sentiment is now a commonplace. However, such an account of criticism was not widespread prior to Du Bos and, indeed, he was responsible for the spread of this doctrine in the early eighteenth century. His single most important contribution to philosophy of art is the view that artworks arouse emotions, or as he calls them, sentiments, in audience members. Even Hume’s choice of Du Bos’ word ‘sentiment’ in this context suggests that Du Bos has influenced Hume. The use of the word ‘taste’ is also telling. At one point, Hume even speaks of a ‘moral taste’: ‘The approbation of moral qualities most certainly is not deriv’d from reason, or any comparison of ideas; but proceeds entirely from a moral taste, and from certain sentiments of pleasure or disgust, which arise upon the contemplation and view of particular qualities or characters.’ (T 3.3.1.15; SBN 581) The use of the word ‘taste’ in this context is unusual, but it is common in discussions of beauty, including such discussions in Du Bos. Approval of some moral properties is a result of our having sentiments of pleasure, just as we have, according to Du Bos, sentiments of pleasure in response to poetry and painting. We suggest that this is more evidence that Hume is extending Du Bos’ account of beauty to moral qualities. In another passage Hume groups together judgements about virtue and judgements about beauty. In this passage he writes that: We do not infer a character to be virtuous, because it pleases: But in feeling that it pleases after such a particular manner, we in effect feel that it is virtuous. The case is the same as in our judgements concerning all kinds of beauty, and tastes, and sensations. Our approbation is imply’d in the immediate pleasure they convey to us. (T 3.1.2.4; SBN 471) The view that judgements about beauty are judgements about the pleasure that artworks convey to us is Du Bos’. Hume has simply extended this view to judgements about virtue. A final passage needs to be mentioned in defence of the hypothesis that Hume’s view of virtue is an extension of Du Bos’ views on beauty. Hume writes that: ‘In what sense we can talk either of a right or a wrong taste in morals, eloquence, or beauty, shall be consider’d afterwards. In the mean time, it may be observ’d, that there is such an uniformity in the general sentiments of mankind, as to render such questions of but small importance.’ (T n. 80; SBN 547) This passage is noteworthy for two reasons. For a start, it is another in which morals and beauty are classified together. Just as importantly, in this passage Hume espouses the view that the sentiments of humanity are very much alike in these matters. This was also the view of Du Bos. According to Hume, we are able to have the sentiments that give rise to response-dependent properties because we have a moral sense. He tells us that ‘morality … is more properly felt than judged of’ (T 3.1.2.1; SBN 470). This view is also akin to a view adopted by Du Bos. Du Bos also believed that we have a moral sense. He wrote, for example, that we have a ‘natural emotion that is automatically aroused in us when we see our fellows in danger or misfortune’ (CR 1.2). Du Bos’ views on a moral sense, as well as his views on a sense of beauty, may have had an impact on Hume. Du Bos was not the only influence on Hume’s views of morality and criticism. Several authorities hold that Hutcheson had an impact on views where we detect the influence of Du Bos.20 Others are more sceptical about the claim that Hutcheson had an impact on Hume.21 Here we do not take a stand on this debate. Our view is perfectly consistent with the view that Hutcheson also influenced Hume. Whatever the relationship between Hutcheson and Hume, the relationship between Du Bos and Hume has been neglected and is readily apparent from a comparison of the Treatise and Critical Reflections. 5. Conclusion Du Bos certainly had an impact on the Treatise greater than has been previously recognized. Many more passages can now be identified as bearing marks of Du Bos’ influence than anyone had previously suspected. Given that the influence of Du Bos on particular passages is so palpable, it seems likely that certain of Hume’s core doctrines, and in particular his view that criticism and morality are matters of sentiment, were influenced by Du Bos’ Critical Reflections. His distinction between ideas and impressions may also have been influenced by Du Bos. We cannot, perhaps, say with absolute certainty that Du Bos influenced Hume’s view that moral and aesthetic properties are response-dependent. There are other plausible sources of Hume’s view including, as Hume himself notes at a number of places, the primary/secondary quality distinction. Nevertheless, it is plausible to see Critical Reflections as one of the sources of Hume’s views on moral and aesthetic properties and his views on the existence of a moral sense. Unexpectedly, perhaps, a work devoted to philosophy of art seems to have had a significant impact on one of the most important works of Western philosophy. Even if this influence is recognized, it must be admitted that Hume developed his views on morality with a philosophical sophistication and insight that is incomparably greater than anything found in Du Bos. Our claim is merely that Critical Reflections had a significant impact on the Treatise. Footnotes 1 Peter Jones, Hume’s Sentiments (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1982). See also, Peter Jones, ‘Hume on Art, Criticism and Language: Debts and Premises’, Philosophical Studies 33 (1978), 109–134; Peter Jones, ‘Hume on the Arts and “The Standard of Taste”’, in David Fate Norton and Jacqueline Taylor (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Hume, second edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 414–446; and Roberto Gilardi, ‘Hume, Addison e l’Abate Du Bos: Indagni Intorno a un Possibile Influsso dello “Spectator” e delle Réflexions Critiques sulla Genesi di A Treatise of Human Nature’, Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scholastica 69 (1997), 3–47. 2 Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting, trans. Margaret Cameron and James O. Young (forthcoming). References to this work will be cited in text in brackets, and prefaced with the letters CR. 3 Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, Réflexions critiques sur la poësie et sur la peinture (Paris: Pissot, 1755). The first edition of the Critical Reflections appeared in 1719. This work will be cited by volume and chapter. These references will apply to the 1740 edition and all subsequent editions of the work. 4 Louis Moland (ed.), Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, vol. 14 (Paris: Garnier, 1877–85), 66. 5 Peter Jones, Hume’s Sentiments, 93. 6 Du Bos, Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting, Introduction. 7 David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton, The David Hume Library (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Bibliographical Society and the National Library of Scotland, 1996), 88. Hume also owned three other books by Du Bos. 8 Ernest Campbell Mossner, ‘Hume’s Early Memoranda, 1729–40: The Complete Text’, Journal of the History of Ideas 9 (1948), 500. 9 A recent and excellent essay on Hume’s intellectual development does no more than mention that Hume owned a copy of the Critical Reflections and that its influence is found in ‘Of Tragedy’ and ‘Of the Standard of Taste’. See M. A. Stewart, ‘Hume’s Intellectual Development, 1711–1752’, in Marina Frasca-Spada and P. J. E. Kail (eds), Impressions of Hume (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 17–58. 10 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (Oxford: OUP, 2007). One of the four passages identified by Norton and Norton is T 2.1.3.4; SBN 280: ‘in all nations and ages, the same objects still give rise to pride and humility’. Perhaps Du Bos influenced this passage, but it is unlikely. Du Bos says nothing about pride and humility in the course of Critical Reflections. More importantly, Du Bos says at various points that taste varies from nation to nation. Indeed, one of the themes running through Critical Reflections is that there are important differences between nations and eras. Norton and Norton are right about the other three passages in which they detect Du Bos’ influence. They are discussed below. 11 M. A. Stewart, ‘Hume’s Intellectual Development, 1711–1752’, in Marina Frasca-Spada and P. J. E. Kail (eds), Impressions of Hume (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 17–58. Henning Jensen, ‘Comments on Peter Jones’ “Hume on Art, Criticism and Language: Debts and Premises”’, Philosophical Studies 33 (1978), 135–140 is sceptical about the suggestion that Du Bos had an impact of the Treatise. 12 References are to Book, Part, Section and Paragraph numbers in the Norton and Norton edition of the Treatise (e.g. ‘T 1.3.10.10’) and to pages of the Treatise of Human Nature, 2nd edn, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: OUP, 1978) (e.g. ‘SBN 630-631’). 13 For a discussion of this point, see Paisley Livingston, ‘Du Bos’ Paradox’, BJA 53 (2013), 393–406. 14 Norton and Norton, Treatise of Human Nature, 751. 15 Norton and Norton, Treatise of Human Nature, 837. 16 David Hume, ‘On National Characters’ in his Essays: Literary, Moral, and Political (London: Ward, Lock and Tyler, nd.), 116. 17 ‘On National Characters’, 118–119. 18 ‘Of the Standard of Taste’, in David Hume, Four Dissertations (London: A. Millar, 1777), 230. 19 David Hume, ‘The Sceptic’ in his Essays: Literary, Moral, and Political (London: Ward, Lock, and Tyler, n.d.), 97. 20 David Fate Norton, ‘Hume and Hutcheson: The Question of Influence’, Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 2 (2005), 211–56. 21 James Moore, ‘Hume and Hutcheson’, in M. A. Stewart and John P. Wright (eds), Hume and Hume’s Connexions (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994), 23–57; Luigi Turco, ‘Hutcheson and Hume in a Recent Polemic’, in Emilio Mazza and Emanuele Ronchetti (eds), New Essays on David Hume (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2007), 171–198. © British Society of Aesthetics 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

The British Journal of AestheticsOxford University Press

Published: Apr 10, 2018

There are no references for this article.

You’re reading a free preview. Subscribe to read the entire article.


DeepDyve is your
personal research library

It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.

Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.

All for just $49/month

Explore the DeepDyve Library

Search

Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly

Organize

Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.

Access

Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.

Your journals are on DeepDyve

Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.

All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.

See the journals in your area

DeepDyve

Freelancer

DeepDyve

Pro

Price

FREE

$49/month
$360/year

Save searches from
Google Scholar,
PubMed

Create lists to
organize your research

Export lists, citations

Read DeepDyve articles

Abstract access only

Unlimited access to over
18 million full-text articles

Print

20 pages / month

PDF Discount

20% off