Sunday, December 9, 2007

Reason & The Passions

If, as Hume teaches, Reason as Right Reason (with uppercase R) is a fiction, and reason rightly understood is accurate reasoning, i.e. a process of reasoning that contains no contradictions,this fact (if it is a fact) has huge consequences for morality and ethics including politics. For one thing, it means that we have to learn to live with the fact that reason (as Hume says) is and ought to be the slave of the passions. The great problem of government then becomes, as Alexander Hamilton clearly understood, how to use the passions of men in one branch of government to control the passions of others in other branches. Here is Hamilton in Federalist #51, laying out the theory behind the three-fold separation of powers in our government: "the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. . . . Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected to the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

No comments:

Post a Comment