Nine men met this Wednesday evening, March 21st, to peer into Hume’s views on Moral Philosophy. Following a 30 minute recorded lecture by Prof. Daniel Robinson, from our library of The Great Courses, Our Junior Warden (Kent Smith) facilitated a group discussion of … just what exactly was David Hume talking about, anyhow? Categorical imperatives versus hypothetical imperatives, coupled with the necessity of a functioning rational capacity in order to make moral decisions, were all in play. Predictably, not all agreed, though all also agreed we might not fully grasp exactly what we were agreeing or disagreeing about. Philosophy can be like that, particularly across the centuries and language barriers between ourselves and Mr. Hume.
One of the notions which seemed to catch light during the night, was that context is key. One can distinguish between abstract moral absolutes and frameworks for contextualized moral decisions. For example, the abstract moral rule “thou shalt not bear false witness” could be troublesome, if there are Nazis at the door and you have Anne Frank hiding in your closet. A moral “rule,” absent the context in which it is to be applied, may really be more of a guide than a rule. On the other hand some “rules”, such as The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto do”) inherently invite consideration of the context in which they are applied. In this sense they may be more like a framework for making decisions based on the current facts, rather than an absolute “rule.” Because, in a given situation, if someone might die if I told the truth (“yes, Commandant, Anne Frank is over in that closet”), then I might rather have them lie to me, or for me.
All in all, it was a night of interesting discussion and fellowship, topped by a delicious helping of a Nebraska Grandmother’s Famous Nacho Cheese Sauce (do be sure to thank your Gramms for us, Brother Smith!) If this sounds like a way you might care to spend an evening sometime, we will be having Philosophy Nights like this throughout the year, as part of our Lodge’s focus on education. Join us!