Human behavior is a rather interesting area of study as far as human beings try to study themselves and it is always a complicated task. The motivations that drive people to acting in a certain way have always interested scholars and ordinary people in the light of the fact that understanding of the behavioral motives might allow people avoid certain negative actions and focus on the positive ones. Philosophers, ethicists, biologists, and psychologists have all tried to explain human behaviors by either some divine forces or by purely anatomical reasons. However, neither of the explanations is absolutely true. Due to this, the ideas expressed by David Hume (2007) in his An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding are rather interesting as they seem to combine biological and philosophical approaches to the issue and explain the behavioral patterns of all people, without exceptions, by the self interest and one’s personal experience (Hume, 2007). Accordingly, Hume’s ideas on the behavioral motivation are the focus of the current paper.
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First of all, it is necessary to state that the attitude of David Hume (2007) towards human life and behavior was rather critical, and this fact conditioned the ways in which Hume explained behavior and the motivations that drive it. Thus, David Hume (2007) stood on the point of view that any particular pattern of human behavior is conditioned by the personal interest and the previous experience that this person had had in his or her life:
It is only experience, which teaches us the nature and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to infer the existence of one object from that of another. Such is the foundation of moral reasoning, which forms the greater part of human knowledge, and is the source of all human action and behavior (Hume, 2007).
In other words, David Hume (2007) was the supporter of the idea that any human activity is based on the person’s experience, i. e. a person does only the things that he or she knows to be good and harmless (Hume, 2007). Another motivation is the benefit that a certain activity might bring, but to decide to do such an activity a person is also to refer to his or her previous experience.
Needless to say, Hume’s (2007) point of view finds its supporters and opponents even nowadays. The supporters of the experience based model of behavior study stick to the point of view that, as David Hume (2007) puts it, at all times and in all countries people have always been the same. This means that in any particular epoch the reasons that lead people towards some actions and goals are similar; therefore all people are motivated by the same factors in their activities. The major motivational factors for human beings include personal benefit, material values and obtaining of power, getting the higher position in the society and receiving more opportunities for a successful work and convenient living (Hume, 2007). Accordingly, people structure their activities in respect of their self interest and based on the previous experiences. People try to refer their intended activities to the past and see the possible outcomes of them in the present.
The opponents of the idea expressed by David Hume (2007) base their opposition on the facts that evidence that not all people’s activities can be explained rationally, motivated by either self interest or past experiences. The main examples in this respect are crimes committed by some psychologically ill people who could not explain their own actions some time after them. The cases when people risk their lives by either going to war or trying to climb a mountain cannot be explained rationally either. There are numerous cases in the past when such activities ended up fatally but people still are eager to do them irrespective of the experiences of others and of the potentially dangerous outcomes. Therefore, the generalization made by David Hume (2007) and his supporters cannot be applied to all the cases in real life; therefore, the theory of David Hume (2007) according to which people base their activities on self interest and past experiences is true not in all cases.
However, the examples of people’s actions motivated exclusively by self interest are still numerous in the society. For instance, people start choosing their education ways and the future professions based on the self interested as far as every person wishes to have stable and high income from a profession he or she has a good command of. Further on, the creation of a family is also an expression of self interest in the light of the fact that it is a biological need of a human being to communicate with others and reproduce itself. Every personal interest of a person is also a self interest as far as it helps that person to feel the interest in life and set the goals that condition the development of every personality. Even if people help each other it happens rather seldom that the one that helps has no personal interest in helping another.
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Drawing from the above presented considerations, I have to express my personal opinion on the idea that all people’s actions are explained by the self interest and one’s personal experience exclusively. First of all, I do not agree with such a generalizing idea. There are numerous examples of human activities motivated by some illnesses or other circumstances that have nothing to do with rationale and self interest considerations. Therefore, generalizations are not applicable in this respect, although there are actually lots of examples proving that self interest and personal benefit make people do something whether it is moral and acceptable or not. Accordingly, I agree with the idea by David Hume (2007) only partly as I am strongly convinced that every specific activity is to be analyzed in order to find out what motivated it.
Finally, it is necessary to state that human behavior has always interested philosophers, ethicists, biologists, and psychologists who tried to explain human behaviors by either some divine forces or by purely anatomical reasons. However, neither of the explanations is absolutely true. Due to this, the ideas expressed by David Hume (2007) in his An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding are rather interesting as they seem to combine biological and philosophical approaches to the issue and explain the behavioral patterns of all people, without exceptions, by the self interest and one’s personal experience. There are case that prove and reject this idea, and the number of cases that evidence against the generalizing theory by Hume (2007) prove that every human activity is to be analyzed specifically to be explained and to help people avoid sweeping generalizations in their opinions.
Hume, David. An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Filiquarian, 2007.