David Hume Doesn't Quite Anticipate Me

Will Wilkinson points to David Hume's short essay "Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion". Excerpts:
SOME People are subject to a certain delicacy of passion,*1 which makes them extremely sensible to all the accidents of life, and gives them a lively joy upon every prosperous event, as well as a piercing grief, when they meet with misfortunes and adversity. [...] People of this character have, no doubt, more lively enjoyments, as well as more pungent° sorrows, than men of cool and sedate tempers: But, I believe, when every thing is balanced, there is no one, who would not rather be of the latter character, were he entirely master of his own disposition. Good or ill fortune is very little at our disposal: And when a person, that has this sensibility° of temper, meets with any misfortune, his sorrow or resentment takes entire possession of him, and deprives him of all relish in the common occurrences of life; the right enjoyment of which forms the chief part of our happiness.
If I read this correctly, Hume is implying, though not stating outright, that pains are usually more intense than pleasures. That's essentially the Jimmy Connors view of life: "I hate losing more than I love winning." Hume again (my emphasis):
Great pleasures are much less frequent than great pains; so that a sensible temper must meet with fewer trials in the former way than in the latter.
It also seems to me that great psychological pain is more enduring than great psychological pleasure. Hume continues (bold type mine):

There is a delicacy of taste observable in some men, which very much resembles this delicacy of passion, and produces the same sensibility to beauty and deformity of every kind, as that does to prosperity and adversity, obligations and injuries. When you present a poem or a picture to a man possessed of this talent, the delicacy of his feeling makes him be sensibly touched with every part of it; nor are the masterly strokes perceived with more exquisite relish and satisfaction, than the negligences or absurdities with disgust and uneasiness. [...] [D]elicacy of taste has the same effect as delicacy of passion: It enlarges the sphere both of our happiness and misery, and makes us sensible to pains as well as pleasures, which escape the rest of mankind.

I believe, however, every one will agree with me, that, notwithstanding this resemblance, delicacy of taste is as much to be desired and cultivated as delicacy of passion is to be lamented, and to be remedied, if possible. The good or ill accidents of life are very little at our disposal; but we are pretty much masters what books we shall read, what diversions we shall partake of, and what company we shall keep. Philosophers have endeavoured to render happiness entirely independent of every thing external. That degree of perfection is impossible to be attained: But every wise man will endeavour to place his happiness on such objects chiefly as depend upon himself: and that is not to be attained so much by any other means as by this delicacy of sentiment.*2
That's basically right, but, if I may say so, the great philosopher treats this topic a little superficially by assuming that the degree to which we can control exposure to the objects of taste is a constant. For an alternative view, see a blog post entitled "What Should You Become a Connoisseur of?" by one LemmusLemmus.

By the way, you can read the last paragraph of Hume's essay as an argument for reading and commenting on good blogs.

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