Hume, Reason & Morality

A Legacy of Contradiction

Covering an important theme in Humean studies, this book focuses on Hume’s hugely influential attempt in book three of his Treatise of Human Nature to derive the conclusion that morality is a matter of feeling, not reason, from its link with action. It claims that this argument contains a fundamental contradiction that has gone unnoticed in modern debate. It combines historical-scholarly work and contemporary analysis that seeks to expose this contradiction and therefore provide a contribution to current scholarship in this area.

Beginning by pointing out that a contradiction concerning whether reason can influence action, or is wholly powerless, occurs in the intermediary premiss, it moves on to draw out the consequences for recent meta-ethics of the failure to acknowledge this contradiction. Finally, highlighting the root of the argument’s power in an article of naturalistic dogma, the book suggests how it may be possible to restore to our moral concepts their traditional and integral link with both truth and motivation.

The ideal readership would include moral philosophers interested in meta-ethics and practical reason, and Humean scholars.

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Table of Contents

Part 1: Hume’s Practicality Argument
1. A Contradiction, not an Ambiguity
2. Validity and the ‘Moderate’ Version
3. Metaphysics and the ‘Extreme’ Version
4. Sentimentalists, Secondary Qualities and Sensations
5. The Inconsolable Sceptic

Part 2: The Practicality Argument Today
6. Morality’s Dynamism
7. Desires, Beliefs and ‘Direction of Fit’
8. A Riddle and a Buried Assumption
9. The Case of Owen Wingrave