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Projectivism and Error in Hume’s Ethics

From: Hume Studies
Volume 37, Number 1, April 2011
pp. 19-42 | 10.1353/hms.2011.0648



This essay argues that while Hume believes both that morality is grounded in our ordinary moral practices, sentiments, and beliefs, and that moral properties are real, he also holds that ordinary moral thinking involves systematically erroneous beliefs about moral properties. These claims, on their face, seem difficult to square with one another but this paper argues that on Hume’s view, they are reconcilable. The reconciliation is effected by making a distinction between Hume’s descriptive metaethics, that is, his account of vulgar moral thought and discourse, and his revisionary metaethics, that is, his account of how vulgar moral thought and discourse could be reformed so as to no longer involve error. This essay concludes that Hume is a projectivist and an error theorist in descriptive metaethics, while he is a projectivist and a subjectivist in revisionary metaethics.

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