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52 HUME'S COGNITIVE STOICISM Several writers have emphasized the role in Hume's ethics of belief of the principle that must implies ought - the converse of ought implies can2: we must make causal inferences, and therefore, contrary to the Cartesian ethics of belief, we ought to do so, that is, it is the reasonable way to conduct our mental life.3 If we let 'N' represent necessity and Ό' obligatoriness, then the must implies ought principle can be symbolized as (1) Np 3 Op 4 Hintikka has wondered whether this principle should be accepted — indeed, he wonders whether ought implies can should be accepted — but he is prepared to defend the thesis. (2) 0(Np => Op) that it ought to be the case that must implies ought. Without going into the issue of whether (1) is defensible, I propose in this note to suggest a Humean defence of (2). (I) On "Ought" For Hume, 'ought' (a) expresses an impulse that tends to move the will and also (b) tends to elicit in others the same impulse. The affinity to emotivism is clear enough — indeed, for many purposes it is important to emphasize this emotivism — but at the same time it is in its background psychology and social psychology infinitely more sophisticated than the crude hedonism of Stevenson. As for (a), Hume makes this clear in his argument with the rationalists who would derive an "ought" by a priori reasoning, i.e., comparing ideas alone. The thrust of the argument is that belief by 53 itself does not move the will, but moral judgments do move the will; they therefore cannot be derived from reason alone: "Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent action. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason." Since moral judgments are not relations of ideas, they are perceptions or impressions: "Morality ... is more properly felt than judg'd of..." (T 470). As for what kind of impression, Hume proceeds immediately to the conclusion that since they must be motivating, they cannot fall on the side of "sensations" but on the side of "passions and emotions," to use the classification with which the Treatise opens (T 1): "...we ... must pronounce the impression arising from virtue, to be agreeable, and that proceeding from vice to be uneasy" (T 470). Moral judgments are not, however, just any expression of a pro or con attitude. They more specifically express a disinterested point of view, one that we can share with others. In general, all sentiments of blame or praise are variable.... But these variations we regard not in our general decisions.... Experience soon teaches us this method of correcting our sentiments, or at least, of correcting our language, where the sentiments are more stubborn and inalterable.... Such corrections are common with regard to all the senses; and indeed 'twere impossible we cou'd ever make use of language, or communicate our sentiments to one another, did we not correct the momentary appearances of things, and overlook our present situation (T 582, emphasis added; cf. T 603). Both stable thought for an individual person and communication with others require that moral language be used to reflect a general, or disinterested point of p view. The imperative force of moral language does not 54 lie simply in the emotive meaning of the word 'good,' its capacity to function as a general re-inforcer, as Stevenson held,9 but rather because when one "bestows on any man the epithets of vicious or odious or depraved, he ... expresses sentiments, in which he expects all his audience are to concur with him" (EPM 272; cf. EPM 228-9; T 582-3, 591). Moral language is used by speakers and is expected by listeners to express a distinterested point of view, and it is this that gives moral language its peculiar motivating power. Nonetheless, once this is said, it remains true that moral language — "ought" — is inseparable from motivation, both in its function of expressing one's own sentiments and in its function of eliciting the same sentiment in others. (II) On Pride Suppose, now, that we wished so to organize our moral discourse...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 52-68
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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