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189 HUME'S MORAL ONTOLOGY* My concern here is the claim, made in my recent book, that Hume is a moral realist. In general terms I would describe this book as one of several that represent a sustained effort to consider Hume within an eighteenth-century context, an effort to see him not as a timeless figure, or to treat him as a brilliantly successful contemporary of ourselves, but as a brilliant eighteenth-century philosopher responding to eighteenth-century issues with, for all his timelessness, eighteenth-century conceptual tools and 2 from an eighteenth-century perspective. It would be hopelessly naive to suppose that any of us can view Hume without any historical distortion, but it is equally naive to read Hume, as he is often read, without historical sensitivity. Furthermore, such insensitivity closes us off from what is uniquely valuable about Hume, for, instead of seeing his writings as the consequence of his unique efforts to confront and answer the philosophical questions posed to him, the historically insensitive read into him their own questions and their own answers. The past studied as an echo of the present is of little interest (and none of that intrinsic), nor can there be much value in the study of those who saw but through a glass, darkly, the truths now so apparent to us. Our intellectual past is important to us because it is different from our intellectual present, and not because it seconds what we presume already to know. I was entirely serious, then, when I said that both the plausibility, and the very meaning of my claim that Hume is a common-sense moralist or a moral realist depends upon considering this claim — and, consequently, Hume — within a particular philosophical context. It will not do to suppose that moral realism 190 is a term with an eternal, unchanging, and Platonic connotation, and then to reject my suggestion outright because Hume was, as I would certainly agree, virtually without sympathy for anything revealing a tincture of Platonism. Philosophical terms as well as philosophical issues are historical, changing entities; it is those who think or act otherwise who smuggle 4 Platonism into the discussion. Doubtless, however, some of the misunderstanding to which I refer is my own responsibility. I can join Hume in saying "I have found by experience, that some of my expressions have not been so well chosen, as to guard against all 5 mistakes in the readers," and so I shall here offer some clarifications of my view. I. To begin, I wish to bring together in one place evidence of the significant qualifications I put on my claim about Hume's moral realism. Taken together, these remarks show that my position is consistent with the widely held (and generally correct, I would say) view that Hume is in one highly important sense a naturalist, and that I ascribe to him a realism that is neither Platonic, Scholastic, Cartesian, nor Hutchesonian: A. If naturalism is thought to be the view "that the whole of the universe or experience may be accounted for by a method like that of the physical sciences," then Hume must certainly be called a naturalist because of his efforts to extend the "experimental Method of Reasoning into moral Subjects".... Hume is a naturalist in that he sought to produce coherent philosophical explanations without the slightest recourse to supernatural entities or transcendental principles ... an obvious example of this kind of naturalism ... is his attempt to explain moral values as derived from human nature or from, that is, human beings as constituted and active in the world (DH 15-16). 191 B. By no stretch of the imagination can Hume be supposed to have borrowed this providential aspect of Hutcheson's thought, not even in morals (DH 54; also see p. 93). C I submit that /Hume/ holds that vice and disapprobation are not identical and that moral qualities are not merely sentiments but, rather, the objective correlates of sentiments. /Footnote:/ No rash conclusions should be drawn from this claim about objective correlates. I do not suggest that virtue and vice are objects in the ordinary sense (physical objects), or that they are transcendently existing qualities of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 189-214
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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