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Hume Studies Volume XXI, Number 1, April 1995, pp. 75-93 Was Hume a Humean? ELIJAH MILLGRAM When it comes to talking about practical reasoning, "Humean" is a synonym for "instrumentalist." That is, a "Humean" view of practical reasoning is one on which only means-end reasoning directed toward satisfying antecedently given desires counts as practical reasoning at all. Witness, for instance, Michael Smith's fairly recent paper, "The Humean Theory of Motivation," which advances just this view; Smith, who does not discuss Hume himself, simply takes it for granted that the label "Humean" fits.1 It wasn't always this way: when Aurel Kolnai, some years back, wished to criticize instrumentalism, he described the view as Aristotle's, an attribution that would be unlikely now.2 Why care about a name? There are two reasons. First, if any theory of practical reasoning today deserves to be called the received view, it is instrumentalism .3 Calling it Hume's not only gives it the cachet that comes of association with a distinguished member of the philosophical pantheon, but invokes in its favor the arguments—and the rhetoric—Hume produces in the Treatise. Arguments for instrumentalism are hard to come by, but the lack is perhaps less urgently felt than it might be because it is assumed that Hume's arguments are already on hand. Second, the label gets in the way of reading Hume, and so obscures our vision of a characteristically ingenious and subtle philosophical mind: if we know what Humeanism is, and we consequently think we know what Hume thought, we are much less likely to see, and learn from, what he actually did think. Elijah Millgram is at the Department of Philosophy, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1006 USA. email: lije@clarity.princeton.edu 76 Elijah Millgram I am going to argue that linking Hume's name with instrumentalism is as inappropriate as linking Aristotle's: that, as a matter of textual point, the Hume of the Treatise is not an instrumentalist at all, and that the view of practical reasoning that he does have is incompatible with, and far more minimal than, instrumentalism. Then I will consider Hume's reasons for his view, and argue that they make sense when they are seen against the background of his semantic theory. And finally, I will try to say why it is that Hume has nonetheless been read as he has. Nailing down Hume's views on practical reasoning is a fairly ambitious project, and if this paper is to be kept within manageable bounds, we will need to restrict its scope. With the exception of passages that duplicate parts of the argument I will discuss, I will leave the body of argument preceding the famous "is-ought" passage to another occasion. And I will not discuss the first Appendix to the second Enquiry; it too deserves stand-alone treatment, since, as we will see, there is reason to believe that Hume changed his mind on some of these issues as he was finishing up the Treatise.4 That means that I will be focusing on the discussion surrounding Hume's well-known pronouncement that "[r]eason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."5 The instrumentalist appropriation of the battle cry, "Reason is the slave of the passions," identifies Humean passions with desires, as they are conceived by the contemporary philosophical community, and understands reason 's slavery to consist in its being allocated the task of finding the means to satisfy them. But a second glance at the trope should make it less than obvious that this is what the passage means. The point of practical reasoning, on the instrumentalist model, is to generate subsidiary motivations—desires or intentions —for the means to satisfy one's initial desires. Practical reasoning of this kind has a critical and coercive function: as Kant was later to point out, he who wills the end must will the means. (While an instrumentalist believes that only means-end reasoning is practical reasoning, he does believe that means-end reasoning is practical reasoning, and so...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 75-93
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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