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'Is* and Ought' in Context: Maclntyre's Mistake1 Murray MacBeth (1)What drives Hume to the conclusion that morality must be understood in terms of, explained and justified by reference to, the place of the passions and desires in human life is his initial assumption that either morality is the work of reason or it is the work of the passions and his own apparently conclusive arguments that it cannot be the work ofreason. (2)At the same time as they [Diderot, Hume, Kierkegaard and Kant] agree largely on the character of morality, they agree also upon what a rationaljustification ofmorality would have to be. Its key premises would characterise some feature or features of human nature; and the rules of morality would then be explained and justified as being those rules which a being possessing just such a nature could be expected to accept. (3)[Hume] treats this ground for the justification of the rules of property and this explanation ofthem as holding for all times andplaces, prosperous as well as unprosperous, ever since the rules were first artificially contrived. (4)It isjust suchreasoning which Hume advanced both to explain and to justify the rules ofjustice, conceived as he conceived them, and the obligations imposed by those rules, understood as he understood them. One characteristic common to these four quotations from Alasdair Maclntyre's influential books After Virtue and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? is a yoking which is neither explained nor justified in the surrounding context, of the concepts of explanation and justification. Hume is said to be concerned both to explain and to justify (1) "morality," (2) "the rules of morality," (3) "the rules of property," and (4) "the rules ofjustice," and it seems that in each case he used the same argument to do both. My aim in this paper is to argue that Maclntyre altogether fails to dojustice to the distinctionbetweenjustification and Volume XVII Number 2 41 MURRAY MACBETH explanation, a distinction which is of the utmost importance for the interpretation ofHume—and notjust ofHume's moral philosophy. I take as my target, however, not either ofthe books from which I drew my opening quotations, but a much earlier article ofMaclntyre's, "Hume on 'Is' and 'Ought'," in which the ideas expressed in the above quotations are foreshadowed. An examination ofaspects ofthis article will enable me to show, if I am right, how Maclntyre goes startlingly astray. That 1959 article set in motion a lively discussion of the interpretation of Hume: no less than six articles, by Atkinson, Flew, Hudson, and Hunter, all contributions to the debate sparked off by Maclntyre, are reprinted in either or both of Chappell (1968) and Hudson (1969).6 I am in broad agreement with the criticisms made of his article by Atkinson and Flew; but I think it instructive to identify, as they failed to do, Maclntyre's fundamental mistake, which, I shall argue at the end ofthis paper, resulted from the very kind ofconfusion against which Hume warned his readers, and warned them in precisely that passage with which Maclntyre was primarily concerned, the famous paragraph about "is" and "ought" at the end of the opening section of book 3 of Hume's Treatise. My identification of Maclntyre's mistake involves putting that "is"-"ought" paragraph in context: in both, ambitiously on my part, the broad context of the Treatise as a whole, and also the more immediate context of the opening sections of book 3. Maclntyre wrote his article less as a contribution to an ongoing discussion of Hume than as a contribution to an ongoing discussion of ethical naturalism. Mid-twentieth century anti-naturalists, as Maclntyre pointed out, often invoked the "is"-"ought" paragraph as putting forward a view which was direct a ancestor oftheir own. Hare, for instance, appeals in his article "Universalisability" to what he calls "Hume's Law,"7 with a footnote referring the reader to this paragraph of the Treatise; the "law" in question is, roughly, that "ought"-judgements cannot be deduced from "is"-judgements. Maclntyre argued that such an interpretation of Hume was mistaken; and a crucial part ofhis evidence was the claim that, "ifthe currentinterpretation ofHume'sviews on "is'and'ought...


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