In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

61 PROJECTIONISM, REALISM, AND HUME'S MORAL SENSE THEORY* Introduction The character of Hume's moral theory is currently a topic of considerable discussion.1 We find in the recent literature essentially two sorts of interpretation of Hume's theory. On the one side there is the view that, for Hume, the distinction between virtue and vice is reducible to the moral sentiments of approval and disapproval. Associated with this view is the further claim that Hume ascribes to us the belief that virtue and vice exist as the counterparts to these sentiments; and, in addition, that this belief is, for Hume, a mistaken one. For reasons which will become obvious this may be described as the Projectionist account of Hume. On the other side, there is the attempt to represent Hume's moral theory as a form of realism, i.e., a theory according to which there are moral properties belonging to actions, or the agents who perform them, which provide objective correlates of the feelings which those actions, or the agents concerned, induce in us as spectators. Now clearly an important part of what is at stake between these different interpretations is the question of how seriously we should take Hume's own description of this theory as one according to which moral distinctions are derived from a moral sense. It is characteristic of the Projectionist interpretation to suggest that 'sense' is equivalent here to 'sentiment', and, indeed, that Hume's moral sense theory is tantamount to the denial that there is anything in Objects' themselves corresponding to our moral (or aesthetic) sentiments. The Realist interpretation, on the other hand, stresses the importance of Hume's references in 62 the Treatise to a moral (and aesthetic) sense, and the precedent provided in this respect by Hutcheson; and it takes seriously the idea that this sense enables us to become acquainted, via the sentiments involved, with the qualities of virtue and vice. My own interest in these different interpretations concerns their disagreement about the way in which we should understand Hume's notion of a moral sense. I wish to argue against the Projectionist interpretation, and its dismissive treatment of Hume's references to a moral sense, though it is a further question whether the view of Hume which emerges deserves the name of 'Realism'. 1. The Projectionist Interpretation It seems clear that the notion of a moral sense cannot be intended literally, i.e., as though there is a form of moral sense-perception strictly comparable to the modes of perception provided by the external senses. It is, presumably, part of the definition of a sense that it is a faculty whose function depends upon stimulation of an organ or, at least, receptors peculiar to that sense; and, furthermore, in the case of the various external senses there is -- except for the contact sense of touch -- a distinctive medium of perception. For both these reasons moral sense theorists can only be proposing an analogy with the external senses. In Hume's case in particular, however, there appear to be reasons for doubting whether the analogy can be more than superficial. Perhaps the most obvious of these lies with Hume's insistence on the action-guiding character of the distinction between moral good and evil (see e.g., T 437-462). For it seems clear that sense-perceptions g as such can have no direct influence upon our actions. 63 Then there is Hume's denial that morality consists in any matter of fact (T 468; EPM 292). If virtue and vice are to be considered the objects of some form of moral sense-perception their existence presumably does become a matter of fact. Finally, a moral sense theory seems to imply that judgements of virtue and vice are straightforwardly true or false, according to whether or not we perceive veridical Iy; while Hume's own discussion sometimes points to a non-propositional view of moral utterances as the expression of certain feelings or sentiments. These last two points remind us that Hume often appears to deny that values belong as intrinsic properties to the objects evaluated. This is obviously true of the following, much quoted, passage: Take any...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 61-92
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.