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

70. Hume's Moral Theory, by J. L. Mackie. (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1980. Pp. vii + 166. Paperback/ 4 . 50 , cloth x 8.95.) After a brief introduction and a short chapter on some of Hume's predecessors - Hobbes, Shaftesbury, Clarke, Wollaston, Mandeville, Hutcheson and Butler - Mr. Mackie proceeds to discuss Hume's own moral theory. This Mackie divides into three parts. First there is a chapter on Hume's moral psychology. Secondly, there are two chapters on Hume's moral epistemology , one on Hume's criticism of his opponents' view that moral distinctions are derived from (Mackie says 'based upon') reasons, and another on Hume's positive contention that moral distinctions are derived from a moral sense. Thirdly, there are another two chapters on Hume's contribution to substantive moral philosophy - if that is what it is. One is on justice and the other artificial virtues, the other on the natural virtues. A chapter on some of Hume's successors - Smith (Adam, not to be confused with the lesser known Alexander Smith) , Price and Reid - precedes a concluding chapter, which among other things discusses the advantages and disadvantages of morality. Mackie appears to think that Hume's moral psychology is confined to a discussion of the one statement that reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions . By 'ought only to be the slave of the passions' Mackie thinks Hume means that it is not the case that reason ought not to be the slave of the passions, which makes Mackie suggest that Hume is denying a moral proposition , not assorting one. But it could equally be taken to mean that reason ought not to be anything other than the slave of the passions, which looks more like a moral proposition . (If all moral propositions were false, the first might be true, but the second false.) Mackie criticises Hume's view on the grounds that 71. there is a very common kind of case to which it does not apply. I may want to drink so much that I persuade myself that alcohol is good for me, and then both a violent passion (desire for alcohol) and a calm passion (desire for my own good) combine to make me drink. In this case, Mackie says, we have 'an unholy alliance of calm passion with present desire opposing and perhaps suppressing well-founded belief. Whether passion might lead one to suppress a belief is not something Hume considered, though doubtless he ought to have done. But ? think he might have said that suppressing a belief is an action, for which there is_ a motive, desire for anxiety-free drinking, coupled with the (true) belief that if I suppress my belief that drinking is bad for me, I will achieve anxiety-free drinking. We may suppose , it is true, that every belief wants to stay alive, so to speak. Or rather, I must have a want to retain my belief that alcohol is bad for me for, unless I do retain it, I will drink, and I do not want to do what is bad for me. There is no reason, however, why this desire to go on believing that alcohol is bad for me should not be overridden by a stronger desire to have anxiety-free drinking. When my belief that alcohol is bad for me is finally suppressed, there is no problem. I am no more acting contrary to reason, in Hume's sense - Hume should really have said 'contrary to rational or irrational belief - than I was in suppressing it, for this belief no longer exists. Mackie also argues that if Clarke and Butler are right in thinking that situations necessarily demand the actions which fit them, Hume must be wrong in thinking that beliefs alone cannot move us to action, for the judgement that something is fit has 'inextricably interwoven in it the representative character and the motivating character which Hume thinks can belong only (sic) to distinct items'. I can not make sense of this, any more than I can of Butler's 'sentiment of the understanding and. . .perception of the heart' which Mackie quotes with some approval. Mackie 72. later...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 70-85
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.