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§5. Hume ’s Critique of Rational Intuitionism

§5. Hume ’s Critique of Rational Intuitionism

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    






Statement of the question.

Statement of the knockout argument, as I call it.

This argument supported by recalling II:iii:, paragraphs


–: Paragraph  of II:iii: further invoked.

–: Puzzling interlude.


Against Wollaston.


Conclusion of the knockout argument.

. This argument is followed by another meant to show that morality

cannot be demonstrated by reason:

–: If morality is demonstrable, it must consist in some moral

relation derivable from the four philosophical relations.


Such a moral relation must meet two conditions: the first

is that it has relata in both the mental and physical



The second is that not only must there be a connection

between the moral relation and the will, but also the

connection must be necessary and causal, a matter of

psychological influence. No relation meets these conditions.


Summary of paragraphs –.

–: These claims supported by examples of the ungrateful

oak sapling and of incestuous animals.


Nor does morality consist in a matter of fact.


It seems almost inconceivable that the relation of “ought”

should be deducible from “is.”

. The knockout argument in paragraphs – (T:–), given here a

bit more fully, is one that we have met before. In its barest form, it is as


Reason alone cannot move us to action.

Knowledge of morality can move us to action.

Therefore: Moral distinctions are not discerned by reason.

[  ]

   

Before commenting on how Clarke would reply, let’s recall the important distinction we made in the previous lecture (at the end of §) between

the epistemological question—how moral distinctions are known or ascertained, whether by reason or in some other way, say by moral sense—and

the question about motivation—how best to account for the fact that our

moral knowledge and beliefs influence what we do. Hume accepts this

distinction when he says, “ ’Tis one thing to know virtue, and another to

conform the will to it” (T:).

The reason for stressing this distinction is that, as I said last time,

Hume’s moral sense doctrine addresses the epistemological question: it is

intended to account for how we make moral distinctions. The question of

what desires and motives lead us to act on our moral beliefs is for him

another matter.

. To return to Clarke: how he could reply to Hume’s argument is clear

from our sketch of his rational moral psychology. He might grant that the

bare knowledge of morality alone does not move us, but that knowledge,

given our nature as rational beings, generates in us a principle-dependent

desire, as I called it,6 to act accordingly. This is part of what it means to

be created in the image of God. As so created, we have a basic predisposition

to desire to do what is right once our reason reaches fruition and we come

to know what is right.

I believe Hume’s attempted knockout argument is powerless against

this reply. To be sure, Clarke’s reply is also unsatisfactory. While he may

be able to answer the epistemological question at this general level, he has

yet to answer the motivational question in a convincing way, and both

questions must be answered by an adequate doctrine. It is not enough to

say that, given our nature, knowledge of the principles of fitness generates

desires to act accordingly.

A convincing account will say why the principles of fitness, in view of

their content—what they specifically declare to be right and wrong, good

and bad—have the central role and significance in our life that they do.

This account should lay out how these principles connect with human beings’ needs, aims, and purposes; it should say why, for example, oppression

and tyranny, murder and torture, injustice and degradation and the rest,

6. See Hume II, section , paragraph .

[  ]

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are wrongs, and not only wrongs but great wrongs. From what Clarke has

said, it is not clear why the answers should refer to the fitnesses of things

at all; he doesn’t say how those relations connect with our moral psychology and the fundamental ends of human life. This is not to say that he

couldn’t have done this. With Hume’s first argument, then, there seems

to be no convincing conclusion either way.

§. Hume’s Second Argument: Morality Not Demonstrable

. This brings us to Hume’s second argument (in paragraphs – [T:–

]), which does have some force, for it challenges the rational intuitionist

to specify the relation of fitness in such a way that it both coheres with

our moral convictions and is a working, and not an idle, part of a plausible

account of moral motivation. To be such a working part, the relation of

fitness itself must have a role. Hume thinks that the relation of fitness cannot be specified.

His argument in paragraphs – (T:–) is that morality cannot

be demonstrated from the four philosophical relations that provide the basis

of demonstrative reasoning—resemblance, contrariety, degrees in quality,

and proportion in quantity and number. Once again, Hume’s argument

tries for too much. Clarke claims that certain principles of fitness are selfevident and serve as axioms from which other principles of fitness can be

derived. He would see his doctrine as showing the incorrectness of Hume’s

narrow view of demonstrative reason. Hume can’t simply reject Clarke’s


. So in paragraphs – (T:–), he challenges the intuitionist to

specify the relation of fitness subject to two essential conditions. The first

is that it relate both acts of mind and external objects, and not acts of mind

alone, or external objects alone. The relation must hold between items in

both spheres. Hume thinks it unlikely that there is a suitable relation answering to this condition.

The second essential condition that Hume holds the relation of fitness

cannot meet is given in paragraph . Here he says, on the doctrine he is

rejecting: “ ’Tis not only suppos’d, that these relations [of fitness], being

eternal and immutable, are the same, when consider’d by every rational

[  ]

   

creature, but their effects are also suppos’d to be necessarily the same; and

’tis concluded they have no less, or rather a greater, influence in directing

the will of the deity, than in governing the rational and virtuous of our

own species. These two particulars are evidently distinct. ’Tis one thing to

know virtue, and another to conform the will to it.” He continues by saying

that if one is to show that the fitnesses of things express eternal laws “obligatory on every rational mind . . . we must also point out the connexion

betwixt the relation and the will; and . . . prove that this connexion is so

necessary, that in every well-disposed mind, it must take place and have

its influence.”

Hume believes that his account of causal connection earlier in the Treatise, I:iii, is sufficient to show that the proof of the necessity of such a connection cannot be given. The revealing point here is that Hume is talking about

psychological, or motivational, influence. He thinks that it is simply a fact

of human nature, which his whole account of morality supports, that there

is no such general causal influence and certainly no necessary causal connection at all. But it seems clear that Clarke is not talking about causal influence, or alleging a necessary causal law. He thinks of the fitnesses of things

as known by theoretical reason (in the sense earlier explained) and as providing correct normative grounds for moral judgments on actions. Hume is

using different basic ideas than Clarke, and there is no meeting of minds.

. The final paragraph,  (T:–), is subject to two interpretations.

The one most common for many decades now is to take it as stating

Hume’s law, so-called: namely, the principle of moral (or normative) reasoning that to reach a moral (or normative) conclusion, there must be at

least one moral (or normative) premise. Assuming that moral (or normative) concepts are not reducible to nonmoral (or non-normative) concepts,

this law is correct. We may call it Hume’s Law if we like, but it is not, I

think, what Hume meant to say.

For a sound textual interpretation of what Hume meant, we should see

the paragraph as the parting shot of the long argument against Clarke, and

look back to what he has been arguing in the more immediately preceding

paragraphs. For this purpose, paragraphs  (T:–) and  (T:–)

seem particularly important, the latter especially so. In paragraph , Hume

says that morality is not a matter of fact discovered by the understanding.

He writes: “You can never find it [the vice], till you turn your reflexion

[  ]

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§5. Hume ’s Critique of Rational Intuitionism

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