David Hume - Naturalistic Metaethics, Politics, and Psychology

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David Hume - Naturalistic Metaethics, Politics, and Psychology

ABSTRACT: According to the views expressed in this paper, influences unrelated to the conclusions of Immanuel Kant and G. E. Moore respecting what they saw as the appropriate foundation for moral systems seems to have been at work in the reactions of both to the earlier criticisms of David Hume. Building on a "recent meeting" with Hume in a pub on Princes Street in Edinburgh, I develop the suggestion that both Kant and Moore were loyal to traditional notions of an intuited, non-prudential basis for ethical injunctions. Kant, by his insistence that any morality linked only to hypothetical imperatives cannot be truly "moral," and Moore by his refusal to see the emptiness of his posited "good as simply good" which he felt must be kept free of any corrupting reference to real-world prudential constituents, thus support the foundation of ethical systems in an inner, unanalyzable moral impulse. And they do so in obedience to commitments that antedate their moral philosophies. I also claim that Hume has been misunderstood in that he did not mean to oppose the naturalistic grounding of moral systems in his famous statement disjoining is-statements from ought-statements; what he really intended was to point out the illogic of moralists who improperly pretend to derive categorical or intuited moral imperatives from real-world is-statements while denying any prudentiality or a posteriority to the transaction. Because both maintain that this simple inner moral impulse must be independent of prudential considerations in making moral decisions and judgments, Kant and Moore oppose naturalistic ethical systems which, like J.S. Mill's, suggest that this-worldly welfare and happiness are in large part coexistent with the true meaning of morality. Their position, therefore, places both of these proponents of intuitionist metaethics at odds with the principle of political social democrats that a respectable moral system must place worldly satisfactions and happiness above obedience to any putative "higher" moral law and its intuited imperatives.

I had a talk with David Hume one rainy night recently in a pub in Edinburgh, over—naturally—kippers with brown bread and a pint of stout or two. He let me in on a secret and gave me leave to whisper it in turn to a few friends. Which is why I jotted down this account of our meeting and am presenting it to you here.

Remember what that great analyst wrote to set in motion the train of thought that culminated in G.

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