How to derive morality from Hume's Maxim


The argument that follows has a certain air of prestidigitation about it. I attempt to show that, given a couple of innocent-seeming suppositions, it is possible to derive a positive and complete theory of normative ethics from the Humean maxim "You can't get ought from is." This seems, of course, absurd. If the reasoning isn't completely unhinged, you may be sure, the trick has to lie in those "innocent-seeming" props. And, in fact, you are right. But every argument has to begin somewhere, and, however questionable, those suppositions just don't seem to harbor serious normative import.

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Gerald Hull
State University of New York at Binghamton


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