Hume, motivation and “the moral problem”

Rivista di Storia Della Filosofia 62 (3):199-221 (2007)
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Hume is widely regarded as the grandfather of emotivism and indeed of non-cognitivism in general. For the chief argument for emotivism - the Argument from Motivation - is derived from him. In my opinion Hume was not an emotivist or proto-emotivist but a moral realist in the modern ‘response-dependent’ style. But my interest in this paper is not the historical Hume but the Hume of legend since the legendary Hume is one of the most influential philosophers of the present age. According to Michael Smith ‘the Moral Problem’ – the central issue in meta-ethics - is that the premises of Hume’s argument appear to be true though the non-cognitivist conclusion appears to be false. Since the argument seems to be valid, something has got to give. Smith struggles to solve the problem by holding on to something like the premises of the argument whilst trying to fend off the conclusion. In my view this is a wasted effort. Hume was not arguing for non-cognitivsm in the first place, and the arguments for non-cognitivism that can be extracted from his writings are no good. Either the premises are false or the inferences are invalid. And this is despite the fact that Hume was substantially right about reason and the passions. Thus ‘the Moral Problem’ is not a problem, and the legendary Hume does not deserve his influence. An important theme in this paper is the concept of a DTAD or a dispositions to acquire desires. These play an important role in motivation but unlike desires (with which they are sometimes confused ) they are NOT propositional attitudes
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