Letter from a Gentleman in Dunedin to a Lady in the Countryside

In Hume on Is and Ought (2010)
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Abstract
I argue 1) That in his celebrated Is/Ought passage, Hume employs ‘deduction’ in the strict sense, according to which if a conclusion B is justly or evidently deduced from a set of premises A, A cannot be true and B false, or B false and the premises A true. 2) That Hume was following the common custom of his times which sometimes employed ‘deduction’ in a strict sense to denote inferences in which, in the words of Dr Watts’ Logick, ‘the premises, according to the reason of things, do really contain the conclusion that is deduced from them’; that although Hume sometimes uses ‘demonstrative argument’ as a synonym for ‘deduction’, like most of his contemporaries, he generally reserves the word ‘demonstration’ for deductive inferences in which the premises are both necessary and self-evident. 3) That Mr Hume did indeed mean to suggest that deductions from IS to OUGHT were ‘altogether inconceivable’ since if ought represents a new relation or affirmation, it cannot, in the strict sense, be justly deduced from premises which do not really contain it. 4) That in a large and liberal (or perhaps loose and promiscuous) sense Hume does deduce oughts and ought nots from observations concerning human affairs, but that the deductions in question are not inferences, but explanations, since in another sense of ‘deduce’, common in the Eighteenth Century, to deduce B from A is to trace B back to A or to explain B in terms of A; 5) That a small attention to the context of Hume’s remarks and to the logical notions on which they are based would subvert those vulgar systems of philosophy which exaggerate the distinction between fact and value; for just because it is ‘altogether inconceivable’ that the new relation or affirmation OUGHT should be a deduction from others that are entirely different from it, it does not follow that the facts represented by IS and IS NOT are at bottom any different from the values represented by OUGHT and OUGHT NOT.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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