Hume’s practically epistemic conclusions?

Philosophical Studies 170 (3):501-524 (2014)
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The inoffensive title of Section 1.4.7 of Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, ‘Conclusion of this Book’, belies the convoluted treatment of scepticism contained within. It is notoriously difficult to decipher Hume’s considered response to scepticism in this section, or whether he even has one. In recent years, however, one line of interpretation has gained popularity in the literature. The ‘usefulness and agreeableness reading’ (henceforth U&A) interprets Hume as arguing in THN 1.4.7 that our beliefs and/or epistemic policies are justified via their usefulness and agreeableness to the self and others; proponents include Ardal (in Livingston & King (eds.) Hume: a re-evaluation, 1976), Kail (in: Frasca-Spada & Kail (eds.) Impressions of Hume, 2005), McCormick (Hume Stud 31:1, 2005), Owen (Hume’s reason, 1999), and Ridge (Hume Stud 29:2, 2003), while Schafer (Philosophers, forthcoming) also defends an interpretation along these lines. In this paper, I will argue that although U&A has textual merit, it struggles to maintain a substantive distinction between epistemic and moral justification—a distinction that Hume insists on. I then attempt to carve out the logical space for there being a distinctly epistemic notion of justification founded on usefulness and agreeableness. However, I find that such an account is problematic for two reasons: first, it cannot take advantage of the textual support for U&A; secondly, it is incompatible with other features of the text
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