Intuitionism's burden: Thomas Reid on the problem of moral motivation

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 6 (1):21-44 (2008)
Hume bequeathed to rational intuitionists a problem concerning moral judgment and the will – a problem of sufficient severity that it is still cited as one of the major reasons why intuitionism is untenable.1 Stated in general terms, the problem concerns how an intuitionist moral theory can account for the intimate connection between moral judgment and moral motivation. One reason that this is still considered to be a problem for intuitionists is that it is widely assumed that the early intuitionists made little progress towards solving it. In this essay, I wish to challenge this assumption by examining one of the more subtle intuitionist responses to Hume, viz., that offered by Thomas Reid. For reasons that remain unclear to me, Reid's response to Hume on this issue has been almost entirely neglected. I shall argue that it is nonetheless one that merits our attention, for at least two reasons. In the first place, Reid's response to Hume's challenge to rational intuitionism bears a close affinity to the type of response that he offers to Hume's broadly skeptical challenge to realist views regarding our perception of the external world. Since Reid's strategy in the latter case is widely regarded as exhibiting significant promise, it is natural to wonder whether, when applied to the moral domain, this type of strategy displays similar promise.2 I will suggest that it does. That is, I will suggest that since Reid's broadly nativist position in perception is one well worth considering, then so also is his broadly nativist account of moral motivation. Second, Reid's position regarding moral motivation represents an intriguing attempt to blend a broadly intuitionist view with important insights from the sentimentalist tradition. In this respect, Reid's view is a genuine hybrid position unlike that offered by other intuitionists such as Richard Price. The synthetic character of Reid's position, I claim, gives it a unique type of theoretical richness, since it incorporates some very attractive features of both rational intuitionism and sentimentalism
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DOI 10.3366/E1479665108000067
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References found in this work BETA
Thomas Reid (2007). An Inquiry Into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense. In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Late Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell Pub. Ltd.
Thomas Reid (2007). Essays on the Active Powers of the Human Mind. In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia. Blackwell Pub. Ltd. 297-368.

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Citations of this work BETA
Terence Cuneo (2011). Reidian Metaethics: Part I. Philosophy Compass 6 (5):333-340.
Esther Engels Kroeker (2015). Thomas Reid Today. Journal of Scottish Philosophy 13 (2):95-114.

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