A Humean Naturalistic Moral Theory

Dissertation, University of Alberta (Canada) (2001)

Augustine Frimpong-Mansoh
Northern Kentucky University
This thesis is a Humean dialogue with David Hume on his influential ideas that are of contemporary philosophical influence and importance, in particular his ideas on the relation between morality and science. It interprets Hume's view of science in terms of his theory of causation and examines the connection that his causal theory of scientific explanation bears with his moral theory. The connection that Hume's causal theory bears with his moral theory has not been sufficiently appreciated and given a serious attention. This thesis defends the connection and argues that Hume's naturalism about morality defends continuity between moral inquiries and scientific investigations in terms of their explanatory functions. Hume defended a moral science to ground moral explanations and judgments in scientific foundation. Naturalism is often confused with realism. Rejecting recent interpretation of Hume as a "naturalistic realist," I argue that Hume saw moral truths as not validated by mind-independent moral facts, as realist claim. Instead, in the Humean account, we induce moral truths from values that we project onto the world by collective agreement. This idea is supported by Hume's convention theory of collective agreement. Hume's causal theory of moral behavior raises many puzzles. It seems that his naturalistic theory cannot say anything coherent about free human agency and judgments of moral responsibility. His theory also raises issues about moral luck. The thesis discusses the problems and many more, such as the place of normativity in Hume's naturalism about morality. My Humean dialogue with Hume is an effort to reconstruct his ideas in a clearer and systematic fashion in response to new insights and challenges raised by our contemporary philosophical and scientific developments. My objective is not to respond to Hume's arguments as repositories of dead historical ideas to be criticized and dismissed. Rather, I engage in a dialogue with the rich ideas of Hume as a sympathetic and questioning reader to reawaken them into a new life by rearguing them in sustained and systematic ways that make the best out of them, and examine what can be learned from them.
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