Human Nature and the Accessibility of Morality in Cudworth, Hutcheson, and Hume

Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1995)

Michael B. Gill
University of Arizona
Impressed by morality's internal accessibility and motivational force, philosophers from the Greeks to the present day have advanced the view that moral distinctions originate in human nature. Every incarnation of this view, however, has had to face one central question: what is it about human nature that justifies some moral judgments and not others? This dissertation charts the rise and fall of one approach to that question, that contained in the works of the British moralists of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. ;I argue, in the first four chapters, that in this period rationalists and sentimentalists alike collapsed justificatory questions into explanatory ones. I show how this collapse followed naturally from a widely-held theological conception of human nature, according to which it was possible to establish an immediate explanatory link between our original God-given constitution and some of our moral judgments. ;Against this background I turn, in chapters five and six, to David Hume, who shared his predecessors' commitment to founding moral distinctions in human nature but whose associative account severed the link between the explanation and justification of moral judgments. I maintain that Hume's work not only exposed the untenability of the theologically-based justificatory commitments of his predecessors but also casts serious doubt on contemporary efforts to ground normativity on reflexivity. Hume himself, I argue, makes plausible the suggestion that moral justification should be grounded not on the origins of judgments but on human ends that cannot and need not be justified in terms of anything else
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The Hume Literature, 1995.William E. Morris - 1996 - Hume Studies 22 (2):387-400.

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