Expressivism, motivation internalism, and Hume

In Charles R. Pigden (ed.), Hume on Motivation and Virtue. Palgrave-Macmillan (2010)
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As a metaethicist, I am interested in whether expressivism is true, and thus interested in whether the argument that people think they find in Hume is a sound one. Not being a Hume scholar (but merely a devoted fan), I am less interested in whether Hume really was an expressivist or whether he really did present an argument in its favor. Hume’s metaethical views are very difficult to nail down, and by a careful selection of quotes one can present him as advocating expressivism, or cognitivist subjectivism, or moral skepticism, or a dispositional theory, or an ideal observer theory, or even utilitarianism. It is entirely possible that Hume’s position is indeterminate when considered against these terms of modern moral philosophy; it is also entirely possible that he was hopelessly confused (much as it pains me to admit it). However, I doubt very much that Hume should be interpreted as an expressivist in any straightforward manner, and therefore I am doubtful that he should be interpreted as arguing in its favor. Most of this paper does not discuss Hume directly at all: I critically discuss the motivation argument and I advocate a certain positive metaethical view—one that mixes elements of traditional expressivism with elements of cognitivism. This position is neutral between moral realism and radical moral skepticism. I close by wondering—very briefly— whether Hume might have held such a view. Given my reservations about the determinacy of Hume’s metaethical outlook, the case is not pressed with any vigor, but because it is an interpretation of Hume that has not, so far as I know, been articulated before, it may be of interest to note that it seems to be consistent with much of what he says—at least as much as any other precise interpretation



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Richard Joyce
Victoria University of Wellington

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