Canadian Journal of Philosophy 42 (S1):117-133 (2012)

Elizabeth S. Radcliffe
College of William and Mary
Hume argues against the seventeenth-century rationalists that reason is impotent to motivate action and to originate morality. Hume's arguments have standardly been considered the foundation for the Humean theory of motivation in contemporary philosophy. The Humean theory alleges that beliefs require independent desires to motivate action. Recently, however, new commentaries allege that Hume's argument concerning the inertness of reason has no bearing on whether beliefs can motivate. These commentaries maintain that for Hume, beliefs about future pleasurable and painful objects on their own can produce the desires that move us to action. First, I show that this reading puts Hume at odds with Humeans, since the latter are committed, not only to the view that beliefs and desires are both necessary to action, but also to the view that beliefs do not produce desires. Second, I review textual, philosophical and historical grounds for my interpretation of Hume's argument for the inertness of reason. I argue that the new line on Hume, while consistent with a certain reading of the Treatise, is not supported by the Dissertation on the Passions and the second Enquiry, where Hume argues that all motivation has an origin in “taste”, which I take to be different from belief. Thus, Hume's arguments do support the contemporary Humean theory of motivation.
Keywords Hume  reason  motivation  desire  /practical reason/  taste  belief
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DOI 10.1080/00455091.2012.972134
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