The Nature of Morals Founded on the Human Fabric

In Esther Kroeker & Willem Lemmens (eds.), Hume's Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals: A Critical Guide. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 13-32 (2021)

Elizabeth S. Radcliffe
College of William and Mary
In section 1 of An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume claims that those who deny the reality of morals are disingenuous. He also notes that philosophy has had a history of disagreements about whether morals originate in reason or in sentiment. Throughout his book, Hume applies an experimental method to find the “universal principles” from which morality is ultimately derived. Then, in Appendix 1, he then argues for the origin of these principles in sentiment or taste, a product of “the human fabric.” Reason, Hume says, discovers objects “as they really stand in nature, without addition or diminution.” Taste “has a productive faculty, and gilding or staining all natural objects with the colours, borrowed from internal sentiment, raises, in a manner, a new creation.” How can the quest for universal principles find a satisfactory answer in taste, a “productive” faculty? How is the notion that morality is a “new creation” consistent with an insistence on the reality of moral distinctions? Are the deliverances of taste, which are prompts to virtue, also judgments that can be evaluated as true or false? This essay shows that, on a proper reading, the elements of Hume’s moral epistemology in the second Enquiry are largely consistent.
Keywords Hume  second Enquiry  morality  sentiment  reason  humanity  taste  objectivity  virtue  motivation
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