Epistemology moralized: David Hume's practical epistemology

Hume Studies 29 (2):165-204 (2003)
- Peter Railton1 Railton's remark is accurate; contemporary philosophers almost invariably suppose that morality is more vulnerable than empirical science to scepticism. Yet David Hume apparently embraces an inversion of this twentieth century orthodoxy.2 In book I of the Treatise, he claims that the understanding, when it reflects upon itself, "entirely subverts itself" (T 1. 4.7.7; SBN 267) while, in contrast, in book III he claims that our moral faculty, when reflecting upon itself, acquires "new force" (T; SBN 619). Such passages suggest Hume's view is that morality's claims on us are justified, whereas the understanding's claims are not -- that scepticism about empirical science, but not morality, is irresistible. However, this interpretation does not accurately reflect Hume's position. Indeed, any interpretation which has Hume concluding that the understanding's claims on us are not justified faces an obvious worry - it makes nonsense of the rest of his naturalistic project, including, but not limited to, his description and justification of our moral faculty. For in defending his account of our moral faculty and, perhaps more clearly, in arguing against those who believe in miracles, Hume inescapably presupposes that the understanding's claims on us are in some sense justified. In light of Hume's meticulous and enthusiastic pursuit of his larger naturalistic project, one might even be tempted to conclude that Hume never really thought his sceptical arguments were sound. It would, however, be a mistake to submit to this temptation -- to do so would be to ignore the last part of book I of the Treatise, in which Hume evidently does find such arguments to be sound. Hume is undeniably impressed by scepticism about the
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI hume20032921
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 24,433
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Hsueh Qu (2014). Hume's Practically Epistemic Conclusions? Philosophical Studies 170 (3):501-524.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

47 ( #103,399 of 1,924,998 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

2 ( #308,471 of 1,924,998 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.