Hume on "Is" and "Ought"

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Pyrrho
 
Reply Mon 28 Dec, 2009 07:09 pm
To introduce the matter, I will provide a quote from Wikipedia that was taken in 2006 (they have modified the article since then; in my opinion, for the worse):

Quote:
The is-ought problem

Hume noted that many writers talk about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is (is-ought problem). But there seems to be a big difference between descriptive statements (what is) and prescriptive statements (what ought to be). Hume calls for writers to be on their guard against changing the subject in this way without giving an explanation of how the ought-statements are supposed to follow from the is-statements. But how exactly can you derive an 'ought' from an 'is'? That question, prompted by Hume's small paragraph, has become one of the central questions of ethical theory, and Hume is usually assigned the position that such a derivation is impossible. (Others interpret Hume as saying not that one cannot go from a factual statement to an ethical statement, but that one cannot do so without going through human nature, that is, without paying attention to human sentiments.) Hume is probably one of the first writers to make the distinction between normative (what ought to be) and positive (what is) statements, which is so prevalent in social science and moral philosophy. G. E. Moore defended a similar position with his "open question argument", intending to refute any identification of moral properties with natural properties-the so-called "naturalistic fallacy".

The old link:

David Hume - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Let us consider the relevant paragraph in Hume:

Quote:
I cannot forbear adding to these reasonings an observation, which may, perhaps, be found of some importance. In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention wou'd subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason.


Online Library of Liberty - SECTION I.: Moral Distinctions not deriv'd from Reason. - A Treatise of Human Nature

The above is the last paragraph in Book III, Part I, Section I, of A Treatise of Human NatureHume explicitly states that moral judgments are matters of fact. One can look to the paragraph that immediately precedes the famous one:

Quote:
Nor does this reasoning only prove, that morality consists not in any relations, that are the objects of science; but if examined, will prove with equal certainty, that it consists not in any matter of fact, which can be discovered by the understanding. This is the second part of our argument; and if it can be made evident, we may conclude, that morality is not an object of reason. But can there be any difficulty in proving, that vice and virtue are not matters of fact, whose existence we can infer by reason? Take any action allowed to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but it is the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. [emphasis added] Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compared to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind: And this discovery in morals, like that other in physics, is to be regarded as a considerable advancement of the speculative sciences; though, like that too, it has little or no influence on practice. Nothing can be more real, or concern us more, than our own sentiments of pleasure and uneasiness; and if these be favourable to virtue, and unfavourable to vice, no more can be requisite to the regulation of our conduct and behaviour.


Hume explicitly says that moral judgments are matters of fact. So if he were to say, in the very next paragraph, that moral judgments cannot be derived from matters of fact, that would be very strange indeed.

2. Hume went on in this book to derive moral statements from statements of fact, or "ought" statements from "is" statements. Indeed, the famous paragraph appears in the introductory chapter to Book III, "Of Morals". And he wrote an additional book devoted to the subject of ethics, entitled An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, which was a reworking of the ideas expressed in Book III of the Treatise, in which he derives "ought" statements from "is" statements, just like in the Treatise.

[Some have claimed, when I have mentioned this, that Hume would not be the first author to be inconsistent. However, as he did not literally say what people imagine he said, this charge of inconsistency needs to be supported, rather than merely asserted. This inconsistency, in fact, supports my view that he did not mean what most have claimed he meant. What he actually wrote is consistent with him later (pretty much immediately, in fact) deriving an "ought" from an "is", though what many suppose him to have meant is not.]

3. Hume wrote, in his autobiography, My Own Life:

Quote:
I had always entertained a notion, that my want of success in publishing the Treatise of Human Nature, had proceeded more from the manner than the matter, and that I had been guilty of a very usual indiscretion, in going to the press too early.


And later:

Quote:
In the same year was published at London, my Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals; which, in my own opinion (who ought not to judge on that subject) is of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best.


Online Library of Liberty - THE LIFE OF DAVID HUME, ESQ.: WRITTEN BY HIMSELF - The History of England, vol. 1

So, from the first quote, we may observe that Hume thought the manner of expression of the Treatise to be defective, and from the second, his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, which does not contain any version of the paragraph in question, was incomparably the best of his works. In other words, according to Hume, his philosophy of morals is better expressed without the paragraph in question. Consequently, he cannot have meant for that paragraph to have the central importance that many attribute to it.

Now, I do not expect to convince the true believers in the mainstream opinion that they are mistaken. What I am hoping, though, is if they are not going to change their opinion, at least explain why they hold on to their opinion. (Of course, hoping for something is not the same as expecting it, as no one has ever given me any good reason at all to believe the mainstream on this point.) Why should anyone believe that Hume ever thought that one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is"?

From past experience with such discussions, I suspect I may simply get some version of, it is perfectly obvious that he meant this, and anyone who does not see that is an idiot. Such is often the resort of those who have no reason for their position, but have held it for so long that they are emotionally attached to it, as a true believer in religion may say that is it perfectly obvious that there is a god & etc. Let us hope that this thread will not degenerate into such things too quickly.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 28 Dec, 2009 07:36 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;115103 wrote:
To introduce the matter, I will provide a quote from Wikipedia that was taken in 2006 (they have modified the article since then; in my opinion, for the worse):


The old link:

David Hume - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Let us consider the relevant paragraph in Hume:



Online Library of Liberty - SECTION I.: Moral Distinctions not deriv'd from Reason. - A Treatise of Human Nature

The above is the last paragraph in Book III, Part I, Section I, of A Treatise of Human NatureHume explicitly states that moral judgments are matters of fact. One can look to the paragraph that immediately precedes the famous one:



Hume explicitly says that moral judgments are matters of fact. So if he were to say, in the very next paragraph, that moral judgments cannot be derived from matters of fact, that would be very strange indeed.

2. Hume went on in this book to derive moral statements from statements of fact, or "ought" statements from "is" statements. Indeed, the famous paragraph appears in the introductory chapter to Book III, "Of Morals". And he wrote an additional book devoted to the subject of ethics, entitled An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, which was a reworking of the ideas expressed in Book III of the Treatise, in which he derives "ought" statements from "is" statements, just like in the Treatise.

[Some have claimed, when I have mentioned this, that Hume would not be the first author to be inconsistent. However, as he did not literally say what people imagine he said, this charge of inconsistency needs to be supported, rather than merely asserted. This inconsistency, in fact, supports my view that he did not mean what most have claimed he meant. What he actually wrote is consistent with him later (pretty much immediately, in fact) deriving an "ought" from an "is", though what many suppose him to have meant is not.]

3. Hume wrote, in his autobiography, My Own Life:



And later:



Online Library of Liberty - THE LIFE OF DAVID HUME, ESQ.: WRITTEN BY HIMSELF - The History of England, vol. 1

So, from the first quote, we may observe that Hume thought the manner of expression of the Treatise to be defective, and from the second, his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, which does not contain any version of the paragraph in question, was incomparably the best of his works. In other words, according to Hume, his philosophy of morals is better expressed without the paragraph in question. Consequently, he cannot have meant for that paragraph to have the central importance that many attribute to it.

Now, I do not expect to convince the true believers in the mainstream opinion that they are mistaken. What I am hoping, though, is if they are not going to change their opinion, at least explain why they hold on to their opinion. (Of course, hoping for something is not the same as expecting it, as no one has ever given me any good reason at all to believe the mainstream on this point.) Why should anyone believe that Hume ever thought that one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is"?

From past experience with such discussions, I suspect I may simply get some version of, it is perfectly obvious that he meant this, and anyone who does not see that is an idiot. Such is often the resort of those who have no reason for their position, but have held it for so long that they are emotionally attached to it, as a true believer in religion may say that is it perfectly obvious that there is a god & etc. Let us hope that this thread will not degenerate into such things too quickly.


But in this case, Hume explicitly states that moral judgments are matters of fact.

But he really does not say that, you know. What he says is that if we examine moral sentences we will find in them an expression of the feelings of the speaker, and that is the matter of fact. But he certainly does not say that the moral judgments are matters of fact. In fact, quite the opposite. They seem to express matters of fact, but really, what they are expressing is the speaker's emotions. It is a matter of fact that he has those emotions, of course. But the moral sentence does not express that as a matter of fact. What Hume is saying is that there are no moral matters of fact, but that there are matters of fact about the emotions of the speaker, and that we should not think there are moral matters of fact because there are matters of fact about the emotions of the speaker, and the moral sentence expresses those. Hume is just stating an anti-realist position in ethics.
 
Emil
 
Reply Mon 28 Dec, 2009 07:57 pm
@Pyrrho,
Funny. The reading I got of Hume (admittedly, not the Treatise, only the Enquiry) was that he was a quasi-realist, and that what is true is what disinterested, informed people think is true (in the field of ethics).

This is just a short reply. I have not had the time to read the OP yet.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 28 Dec, 2009 08:07 pm
@Emil,
Emil;115122 wrote:
Funny. The reading I got of Hume (admittedly, not the Treatise, only the Enquiry) was that he was a quasi-realist, and that what is true is what disinterested, informed people think is true (in the field of ethics).

This is just a short reply. I have not had the time to read the OP yet.


Is that what "quasi-realism" means?
 
Emil
 
Reply Mon 28 Dec, 2009 08:45 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;115126 wrote:
Is that what "quasi-realism" means?


I prefer not to use the term. It seems to be able to mean a lot of things, and it is not clear to me what it means in most cases.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 28 Dec, 2009 09:56 pm
@Emil,
Emil;115154 wrote:
I prefer not to use the term. It seems to be able to mean a lot of things, and it is not clear to me what it means in most cases.


I thought it meant something like interaction between mind and the world. So that, for instance, colors are quasi-realistic properties. And so are moral properties.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Mon 28 Dec, 2009 11:44 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;115113 wrote:
But in this case, Hume explicitly states that moral judgments are matters of fact.

But he really does not say that, you know.



Hume stated:

Quote:
Take any action allowed to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but it is the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compared to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind: ...
[For reference, see the original post in this thread]

Let us look at a few bits of this:

"The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object."

So, in other words, the vice is not in the object. He continued:

"You never can find it [the vice], till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but it is the object of feeling, not of reason."

Morality does concern matters of fact, but the facts are feelings, not derived from reason.


kennethamy;115113 wrote:
What he says is that if we examine moral sentences we will find in them an expression of the feelings of the speaker, and that is the matter of fact.



Yes.


kennethamy;115113 wrote:
But he certainly does not say that the moral judgments are matters of fact. In fact, quite the opposite. They seem to express matters of fact, but really, what they are expressing is the speaker's emotions. It is a matter of fact that he has those emotions, of course. But the moral sentence does not express that as a matter of fact. What Hume is saying is that there are no moral matters of fact, but that there are matters of fact about the emotions of the speaker, and that we should not think there are moral matters of fact because there are matters of fact about the emotions of the speaker, and the moral sentence expresses those. Hume is just stating an anti-realist position in ethics.



Hume, an anti-realist in ethics? Hume stated that no one is really an anti-realist in ethics. His words:

Quote:
Those who have denied the reality of moral distinctions, may be ranked among the disingenuous disputants; nor is it conceivable, that any human creature could ever seriously believe, that all characters and actions were alike entitled to the affection and regard of everyone. The difference, which nature has placed between one man and another, is so wide, and this difference is still so much farther widened, by education, example, and habit, that, where the opposite extremes come at once under our apprehension, there is no scepticism so scrupulous, and scarce any assurance so determined, as absolutely to deny all distinction between them. Let a man's insensibility be ever so great, he must often be touched with the images of Right and Wrong; and let his prejudices be ever so obstinate, he must observe, that others are susceptible of like impressions. The only way, therefore, of converting an antagonist of this kind, is to leave him to himself. For, finding that nobody keeps up the controversy with him, it is probable he will, at last, of himself, from mere weariness, come over to the side of common sense and reason.
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section I.

Online Library of Liberty - AN ENQUIRY concerning the PRINCIPLES OF MORALS - Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals

I may add, that people who deny the reality of morality invariably end up making moral judgements themselves, when they are not in their obstinate and contrary frame of mind. This is, in some respects, similar to how Hume remarks that people believe in cause and effect, regardless of whether they have any reason to do so or not. One might call it a habit of the mind.

Hume again:

Quote:
The hypothesis which we embrace is plain. It maintains that morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation; and vice the contrary. We then proceed to examine a plain matter of fact, to wit, what actions have this influence. We consider all the circumstances in which these actions agree, and thence endeavour to extract some general observations with regard to these sentiments.
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Apendix I.

Online Library of Liberty - APPENDIX I. concerning moral sentiment. - Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals
 
mickalos
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 04:30 am
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;115103 wrote:
To introduce the matter, I will provide a quote from Wikipedia that was taken in 2006 (they have modified the article since then; in my opinion, for the worse):


The old link:

David Hume - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Let us consider the relevant paragraph in Hume:



Online Library of Liberty - SECTION I.: Moral Distinctions not deriv'd from Reason. - A Treatise of Human Nature

The above is the last paragraph in Book III, Part I, Section I, of A Treatise of Human NatureHume explicitly states that moral judgments are matters of fact. One can look to the paragraph that immediately precedes the famous one:



Hume explicitly says that moral judgments are matters of fact. So if he were to say, in the very next paragraph, that moral judgments cannot be derived from matters of fact, that would be very strange indeed.

2. Hume went on in this book to derive moral statements from statements of fact, or "ought" statements from "is" statements. Indeed, the famous paragraph appears in the introductory chapter to Book III, "Of Morals". And he wrote an additional book devoted to the subject of ethics, entitled An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, which was a reworking of the ideas expressed in Book III of the Treatise, in which he derives "ought" statements from "is" statements, just like in the Treatise.

" am persuaded, that this small attention wou'd subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason."
This seems to be an explicit claim that moral claims cannot be reduced to empirical claims.

Hume does provide an argument for this. He argues that it follows from his theory of practical reason, which he outlines in book 2, part 3, section 3 of the Treatise. To sum it up, empirical observation and reason can tell us that doing something might be pleasurable of painful (he's not a utilitarian , I'm just using pleasure and pain as an example, you may well subsitute income and loss, or anything else for that matter), but whether or not we should do it depends on our sentiments to the expected pleasure and pain. There is no reason why a sadomasochist should not mutilate himself. 'Reason is a slave to the passions', it does not motivate action. Hume argues that morality does indeed motivate action at the beginning of Book 3, part 1, section 3, and that it therefore lies in the realm of the passions not in the realm of cause and effect or matters of fact.

This does seem to imply that we cannot derive categorical imperatives from is statements. How do we derive a statement like "People ought not rape" from the facts and effects about rape? There is no rule of logical inference that allows us to do it. We can, however, derive hypothetical imperatives. For example, it seems to be correct to say that rape causes physical and emotional pain, from this we can derive the hypothetical imperative, if you don't want to cause physical and emotional pain, you ought not rape people. Certainly, neo-Humean theories of practical reasoning seem to consider deciding how one ought to act comes in the form of belief-desire pairs, e.g.:

Desires

I want to satiate my hunger
I have a preference for doing this with ham sandwiches

Belief
The supermarket sells ham sanwhiches, they would satiate my hunger.

Action I ought to take (given a lot of other beliefs and preferences about the amount of time it takes to get to the supermarket, the cost of the food, and the effects of eating it.)
I ought to go to the supermarket, buy a ham sandwich, and eat it.

The action is contingent, like a hypothetical imperative, on the desires and the belief. 'Vulger' systems of morality do not usually consider whether someone ought to follow its prescriptions to be contingent on their desires and beliefs. I'm not saying Hume views morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives, merely the he does not consider it to be a system of categorical imperatives.

[quote][Some have claimed, when I have mentioned this, that Hume would not be the first author to be inconsistent. However, as he did not literally say what people imagine he said, this charge of inconsistency needs to be supported, rather than merely asserted. This inconsistency, in fact, supports my view that he did not mean what most have claimed he meant. What he actually wrote is consistent with him later (pretty much immediately, in fact) deriving an "ought" from an "is", though what many suppose him to have meant is not.]

3. Hume wrote, in his autobiography, My Own Life:



And later:



Online Library of Liberty - THE LIFE OF DAVID HUME, ESQ.: WRITTEN BY HIMSELF - The History of England, vol. 1

So, from the first quote, we may observe that Hume thought the manner of expression of the Treatise to be defective, and from the second, his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, which does not contain any version of the paragraph in question, was incomparably the best of his works. In other words, according to Hume, his philosophy of morals is better expressed without the paragraph in question. Consequently, he cannot have meant for that paragraph to have the central importance that many attribute to it.

[/quote]'Manner rather than matter' could be taken to mean style rather than substance. In any case, it certainly does not follow from the apparent fact that Hume thought the Treatise was imperfect (perhaps in style, length, or structure), and that he that he thought the second Enquiry, which doesn't contain the exact formulation, was better, that he didn't believe you couldn't derive an ought statement from empirical facts (except in the form of a hypothetical imperative). Indeed, one thing he does say in the enquiry is:

"Morality is determined by sentiment"
 
Emil
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 07:00 am
@Pyrrho,
Mickalos,

Have you by any chance read The Myth of Morality? You use almost exactly the same terms and wordings as in that book. I only noticed because I am reading it myself (currently at p. 65/240).


---------- Post added 12-29-2009 at 02:01 PM ----------

And I don't agree with Kennethamy about the anti-realism view. He should re-read the sentence "Nor does this reasoning only prove, that morality consists not in any relations, that are the objects of science; but if examined, will prove with equal certainty, that it consists not in any matter of fact, which can be discovered by the understanding" [my emphasis].

It seems to me that this final clause is of most importance. Without it, I would interpret him as a non-realist, but this clause makes it clear that he only thinks that it is the understanding that cannot discover the matter of fact, not that there is no matter of fact. I believe he wrote this because of the prevalent views about morality having some rational justification or foundation.
 
ACB
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 08:09 am
@Emil,
Emil;115258 wrote:
And I don't agree with Kennethamy about the anti-realism view. He should re-read the sentence "Nor does this reasoning only prove, that morality consists not in any relations, that are the objects of science; but if examined, will prove with equal certainty, that it consists not in any matter of fact, which can be discovered by the understanding" [my emphasis].

It seems to me that this final clause is of most importance. Without it, I would interpret him as a non-realist, but this clause makes it clear that he only thinks that it is the understanding that cannot discover the matter of fact, not that there is no matter of fact. I believe he wrote this because of the prevalent views about morality having some rational justification or foundation.


It depends on whether you read "which can be discovered by the understanding" as a restrictive or a non-restrictive clause. You are reading it as restrictive (= a matter of fact that can be discovered etc, as opposed to one that cannot). But it could be interpreted non-restrictively (= any matter of fact; "matter of fact" being defined as something that can be discovered by the understanding).

One difficulty is that Hume's 18th-century English uses commas before restrictive clauses, which we no longer do, so it can sometimes be ambiguous.
 
Emil
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 08:54 am
@ACB,
ACB;115273 wrote:
It depends on whether you read "which can be discovered by the understanding" as a restrictive or a non-restrictive clause. You are reading it as restrictive (= a matter of fact that can be discovered etc, as opposed to one that cannot). But it could be interpreted non-restrictively (= any matter of fact; "matter of fact" being defined as something that can be discovered by the understanding).

One difficulty is that Hume's 18th-century English uses commas before restrictive clauses, which we no longer do, so it can sometimes be ambiguous.


Ok. I'm not much into this interpretation game. Some people think that it is important that some philosophy X shares their views. To me it doesn't matter much if Hume was a non-realist or realist about ethics.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 01:06 pm
@mickalos,
mickalos;115246 wrote:
" am persuaded, that this small attention wou'd subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason."
This seems to be an explicit claim that moral claims cannot be reduced to empirical claims.



It is an explicit claim that the manner of deriving morality that others have done is wrong. It is a part of his saying that morality is derived from sentiment, rather than reason. Morality is not (according to Hume) independent of perception; it is essentially an emotional reaction to things rather than something located in the things judged to be moral or immoral. But the fact that humans have feelings or sentiments is a fact.


mickalos;115246 wrote:
Hume does provide an argument for this. He argues that it follows from his theory of practical reason, which he outlines in book 2, part 3, section 3 of the Treatise. To sum it up, empirical observation and reason can tell us that doing something might be pleasurable of painful (he's not a utilitarian , I'm just using pleasure and pain as an example, you may well subsitute income and loss, or anything else for that matter), but whether or not we should do it depends on our sentiments to the expected pleasure and pain. There is no reason why a sadomasochist should not mutilate himself. 'Reason is a slave to the passions', it does not motivate action. Hume argues that morality does indeed motivate action at the beginning of Book 3, part 1, section 3, and that it therefore lies in the realm of the passions not in the realm of cause and effect or matters of fact.



Reason, of itself, does not motivate action. Since morality motivates action, morality must have its driving force in something other than reason. So morality is not simply a matter of reason. Hence, the introduction of the idea that morality is derived from sentiments, not reason.


mickalos;115246 wrote:
This does seem to imply that we cannot derive categorical imperatives from is statements. How do we derive a statement like "People ought not rape" from the facts and effects about rape? There is no rule of logical inference that allows us to do it. We can, however, derive hypothetical imperatives. For example, it seems to be correct to say that rape causes physical and emotional pain, from this we can derive the hypothetical imperative, if you don't want to cause physical and emotional pain, you ought not rape people. Certainly, neo-Humean theories of practical reasoning seem to consider deciding how one ought to act comes in the form of belief-desire pairs, e.g.:

Desires

I want to satiate my hunger
I have a preference for doing this with ham sandwiches

Belief
The supermarket sells ham sanwhiches, they would satiate my hunger.

Action I ought to take (given a lot of other beliefs and preferences about the amount of time it takes to get to the supermarket, the cost of the food, and the effects of eating it.)
I ought to go to the supermarket, buy a ham sandwich, and eat it.

The action is contingent, like a hypothetical imperative, on the desires and the belief. 'Vulger' systems of morality do not usually consider whether someone ought to follow its prescriptions to be contingent on their desires and beliefs. I'm not saying Hume views morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives, merely the he does not consider it to be a system of categorical imperatives.



Okay.


mickalos;115246 wrote:
'Manner rather than matter' could be taken to mean style rather than substance.



How else would one take it?


mickalos;115246 wrote:
In any case, it certainly does not follow from the apparent fact that Hume thought the Treatise was imperfect (perhaps in style, length, or structure), and that he that he thought the second Enquiry, which doesn't contain the exact formulation, was better, that he didn't believe you couldn't derive an ought statement from empirical facts (except in the form of a hypothetical imperative).



Your exception is the point.


mickalos;115246 wrote:

Indeed, one thing he does say in the enquiry is:

"Morality is determined by sentiment"



Morality is not reducible to descriptive statements of the observed actions that are judged to be moral or immoral; it is derived from the sentiments of the observer (though let us note, by "observer", in this context, one need only think about it rather than actually perceive it through one of the senses).

However, the fact that the observer has feelings or sentiments is a matter of fact, and that fact can be analyzed. And that fact is the source of morality. And being a fact, we have an "is" sort of statement, from which the "ought" is derived. Hume never stated that no "ought" can be derived from an "is"; he said that the way that the "vulgar" systems of morality did so was illegitimate, which, of course, is correct. Morality is not what historically philosophers had previously tended to imagine it to be.

Of course, it is not every sentiment that is relevant to morality, but that is something that can be discussed at another time.

---------- Post added 12-29-2009 at 02:28 PM ----------

Emil;115280 wrote:
Ok. I'm not much into this interpretation game. Some people think that it is important that some philosophy X shares their views. To me it doesn't matter much if Hume was a non-realist or realist about ethics.


In a way, you are right; it does not matter whether some dead guy was right or wrong about ethics (or anything else), nor does it matter whether or not the dead guy's opinion coincides with one's own. But, still, an analysis of what Hume had to say is instructive, and there are clearly incorrect interpretations that one can make of what someone has stated. Getting as clear as possible is useful, not only for being correct about the dead (which, as I have already stated, is, in itself, rather trivial), but also influences one's ability to understand others, and to be understood by others. In any given case, of course, there may be some ambiguity in what was stated, or there may be instances where someone unambiguously states something that is not believed (as, for example, an atheist in Hume's day would have been well-advised to never state that honestly in public, and to rigorously insist that one believed in God).

Regarding your other post:

Emil;115258 wrote:
...
And I don't agree with Kennethamy about the anti-realism view. He should re-read the sentence "Nor does this reasoning only prove, that morality consists not in any relations, that are the objects of science; but if examined, will prove with equal certainty, that it consists not in any matter of fact, which can be discovered by the understanding" [my emphasis].

It seems to me that this final clause is of most importance. Without it, I would interpret him as a non-realist, but this clause makes it clear that he only thinks that it is the understanding that cannot discover the matter of fact, not that there is no matter of fact. I believe he wrote this because of the prevalent views about morality having some rational justification or foundation.



My reading of it is that the morality of the matter is not discovered in any matter of fact in the situation observed or under consideration. It is in the emotions of the one considering the event, not in the event itself (which is stated afterwards). The "vulgar" systems of morality had tried to locate the virtue or vice of an action in the action itself, and it is not to be found there at all. That is the revolutionary idea of Hume regarding ethics.

But Hume paid attention to the way that morality is judged by people, so he did not end up with an individualist subjectivist approach, which would not capture what, in fact, is occurring when people make moral judgements. There is something quite different going on when, for example, I express a preference for Piper-Heidsieck over every other wine I have had, and my preference for people not to murder others for their wallets. Any ethical theory that cannot distinguish between such preferences would fail to capture what is going on with specifically ethical judgments. And, consequently, would be wrong.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 02:00 pm
@Emil,
Emil;115258 wrote:
Mickalos,

Have you by any chance read The Myth of Morality? You use almost exactly the same terms and wordings as in that book. I only noticed because I am reading it myself (currently at p. 65/240).


---------- Post added 12-29-2009 at 02:01 PM ----------

And I don't agree with Kennethamy about the anti-realism view. He should re-read the sentence "Nor does this reasoning only prove, that morality consists not in any relations, that are the objects of science; but if examined, will prove with equal certainty, that it consists not in any matter of fact, which can be discovered by the understanding" [my emphasis].

It seems to me that this final clause is of most importance. Without it, I would interpret him as a non-realist, but this clause makes it clear that he only thinks that it is the understanding that cannot discover the matter of fact, not that there is no matter of fact. I believe he wrote this because of the prevalent views about morality having some rational justification or foundation.


Do you think that Hume thought that there was any matter of facts that could not be discovered by the understanding? And that he was saying that there might be ethical facts which simply were not discoverable? So that murder is wrong might be a matter of fact, but that we might not be able to know it is? I doubt it.
 
ACB
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 03:30 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;115338 wrote:
However, the fact that the observer has feelings or sentiments is a matter of fact, and that fact can be analyzed. And that fact is the source of morality. And being a fact, we have an "is" sort of statement, from which the "ought" is derived.


We do indeed have an "is" statement, but I disagree that an "ought" can be (logically) derived from it. From the fact that X thinks murder is wrong, or that most people think murder is wrong, it does not follow that murder is wrong, i.e. that we "ought" not to commit murder. Generally, the fact that someone (or everyone) believes P does not prove that P is true. Where P is an empirical proposition, widespread belief in P may provide strong evidence for its truth. But an "ought" statement is not an empirical proposition, so belief in it can provide no evidence for it at all.

Pyrrho;115338 wrote:
But Hume paid attention to the way that morality is judged by people, so he did not end up with an individualist subjectivist approach, which would not capture what, in fact, is occurring when people make moral judgements. There is something quite different going on when, for example, I express a preference for Piper-Heidsieck over every other wine I have had, and my preference for people not to murder others for their wallets. Any ethical theory that cannot distinguish between such preferences would fail to capture what is going on with specifically ethical judgments. And, consequently, would be wrong.


But a subjectivist approach is, to some extent, unavoidable. The general consensus on moral issues varies through history and between cultures, and even within a single community there may be no consensus in difficult cases. Even a well-meaning and thoughtful individual may waver when faced with moral dilemmas. Is theft or lying or violence ever justified, and if so, when? Is it right to kill someone to prevent him/her from killing innocent people? And so on. Even if you could derive an "ought" from a simple "is" (which, as I argue above, I don't think you can), the "is" in these difficult cases is far from simple. And there will also be many marginal cases where there is a clear, but not overwhelming, consensus. So I don't think it is possible to build an objective ethical theory.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 03:57 pm
@ACB,
ACB;115376 wrote:
We do indeed have an "is" statement, but I disagree that an "ought" can be (logically) derived from it.



The ought is not a separate thing from the feelings of those contemplating the action. Hume stated:

Quote:
So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it.

Online Library of Liberty - SECTION I.: Moral Distinctions not deriv'd from Reason. - A Treatise of Human Nature

And:

Quote:
The hypothesis which we embrace is plain. It maintains that morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation; and vice the contrary. We then proceed to examine a plain matter of fact, to wit, what actions have this influence. We consider all the circumstances in which these actions agree, and thence endeavour to extract some general observations with regard to these sentiments.


Online Library of Liberty - APPENDIX I. concerning moral sentiment. - Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals

Morality is not something that has an independent existence from "spectators".


ACB;115376 wrote:
From the fact that X thinks murder is wrong, or that most people think murder is wrong, it does not follow that murder is wrong, i.e. that we "ought" not to commit murder.



All that it means to say, "murder is wrong", is that murder gives to a spectator the sentiment of disapprobation. There is nothing more to it than that (though that is not as simple as it might at first appear). If you are thinking, this does not generate a Kantian moral ought, then of course, you are right. But that is irrelevant to what Hume is saying; there is nothing more to morality than that spectators have a feeling of approbation or disapprobation (to use Hume's choice of phrase).


ACB;115376 wrote:
Generally, the fact that someone (or everyone) believes P does not prove that P is true. Where P is an empirical proposition, widespread belief in P may provide strong evidence for its truth. But an "ought" statement is not an empirical proposition, so belief in it can provide no evidence for it at all.



Many people have false beliefs about ethics, imagining that it is derived from reason and all sorts of foolishness. Of course, they are wrong about morality.


ACB;115376 wrote:
But a subjectivist approach is, to some extent, unavoidable.



That will depend upon what, precisely, you mean by "subjectivist". If you mean based upon feelings, then you are right, but I would suggest using different expressions for that.


ACB;115376 wrote:
The general consensus on moral issues varies through history and between cultures, and even within a single community there may be no consensus in difficult cases. Even a well-meaning and thoughtful individual may waver when faced with moral dilemmas. Is theft or lying or violence ever justified, and if so, when? Is it right to kill someone to prevent him/her from killing innocent people? And so on. Even if you could derive an "ought" from a simple "is" (which, as I argue above, I don't think you can), the "is" in these difficult cases is far from simple. And there will also be many marginal cases where there is a clear, but not overwhelming, consensus. So I don't think it is possible to build an objective ethical theory.



Yes, there are ethical disagreements. That is true no matter what theory of ethics one has. Don't you think that it is a virtue of Hume's ideas that his system is compatible with the world as we know it? It is not some airy-fairy metaphysical nonsense that has no connection with reality.
 
mickalos
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 06:52 pm
@Pyrrho,
Emil;115258 wrote:
Mickalos,

Have you by any chance read The Myth of Morality? You use almost exactly the same terms and wordings as in that book. I only noticed because I am reading it myself (currently at p. 65/240).


Can't say I've heard of him. The only place I've ever heard the term 'neo-humean practical reason', or heard it characterised as involving a pairing beliefs and desires, is in and article by Peter Railton in The Oxford Handbook to Ethics called 'Humean Theory of Practical Rationality'. Sounds like quite an interesting book, at least from what google tells me. Error theory crossed with quasi realism?


Pyrrho;115338 wrote:
It is an explicit claim that the manner of deriving morality that others have done is wrong. It is a part of his saying that morality is derived from sentiment, rather than reason. Morality is not (according to Hume) independent of perception; it is essentially an emotional reaction to things rather than something located in the things judged to be moral or immoral. But the fact that humans have feelings or sentiments is a fact.





Reason, of itself, does not motivate action. Since morality motivates action, morality must have its driving force in something other than reason. So morality is not simply a matter of reason. Hence, the introduction of the idea that morality is derived from sentiments, not reason.





Okay.





How else would one take it?





Your exception is the point.


Sorry, I thought you were arguing that categorical ought statements, which is what people have traditionally considered morality to take the form of, could be derived from is statements. Am I correct in saying you are actually arguing that only hypothetical oughts can be derived from is statements? I think very few people would think that Hume says anything other than this; in fact, it seems to be necessary for Hume's theory of practical reason that one can formulate hypothetical imperatives.

Quote:
Morality is not reducible to descriptive statements of the observed actions that are judged to be moral or immoral; it is derived from the sentiments of the observer (though let us note, by "observer", in this context, one need only think about it rather than actually perceive it through one of the senses).

However, the fact that the observer has feelings or sentiments is a matter of fact, and that fact can be analyzed. And that fact is the source of morality. And being a fact, we have an "is" sort of statement, from which the "ought" is derived. Hume never stated that no "ought" can be derived from an "is"; he said that the way that the "vulgar" systems of morality did so was illegitimate, which, of course, is correct. Morality is not what historically philosophers had previously tended to imagine it to be.

Of course, it is not every sentiment that is relevant to morality, but that is something that can be discussed at another time.
[/COLOR]
How exactly do you think facts about ones sentiments are the source of morality? Two possibilities strike me. Firstly, you might argue that morality is a system of hypothetical imperatives with a stronger binding force than normal hypothetical imperatives (Philippa Foot does this in her appropriately named paper, 'Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives'). On the other hand, you could argue that the facts about sentiment tell us about a persons character, and base moral judgements on that, i.e. virtue ethics (Philippa Foot again).
 
ACB
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 07:30 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;115382 wrote:
Don't you think that it is a virtue of Hume's ideas that his system is compatible with the world as we know it? It is not some airy-fairy metaphysical nonsense that has no connection with reality.


Yes, I agree with Hume that morality is determined by the sentiment of "spectators" and has no independent metaphysical existence. But this view "deconstructs" morality and turns it into quite a different kind of thing - not morality proper but the illusion of morality. To give an analogy: If I were to claim "God is only a concept", it would be contradictory (or at least misleading) for me to add "But God really exists". Similarly, if you agree with Hume (as I do) that morality is merely a matter of feelings, I think it inconsistent to maintain that morality really exists, since the essence of the concept has been lost. If you subsequently want to refer to "morality", the word should be put in quotes.

There are, however, the following psychological problems:

1. If we witness someone committing murder, we are all likely to react emotionally. But this seems to indicate that, at some level, we all think murder is "really" (metaphysically) wrong. If we believe that its wrongness consists merely in our feeling that it is wrong, then there is an infinite regress (we feel that we feel it is wrong....) Each successive level is to do with our feelings, not with "objective" wrongness. But why should we react emotionally to our own feelings? Isn't that circular?

The solution, I think, is that on a rational level we may believe that morality is just a matter of our feelings, but on an instinctive level we cling to the belief that it exists independently. We should be careful, however, not to confuse these two levels. When considering the matter rationally, we should not (if we agree with Hume) try to claim that morality is real.

2. A further problem is this. Something to which we have a strong aversion is not necessarily regarded as "morally wrong"; it may merely be regarded as "disgusting". For example, the sight of a mangled body at the scene of an accident will arouse disgust (and pity) but not necessarily moral condemnation. How does Hume's theory deal with this issue?
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 07:33 pm
@mickalos,
mickalos;115418 wrote:
...



Sorry, I thought you were arguing that categorical ought statements, which is what people have traditionally considered morality to take the form of, could be derived from is statements. Am I correct in saying you are actually arguing that only hypothetical oughts can be derived from is statements? I think very few people would think that Hume says anything other than this; in fact, it seems to be necessary for Hume's theory of practical reason that one can formulate hypothetical imperatives.



I am not happy with your terminology. Morality expresses nothing more than feelings (though not every feeling). If you wish to import Kantian terms into this, I cannot stop you, but I do not find them helpful in understanding either Hume or reality.


mickalos;115418 wrote:

How exactly do you think facts about ones sentiments are the source of morality? Two possibilities strike me. Firstly, you might argue that morality is a system of hypothetical imperatives with a stronger binding force than normal hypothetical imperatives (Philippa Foot does this in her appropriately named paper, 'Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives'). On the other hand, you could argue that the facts about sentiment tell us about a persons character, and base moral judgements on that, i.e. virtue ethics (Philippa Foot again).



I very much dislike the terminology you are selecting. With a typical hypothetical imperative, it is merely wanting something that gives the motivating force. However, Hume's approach is more subtle than that. It is not every sentiment that is a moral sentiment, and I think that is important to understanding morality.

But, if one insists on using your terminology, I believe the best response is to say that morality is a system of hypothetical imperatives that has a stronger binding force than ordinary hypothetical imperatives. But I will not defend that terminology.

---------- Post added 12-29-2009 at 09:02 PM ----------

ACB;115428 wrote:
Yes, I agree with Hume that morality is determined by the sentiment of "spectators" and has no independent metaphysical existence. But this view "deconstructs" morality and turns it into quite a different kind of thing - not morality proper but the illusion of morality.



On that point I very much disagree. The illusion is that there is more to morality than what Hume proposes. It is Kant and his ilk (including many predecessors) who go beyond reality and want morality to be more than it is, and who generally denigrate what it really is.


ACB;115428 wrote:
To give an analogy: If I were to claim "God is only a concept", it would be contradictory (or at least misleading) for me to add "But God really exists". Similarly, if you agree with Hume (as I do) that morality is merely a matter of feelings, I think it inconsistent to maintain that morality really exists, since the essence of the concept has been lost. If you subsequently want to refer to "morality", the word should be put in quotes.

There are, however, the following psychological problems:

1. If we witness someone committing murder, we are all likely to react emotionally. But this seems to indicate that, at some level, we all think murder is "really" (metaphysically) wrong.



No. When I say, murder is wrong, I do not imagine that there is a platonic form of wrongness attached to it. I have certain feelings about it, and, given the nature of other people, expect that all, or virtually all, others will have like feelings. This contrasts with matters of personal preference, as, for example, my wife prefers Heidsieck & Co Monopole Champagne to Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, and for me, it is the reverse (though both are excellent). When one pronounces that murder is wrong, there is the general expectation that normal humans will agree, but intelligent people do not expect all personal preferences to be alike, even restricting the matter to normal people.


Ethics is based upon feelings, but it is not merely saying, "murder, icky!" It is not merely one's personal feelings, but is based upon feelings that all, or nearly all, people have. The language of ethics is importantly different from the language used to express personal preferences, which is due to the fact that it is a different matter involving different types of feelings. My personal preference for, say, Piper Heidsieck Champagne over every other wine I have tried is not a moral judgement, and does not have the same "feel" as saying that one ought not murder, nor do I have the same expectations of agreement with other people (though this second part is not essential).

When speaking the language of morals, one is not speaking from one's own perspective per se, but with a disinterested detachment. Morality is most easily seen when one considers cases in which one's own self interest is not involved. If, say, there is a minor transaction on the other side of the world, such that you will gain or lose nothing no matter how it goes, how do you feel, and how would most people feel, about the one person cheating the other one? That is the source and essence of morality. Of course, this brief summary does not do justice to Hume's ideas; for that, read Hume for yourself:

Online Library of Liberty - Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals

The appendices are important, so make sure they are not skipped.


ACB;115428 wrote:
If we believe that its wrongness consists merely in our feeling that it is wrong, then there is an infinite regress (we feel that we feel it is wrong....) Each successive level is to do with our feelings, not with "objective" wrongness. But why should we react emotionally to our own feelings? Isn't that circular?

The solution, I think, is that on a rational level we may believe that morality is just a matter of our feelings, but on an instinctive level we cling to the belief that it exists independently. We should be careful, however, not to confuse these two levels. When considering the matter rationally, we should not (if we agree with Hume) try to claim that morality is real.

2. A further problem is this. Something to which we have a strong aversion is not necessarily regarded as "morally wrong"; it may merely be regarded as "disgusting". For example, the sight of a mangled body at the scene of an accident will arouse disgust (and pity) but not necessarily moral condemnation. How does Hume's theory deal with this issue?



Not all feelings deal with morality. The example of the Champagnes above fits well with Hume; it is not a moral matter.
 
Emil
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 10:24 pm
@mickalos,
mickalos;115418 wrote:
Can't say I've heard of him. The only place I've ever heard the term 'neo-humean practical reason', or heard it characterised as involving a pairing beliefs and desires, is in and article by Peter Railton in The Oxford Handbook to Ethics called 'Humean Theory of Practical Rationality'. Sounds like quite an interesting book, at least from what google tells me. Error theory crossed with quasi realism?


Not sure about the quasi-realism, but then again I am not too sure about what that means at all.

Also, the author discusses the exactly same book/essay that you just referred to! (The Foot one.) That's an incredible coincidence if you have not read the book.
 
mickalos
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 06:16 am
@Emil,
Pyrrho;115429 wrote:
I am not happy with your terminology. Morality expresses nothing more than feelings (though not every feeling). If you wish to import Kantian terms into this, I cannot stop you, but I do not find them helpful in understanding either Hume or reality.





I very much dislike the terminology you are selecting. With a typical hypothetical imperative, it is merely wanting something that gives the motivating force. However, Hume's approach is more subtle than that. It is not every sentiment that is a moral sentiment, and I think that is important to understanding morality.

But, if one insists on using your terminology, I believe the best response is to say that morality is a system of hypothetical imperatives that has a stronger binding force than ordinary hypothetical imperatives. But I will not defend that terminology.

---------- Post added 12-29-2009 at 09:02 PM ----------




On that point I very much disagree. The illusion is that there is more to morality than what Hume proposes. It is Kant and his ilk (including many predecessors) who go beyond reality and want morality to be more than it is, and who generally denigrate what it really is.





No. When I say, murder is wrong, I do not imagine that there is a platonic form of wrongness attached to it. I have certain feelings about it, and, given the nature of other people, expect that all, or virtually all, others will have like feelings. This contrasts with matters of personal preference, as, for example, my wife prefers Heidsieck & Co Monopole Champagne to Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, and for me, it is the reverse (though both are excellent). When one pronounces that murder is wrong, there is the general expectation that normal humans will agree, but intelligent people do not expect all personal preferences to be alike, even restricting the matter to normal people.


Ethics is based upon feelings, but it is not merely saying, "murder, icky!" It is not merely one's personal feelings, but is based upon feelings that all, or nearly all, people have. The language of ethics is importantly different from the language used to express personal preferences, which is due to the fact that it is a different matter involving different types of feelings. My personal preference for, say, Piper Heidsieck Champagne over every other wine I have tried is not a moral judgement, and does not have the same "feel" as saying that one ought not murder, nor do I have the same expectations of agreement with other people (though this second part is not essential).

When speaking the language of morals, one is not speaking from one's own perspective per se, but with a disinterested detachment. Morality is most easily seen when one considers cases in which one's own self interest is not involved. If, say, there is a minor transaction on the other side of the world, such that you will gain or lose nothing no matter how it goes, how do you feel, and how would most people feel, about the one person cheating the other one? That is the source and essence of morality. Of course, this brief summary does not do justice to Hume's ideas; for that, read Hume for yourself:

Online Library of Liberty - Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals

The appendices are important, so make sure they are not skipped.





Not all feelings deal with morality. The example of the Champagnes above fits well with Hume; it is not a moral matter.


It looked as though you were arguing in your first post that moral ought-statements can be derived from descriptive statements, and if we're talking about ought statements then we have to talk about imperatives... but apparently we're not talking about ought statements. Certainly, if you think moral claims are prescriptive, which they seem to be, then it makes sense to talk about hypothetical and categorical imperatives. I think it is a good way of thinking about Hume's ethics because thinking about moral prescriptions as hypothetical imperatives highlights his apparent idea that morality and rationality are not connected.

Emil;115449 wrote:
Not sure about the quasi-realism, but then again I am not too sure about what that means at all.

Also, the author discusses the exactly same book/essay that you just referred to! (The Foot one.) That's an incredible coincidence if you have not read the book.

I'm not too sure about quasi-realism either. Something to do with a very loose notion of truth, I think. I have to read some Simon Blackburn in the next few weeks, but I don't plan on understanding it. The Foot article comes up a lot when talking about rationality and motive in ethics. Well worth reading.
 
 

 
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