Hume on "Is" and "Ought"

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kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 09:10 am
@mickalos,
mickalos;116602 wrote:
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.


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.


http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/projectivism-quas
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 12:23 pm
@mickalos,
mickalos;116602 wrote:
It looked as though you were arguing in your first post that moral ought-statements can be derived from descriptive statements,



Yes, though they are not what many people imagine them to be. One does not derive any Platonic forms or a Kantian version of morality from the descriptive statements.


mickalos;116602 wrote:
and if we're talking about ought statements then we have to talk about imperatives... but apparently we're not talking about ought statements.



We are not talking about a Kantian moral statement, but his idea of morality is not the only game in town. If someone were to insist that morality is precisely what Kant had to say about it, then, using that person's definition, we would not be talking about morality, but that would be using the word "morality" in a manner that has little if anything to do with the world in which we live.

So, perhaps it would be worthwhile to say what one means by an "ought" statement when one makes a claim about whether or not such a statement may be derived from an "is" statement. In my opinion, any statement that is not very connected with some sort of "is" statement is irrelevant to the world in which we live. We live in the realm of what "is" (if you will pardon this manner of expression). I will be more explicit: If one is talking about an "ought" that cannot in any way be derived from an "is", one is not talking about anything at all; it is mere empty verbiage.


mickalos;116602 wrote:
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 suspect that we will need to say what we mean by "prescriptive". I think that morality is prescriptive, but not in the sense that Kant would have you believe.

I suspect that much confusion has resulted from people having an idea that morality is what Kant (or someone of a similar opinion) says it is, and then they reject that, deciding then that there is nothing to morality after all. This, however, is a mistake, as we may observe what people do, and their use of moral terms does have an order to it. As it turns out, it is essentially as Hume has said it is (you may, of course, disagree with this conclusion without rejecting the main point of the paragraph, which is that simply rejecting one view of morality does not justify the conclusion that there is really nothing to morality).


mickalos;116602 wrote:
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.



If you find it useful to use such terminology, fine, do so.


mickalos;116602 wrote:
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.



Like so many expressions, "moral realism" has more than one meaning. Take a look at:

Moral realism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Where it begins:

Quote:
This article is about moral realism in the robust sense. For moral realism in the moderate or minimal sense, seeMoral universalism.


I suspect that some confusion on this expression has led to some apparent contradictions between what I have said about Hume and what kennethamy has said. In some sense of the expression, Hume is not a moral realist, but in another, he is. Like so many matters in philosophy, getting the definitions coordinated is essential to knowing what we are talking about.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 01:11 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;116667 wrote:

I suspect that some confusion on this expression has led to some apparent contradictions between what I have said about Hume and what kennethamy has said. In some sense of the expression, Hume is not a moral realist, but in another, he is. Like so many matters in philosophy, getting the definitions coordinated is essential to knowing what we are talking about.


Isn't moral realism the theory that there are moral facts, or moral states of affair independent to what people think or believe?
 
Emil
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 01:34 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;116681 wrote:
Isn't moral realism the theory that there are moral facts, or moral states of affair independent to what people think or believe?


Sometimes it is. Other times it is just "there are moral facts". Though that should be called moral cognitivism.
 
Amperage
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 03:05 pm
@Pyrrho,
sorry wrong thread
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 03:28 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;116681 wrote:
Isn't moral realism the theory that there are moral facts, or moral states of affair independent to what people think or believe?


If you look at the link I just provided, that is the "robust" sense of moral realism; here is the link again, from which you will find a link to a less "robust" sense of the expression:

Moral realism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

To be less ambiguous about Hume, using the terminology at wikipedia, Hume was a "moral universalist".

Perhaps, though, I should leave well enough alone, as Emil seems to have it quite right:

Emil;116687 wrote:
Sometimes it is. Other times it is just "there are moral facts". Though that should be called moral cognitivism.


___________________________________________

Some more from Hume:

Quote:
If any man from a cold insensibility, or narrow selfishness of temper, is unaffected with the images of human happiness or misery, he must be equally indifferent to the images of vice and virtue: As, on the other hand, it is always found, that a warm concern for the interests of our species is attended with a delicate feeling of all moral distinctions; a strong resentment of injury done to men; a lively approbation of their welfare. In this particular, though great superiority is observable of one man above another; yet none are so entirely indifferent to the interest of their fellow-creatures, as to perceive no distinctions of moral good and evil, in consequence of the different tendencies of actions and principles. How, indeed, can we suppose it possible in any one, who wears a human heart, that if there be subjected to his censure, one character or system of conduct, which is beneficial, and another which is pernicious to his species or community, he will not so much as give a cool preference to the former, or ascribe to it the smallest merit or regard? Let us suppose such a person ever so selfish; let private interest have ingrossed ever so much his attention; yet in instances, where that is not concerned, he must unavoidably feel some propensity to the good of mankind, and make it an object of choice, if everything else be equal. Would any man, who is walking along, tread as willingly on another's gouty toes, whom he has no quarrel with, as on the hard flint and pavement? There is here surely a difference in the case. We surely take into consideration the happiness and misery of others, in weighing the several motives of action, and incline to the former, where no private regards draw us to seek our own promotion or advantage by the injury of our fellow-creatures. And if the principles of humanity are capable, in many instances, of influencing our actions, they must, at all times, have some authority over our sentiments, and give us a general approbation of what is useful to society, and blame of what is dangerous or pernicious. The degrees of these sentiments may be the subject of controversy; but the reality of their existence, one should think, must be admitted in every theory or system.

...

The more we converse with mankind, and the greater social intercourse we maintain, the more shall we be familiarized to these general preferences and distinctions, without which our conversation and discourse could scarcely be rendered intelligible to each other. Every man's interest is peculiar to himself, and the aversions and desires, which result from it, cannot be supposed to affect others in a like degree. General language, therefore, being formed for general use, must be moulded on some more general views, and must affix the epithets of praise or blame, in conformity to sentiments, which arise from the general interests of the community. And if these sentiments, in most men, be not so strong as those, which have a reference to private good; yet still they must make some distinction, even in persons the most depraved and selfish; and must attach the notion of good to a beneficent conduct, and of evil to the contrary. Sympathy, we shall allow, is much fainter than our concern for ourselves, and sympathy with persons remote from us much fainter than that with persons near and contiguous; but for this very reason it is necessary for us, in our calm judgements and discourse concerning the characters of men, to neglect all these differences, and render our sentiments more public and social. Besides, that we ourselves often change our situation in this particular, we every day meet with persons who are in a situation different from us, and who could never converse with us were we to remain constantly in that position and point of view, which is peculiar to ourselves. The intercourse of sentiments, therefore, in society and conversation, makes us form some general unalterable standard, by which we may approve or disapprove of characters and manners. And though the heart takes not part entirely with those general notions, nor regulates all its love and hatred by the universal abstract differences of vice and virtue, without regard to self, or the persons with whom we are more intimately connected; yet have these moral differences a considerable influence, and being sufficient, at least for discourse, serve all our purposes in company, in the pulpit, on the theatre, and in the schools1 .

Thus, in whatever light we take this subject, the merit, ascribed to the social virtues, appears still uniform, and arises chiefly from that regard, which the natural sentiment of benevolence engages us to pay to the interests of mankind and society. If we consider the principles of the human make, such as they appear to daily experience and observation, we must, a priori, conclude it impossible for such a creature as man to be totally indifferent to the well or ill-being of his fellow-creatures, and not readily, of himself, to pronounce, where nothing gives him any particular bias, that what promotes their happiness is good, what tends to their misery is evil, without any farther regard or consideration. Here then are the faint rudiments, at least, or outlines, of a general distinction between actions; and in proportion as the humanity of the person is supposed to encrease, his connexion with those who are injured or benefited, and his lively conception of their misery or happiness; his consequent censure or approbation acquires proportionable vigour. There is no necessity, that a generous action, barely mentioned in an old history or remote gazette, should communicate any strong feelings of applause and admiration. Virtue, placed at such a distance, is like a fixed star, which, though to the eye of reason it may appear as luminous as the sun in his meridian, is so infinitely removed as to affect the senses, neither with light nor heat. Bring this virtue nearer, by our acquaintance or connexion with the persons, or even by an eloquent recital of the case; our hearts are immediately caught, our sympathy enlivened, and our cool approbation converted into the warmest sentiments of friendship and regard. These seem necessary and infallible consequences of the general principles of human nature, as discovered in common life and practice.

Again; reverse these views and reasonings: Consider the matter a posteriori; and weighing the consequences, enquire if the merit of social virtue be not, in a great measure, derived from the feelings of humanity, with which it affects the spectators. It appears to be matter of fact, that the circumstance of utility, in all subjects, is a source of praise and approbation: That it is constantly appealed to in all moral decisions concerning the merit and demerit of actions: That it is the sole source of that high regard paid to justice, fidelity, honour, allegiance, and chastity: That it is inseparable from all the other social virtues, humanity, generosity, charity, affability, lenity, mercy, and moderation: And, in a word, that it is a foundation of the chief part of morals, which has a reference to mankind and our fellowcreatures.

It appears also, that, in our general approbation of characters and manners, the useful tendency of the social virtues moves us not by any regards to self-interest, but has an influence much more universal and extensive. It appears that a tendency to public good, and to the promoting of peace, harmony, and order in society, does always, by affecting the benevolent principles of our frame, engage us on the side of the social virtues. And it appears, as an additional confirmation, that these principles of humanity and sympathy enter so deeply into all our sentiments, and have so powerful an influence, as may enable them to excite the strongest censure and applause. The present theory is the simple result of all these inferences, each of which seems founded on uniform experience and observation.


Online Library of Liberty - SECTION V.: why utility pleases. - Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals

And:

Quote:
Let us suppose a person originally framed so as to have no manner of concern for his fellow-creatures, but to regard the happiness and misery of all sensible beings with greater indifference than even two contiguous shades of the same colour. Let us suppose, if the prosperity of nations were laid on the one hand, and their ruin on the other, and he were desired to choose; that he would stand like the schoolman's ass, irresolute and undetermined, between equal motives; or rather, like the same ass between two pieces of wood or marble, without any inclination or propensity to either side. The consequence, I believe, must be allowed just, that such a person, being absolutely unconcerned, either for the public good of a community or the private utility of others, would look on every quality, however pernicious, or however beneficial, to society, or to its possessor, with the same indifference as on the most common and uninteresting object.

But if, instead of this fancied monster, we suppose a man to form a judgement or determination in the case, there is to him a plain foundation of preference, where everything else is equal; and however cool his choice may be, if his heart be selfish, or if the persons interested be remote from him; there must still be a choice or distinction between what is useful, and what is pernicious. Now this distinction is the same in all its parts, with the moral distinction, whose foundation has been so often, and so much in vain, enquired after. The same endowments of the mind, in every circumstance, are agreeable to the sentiment of morals and to that of humanity; the same temper is susceptible of high degrees of the one sentiment and of the other; and the same alteration in the objects, by their nearer approach or by connexions, enlivens the one and the other. By all the rules of philosophy, therefore, we must conclude, that these sentiments are originally the same; since, in each particular, even the most minute, they are governed by the same laws, and are moved by the same objects.


Online Library of Liberty - SECTION VI.: of qualities useful to ourselves. - Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals

Morality has more to do with human nature than with an individual's preferences. The facts of human nature may be studies as well as other facts.
 
 

 
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