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Morals Before Objectivity: On the Relation of Moral Cognition and Moral Philosophy in Hume

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Chapter Summary

The author argues that David Hume is implicitly committed to different epistemic values in his account of moral cognition and in the methodology of his moral philosophy. Hume's aim in his Treatise of Human Nature (1739/40) is to explore the specifically human point of view and its contribution to cognition, morality and aesthetic judgement. There is no room in its framework for a genuinely objective perspective exempt from constraints of our constitution, and this diagnosis also holds for his An Enquiry concerning Principles of Morals (1751). Objectivity in this sense is an unattainable ideal; one main lesson Hume teaches us is that one cannot transcend the boundaries of our sensitivity and cognitive constitution. This chapter explores how the conceptual relatives of 'objectivity' inform Hume's moral philosophy and his theory of moral cognition. Morality for Hume concerns only human matters, and it has no reference outside the realm of human relations.

Keywords: 'objectivity'; An Enquiry concerning Principles of Morals; David Hume; human matters; moral cognition; moral philosophy; Treatise of Human Nature



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