COGNITIVISM with respect to moral discourse = Moral statements (i.e., particular moral judgments, moral rules and moral principles) make reports or claims that are either true or false.


NON-COGNITIVISM with respect to moral discourse = Moral statements are neither true nor false. 


Hume seems to be a non-cognitivist:  “Morality, therefore, is more properly felt than judg’d of.” (T3.1.2.1)


MORAL REALISM:  Some moral statements are true.


MORAL ANTI-REALISM = No moral statements are true. 




Cognitivist Anti-Realism:  The view that all moral statements are false.


Non-Cognitivist Anti-Realism:  The view that moral statements are neither true nor false. 








Hume's Two-Fold Challenge to the Moral Realist


Reason [i.e., the Understanding, which includes both Reason and the Imagination] determines truth and falsity. 


All such determinations are purely descriptive.  They have no motivational force.   They include real relations of ideas [Reason] or real existence or matters of fact (especially causal means-end relations) [Imagination].


Moral judgments, are normative (they have motivational force).  Therefore, moral judgments are not produced by the understanding.


We saw in Book 2, Part 3, Section 3 that Hume moves very quickly from the claim that reason [the understanding] alone cannot produce an action to the claim that reason cannot oppose a passion.  On his own account, the passions "yield to our reason without any opposition" when reason [the understanding] determines that one of the "suppositions" of the passions is false.


To answer Hume's challenge, it is not enough for a moral realist to claim that reason [the understanding] can oppose a passion.  On Hume's own account, purely descriptive beliefs about existence and means-end relations can extinguish a passion.  Hume's challenge to the moral realist is to explain how anything else that reason does can oppose a passion.  Thus, the moral realist must show that reason [the understanding]: (1) can determine normative moral truths and then (2) use them to oppose a contrary passion. 

Book 3, Part 1, Section 1:  Why Moral Distinctions Cannot Be Derived from Reason [i.e., the Understanding, Understood to Include Reason and the Imagination]


The Understanding:  "Reason is the discovery of truth or falsehood.  Truth or falsehood consists in an agreement or disagreement either to the real relations of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact.  Whatever, therefore, is not susceptible of this agreement or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false, and can never be an object of our reason.  Now, it is evident our passions, volitions, and actions, are not susceptible of any such agreement or disagreement; being original facts and realities, complete in themselves, and implying no reference to other passions, volitions, and actions. It is impossible, therefore, they can be pronounced either true or false, and be either contrary or conformable to reason."(T















Relations of Ideas


"Demonstrative reason discovers only relations."(T, note 69)  Why does Hume think that moral relations cannot be discovered in this way?  The example of ingratitude is not a persuasive one.  But the challenge is persuasive.  How could abstract relations of ideas motivate us to do anything?



Matters of Fact


Why does Hume think that morality does not consist in matters of fact?  Is his example of willful murder persuasive?  Why does Hume deny that the wrongness of the murder can be identified with any of the matters of fact?   Because he is assuming that if you pick any matter of fact, he can describe another situation in which that fact holds, but the act is not wrong [vicious]?  For example, killing in self-defense is not wrong [vicious].












Hume’s statement of what is called the “naturalistic fallacy” but might be called, more accurately, the descriptivist fallacy.


“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, . . . 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 shou’d be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.” (T3.1.1.27).














Book 3, Part 1, Section 2:  The ideas of virtue (right) and vice (wrong) are derived from impressions of reflection.



“Morality, therefore, is more properly felt than judg’d of.” (T3.1.2.1)


“We do not infer a character to be virtuous, because it pleases:  But in feeling that it pleases after such a particular manner, we in effect feel that it is virtuous (T


Hume’s goal:  to find the principles that make us feel satisfaction or uneasiness from a survey of character (T


According to Hume, what is the source of our ideas of virtue and vice, right and wrong? 


        It is a particular kind of pleasure [or displeasure] that we feel when we consider a person's character or motivation from the general point of view (T  The general point of view is explained more fully in T 3.3.1.


Hume will divide the virtues into two kinds, the natural and the artificial.  He discusses the artificial virtues before discussing the natural ones.  This is an odd ordering.  We will follow the more logical order of beginning with the natural virtues and then taking up the artificial ones.




Book 3, Part 3:  What is moral judgment?  The Example of the Natural Virtues


What makes a virtue natural? 

The feeling of approbation is prompted be each instance of the virtue (if we are suitably disposed).


Moral judgments are judgments of character.


Sympathy plays an important role in THE FIRST SOURCE OF MORAL APPROBATION, qualities that are useful for society:

“Qualities acquire our approbation, because of their tendency to the good of mankind.” (T



Which natural virtues can be explained by this hypothesis?

The social virtues.


What is the objection that “Virtue in rags is still virtue”? (T


Judgment is based on the tendencies of actions.











What is the role of “steady and general points of view”?

How can we “correct” our sentiments, if they are not true or false?


        The general point of view is one from which we can correct for our own partiality.  The idea of "correcting" our sentiments suggests that there is something we can make a mistake about.  But the idea of a mistake would seem to imply that moral judgments are true or false (and thus products of the understanding).  Is Hume involved in an inconsistency?





















Qualities that are useful for the self. 


What virtues are explained by this hypothesis?





Qualities that are immediately agreeable to others.


What virtues are explained by this hypothesis?





Qualities that are immediately agreeable to the self.


What virtues are explained by this hypothesis?




Are all four kinds of virtues moral virtues?









Book 3, Part 3, Section 6:  Why Hume’s Account Strengthens Moral Motivation


We’ll come back to this section later.