Has Hume successfully shown that moral rationalism is false? Explain and justify your answer.

EARLY MODERN PHILOSOPHY – FINAL ESSAY
Instructions
Write an essay of no more than 2,500 words, in which you argue in support of an answer to
your chosen question.
You may either (a) choose one of the three questions below or (b) formulate your own research
question on an aspect or aspects of Hume’s philosophy.
If you choose option (b), you must submit your proposed research question and reading list to
your tutorial instructor on or before Thursday, Nov 19th, at noon and you must have your
research question and a reading list approved by your tutorial instructor on or before Thursday,
Nov 26th, at noon. Students who have not received approval by that date and time should
instead choose option (a).
Secondary readings in boldface are essential.
Important:
• Please do not include your name anywhere in your submission; all student work in
Philosophy is marked anonymously
• Please do not exceed the 2,500-word limit; per the Philosophy policies (see
<http://students.ppls.ed.ac.uk/assignments/philosophy/penalties/>), essays that exceed
this limit will be penalized
• Before starting work on your essay, please consult the Philosophy marking guidelines:
<https://www.ed.ac.uk/ppls/philosophy/current/undergraduate/assessment/markingguidelines>
Questions
[1] Has Hume successfully shown that moral rationalism is false? Explain and justify your
answer.
Primary readings by Hume:
• An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, especially M 1 and M App1
• A Dissertation on the Passions, Part 5
• A Treatise of Human Nature, Book 2, Part 3, Section 3 (“Of the influencing motives of
the will”) and Book 3, Part 1 (“Of virtue and vice in general”)
Primary readings by others; all in D. D. Raphael (ed.), British Moralists 1650–1800, vol. 1:
Hobbes–Gay (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991):
• Clarke, S. Selections from A Discourse of Natural Religion. (A rationalist view)
• Wollaston, W. Selections from The Religion of Nature Delineated. (A rationalist view)
• Hutcheson, F. Selections from Illustrations on the Moral Sense. (Critique of Clarke and
Balguy by a moral sentimentalist)
• Balguy, J. Selections from The Foundation of Moral Goodness. (Critique of Hutcheson
by a moral rationalist)
PHIL10182 Final Essay Page 2 of 3
Secondary readings:
• Cohon, R. Hume’s Morality: Feeling and Fabrication (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2008), Part I, esp. ch. 3
• Garrett, D. Cognition and Commitment in Hume’s Philosophy (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1997), ch. 9
• Mackie, J. L. Hume’s Moral Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), esp.
chs. IV and V
• Stroud, B., Hume (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), chs. VII and VIII
[2] In Section 5 of the moral Enquiry, Hume writes: “The intercourse of sentiments …
in society and conversation, makes us form some general unalterable standard, by
which we may approve or disapprove of characters and manners” (M 5.42). Is Hume
here describing a “convention”, in the following sense of ‘convention’: “a sense of
common interest; which sense each man feels in his own breast, which he remarks in his
fellows, and which carries him, in concurrence with others, into a general plan or
system of actions, which tends to public utility” (M App3.7)? If so, must Hume therefore
accept that all virtues—not only justice—“arise from human conventions”? Explain
and justify your answers.
Primary readings:
• An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, especially M 2–5, M 9, and M App3
• A Treatise of Human Nature, Book 3, especially T 3.2 (most commentary on the
artificial virtues focuses on this part of the Treatise rather than the corresponding parts
of the moral Enquiry)
• “Of the Standard of Taste”
Secondary readings on the artificial virtues/conventions:
• Cohon, R. Hume’s Morality: Feeling and Fabrication (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2008), Part II, esp. ch. 6
• Mackie, J. L. Hume’s Moral Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), chs. I,
VI, and IX
• Sayre-McCord, G. “Hume on the Artificial Virtues.” In P. Russell (ed.), The
Oxford Handbook of Hume, pp.435–69. (New York: Oxford University Press,
2016)
• Stroud, B., Hume (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), ch. IX
Secondary reading on Humean “standards”:
• Garrett, Don. Hume. (New York: Routledge, 2015), Chapter 4
PHIL10182 Final Essay Page 3 of 3
[3] Explain the form (or forms) of moral relativism that Palamedes defends in “A
Dialogue”. Does the “Dialogue’s” narrator succeed in refuting this form (or these forms)
of moral relativism? Explain and justify your answer.
Primary readings (all by Hume):
• An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals
• “A Dialogue” (appended to the moral Enquiry)
• “Of the Standard of Taste” (for Hume’s views about faultless diversity in sentiment)
Secondary readings:
• Abramson, K. “Hume on Cultural Conflicts of Values.” Philosophical Studies 94(1–2):
173–187
• Bohlin, H. “Universal Moral Standards and the Problem of Cultural Relativism
in Hume’s ‘A Dialogue’.” Philosophy 88(346): 593–606
• Darinetti, Dario. “Moral Pluralism and the Historical Point of View: Reading “A
Dialogue””. In J. Taylor (ed.), Reading Hume on the Principles of Morals, pp.196–218
• Gowans, Chris, “Moral Relativism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2019/entries/moral-relativism/
• Schmitter, Amy M. “Negotiating Pluralism in Taste and Character: Reading the Second
Enquiry with “Of the Standard of Taste””. In In J. Taylor (ed.), Reading Hume on the
Principles of Morals, pp.219–37.

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