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Hume's Internalism Reconsidered

by Dale Dorsey

A standard reading of Hume on the nature of practical reasons holds that he is a normative internalist; that, for Hume, legitimate practical reasons must be linked to an agent’s set of desires or motivating passions. Though the internalist reading of Hume is popular, it gives rise to serious puzzles of interpretation. To pick one nearly at random, it appears that, on an internalist reading, Hume has serious difficulties in establishing that the so-called “artificial" virtues of justice and promise-keeping are reason-giving, especially when it comes to characters like the sensible knave. Some, skeptical of the internalist reading, have argued that Hume is in fact a nihilist about practical reasons, and admits no reasons for action at all. Against the internalist and skeptical readings, I argue that there is substantial reason to believe that Hume’s corpus is compatible with a far more robust account of normativity than even internalism allows. If so, I argue, Hume has a genuine response to the sensible knave that establishes the knave’s obligation to justice. As it turns out, Hume’s considered view is unique, underexplored, and merits further philosophical investigation.

ISSN 1559-3061
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