Aims and Methods of Moral Philosophy

Interpreters disagree as to whether Hume is an instrumentalist or askeptic about practical reason. Either way, Hume denies that reasoncan evaluate the ends people set themselves; only passions can selectends, and reason cannot evaluate passions. Instrumentalistsunderstand the claim that reason is the slave of the passions to allowthat reason not only discovers the causally efficacious means to ourends (a task of theoretical causal reasoning) but also requires us totake them. If Hume regards the failure to take the known means toone's end as contrary to reason, then on Hume's view reason has agenuinely practical aspect; it can indeed classify some actions asunreasonable. Skeptical interpreters read Hume, instead, as denyingthat reason imposes any requirements on action, even the requirementto take the known, available means to one's end. They point to thelist of extreme actions that are not contrary to reason (such aspreferring one's own lesser good to one's greater), and to theRepresentation Argument, which denies that any passions, volitions, oractions are of such a nature as to be contrary to reason. Hume neversays explicitly that failing to take the known means to one's end iseither contrary to reason or not contrary to reason (it is not one ofthe extreme cases in his list). The classificatory point in theRepresentation Argument favors the reading of Hume as a skeptic aboutpractical reason; but that argument is absent from the moralEnquiry.

Hume's Moral Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Metaethics is the most abstract area of moral philosophy

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In the Treatise he argues against the epistemic thesis (thatwe discover good and evil by reasoning) by showing thatneither demonstrative nor probable/causal reasoning has vice andvirtue as its proper objects. Demonstrative reasoning discoversrelations of ideas, and vice and virtue are not identical with any ofthe four philosophical relations (resemblance, contrariety, degrees inquality, or proportions in quantity and number) whose presence can bedemonstrated. Nor could they be identical with any other abstractrelation; for such relations can also obtain between items such astrees that are incapable of moral good or evil. Furthermore, weremoral vice and virtue discerned by demonstrative reasoning, suchreasoning would have to reveal their inherent power to produce motivesin all who discern them; but no causal connections can bediscovered a priori. Causal reasoning, by contrast, doesinfer matters of fact pertaining to actions, in particular theircauses and effects; but the vice of an action (its wickedness) is notfound in its causes or effects, but is only apparent when we consultthe sentiments of the observer. Therefore moral good and evil are notdiscovered by reason alone.

Ethics is the practical application of moral philosophy

Kant held that ordinary moral thought recognized moral duties towardourselves as well as toward others. Hence, together with thedistinction between perfect and imperfect duties, Kant recognized fourcategories of duties: perfect duties toward ourselves, perfect dutiestoward others, imperfect duties toward ourselves and imperfect dutiestoward others. Kant uses four examples in the Groundwork, oneof each kind of duty, to demonstrate that every kind of duty can bederived from the CI, and hence to bolster his case that the CI isindeed the fundamental principle of morality. To refrain from suicideis a perfect duty toward oneself; to refrain from making promises youhave no intention of keeping is a perfect duty toward others; todevelop one’s talents is an imperfect duty toward oneself; andto contribute to the happiness of others is an imperfect duty towardothers. Again, Kant’s interpreters differ over exactly how toreconstruct the derivation of these duties. We will briefly sketch oneway of doing so for the perfect duty to others to refrain from lyingpromises and the imperfect duty to ourselves to develop talents.

Closely related to the disagreement between of moral realists and antirealists is the disagreement between  and .
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Relation Of Christian Ethics To Moral Philosophy

The received view is that Kant’s moral philosophy is adeontological normative theory at least to this extent: it denies thatright and wrong are in some way or other functions of goodness orbadness. It denies, in other words, the central claim of teleologicalmoral views. For instance, act consequentialism is one sort ofteleological theory. It asserts that the right action is that actionof all the alternatives available to the agent that has the bestoverall outcome. Here, the goodness of the outcome determines therightness of an action. Another sort of teleological theory mightfocus instead on character traits. “Virtue ethics” assertsthat a right action in any given circumstance is that action avirtuous person does or would perform in those circumstances. In thiscase, it is the goodness of the character of the person who does orwould perform it that determines the rightness of an action. In bothcases, as it were, the source or ground of rightness is goodness. AndKant’s own views have typically been classified as deontologicalprecisely because they have seemed to reverse this priority and denyjust what such theories assert. Rightness, on the standard reading ofKant, is not grounded in the value of outcomes or character.

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Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

But, Hume argues, it is absurd to think that one can actually bringan obligation into existence by willing to be obligated. What makes anaction obligatory is that its omission is disapproved by unbiasedobservers. But no act of will within an agent can cause a previouslyneutral act to become one that engenders moral disapproval in observers(even in the agent herself). Sentiments are not subject to suchvoluntary control. Even on a moral rationalist view the thesis would be absurd: to create a new obligation would be to change the abstractrelations in which actions and persons stand to oneanother, and one cannot do this by performing in one's own mind an act of willing such a relation toexist. Thus, there is no such act of the mind. Even if people in theirnatural (pre-conventional) condition “cou'd perceive each other'sthoughts by intuition,” they could not understand one another tobind themselves by any act of promising, and could not be obligatedthereby. Since the necessary condition for a natural obligation ofpromises cannot be fulfilled, we may conclude that this obligation isinstead the product of group invention to serve the interests ofsociety.

I believe that Christian ethics is in no way opposed to moral philosophy

Issues from Hume's Predecessors

Why did Hume omit the more fundamental arguments for themotivational inertia of reason? He may have reconsidered and rejectedthem. For example, he may have given up his undefended claim thatpassions have no representative character, a premise of theRepresentation Argument on which, as we saw, some of his fundamentalanti-rationalist arguments depend. Or he may have retained these viewsbut opted not to appeal to anything so arcane in a work aimed at abroader audience and intended to be as accessible as possible. Themoral Enquiry makes no use of ideas and impressions, and so noarguments that depend on that distinction can be offered there,including the Representation Argument. Apparently Hume thought he couldshow that reason and sentiment rule different domains without usingthose arguments.