Against Moral Cognitivism

John Bricke

in Mind and Morality

Published in print March 2000 | ISBN: 9780198250111
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191681240 | DOI:
Against Moral Cognitivism

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The typical moral cognitivist holds that specifically moral beliefs — beliefs with explicitly evaluative moral content — can, and often in fact do, play an essential explanatory role. While admitting that specifically moral reasons have a place in the explanation of actions, the moral conativist refuses to allow seemingly cognitivist appearances to settle the question of their character: for the moral conativist, what may seem to be practical moral beliefs are in fact specifically moral desires, desires whose contents distinguish them from other desires. The moral cognitivist claims to catch moral reasons within the net of his cognitivist theory of reasons for action. For the moral conativist, specifically moral reasons can be understood only within the framework of a conativist theory of reasons for action. In his Treatise of Human Nature, Hume presents two arguments designed to support moral conativism and to subvert moral cognitivism in any of its forms.

Keywords: David Hume; Treatise of Human Nature; moral beliefs; moral cognitivism; moral conativism; reasons; action; moral desires

Chapter.  14914 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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