The inertness of reason and Hume’s legacy

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 42 (S1):117-133 (2012)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Hume argues against the seventeenth-century rationalists that reason is impotent to motivate action and to originate morality. Hume's arguments have standardly been considered the foundation for the Humean theory of motivation in contemporary philosophy. The Humean theory alleges that beliefs require independent desires to motivate action. Recently, however, new commentaries allege that Hume's argument concerning the inertness of reason has no bearing on whether beliefs can motivate. These commentaries maintain that for Hume, beliefs about future pleasurable and painful objects on their own can produce the desires that move us to action. First, I show that this reading puts Hume at odds with Humeans, since the latter are committed, not only to the view that beliefs and desires are both necessary to action, but also to the view that beliefs do not produce desires. Second, I review textual, philosophical and historical grounds for my interpretation of Hume's argument for the inertness of reason. I argue that the new line on Hume, while consistent with a certain reading of the Treatise, is not supported by the Dissertation on the Passions and the second Enquiry, where Hume argues that all motivation has an origin in “taste”, which I take to be different from belief. Thus, Hume's arguments do support the contemporary Humean theory of motivation.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 92,369

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Direction of Fit.G. F. Schueler - 2013 - In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell.
Hume on practical reason.W. D. Falk - 1975 - Philosophical Studies 27 (1):1 - 18.
Is Hume an internalist?Charlotte Brown - 1988 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 26 (1):69-87.
Reason and Desire in Motivation.Stuart E. Rosenbaum - 1982 - Philosophical Topics 13 (9999):87-92.
Hume and Humeans on Practical Reason.Michelle Mason - 2005 - Hume Studies 31 (2):347-378.
Hume and Humeanism in Ethics.Rachel Cohon - 1988 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 69 (2):99.
Hume and the Limits of Reason.Michael P. Lynch - 1996 - Hume Studies 22 (1):89-104.
Explaining motivated desires.Peter W. Ross - 2002 - Topoi 21 (1-2):199-207.


Added to PP

96 (#181,073)

6 months
15 (#172,692)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Citations of this work

Add more citations

References found in this work

The moral problem.Michael Smith - 1994 - Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.
Intention.G. E. M. Anscombe - 1957 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Intention.G. E. M. Anscombe - 1957 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 57:321-332.
Rationality in Action: A Symposium.Barry Smith - 2001 - Philosophical Explorations 4 (2):66-94.

View all 33 references / Add more references