Carter on Humean Ethics*

I just read a good article by Alan Carter on Humean Ethics. For a lot of students reading I guess that might seem a little bit of a juxtaposition as I know a lot of students leave A-Level or IB Philosophy thinking that Hume ‘didn’t think morality was rational or real’.
Carter’s exposition is particularly clear in explaining the ‘second tier’ of Hume’s account of morality. The first, as many students do know, deals with the way Hume claims that seeing suffering can cause an emotional response. Impressions are like sense perceptions and Hume call thinking about them having Ideas. What is remarkable about the human animal is that we seem to be able to move not only from impressions to ideas about them, but to go in the other direction too! Ideas, says Hume, can gather momentum, so to speak, until they give rise to things that might better be described as impressions.
When I think deeply about a previous experience and worry that it might happen again, say, then I can ‘feel’ various impressions as a result of this chain of causation.
Hume thinks that when I see someone torturing another, for example, I think about pain and how I dislike it and that leads me to feel some sort of repulsion to the act. This is projection. I am not accessing some metaphysical realm of right and wrong, and it is not a given that others will see or feel as I do. But what happens next is important.
Hume explains that groups of people, where a majority of people do agree, speak as though access has been gained to some objective order. Of course the feelings and perceptions are really unrelated, but when I learn my friend doesn’t like torture too we make the move to speaking as if we are seeing something ‘out there’ rather than projecting. This move, and those following like working out laws are rational not emotional. And it is this rational stage that Carter thinks is of great promise to environmentalists for it promises a potential consistency that is greater than any other normative theory.
I’ll leave exactly why for class but here are your questions:
*Carter, Alan ‘Hume and Nature’ in LaFollette (Ed.) Ethics in Practice (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002) 664-673.

Every year…

Every year I get at least one email from a student that shows me they have really ‘got’ what we have been studying. Last year a guy found Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons and was adamant (completely correctly in my view) that the philosophy described a sort of Christian ‘Platonism’, an idea of the human’s essence that was rejected by Jean-Paul Sartre (this was what we had been studying).

Anyway there’s more about that on my ib philosophy page, but the email I got this year was about the experience of doing philosophy. IB philosophy is a wonderful course with an emphasis on doing philosophy rather than just learning about it.It takes two years and the entire structure of the course is about helping the students to become the IB learner profile rather than just gaining some knowledge in order to repeat it. It is far more academically challenging and philosophically useful than any of the courses I have encountered that are taught elsewhere in Scotland or England. Those students that choose to take the ‘higher level’ (HL) version of the subject complete and exam paper on the question of ‘What is Philosophy?’, reflecting upon their mounting experience of studying it, and all students of both HL and Standard levels are required to complete a unit on ‘what makes a person?’

Of course this question is central to almost every other philosophical foray and it has always astounded me how certain exam boards think they can simply ‘miss it out’ of their syllabi. What’s nice about the song the student above emailed me is that it includes both of these elements:

Imagine if the life that you thought you shared
Wasn’t really there.
It was made up in your mind,
Could be anyone/anywhere


As the dust clears and it all starts to disappear,
It may get harder ’cause you just restarted.
And wherever you are, land on another star!
It may get harder ’cause you just restarted.

religion and intellience…

two ways of looking at things in True Detective

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so much going on here that I don’t have time to write about it all yet… but coming soon… watch the whole series – it is amazing!

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