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Course :  Thomas Reid's Critique of David Hume

  • Posted by : Brad Younger

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  • Date posted : Jan 01, 1970


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Dan Robinson gives the last and final lecture on Reid's critique of David Hume at Oxford. "Like all other sciences, morals must have first principles, and all moral reasoning is based on them... In all rational belief, the thing believed is either a first principle or something inferred by valid reasoning from first principles". As for utility, "Suppose that mice rescue the distressed person by chewing through the cords that bound him. Is there moral goodness in this act of the mice?" Beyond the armchair and other precincts of untrammeled speculation, one finds that, there is little purchase on a morality of pleasure and utility. Indeed, "If what we call 'moral judgment' isn't really a judgment but merely a feeling, it follows that the moral principles that we have been taught to consider as an immutable law to all intelligent beings have no basis except an arbitrary structure and fabric in the constitution of the human mind...Thus, by a change in our structure immoral things could become moral...There are beings who can't perceive mathematical truths; but no defect, no error of understanding, can make what is true to be false". Under "David Hume", the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy begins with, "The most important philosopher ever to write in English". His most formidable contemporary critic was the fellow Scot, Thomas Reid, the major architect of so-called Scottish Common Sense Philosophy. The most significant features of Hume's work, as understood by Reid, are the representive theory of perception, the nature of causation and causal concepts, the nature of personal identity and the foundations of morality. Each of these topics is presented in a pair of lectures, the first summarizing Hume's position and the second Reid's critique of that position.

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