Hume and Practical Reason: A Non-Sceptical Interpretation

Article English OPEN
Kong, Camillia (2013)
  • Subject: B | JC

It has become increasingly common to interpret Hume as a ‘sceptic’ of practical reason. This means that Hume supposedly contests, not only the ability of reason to provide demonstrable truths, in the conventional rationalist sense, but also reason’s ability to guide our practical action. Proponents of this reading include Jean Hampton, Elijah Millgram and Christine Korsgaard. If this ‘sceptical reading’ of Hume is correct, he would lack the philosophical resources to justify his account of political justice. However, if examined further, this sceptical reading begins with deep-seated Kantian presuppositions about the role and function of practical reason. The paper critiques these presuppositions, arguing that they must be set aside in order to appreciate more fully how Hume does indeed have a proper theory of practical reason. Specifically, Hume believes practical reason encompasses the discursive articulation and evaluation of human character traits and moral values within the social context. These articulatory and intersubjective dimensions of practical reasoning emphasized in the Humean account could provide further theoretical inspiration for communitarian critiques of contemporary liberalism.
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