HUME’S PROJECT: EMPIRICISM AND HUMAN NATURE
Philosophers want to know what sort of thing morality is. Can moral judgments
be true and justified, and therefore constitute knowledge? Can we get to know what, if
anything, “morally right” conduct is? If so, how?
Let us clarify two notions at the outset: the notion of “belief” and that of
A belief is a judgment that is taken to be true.
As for “knowledge”, it is constituted by judgments that are both true and justified.
“Justified” contrasts with “unjustified”. Synonymous expressions (synonymous contrasts)
include “warranted/unwarranted”, and “reasonable/unreasonable”. Different philosophers
and schools of thought may invest each expression with specific connotations, but these
need not concern us here.
Now, I want to present a certain “traditional” view of mind, knowledge, and
morality. Many elements of this traditional view go back to the Greeks, notably Plato and
Aristotle, and were integrated to catholic philosophy and the doctrine of the catholic
Church, which prevailed throughout the Middle Ages. Early modern philosophy,
although it profundly differed from mediaval catholic philosophy, preserved much of this
According to the traditional view in question, the human mind includes the two
following components: “reason”, and “passions”.
is a faculty that can issue (or “generate”) judgments, and assess
judgments in general, in terms of true/false, justified/unjustified,
Judgments can bear on two domains. In other words, there are two kinds of
objects about which reason can acquire knowledge.
On the one hand, there is the domain of the “external world”, i.e. this world
outside my consciousness, which I experience as my environment. Acquiring knowledge
about the external world poses certain problems. There are reasons for that, the two
following being particularly important.
First, getting to know the external world involves the delivery, “inside” my
consciousness, of representations coming from my five senses. These inner, mental