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Hume Studies

Volume 46, Issue 1/2, April/November 2020

Jason Fisette
Pages 57-100

Hume’s Quietism about Moral Ontology in Treatise 3.1.1

On a standard reading of David Hume, we know two things about his analogy of morals to secondary qualities: first, it responds to the moral rationalism of Clarke and Wollaston; second, it broadcasts Hume’s realism or antirealism in ethics. I complicate that common narrative with a new intellectual contextualization of the analogy, the surpris­ing outcome of which is that Hume’s analogy is neither realist nor antirealist in spirit, but quietist. My argument has three parts. First, I reconstruct Hume’s argument against rationalist moral ontology in Treatise 3.1.1, revealing his attention to the Intellectual­ism/Voluntarism debate in rationalism. Second, I present evidence of Hume’s familiarity with the debate between Intellectualist moral realists and Voluntarist moral antirealists, notably Pufendorf. Third, I establish that Hume’s analogy undermines a key assumption structuring that debate, and that the analogy consequently signals his quietist abstention from his rationalist contemporaries’ realism/antirealism debate in ethics.