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4. Two More Arguments from Hume

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In this module, we explore two more arguments from David Hume that have contributed to how we think and talk about metaethics, focusing in particular on: (i) the ‘is-ought problem’, which holds that arguments in which the premises are about what ‘is’ the case (i.e. statements of fact) cannot support conclusions about what ‘ought’ to be the case (i.e. normative or ethical statements); (ii) a possible response to the ‘is-ought problem’; and (iii) Hume’s distinction between beliefs (which do not cause us to act in a certain way) and desires (which do), and his view that moral beliefs are closer to the latter than the former.


In this course, Dr Iain Law (University of Birmingham) provides a comprehensive introduction to the field of philosophy known as metaethics. In the first module, we provide an introduction to metaethics itself, including the difference between metaethics and normative ethical theories such as utilitarianism and virtue ethics and some of the key questions that metaethics poses. In the second and third modules, we explore two approaches to metaethics that agree moral properties exist (moral realism) but disagree as to the nature of these properties: naturalism and non-naturalism. In the fourth module, we explore two arguments from David Hume that move us towards a view that contribute to how we think and talk about metaethics, before turning in the fifth, sixth and seventh modules to three accounts of metaethics that agree that moral properties do not exist (moral anti-realism) but disagree as what is going on when we make a moral statement – A. J. Ayer and Emotivism, R. M. Hare and Prescriptivism, and J. M. Mackie and Moral Error Theory.


Iain Law is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. His main interests are in meta-ethics, applied ethics and ethical theory, and he is currently working on papers in moral theory, moral psychology, the philosophy of medicine and applied ethics.

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APA style

Law, I. (2021, January 01). Metaethics - Two More Arguments from Hume [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Law, I. "Metaethics – Two More Arguments from Hume." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 01 Jan 2021,

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