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A Sceptical Theory of Morality and Law


James Allan

A Sceptical Theory of Morality and Law aims ultimately to cast light on some contentious issues in the philosophy of law, including the nature of rights and of judicial interpretation. The answers one gives, however, rest on the moral theory one finds most convincing. The first part of this book gives a sustained defence of a sceptical moral theory owing much to the views of David Hume. That version of scepticism is then relied upon in the author's discussion of law and legal theory.


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PART A: A CASE FOR MORAL SCEPTICISM This page intentionally left blank Chapter One The Deflation of Reason In building my case for moral scepticism I begin with reason, by deciding what can be considered its ambit and abilities. I seek to answer this: What is a defensible picture of human reason? My answer will draw on and fa11 very much in the tradition of the writings of David Hume. a) The Ambit of Reason According to Hume It is no coincidence that in his "attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects"1 David Hume sets out by examining human nature, in particular the understanding and the passions. He ultimately concludes that values are not part of the fabric of the world, and that we do not discover or find or think our way to them. The main support for this conclusion rests on Hume's denigration of the role of reason and his concomitant elevation of feeling or passion. The framework which saw humans as detached rational agents had first to be discredited before an alternative could be offered in which feelings or sentiments were the dominant force. This was Hume's new vision; one in which feelings not reason were responsible for a person's acting as she does. This first chapter, therefore, discusses the scope, limits and meaning of human reason. Hume distinguishes two types of reason. What he does is to divide the understanding, or reason, into two branches: the branch which judges from demonstration...

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