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Hume's Internalism Reconsidered

21 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2007 Last revised: 18 Nov 2009

Dale Dorsey

University of Alberta - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: January 28, 2008


Interpretations of Hume on practical reasons generally fall into one of two camps. The internalist (or instrumentalist) reading ascribes to Hume the belief that practical reasons must be based somehow on an agent's preexisting motivations. The skeptical (or nihilist) reading holds that Hume was a skeptic about practical reasoning - that no practical reasons exist. In this essay I argue that both readings are mistaken. Taking the internalist reading as my main competitor, I show that Hume's texts permit of a far more robust account of normativity than is allowed by internalism. In particular, Hume believed that practical reasons exist, and need not be based on an agent's subjective motivational set. For Hume, not all oughts are internal oughts.

Keywords: David Hume, ethics, normativity, practical reason, internalism, instrumentalism

Suggested Citation

Dorsey, Dale, Hume's Internalism Reconsidered (January 28, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Dale Dorsey (Contact Author)

University of Alberta - Department of Philosophy ( email )

2-40 Assiniboia Hall
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E5

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