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Geoff Sayre-McCord
"Hume’s Robust Theory of Practical Reason"
Friday, November 16, 2018, 03:30pm - 05:00pm
Mershon Center for International Security Studies
1501 Neil Ave.
Columbus, Ohio 43201

Geoff Sayre-McCord

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Geoffrey Sayre-McCord is the Morehead-Cain Alumni Distinguished Professor of at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he has taught since 1985. He is also director of UNC’s Philosophy, Politics & Economics Program and director of the international Philosophy, Politics and Economics Society. Sayre-McCord has published extensively on metaethics, moral theory, epistemology, and the history of moral philosophy (especially concerning David Hume and Adam Smith).


David Hume is regularly read as either an outright skeptic about practical reason or as an advocate of unadorned instrumentalism. According to those who defend the first, Hume rejected the idea that reason could be practical at all, according to those who defend the second, he embraced reason as practical, yet saw its role as being entirely a matter of figuring out efficient ways to satisfy one’s desires. The instrumentalist interpretation has become so widespread that instrumentalism is often labelled ‘Humeanism.’

Not surprisingly, support for both interpretations is easy to find. Yet, I argue, neither is even close to right as an interpretation of Hume. And fortunately so, because the theory Hume actually advanced is nuanced and -- unlike the skepticism and instrumentalism that have become so prevalent, especially in social science -- plausible.


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