Friday, 6 May 2011

David Hume Tercentenary

Our next meeting on Thursday 12th May is to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of the philosopher David Hume, and will consist of a short presentation about his life, times and ideas, together with a discussion of these and related issues.

One of the subjects he is associated with is whether an Ought can be derived from an Is; which is the subject of the most recent book from Sam Harris. Other issues he is famous for are the evidence necessary to prove a miracle, and the relability of inductive reasoning.

I've decided to make this a Free meeting, and more of a round-table discussion than a talk. Our treasurer Lesley Arnold-Hopkins who was to have presented the introduction will not be able to come due to her other commitments as a BHA celebrant, but she has provided me with her notes.

If there is time we can also discuss other issues, so please let me know of any topics you would like to raise.


  1. There was a time when the possibility of the earth revolving round the sun was the subject of much debate and since there was a limited amount of evidence, it was basically a matter of belief and philosophy. Today there is no longer any serious debate, not least because we have actually travelled to the moon and walked around on it.

    100 years ago the only way to understand the ‘moral’ laws that govern our social construct, was inductive reasoning; but over the last few years we have made amazing discoveries in genetics (popularised in “the selfish gene”), and how the brain works (read “The tell tale brain”) and a recent book “The braintrust” argues that morality originates in the biology of the brain. It describes the "neurobiological platform of bonding" that, modified by evolutionary pressures and cultural values, has led to human styles of moral behaviour.

    I am not saying that science has all the answers, but I am sure that it will bring new insights to the function of moral codes and explanations of how they can work even without recourse to the authority of a god figure to back them up. As an atheist it is important to understand that our moral code is just as strong and well based as that of any religious person.

  2. I'm not convinced by the evolutionary psychology approach to ethics. I think it's more a matter of logical reasoning, within the constraints of nature. I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all "moral code". We all have our personal choices.