rs.29 wrote in an answer to a question about the is-ought problem the following:

...we could hold the is–ought problem only as a obsolete sophism, and not as a real problem.

This reminded me of something G. E. M. Anscombe wrote about Hume in Modern Moral Philosophy: (page 3 of the linked file)

I will now return to Hume. The features of Hume's philosophy which I have mentioned, like many other features of it, would incline me to think that Hume was a mere - brilliant - sophist; and his procedures are certainly sophistical.

I hadn't thought of Hume being a sophist before, but now that I have suggestions that he might have been from two sources, I wonder: Was Hume a sophist?. References to further reading along this line would be appreciated.

To describe what I currently think a sophist is, the following definition from a question by Jakob Wakem might work unless those who answer show me something better:

people who have no qualms publishing on both sides of an issue, perhaps not being able to themselves come to conclusions. This would be very interesting if there were people in philosophy who treat philosophy as a rhetorical game rather than "seriously". I don't see any reasons philosophers should disbar such practices. Producing powerful arguments on both sides of an issue would advance the conversation forward, regardless of whether the sophist believes either side.

Unlike Wakem I am not interested in modern philosophers in general. I am only interested in Hume and whether Anscombe would be justified in her view of him.


Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). Modern moral philosophy. Philosophy, 33(124), 1-19. https://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf

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    "Publishing on both sides of an issue, perhaps not being able to themselves come to conclusions" sounds a lot like skeptics. If that is what "sophist" means then Hume self-admittedly was one. I also suspect that some mixture of "rhetorical game" and "seriously" can be found in all major philosophical figures, to varying degrees (were Nietzsche and Heidegger sophists?). But it seems more to the point to quote Anscombe's definition instead. Does she explain what she means?Is it something loose, like his arguments have some similarities to the Greek sophists'?
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 5:35
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    I think Anscombe means only that many of Hume's arguments - at least in ethics - use rhetorical persuasion and rely on clever but fallacious arguments. In other words, she hasn't the ancient Sophists in mind but the main present-day use of 'sophist'.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 16:01
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    @GeoffreyThomas She mentions "sophistical methods". The rhetorical persuasion and fallacious arguments may be what she is referring to by that term. I may have to ask a more direct question about sophistical methods because I don't know what that means. Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 21:34
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    @gonzo My point is that "sophist" is too vague a term, at least on Wakem's definition of it. There is no point supplying evidence when it is unclear what counts as one. As you point out, if one so wishes one can put half (or more) of philosophical tradition under it.
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 2:22
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    @gonzo I may have another question about Hume's determinism that appears now to me to be sophistical after reading Anscombe. Previously I would have just thought it irrational. Now I think the irrationality is deliberate, hence sophistry. However, it will take a while to formulate that question. Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 14:04


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