University of Otago emblem    Philosophy



I have several one-off papers on such topics as the analytic/synthetic distinction, truthmaker theory, the existence (or otherwise) of abstract objects, possible worlds, Luther and Erasmus on Free Will, the Milgram Experiments, the History of New Zealand Philosophy and coercive theories of meaning, but the following sketch represents the major themes in my research.

NO OUGHT FROM IS cover of Pigden 2010

Hume's famous No-Ought-From-Is passage is one of the most talked-about single paragraphs in the entire history of philosophy and continues to be the focus for metaethical debate right down to the present day. Some think it expresses a profound truth; some think it is true but not profound; and some think that it cannot be profound because it is not true. Like Thomas Reid, I am a member of the true-but-not-profound party, though, in my view, its non-profundity is itself profound, in the sense that it is a quite important point that nothing of any meta-ethical consequence follows from (my version of) No-Ought-From-Is. (When appropriately modified, No-Ought-From-Is is simply an instance of the conservativeness of logic, the thesis that in a valid deductive argument, you cannot get out what you have not put in; hence it provides no support whatsoever for non-cognitivism or even non-naturalism.)

My opponents include Arthur Prior, who argued in a famous paper that No-Ought-From-Is is not profound because not true, and Gerhard Schurz, who disputes my presupposition that there is no special logic of the moral concepts, but defends a different and potentially more profound version of No-Ought-From-Is. The collection Hume on Is and Ought addresses these issues, advancing the debate between Schurz and myself, and includes two completely new proofs of No-Ought-From-Is, one by Greg Restall and Gillian Russell and the other by Ed Mares. Research on these issues (including a debate between Annette Baier and myself about the meaning of 'deduction' in eighteenth Century English) led to further work on early modern logical theory, specifically the lecture notes of Colin Drummond, who was Hume's logic professor at Edinburgh.

Key papers:

  • Pigden, Charles. (1989) 'Logic and the Autonomy of Ethics', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 67, No. 2, pp. 127-151
  • Pigden, Charles. (2010 ‘Letter from a Gentleman in Dunedin to a Lady in the Countryside’ , in Pigden ed Hume on Is and Ought, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 76-91
  • “Comments on ‘Hume’s Master Argument’”, in Pigden ed Hume on Is and Ought, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 128-142,
  • Pigden, Charles. (2010) ‘Snare’s Puzzle/Hume’s Purpose: Non-Cognitivism and What Hume Was Really Up to with No-Ought-From-Is’, in Pigden ed Hume on Is and Ought, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 169-191
  • Pigden, Charles. (2010) ‘On the Triviality of Hume’s Law: a Reply to Gerhard Schurz’, in Pigden ed Hume on Is and Ought, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan pp 217-238,
  • Pigden, Charles. (2010) ‘Substance, Content, Taxonomy and Consequence: A Comment on Stephen Maitzen’, in Pigden ed Hume on Is and Ought, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp 313-319
  • Pigden, Charles (2015) ‘Hume a on Is and Ought: Logic, Promises and the Duke of Wellington’ in Russell, Paul ed (2015) The Oxford Handbook of David Hume, Oxford, Oxford University Press


Hume's 'Motivation Argument' is, if anything, even more discussed than No-Ought-From-Is. I contend that although an argument for non-cognitivism can be extracted from Hume's text, this is not the argument that Hume intended. What he was actually arguing for was the thesis that moral truths are not arrived at by reasoning but are the products of a moral sense. However both the argument that can be extracted from his text and the argument he intended are abject failures. If I am right about this, and right about No-Ought-From-Is, this rather leaves non-cognitivism in the lurch. What is perhaps more surprising is that Hume’s Slavery of Reason thesis (‘reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions’), which is usually employed together with some kind of internalism to support non-cognitivism, affords an independent argument for the error theory, a very different conclusion. However, these are contentious matters and are discussed at length by myself and others in Hume on Motivation and Virtue.

Key papers:

  • Pigden, Charles R. (2007) ‘Hume, Motivation and “the Moral Problem”’ New Essays on David Hume, edited by Emilio Mazza and Emanuele Ronchetti, Milano: Franco Angeli,
  • Pigden, Charles R (2009) ‘Introduction’ , pp. 1-29 in Pigden, ed. (2009) Hume on Motivation and Virtue, Houndmills, Palgrave, Macmillan
  • Pigden, Charles (2009) ‘A Niggle at Nagel’ in Sandis, Constantine ed. (2009) New Essays on the Explanation of Action, Houndmills, Palgrave Macmillan,pp. 220-241
  • Pigden, Charles R. (2009) ‘If not Non-Cognitivism then What?’ pp. 80-104 in Pigden, Charles R ed. (2009) Hume on Motivation and Virtue, Houndmills, Palgrave, Macmillan

RUSSELL cover of Pigden 1999

My work on Russell is dedicated to the proposition that Russell was an important ethical thinker, a major influence on Moore and a pioneer of both emotivism and the error-theory.

Key papers:

  • Pigden Charles (2013) ‘Analytic Philosophy?’ in Bullivant and Ruse eds. The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, Oxford, Oxford University Press. 307-319.
  • Pigden, Charles. (2003) ‘Bertrand Russell: Moral Philosopher or Unphilosophical Moralist?” ch. 15 of Griffin, N. ed. The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 475-506.
  • Pigden, Charles (2014) ‘Russell’s Moral Philosophy’, Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy’,, major revision of 2007 version


My work on conspiracy theories argues that the common view (derived in part from Popper) that conspiracy theories as such are irrational, suspect or unbelievable is itself irrational suspect and unbelievable. This is not to say that there are no crazy or silly conspiracy theories but they are crazy because they are crazy not crazy because they are conspiracy theories. Indeed the idea that conspiracy theories as such is not only silly but dangerous since it allows real-life conspirators to get away with murder.

Key papers:

  • Pigden, Charles (2016) ‘Are Conspiracy Theories Epistemically Vicious?’ in Brownlee, Coady, Lippert-Rasmmussen eds The Blackwell Companion to Applied Philosophy, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell
  • Pigden, Charles (2015) forthcoming ‘Conspiracy Theories and the Conventional Wisdom Revisited’ (a much revised and expanded version of ‘Conspiracy Theories and the Conventional Wisdom’), in Olli Loukola ed. Secrets and Conspiracies, Rodopi
  • Pigden, Charles (2006) ‘Complots of Mischief’ ch. 12 of Coady, David ed. Conspiracy Theories: the Philosophical Debate, Aldershot, Ashgate, pp. 139-166.
  • Pigden, Charles (1995) ‘Popper Revisited or What is Wrong With Conspiracy Theories?’, The Philosophy of the Social Sciences, vol. 25, no. 1. pp. 3-34.


My long-term project is to write a defense of the error-theory (The Reluctant Nihilist) and a companion volume (Living the Noble Lie) arguing that morality is a necessary illusion. To that end I hope to explore the theme of amoralism in literature, touching on Dostoevsky, Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the figure of Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV plays.

Key papers (meta-ethics and the error theory):

  • Pigden, Charles R. (2012): ‘Identifying Goodness’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 90:1, 93-109
  • Pigden, Charles (2007) ‘Nihilism, Nietzsche and the Doppelganger Problem’, special Mackie issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 10:5, pp. 441-456
  • Pigden, Charles, (2007) ‘Desiring to Desire: Russell, Lewis and G.E. Moore’, in Susanna Nuccatelli and Gary Seay eds, Themes from G. E. Moore: New Essays in Epistemology and Ethics, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 244-269.
  • Pigden, Charles. (1990) 'Geach on "Good"' Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 40, No. 159, pp. 129-154
  • Pigden, Charles (1988) 'Anscombe on "Ought"', Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 20-41
Key papers (why be moral?):
  • Pigden, Charles (2012) ‘A Sensible Knave? Hume, Jane Austen and Mr Elliot’ Journal of Intellectual History, 22.3, 465-480.
  • Pigden, Charles (1988) 'Stavrogin: A Critical Study of an Amoralist', Critical Philosophy, vol. 4. pp. 28-50.

For a full list of my publications, see here.