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Portrait of David Hume (detail) by Allan Ramsey (1754)

Rachael M. Kydd (1918-2001)

about 1970

Rachael Mary Kydd (née Benton Jones) studied philosophy at Oxford from the late 1930s to the early 1940s, she served as President of the Jowett Society in the mid 1940s and was a founder of the philosophy discussion group known as the Vicious Circle. Kydd’s major work in philosophy was Reason and Conduct in Hume’s Treatise (Oxford, 1946; Bristol, 1990). It was one of the first indepth treatments of Hume’s moral and practical philosophy in the twentieth century. Within Reason and Conduct she addressed the general question of whether reason can influence conduct, and she turned to Hume for help on the questions whether and how moral judgements can motivate action. Kydd was careful to locate Hume’s own position within the general historical context within which it was written, summarizing the views of Clark, Hutcheson, Grotius and Locke to aid in this.

A central point in Hume’s practical philosophy, for Kydd, is his distinction between the ‘rightness or virtuousness’ of actions and their obligatory force. Moral judgements properly called are not concerned with the ‘rightness, goodness, or virtuousness’ of an act, but with ‘an agent’s obligation to action’, that is with the relation between thought and will such that ‘an agent is prompted to do an action by the thought of it’ (Reason and Conduct, p. 54). Kydd challenges the accepted reading of reason and will in Hume, and defends what she calls the ‘doctrine of reason as the “mediate” or “oblique” cause of action’ (ibid., p. 115). Kydd argued that Hume’s own analysis of the role of reason in action was not concerned with the full range and complexity of the many kinds of judgement that can influence action. Developing Hume’s own position, Kydd claimed that reason is indeed ‘a slave of the passions’, but a slave only to ‘the passion to reason; all particular passions reason can control’ (p. 163).  The ‘affections and understanding’ thus become equally important in directing our actions, for affections unaided by understanding are ‘blind’.

Selected from Philip Rose, Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy (2006), ed. A.C. Grayling, Naomi Goulder, and Andrew Pyle


In the late 1940s Rachael Kydd left philosophy and, with her husband, Ronald, became involved with cattle and horse breeding. She died at Grassington, North Yorkshire, in May 2001.


Rachel Kydd with Darjemet at Cruglas, Swyddffynnon, Wales

Reason and Conduct in Hume’s Treatise. By RACHAEL M. KYDD. (Oxford University Press. 1946.)

This book is devoted chiefly to an elucidation and examination of Hume’s treatment of the intrinsically important and long-discussed question of the part played by reason in the determination of conduct, although the author declares her main interest is in the general problem and not in Hume. The latter’s problem and discussion are first shown to be rooted in the controversies and speculations of his own and preceding times.... The author then proceeds to a detailed consideration of the relevant sections of the Treatise, which she analyses with care, patience, and sympathy in order to bring out the practical influence of various kinds of judgments—demonstrative theoretical and practical judgments and empirical theoretical and practical judgments. At several points, it is worth noting, she has to admit the force and merit of Hume’s arguments.

The author is to be commended for dealing with a side of Hume which has been somewhat neglected in comparison with his epistemological theory and for giving the philosophical public such a study as this.

–B.M. Laing, Philosophy (April 1947)

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