The Rise of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment

By Tatsuya Sakamoto; Hideo Tanaka | Go to book overview

6

Hume's political economy as a system of manners

Tatsuya Sakamoto

David Hume has long been regarded as one of the most remarkable predecessors of Adam Smith in his economic liberalism. This general historical estimation still survives, but with some serious reservations. First, systematic study of Hume's thought has led to a widely shared view that Hume's economic thought ought to be understood as an essential part of what he called 'the Science of Man' and that he never intended to establish any autonomous scientific discipline to be labelled 'economics'. 1 Second, the place of Smith as the founder of economic science is being seriously challenged. It is now widely believed by scholars of Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment that Smith himself should be placed back into the philosophical, political and ideological contexts of his day and be examined in his own right and not merely as the founder of the bourgeois science of economics. Should this be the case, the sense in which to claim that Hume was one of Smith's most important predecessors must be revised accordingly. 2

In this chapter I will discuss one of the original ways in which Hume extensively wrote about a variety of economic subjects. One can hardly develop a systematic analysis of this subject within the limited space of the current chapter. Instead I seek to take an indirect route by shedding an analytical light upon a specific idea in Hume with a view to providing a more consistent account of the precise place that he occupies in the economic thought of the Scottish Enlightenment. It will be argued that the central idea permeating Hume's economic discourses is that of 'manners'. From this analytical viewpoint I will follow threads of argument from A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40, Treatise hereafter) to the History of England (1754-61) expecting to demonstrate a growing importance of this idea, which gradually took form in response to Hume's intellectual requirements at several stages of his life and career.

As is now universally allowed, Treatise built a philosophical foundation for Hume's project to found the science of human nature. As one of the most successful products of this project Political Discourses (1752) was a work in which Hume's economic thought was systematically presented. 3 At least three substantial connections between the two works are identifiable. First, the theory of knowledge and empirical reasoning developed in Book I of Treatise provided a

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