The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume

The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume

The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume

The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume

Excerpt

When about ten years ago I began the work that has produced this book, I knew far less about the thought of David Hume than about that of some other political philosophers, for Hume's political theory is not readily accessible. He wrote no major treatise on the subject comparable to Aristotle Politics, Locke's Second Treatise, or Rousseau Social Contract, so that one has to rummage through one work after another. Moreover, each of his works has its own specific purpose: the argument of one, therefore, does not dovetail directly into that of another. And, perhaps most discouraging, Hume's political ideas are expressed in the "moral philosophy" terminology of the eighteenth century, a terminology that we find dull and disengaging. Nevertheless, I saw that Hume had a high, if often unexplained, reputation, and this made me curious.

Besides, Hume seemed to stand at the juncture of several important questions. First, what is the relation between the tradition of Natural Law, which is criticized by Hume, and the principles of economic and social organization advocated by the classical economists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Second, what is the relation between the rise of classical economic theory and the new interest in history, two developments in which Hume played a fairly important part? Third, what is the explanation for the fierce aversion to religion especially characteristic of eighteenth-century intellectuals? And, fourth, why is Hume ranked, with a fair show of evidence, as both a conservative and a liberal?

As I read and wrote I made, of course, many decisions which give this book the shape and character it now has. I want to refer to only two of these; and I do this only because by doing . . .

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