David Hume's Political Economy

David Hume's Political Economy

David Hume's Political Economy

David Hume's Political Economy


Hume's Political Discourses (1752) won immediate acclaim and positioned him as an authoritative figure on the subject of political economy. This volume of thirteen new essays definitively establishes the central place of political economy in Hume's intellectual endeavor, as well as the profound and far-reaching influence of his theories on Enlightenment discourse and practice. A major strength of this collection is that the contributors come from a diverse set of fields - philosophy, economics, political science, history and literature. This promotes a comprehensive reading of Hume's political economy, taking into account his entire set of writings and correspondence, in a way that captures his polymathic genius. Hume's analyses of trade and commerce not only delve into the institutions of money and markets, but also human agency, the role of reason and the passions, manners and social mores. Hume sought general principles but also concrete applications, whether he grappled with the problem of economic development (Scotland and Ireland), with the debates on luxury consumption (France), or with the mounting public debt (England).

This book is a key resource for students and researchers in the areas of economic and political philosophy, history of economic and political theory, and the history of ideas.


Carl Wennerlind and Margaret Schabas

It is now approximately 250 years since David Hume published his celebrated essays on political economy as part of his Political Discourses (1752). His work won immediate acclaim and was absorbed directly into the work of several prominent economic thinkers of the period, most notably Adam Smith and A.R.J. Turgot. For several decades thereafter, numerous editions and translations of his essays were issued, leaving a definite imprint on economic discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. For much of the twentieth century, however, Hume was treated as a relatively minor figure in the history of economics, occupying the nebulous territory between mercantilism, physiocracy, and classical political economy. Joseph Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis (1954), for example, addressed Hume’s contributions en passant, and positioned Richard Cantillon and Turgot as the superior contemporaneous economic analysts. Another leading overview, Mark Blaug’s Economic Theory in Retrospect (1978 [1962]), contains about a dozen references to Hume in his opening chapter on “Pre-Adamite Economics,” but because Hume does not fit within a distinct school he is treated incidentally.

The modern philosophical literature has also paid scant attention to Hume’s writings on political economy. While the Political Discourses is often acknowledged as an important text, few philosophers, including political philosophers, engage seriously with Hume’s economic thought. Duncan Forbes’s Hume’s Philosophical Politics (1975) remains the most authoritative account of Hume’s political thought, yet it neglects almost entirely the subject of Hume’s economics. To his credit, Forbes acknowledges that Hume’s economics was central to his “science of politics” and warrants a “full-scale serious study,” but then offers the disclaimer that this subject is better “left to economists” (Forbes 1975, vii). A similar apology is offered on the first page of Barry Stroud’s watershed study, Hume, noting that he will not “consider any of his [Hume’s] philosophical writings about economics” (Stroud 1977, ix). Amongst philosophers who do comment on Hume’s economic thought, the coverage is always subordinate to political and philosophical considerations. For example, while political philosopher John B. Stewart (1992) makes promising forays into Hume’s economic thought, his concern with economic ideas is overshadowed by issues . . .

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