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Philosophy David Hume: Moral and Political Philosophy
by
James A. Harris

Introduction

David Hume made a number of significant contributions to moral philosophy, and his ideas and arguments remain central to the subject, both in the classroom and in academic research. For some time Hume was pigeonholed either as a proto-utilitarian or as a precursor to mid-20th-century ethical noncognitivism, but recently there has been developed a much richer and more historically sensitive approach to his moral writings. This entry indicates the main lines of enquiry that this approach has pursued. There has also been a surge of interest in Hume’s political philosophy. Hume is no longer dismissed as a “conservative” apologist for the status quo. This entry gives a survey of the range of interpretations that have been offered since the 1970s.

General Overviews

There are now a number of reliable introductory overviews of Hume’s main contributions to ethics and political philosophy. Baillie 2000 is the only reliable book-length treatment. Harris 2010 provides an overview of some of the principal interpretative issues. Cohon 2004 and Fieser 2006 are freely available online. Haakonssen 2009 is a much-improved version of the chapter with the same title in the first (1993) edition of The Cambridge Companion to Hume; Dees 2008 is an equally useful guide to the main themes of Hume’s political philosophy. Hume Studies is published twice yearly and contains scholarly articles on all aspects of Hume’s philosophy, book reviews, and a very useful comprehensive annual survey of all publications on Hume and his philosophy. All but the most recent issues of the journal are available to all online.

Anthologies

Hume has been well served by the recent explosion of collections intended to present the state of the art in scholarship as well as to serve as core secondary reading for upper-level undergraduate classes and graduate seminars. Mazza and Ronchetti 2007 contains several important chapters on Hume’s moral philosophy. Norton and Taylor 2009 and Traiger 2006 are both available relatively cheaply in paperback. For the moment, useful though it is, Radcliffe 2008 is only in expensive hardback; Fieser 2005 is part of an extremely expensive ten-volume set. Also included here are two older and now out-of-print collections, Norton, et al. 1979 and Stewart and Wright 1995, which each contain several articles that have become classics of Hume scholarship.

  • Cohon, Rachel, ed. Hume: Moral and Political Philosophy. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2001.

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    Almost entirely focused upon Hume’s moral philosophy. Contains twenty-three important articles in their original typesetting and pagination. No article is from later than 1999, so the collection is a bit dated.

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  • Fieser, James, ed. Early Responses to Hume. 2d rev. ed. 10 vols. Bristol, UK: Thoemmes, 2005.

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    Volumes 1 and 2, Early Responses to Hume’s Moral, Literary, and Political Writings, provide a fascinating insight into how Hume’s moral and political philosophy was read by his contemporaries and by 19th-century moralists and philosophers. Includes the relevant chapters of Adam Smith and Thomas Reid as well as much more obscure material.

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  • Mazza, Emilio, and Emanuele Ronchetti. New Essays on David Hume. Milan: Franco Angeli, 2007.

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    A collection of essays on a wide range of topics in Hume’s philosophy. Particularly notable are the chapters by James Moore and Luigi Turco, both on the contested question of how to situate Hume’s moral philosophy with respect to the ancient Stoic and Epicurean schools.

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  • Norton, David Fate, Nicholas Capaldi, and Wade L. Robison., eds. McGill Hume Studies. San Diego, CA: Austin Hill, 1979.

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    A miscellaneous collection that contains groundbreaking chapters by many of those who put Hume scholarship on a new and sounder footing, including James Moore, Jane McIntyre, J. C. A Gaskin, P. Jones, Donald Livingston, T. Penelhum, David Fate Norton, and J. G. A. Pocock.

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  • Norton, David Fate, and Jacqueline Anne Taylor, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Hume. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521859868Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A greatly expanded improvement on the original 1993 edition. All chapters have been updated, and there are now two chapters on Hume’s moral philosophy, one by David Fate Norton on Book 3 of the Treatise, one by Jacqueline Anne Taylor on the second Enquiry.

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  • Radcliffe, Elizabeth Schmidt, ed. A Companion to Hume. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

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    Contains five chapters on Hume’s moral philosophy and one on the political philosophy. In addition, has a series of chapters on “Contemporary Themes,” in which the relevance of Hume’s arguments to present-day philosophy is explored and assessed, with special attention given to issues in moral psychology, meta-ethics and the philosophy of normativity.

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  • Stewart, M. A., and John P. Wright, eds. Hume and Hume’s Connexions. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995.

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    Another somewhat miscellaneous collection that, as its title suggests, deals mostly with relations between Hume and his contemporaries. Contains important chapters on Hume and Hutcheson (James Moore), on Hume and Butler (John P. Wright), and on Hume and utilitarianism (Stephen Darwall).

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  • Traiger, Saul, ed. The Blackwell Guide to Hume’s Treatise. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

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    Currently the only comprehensive student guide to the Treatise. Has three chapters on moral subjects. Lacks in-depth treatment of the political topics discussed by Hume in Book 3, Part II.

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Primary Sources

Hume published his moral philosophy in two very different forms, in Book 3 of A Treatise of Human Nature (1740), and in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). The Selby-Bigge edition of the Treatise (Hume 1978) remains the best, though a new text (Hume 2007) has been prepared by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton for the Clarendon Edition of the Works of David Hume. In 2000 the Nortons published a student edition of the Treatise (Hume 2000) as part of the Oxford Philosophical Texts series, and this edition includes a comprehensive introduction and summary of the principal arguments, as well as a detailed bibliography. The same goes for T. L. Beauchamp’s student edition of the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (Hume 1998a). The textual history of the Enquiry is fairly complex and is given in full in Hume 1998b. Important elements of Hume’s political philosophy are also contained in Book 3 of the Treatise. However, Hume turned to the essay form for the development of his political theory. There is as yet no properly edited collection of Hume’s essays, but the Liberty Fund edition (Hume 1987) is reliable and affordable. There is much to be learned about Hume’s approach to politics, and indeed about his ethics, from his History of England (1754–1762). There is no modern edition of Hume’s History, but, again, the Liberty Fund has made available a perfectly serviceable version (Hume 1983).

Hume’s Philosophical System

There are, of course, many studies of Hume’s philosophy. Listed here are those that have given serious consideration to Hume’s moral philosophy. Modern Hume scholarship began with Kemp Smith 2005, and to some extent that book set the terms of debate for all that has followed it, in that the question Kemp Smith raised concerning the relation between Hume’s “naturalism” and his skepticism is still vigorously contested, as is evidenced by Russell 2008. Baier 1991, Norton 1982 and Stroud 1977 are all, in different ways, marked by this question. All of the books listed here reject the idea that in his moral philosophy at least, Hume is primarily a skeptical, negative, destructive thinker. In different ways, Livingston 1984 and Schmidt 2003 move beyond the naturalism-skepticism debate and see Hume as primarily concerned with articulating a historical understanding of all of human experience, including morality and politics. Claims made in Russell 2008 about Hobbes’s influence on Hume should be balanced against the attention to Bayle and Mandeville in Robertson 2005.

  • Baier, Annette. A Progress of Sentiments: Reflections on Hume’s Treatise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1991.

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    A beautifully written account of the Treatise that is both fascinatingly personal and convincingly true to the spirit of Hume’s philosophy. Portrays the Treatise as a narrative in which we are saved from the solipsistic skepticism of Book 1 by the move in Book 2 and Book 3 into the social world of the passions and of morals.

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  • Kemp Smith, Norman. The Philosophy of David Hume. Baskingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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    Originally published in 1941 (London: Macmillan). Arguably the most important book on Hume yet published. Rescued Hume from two centuries of willful misreading and argued that the central theme of Hume’s philosophy is “naturalism,” a positive theory in the philosophy of human nature according to which belief and action are functions of sentiment, not reason. Suggests that Hume first developed a Hutchesonian moral sense theory and then applied it to the understanding.

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  • Livingston, Donald. Hume’s Philosophy of Common Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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    A wide-ranging study that places history and the History of England at center stage in Hume’s overall philosophy. More focused on politics than on morals but elaborates a general, historicized account of Hume’s normativity and explores in detail Hume’s conception of the effects of religion on moral and political life.

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  • Norton, David Fate. David Hume: Common-Sense Moralist, Sceptical Metaphysician. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

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    Sees Hume’s philosophy as split into two movements, with the skepticism of his theory of the understanding balanced against the “common-sense” Hutchesonianism of the moral theory. Provides one of the earliest attempts to broaden our sense of Hume’s intellectual context, contrasting his outlook with the “providential naturalism” of his Scottish contemporaries, including George Turnbull and Lord Kames.

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  • Robertson, John. The Case for the Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples, 1680–1760. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    A comparative study that focuses on Vico and Hume. The treatment of Hume is notable in that it presents the most systematic account yet published of the centrality of themes also found in Bayle and Mandeville.

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  • Russell, Paul. The Riddle of Hume’s Treatise: Skepticism, Naturalism, and Irreligion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Argues that the Treatise is unified by Hume’s hostility to religion and especially by his rejection of the main tenets of the rationalist theism of, for example, Samuel Clarke. Relates Hume closely to Hobbes and focuses on Hume’s arguments for the possibility of virtuous atheism.

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  • Schmidt, Claudia M. David Hume: Reason in History. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.

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    An ambitious attempt to provide a synthetic account of all of Hume’s writings, giving particular attention to Hume on the social and historical dimensions of human experience. Has one chapter on “Moral Theory” and another on “Political Theory.”

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  • Stroud, Barry. Hume. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977.

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    A philosophically invigorating account and critique of some of the main ideas and arguments developed in the Treatise, written from the naturalistic perspective first outlined in Kemp Smith 2005. Has two chapters on themes from Hume’s moral philosophy. Old-fashioned in its method but still worth reading.

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Hume’s Moral Philosophy

There are fewer good books on Hume’s moral philosophy than might be imagined. There is still no full account of Hume’s involvement with the wide range of 17th- and 18th-century figures who undoubtedly played a role in the shaping of his ethics, though both Gill 2006 and Herdt 1997 tell important parts of the story. Ardal 1989 describes connections between Book 2 and Book 3 of the Treatise. Bricke 1996 and Mackie 1980 are the best studies for those approaching Hume from the perspective of “analytical” philosophy. Cohon 2008 gives challenging readings of Hume’s meta-ethics and his theory of the artificial virtues.

  • Ardal, Pall S. Passion and Value in Hume’s Treatise. 2d ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989.

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    A classic study that concentrates on the connections between Book 2 and Book 3 of the Treatise, seeking to correct both the idea that the essence of Hume’s moral philosophy is his meta-ethics and Kemp Smith’s claim that Hume’s theory of the passions has little bearing on his moral philosophy (see Hume’s Philosophical System). Focuses in particular on the details of Hume’s account of the evaluation of character.

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  • Bricke, John. Mind and Morality: An Examination of Hume’s Moral Psychology. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

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    A careful attempt to give clarity to some of the basic elements of Hume’s moral philosophy, in the idiom of modern analytical moral psychology, with the aim of making connections between Hume and the concerns of late 20th-century Anglophone philosophers. Emphasizes the connections between Hume’s ethics and his more general philosophy of mind.

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  • Cohon, Rachel. Hume’s Morality: Feeling and Fabrication. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    A rich and subtle account, which convincingly shows the misunderstandings of Hume generally at work in modern Anglophone moral philosophy. Presents an alternative reading of Hume’s moral psychology and meta-ethics and then develops a novel and compelling interpretation of Hume on the artificial virtues.

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  • Gill, Michael B. The British Moralists on Human Nature and the Birth of Secular Ethics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Places Hume in a tradition of anti-Calvinist philosophizing that begins with the Cambridge Platonists and proceeds through Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. Whereas such an approach neglects what Hume owes to thinkers such as Hobbes, Bayle, and Mandeville (thus needing to be read in conjunction with Robertson 2005 [cited under Hume’s Philosophical System]), Gill’s book is full of important insights.

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  • Herdt, Jennifer A. Religion and Faction in Hume’s Moral Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    A wide-ranging and novel exploration of Hume’s project of developing a secular moral and political philosophy, with full recognition of the practical social ambitions of that project. Gives careful attention to Hume’s theory of sympathy and its development in a variety of Hume’s writings, including the History of England.

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  • Mackie, J. L. Hume’s Moral Theory. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.

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    A brilliant philosophical exploration of the main issues in Hume’s ethics. Intended to function as a prolegomenon to study of moral philosophy taken as a whole, rather than as a contribution to Hume scholarship. But like Stroud 1977 (cited under Hume’s Philosophical System), this is invaluable as a means of getting under the surface of Hume’s prose.

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Hume’s Meta-Ethics

For Hume’s accounts of moral judgment and of moral motivation, and of the relation between them, see the works cited in Hume’s Philosophical System and Hume’s Moral Philosophy. Norton 1984 was unusual at the time in insisting that Hume is an objectivist, not a subjectivist, in his theory of value; his view is contested in Winkler 1996. These are the topics that were long thought to be all that remains of interest in Hume’s moral philosophy, and there are several good treatments of them in the idiom of analytical philosophy, including Botros 2006, Harrison 1976, Kail 2007, and Wiggins 1998. Kail 2007 and Winkler 1996 are sensitive to the significance of Hume’s debts in this area of his moral philosophy to the works of Francis Hutcheson.

  • Botros, Sophie. Hume, Reason, and Morality: A Legacy of Contradiction. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    A careful and rigorous examination of the motivation argument against moral rationalism. Distinguishes usefully between various interpretations of the argument and makes connections between the argument and the skepticism of Book 1 of the Treatise.

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  • Harrison, Jonathan. Hume’s Moral Epistemology. Oxford: Clarendon, 1976.

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    A detailed treatment of Hume’s claim that it is by sense and not by reason that we determine the distinction between right and wrong that takes the reader step by step through the arguments. Uses the terminology and methods of analytical philosophy and has little to say about Hume’s philosophical context.

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  • Kail, P. J. E. Projection and Realism in Hume’s Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Covers much more than Hume’s theory of moral value. Part 3 contains a detailed and subtle interpretation of the idea that according to Hume we project value onto the world in the same manner as we project secondary qualities such as color and heat. Particularly concerned with reconciling this idea with the “realist” language that Hume often uses when speaking of moral qualities.

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  • Norton, David Fate. “Tenth Anniversary Special Issue: Hume’s Moral Ontology.” Hume Studies (1984): 189–214.

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    A restatement of Norton’s case for the claim, controversial when first made but more generally accepted now, that Hume is not a subjectivist but a realist in his theory of moral value. Available online.

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  • Wiggins, David. “A Sensible Subjectivism?” In Needs, Values, Truth: Essays in the Philosophy of Value. 3d ed. By David Wiggins, 185–214. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    A groundbreaking attempt to rescue Hume from being associated with emotivists such as Stevenson and Ayer. Written in its author’s usual idiosyncratic and somewhat obscure idiom, forges instructive connections between Hume’s moral writings and the essay “Of the Standard of Taste.”

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  • Winkler, Kenneth P. “Hutcheson and Hume on the Color of Virtue.” Hume Studies 32 (1996): 3–22.

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    A careful and thorough exploration of the significance of the analogy between moral qualities and colors. Available online.

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Justice and Promise Keeping

Hume’s innovative claim that some virtues are better seen as “artificial” rather than as “natural” has become the focus of much of the best recent work on his moral philosophy. The several difficult interpretative issues in the context of the arguments for this claim are tackled, in various ways, by Baron 1982, Darwall 1993, Garrett 2007, Gauthier 1992, and Haakonssen 1981. Baier 1988 and Moore 1976 give complimentary contextualized accounts of Hume’s theory of justice and promise keeping. Harrison 1981 is the only book-length treatment of Hume on justice. There are also significant treatments in Hume’s Philosophical System and in Hume’s Moral Philosophy.

  • Baier, Annette. “Hume’s Account of Social Artifice—Its Origins and Originality.” Ethics 98 (1988): 757–778.

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    As the title suggests, Baier is concerned with clarifying the sense in which Hume is original in his theory of property rights, promissory rights, and rights to command. Sees Hume as “demystifying” these rights by finding an origin for them in conflicts of the passions.

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  • Baron, Marcia. “Hume’s Noble Lie: An Account of His Artificial Virtues.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 12 (1982): 539–555.

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    Argues that Hume is best seen as denying that justice and promise keeping (and chastity) are real virtues. They are merely conventions essential to our well-being in society, and the motivation to respect such conventions is the result of a socially inculcated tendency to overrate their merits.

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  • Darwall, Stephen. “Motive and Obligation in Hume’s Ethics.” Noûs 17 (1993): 413–448.

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    An influential argument that Hume’s account of the morality of justice is crippled by Hume’s inability to reconcile the principal features of his moral philosophy considered more generally. Hume orientates moral judgment toward motives and then is unable to find a motive to justice. Argues that Hume finds himself pushed toward a kind of obligation, “rule obligation,” that his theory of the will cannot make room for.

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  • Garrett, Don. “The First Motive to Justice: Hume’s Circle Argument Squared.” Hume Studies 33 (2007): 257–288.

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    In effect, a response to Darwall 1993 that argues that Hume’s moral psychology is in fact able to accommodate the distinctive kind of obligation that a commitment to justice must be derived from.

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  • Gauthier, David. “Artificial Virtues and the Sensible Knave.” Hume Studies 18 (1992): 401–427.

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    A widely discussed paper that explicates both natural and moral obligations to justice in terms of self-interest: self-interest takes on moral value, according to Gauthier’s Hume, when “redirected” toward conventions on which society depends. The second half of the paper argues that Hume is pushed toward an error theory of moral obligation by the impossibility of answering the skepticism of the sensible knave. Available online.

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  • Haakonssen, Knud. The Science of a Legislator: The Natural Jurisprudence of David Hume and Adam Smith. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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    Principally on Adam Smith, but the first chapter is a rich and suggestive treatment of Hume on justice and promise keeping. Contains in particular a frequently discussed account of Hume on moral obligation to those virtues, deriving it from self-hatred arising out of consciousness of a lack of a natural motivation.

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  • Harrison, Jonathan. Hume’s Theory of Justice. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981.

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    Like Harrison 1976 (cited under Hume’s Meta-ethics), a rigorous and argumentative paragraph-by-paragraph treatment.

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  • Moore, James. “Hume’s Theory of Justice and Property.” Political Studies 24 (1976): 103–119.

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    A contextual study that situates Hume’s theory in the context of Scottish appropriation of the natural law tradition, and considers both positive and negative responses.

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Sympathy and Moral Judgment

Hume’s account of moral judgment, and the mechanism of sympathy central to that account, have been of particular interest to those wishing to understand Hume on the normativity of moral estimation. Favorable assessments of Hume on this issue are to be found in Loeb 2002. An important issue in this connection is the relation between the indirect passions of love and hatred, the deliverances of sympathy, and moral approval and disapproval. Some studies, such as Korsgaard 1999, hold that moral judgments are the passions of love and hatred suitably corrected by sympathy. This view is rejected by Mercer 1972 and Baier 1991 (cited under Hume’s Philosophical System). Sayre-McCord 1994 is an often-discussed account of Hume’s notion of the “general point of view” from which moral judgments are made. Turco 1999 provides useful context for Hume’s theory of sympathy.

  • Korsgaard, Christine M. “The General Point of View: Love and Moral Approval in Hume’s Ethics.” Hume Studies 25 (1999): 3–41.

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    Asks why, according to Hume, we take up the general point of view and why we take judgments made from that point of view to be normative. Argues that the answers Hume gives to these questions are inadequate but that there is a better explanation to be found in his account of love. Available online.

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  • Loeb, Louis. Stability and Justification in Hume’s Treatise. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    In chapter 4, sections 46 (pp. 118–138), Loeb argues that Hume holds that we take up the general point of view in order to avoid contradictions and sudden changes (and resultant uneasiness) arising from the variability of sympathy. The argument is intended as defense of Hume against objections raised in Mackie 1980 (cited under Hume’s Moral Philosophy).

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  • Mercer, Philip. Sympathy and Ethics: A Study of the Relationship between Sympathy and Morality with Special Reference to Hume’s Treatise. Oxford: Clarendon, 1972.

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    A detailed and critical account of Hume’s theory of sympathy, somewhat preoccupied with the concerns of mid-20th-century Anglophone moral philosophy, and interested in motivating the views of Kant and Schopenhauer as a corrective to Hume.

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  • Sayre-McCord, Geoffrey. “On Why Hume’s General Point of View Isn’t Ideal—and Shouldn’t Be.” Social Philosophy and Policy 11 (1994): 202–228.

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    Rejects the idea that Hume’s general point of view is the point of view of an ideal observer. Rather, adopting the point of view is a means of enabling communication and of avoiding conflict. Available online.

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  • Taylor, Jacqueline. “Hume on the Standard of Virtue.” Journal of Ethics 6 (2002): 43–62.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1015815518479Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers and rejects the views of those (e.g., Baier 1991 [cited under Hume’s Philosophical System]) who think that in Treatise Hume develops a theory of moral judgment able to convincingly capture processes of reflection and correction. Argues that the theory outlined in the second Enquiry is superior.

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  • Turco, Luigi. “Sympathy and Moral Sense: 1725–1740.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7 (1999): 79–101.

    DOI: 10.1080/09608789908571016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a useful account of the intellectual context for Hume’s deployment of sympathy in the Treatise, focusing on John Clarke and Archibald Campbell in particular.

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The Natural Virtues and Humean Character

Although there are still puzzles concerning how Hume understands the psychological basis of the artificial virtues, there is no doubt that he regards the rest of morality as firmly rooted in character traits of human beings. The articles and book chapters listed in this section explore Hume’s theory of character in detail. There are also important treatments in Hume’s Philosophical System and in Hume’s Moral Philosophy. This is an area of Hume’s moral philosophy that suffered neglect while it was assumed that there must be a clear distinction to be drawn between the philosophy and the psychology of ethics. McIntyre 1990 is a much-cited account of Hume’s theory of character and may profitably be read in conjunction with Russell 1995; Baier 2008 and Dees 1997 bring to bear the character studies that are a prominent feature of The History of England. Scheewind 1990 provides a brief but brilliant sketch of general developments in the theory of virtue in the early modern period and of Hume’s place in those developments.

  • Baier, Annette. Death and Character: Further Reflections on Hume. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2008.

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    Part 1 contains essays approaching Hume’s theory of character from a number of different perspectives, and shows the value for an understanding of his moral philosophy of the History of England.

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  • Dees, Richard H. “Hume on the Characters of Virtue.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 36 (1997): 45–64.

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    A subtle account of the importance of character to Hume’s theory moral evaluation and to the explanation of action. Makes interesting use of the character sketches that populate the History of England.

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  • McIntyre, Jane. “Character: A Humean Account.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 7 (1990): 201–215.

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    Primarily attempts to refute the view that there is an incompatibility between Hume’s theory of character and the theories of causation and personal identity developed in Book 1 of the Treatise.

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  • Russell, Paul. Freedom and Moral Sentiment: Hume’s Way of Naturalizing Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press. 1995.

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    Part 2 develops the fullest account yet given of the place of character in Hume’s theory of moral judgment, especially regarding attributions of responsibility. Focuses in particular on the involuntariness of character as Hume describes it.

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  • Scheewind, J. B. “The Misfortunes of Virtue.” Ethics 101 (1990): 42–63.

    DOI: 10.1086/293259Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A fascinating examination of the place of virtue in early modern moral philosophy. Notes Grotius’s attack on the ethics of virtue and describes Hume’s theory of natural virtue as an attempt to bring benevolence, among other things, within the purview of a broadly Grotian approach.

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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

For some time it was generally believed that the second Enquiry is merely a watered-down version of the Treatise written solely in order to gain Hume the wide readership he had failed to find with his first book. More recently it has been appreciated that there are important differences between the two versions of Hume’s moral philosophy, and Abramson 2001 and Moore 2002 make significant steps in elucidating those differences. However, there is much work left to be done on this issue.

  • Abramson, Kate. “Sympathy and the Project of Hume’s Second Enquiry.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 83 (2001): 45–80.

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    Argues that although there is a theory of sympathy operative in the second Enquiry, in the later text Hume moves from the project of “philosophical anatomy” to “philosophical painting,” which requires changes in style, method, and organization.

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  • Moore, James. “Utility and Humanity: The Quest for the Honestum in Cicero, Hutcheson, and Hume.” Utilitas 14 (2002): 93–107.

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    Seeks to explain Hume’s stated preference for the second Enquiry over his other writings in terms of his admiration for Cicero and a concern to provide an account of what Cicero had termed the “honestum”: or, that in morality which is good in itself. Argues that Hume finds the “honestum” in the sentiment of “humanity.”

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Hume As Normative Ethicist

Descriptive-cum-explanatory ambitions are prominent in Hume’s moral philosophy. But does he in addition answer the normative question as to why we ought to act on our moral sentiments? If so, what kind of answer is it? Hursthouse 1999 and Swanton 2007 argue that Hume is best understood as a virtue ethicist, albeit one who differs in important respects from the Aristotelian mainstream of the virtue ethical tradition. Ashford 2005 reasserts the traditional view that despite obvious differences between Hume and more recent utilitarians, Hume is a consequentialist in his normative ethics. Skepticism about the consequentialist interpretation is expressed in Sayre-McCord 1996. Shaver 1995 makes a general case against a purely descriptive-explanatory understanding of Hume’s moral philosophy. Baier 1991 (cited under Hume’s Philosophical System) and Korsgard 1996 develop reflexive-endorsement readings of Hume’s normative ethic. Gill 1996 rejects the idea that Hume has an answer to the normative question.

The General Orientation of Hume’s Political Philosophy

The past thirty-five years have seen a renaissance of interest in Hume’s political philosophy. This is largely due to two very different books: Forbes 1975, which brilliantly situates Hume in the complex political discourses of his age, and J. G. A. Pocock’s The Machiavellian Moment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975), a hugely influential work that does not say much about Hume himself yet provided historians of 18th-century political thought with an entirely new framework of analysis. These books shape the agenda of Moore 1977, Phillipson 1992, and Robertson 1983. Throughout the 19th century Hume was regarded as the source of conservatism in Anglophone political thought, and this interpretation is defended, in various ways, in Miller 1981 (and also in Livingston 1984 [cited under Hume’s Philosophical System]). It is heavily criticized in Stewart 1992 and McArthur 2007. A brilliant account of the economic dimension of Hume’s political thought is found in the essays collected in Hont 2005.

  • Forbes, Duncan. Hume’s Philosophical Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

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    An rich study that situates Hume in a variety of philosophical and historical contexts. Demolishes the idea that Hume was a Tory and portrays him as rejecting “vulgar Whiggism” in favor of the “scientific Whiggism” out of which Smith’s political economy would later develop.

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  • Hont, Istvan. Jealousy of Trade: International Competition and the Nation-State in Historical Perspective. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

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    Although the essays collected in this volume tend to focus on Smith rather than on Hume, they provide the various contexts in which Hume’s political economy needs to be understood.

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  • McArthur, Neil. David Hume’s Political Theory: Law, Commerce, and the Constitution of Government. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

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    A brief and elegant account of Hume’s case for modern commercial society. Rejects the idea that Hume’s epistemological skepticism pushes him in the direction of conservatism. Hume has a positive vision of the basic legal structure of the good society and so is better placed in the “liberal” tradition.

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  • Miller, David. Philosophy and Ideology in Hume’s Political Thought. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981.

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    A clear and succinct exposition of the main elements of Hume’s political thought, which relates it to his general skeptical theory of human nature and then separates out the elements of his broadly “conservative” understanding of the basis and functions of government.

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  • Moore, James. “Hume’s Political Science and the Classical Republican Tradition.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 10 (1977): 809–839.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0008423900050903Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A richly suggestive study that summarizes the main themes of Hume’s political science in terms of a series of responses to republican theorizing by, in particular, James Harrington.

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  • Phillipson, Nicholas T. Hume. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

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    Principally a study of Hume’s History of England, which is portrayed as the natural culmination of Hume’s attempt to develop a political-philosophical discourse adequate to the age in which he lived, able to explain and undo the pernicious influence of religious and party factionalism.

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  • Robertson, John. “The Scottish Enlightenment at the Limit of the Civic Tradition.” In Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment. Edited by Istvan Hont and Michael Ignatieff, 137–178. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

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    Situates Hume’s political philosophy in a nexus of concerns about the consequences of the rise of modern international commerce. Despite obvious differences, finds reason to locate Hume in the civic tradition of James Harrington and Andrew Fletcher.

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  • Stewart, John B. Opinion and Reform in Hume’s Political Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Argues that far from being a conservative, Hume in fact has a liberal, reformist agenda in his political writings, albeit one grounded on and limited by scientific analyses of human nature and of society. Situates Hume with informed precision with respect to his most important philosophical predecessors—and also with respect to the political controversies of his age.

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Critique of Social Contract Theory

One of Hume’s chief contributions to political thought was a devastating criticism of the social contract account of political obligation associated most closely with Locke and the “vulgar Whig” faction of 18th-century British political debate. For useful treatments of Hume’s argument, see Forbes 1975 (cited under The General Orientation of Hume’s Political Philosophy). Buckle and Castiglione 1991 and Castiglione 1994 situate Hume’s critique in its historical context. Thompson 1977 argues that Hume is less successful against Locke than is usually believed.

  • Buckle, Stephen, and Dario Castiglione. “Hume’s Critique of the Contract Theory.” History of Political Thought 12 (1991): 457–480.

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    An excellent account of the complexities of interpreting Hume’s critique in its historical context. Helpful with respect to the question of the relation between the normative and the historical in Hume’s theory of politics. Contains a reply to Thompson 1977.

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  • Castiglione, Dario. “History, Reason and Experience: Hume’s Arguments against Contract Theories.” In The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls. Edited by David Boucher and Paul Kelly, 95–114. London: Routledge, 1994.

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    Carefully distinguishes between varieties of contract theory in order to clarify exactly what Hume took his target to be. Written with an eye to the post-Rawlsian resurrection of contractarianism among political theorists.

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  • Thompson, Martyn P. “Hume’s Critique of Locke and the ‘Original Contract.’” Il Pensiero Politico 10 (1977): 189–191.

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    Argues that Hume’s critique of social contract theory does not succeed if taken to be an attack upon Locke, since there is much that Hume and Locke agree upon about the origins of government, and since Locke’s theory of the legitimacy of government does not rest upon the consent of the people.

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The Origins and Legitimacy of Government

Hume’s alternative to Lockean (and divine right) theories of the political legitimacy is a principal subject of many of the studies cited under The General Orientation of Hume’s Political Philosophy. See also, and especially, Livingston 1984 (cited under Hume’s Philosophical System), which presents a wide-ranging conservative interpretation of Humean politics as grounded in the moral practices of common life and as privileging “narrative order” over revolutionary change. Stewart 1995 presents a critique of Livingston 1984 from a liberal perspective. Dees 1992 implicitly rejects both conservative and liberal interpretations in favor of “contextualism.” Hardin 1993 compares and contrasts Hume and Hobbes. Pocock 1979 attends to Hume’s apparent shift toward political pessimism in the 1760s and 1770s.

  • Dees, Richard H. “Hume on the Contexts of Politics.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 30 (1992): 219–242.

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    Argues for a contextualist reading of Hume’s politics, especially his theory of justified rebellion. Sees Hume’s analyses of political situations in the History of England as determined by what were the established practices actually at play in those situations, not by the application of abstract principles of legitimacy.

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  • Hardin, Russell. “From Power to Order, from Hobbes to Hume.” Journal of Political Philosophy 1 (1993): 69–81.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9760.1993.tb00004.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An attempt at enumerating in the language of modern political philosophy the differences between Hobbes and Hume on the origins and legitimacy of political order. Argues that Hume’s evolutionary account of order is more plausible than Hobbes’s contractualism but that Hume fails to provide a satisfactory account of political obligation.

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  • Pocock, J. G. A. “Hume and the American Revolution: The Dying Thoughts of a North Briton.” In McGill Hume Studies. Edited by David Fate Norton, Nicholas Capaldi, and Wade L. Robison, 325–343. San Diego, CA: Austin Hill, 1979.

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    A subtle evocation of the deep ambiguities of Hume’s writing on politics. Explores in particular Hume’s ambivalence about England and English politics as expressed toward the end of his life—that is, the tension between Hume’s violent distaste for the English political scene of the 1760s and 1770s and his continuing admiration for the English constitution.

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  • Stewart, John B. “The Public Interest vs. Old Rights.” Hume Studies 21 (1995): 165–188.

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    A clear restatement of Stewart’s reasons for seeing Hume as an originator of the reformist liberalism of the 19th century, set against Livingston’s conservative reading of Hume’s politics. Available online.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/10/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0057

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