David Hume and Contemporary Realism in Political Theory

46 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2012

See all articles by Björn Östbring

Björn Östbring

Lund University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: January 5, 2012


Proponents of the recent movement of realism in political theory have expressed dissatisfaction with the typically Kantian and ideal theoretical assumptions that guide much political and normative theorizing. In this paper it is proposed that these realist theorists could find support for their critique of the Kantian legacy, as well as building blocks for a realist alternative, by drawing on the moral and political thought of David Hume. The paper constitutes a reading of Hume’s writings with the contemporary realist critique in mind. The result highlights four themes in Hume’s thought: (1) The empirically informed approach to normative reasoning. (2) An emphasis on that political theorizing must be conducted on the basis of a realistic political psychology. (3) The critique of social contract doctrines, a critique that is directed at idealistic and rationalistic versions of liberalism. (4) Hume’s account of human sociality and the origins of political authority. Lastly, it is suggested that the fact that Hume combines realism with liberalism makes him of additional interest to the many realists who are seeking to correct rather than reject liberal political theory and who are thus wary of finding themselves too close to Machiavelli and Hobbes, the usual realist predecessors.

Keywords: realism, moralism, ideal theory, legitimacy, normativity

Suggested Citation

Östbring, Björn, David Hume and Contemporary Realism in Political Theory (January 5, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2147689 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2147689

Björn Östbring (Contact Author)

Lund University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 52

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