The Dual Account of Reason and the Spirit of Philosophy in Hume's Treatise

Forthcoming in Hume Studies

32 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2017 Last revised: 17 Feb 2020

See all articles by Erik Matson

Erik Matson

New York University - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 30, 2018


The purpose of this essay is to contribute to the understanding of Hume’s account of the faculty of reason and to examine some implications for interpreting the broader arc of his philosophy. I argue that Hume develops his thinking about reason dialectically in Book I of the Treatise by creating a reflective dynamic between two different concepts of reason. The first concept of reason (reason1) is a narrow faculty that operates on ideas via intuition and demonstration. The second concept (reason2) is a broader imagination-dependent faculty that augments reason1 with the activity of probable reasoning. The dialectic between reason1 and reason2 leads to Hume skepticism, which is compounded by the fact that reason2 self-subverts if not constrained. Hume resolves these matters in the conclusion to Book 1 by conditionally committing to apply reason2 to matters of common life and social interest in a diffidently skeptical manner.

Keywords: David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Reason, Skepticism, Imagination

JEL Classification: B12, B31

Suggested Citation

Matson, Erik, The Dual Account of Reason and the Spirit of Philosophy in Hume's Treatise (November 30, 2018). Forthcoming in Hume Studies, Available at SSRN:

Erik Matson (Contact Author)

New York University - Department of Economics ( email )

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