Reason and Political Economy in Hume
Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, Forthcoming
32 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2018 Last revised: 28 Nov 2018
Date Written: October 1, 2018
This paper examines some connections between Hume’s epistemology in his Treatise of Human Nature and his political economy. I make three claims: (1) First, I argue that it is the development of Hume’s account of the faculty of reason in Book I of the Treatise that leads him to emphasize social science – including political economy – and the humanities over more abstract modes of intellectual inquiry. (2) Second, I argue that Hume’s conception of reason has implications for his methodology in political economy. His perception of the frailty in human reason leads him to deploy a method of qualified generalization that emphasizes the by-and-large nature of theoretical statements. (3) Third, when it comes to policy matters, the method of qualified generalization in theory cashes out in terms of practical maxims. I suggest that two central maxims in Hume’s political economy derive from his views of the usefulness of economic liberty and the coordinating nature of the status quo.
Keywords: Hume, reason, political economy, methodology
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