Satisfaction in Action: Hume's Comparative Theory of Preferences and the Virtues of Commerce

36 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2020

See all articles by Erik Matson

Erik Matson

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Date Written: March 19, 2020

Abstract

Hume’s theory of preferences would, from a contemporary point of view, be labelled an endogenous theory of preferences. He sees preferences largely as comparative desires that are formed and affected by the psychological process of sympathy. His view of preferences relates to his economic philosophy. Despite his understanding of preferences, Hume is, unlike some other thinkers with related perspectives like Thorstein Veblen, enthusiastic about the prospects of commercial society, claiming in one of his essays that the ages of commerce and refinement are both the happiest and the most virtuous. An important reason for such enthusiasm lies in the fact that he understands happiness or well-being to largely consist in the process of actively pursuing one’s preferences, not necessarily in the state of having one’s preferences satisfied.

Keywords: David Hume, endogenous preferences, the passions, conspicuous consumption, social psychology, commercial society, happiness

JEL Classification: B12, B30, I31

Suggested Citation

Matson, Erik, Satisfaction in Action: Hume's Comparative Theory of Preferences and the Virtues of Commerce (March 19, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3557266 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3557266

Erik Matson (Contact Author)

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

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Arlington, VA 22201
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