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

38 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2020 Last revised: 10 Nov 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. 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, optimistic 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 his optimism 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; sympathy; economic philosophy; commercial society.

JEL Classification: B31, I31, P16

Suggested Citation

Matson, Erik, Satisfaction in Action: Hume's Endogenous Theory of Preferences and the Virtues of Commerce (March 19, 2020). Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Forthcoming, 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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