Hume argues that rules of justice do not spring fully-formed from rational calculation but emerge from the uncoordinated actions of individuals.
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment.
Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume strove to create a total naturalistic “science of man” that examined the psychological basis of human nature. In stark opposition to the rationalists who preceded him, most notably Descartes, he concluded that desire rather than reason governed human behavior, saying: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”
A prominent figure in the skeptical philosophical tradition and a strong empiricist, he argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding instead that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience. Thus he divides perceptions between strong and lively “impressions” or direct sensations and fainter “ideas,” which are copied from impressions. He developed the position that mental behavior is governed by “custom”; our use of induction, for example, is justified only by our idea of the “constant conjunction” of causes and effects. Without direct impressions of a metaphysical “self,” he concluded that humans have no actual conception of the self, only of a bundle of sensations associated with the self. Hume advocated a compatibilist theory of free will that proved extremely influential on subsequent moral philosophy. He was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on feelings rather than abstract moral principles.
Hume held notoriously ambiguous views of Christianity, but famously challenged the argument from design in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
Kant credited Hume with waking him up from his “dogmatic slumbers” and Hume has proved extremely influential on subsequent philosophy, especially on utilitarianism, logical positivism, William James, philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive philosophy. Also famous as a prose stylist, Hume pioneered the essay as a literary genre and engaged with contemporary intellectual luminaries such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith (who acknowledged Hume’s influence on his economics and political philosophy), James Boswell, Joseph Butler, and Thomas Reid.
Hume explores the nature of political society and argues that there is some basic utility to the state.
George H. Smith begins his discussion of David Hume’s moral and social philosophy.
Smith begins his discussion of David Hume’s moral and social philosophy.
George H. Smith explains David Hume’s theory of the social evolution of our ideas about justice.
Smith explains Hume’s theory of the social evolution of our ideas about justice.
Thomas W. Merrill joins us to talk about the philosophy and political thought of David Hume.
Smith discusses axiology (the study of value) and David Hume’s celebrated argument about “is” and “ought.”
One of the chief philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume contributed a theory of government and morality loosely based on property and utility.
Private property regimes incentivize good behavior—but some actors try to reap the benefits of the system without following the rules themselves.
Smith discusses the crucial difference between science and philosophy, and how human fallibility has been used to defend skepticism.
In this video from a 1984 Libertarian International conference in London, Barry discusses the different foundations for libertarian and classical liberal thought.
Adam Ferguson’s writings, notably his Essay on the History of Civil Society, provided an important analysis of how social institutions form.
Libertarianism is part of the liberal tradition, and we should be proud of that.