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Hume Studies

Volume 39, Issue 1, April 2013

Miriam Schleifer McCormick
Pages 77-102

Hume’s Skeptical Politics

I argue that there is a unity between Hume’s philosophical reflection and his political views and that many interesting connections can be found that illuminate both aspects of his thought. This paper highlights two of these connections. First, I argue that the conclusions Hume comes to in his political writings are natural outgrowths of his skepticism, a skepticism that recommends limitation of inquiry, modesty, moderation and openness. Most scholars who view Hume’s skepticism as informing his political views see it as supporting a conservative politics, one which is concerned above all to preserve the status quo. I reject the idea that the kind of philosophical skepticism embraced by Hume leads to such conservatism. The second main aspect of the unity of Hume’s thought I discuss concerns that way in which he addresses normative questions in the epistemological and political realms. The question of what resources Hume has to evaluate some beliefs or philosophical systems as better than others, given his skeptical conclusions, is one that has been of central concern for Hume scholars. His evaluations of political systems and governments can be understood in a similar way; the principles we use to evaluate personal beliefs can also be applied in the evaluation of political systems.

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