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Hume Studies

Volume 46, Issue 1/2, April/November 2020

Aaron Alexander Zubia
Pages 121-144

Hume, Epicureanism, and Contractarianism

While scholars have begun to illuminate the contribution of modern Epicure­anism to developments in political theory during the Enlightenment, scholars remain divided as to whether David Hume should be interpreted as an appropriator of modern Epicurean thought. In this essay, I contend that Hume’s political theory contributes not only to the development of the Epicurean idiom, but also to the evolution of contractarian thought, with which Epicureanism is linked. Though Hume is undoubtedly innovative, particularly in regard to his treatment of consent, he does not operate in an entirely new idiom of political theory, one that is “without precedent” (Sagar, Opinion of Mankind). Instead, Hume adopts and refines the Epicurean conventionalism that propelled the modern liberal project of turning politics into a science. This interpretation of Hume clarifies what modern Epicurean political theory is, while also showing that the alleged distance between Hume and Lockean liberalism is narrower than often supposed.