Reason and Political Economy in Hume
This paper examines some connections between Hume’s epistemology in his Treatise of Human Nature and his political economy. I make three claims: (1) First, I argue that it is the development of Hume’s account of the faculty of reason in Book I of the Treatise that leads him to emphasize social science—including political economy—and the humanities over more abstract modes of intellectual inquiry. (2) Second, I argue that Hume’s conception of reason has implications for his methodology in political economy. His perception of human reason leads him to deploy a method of qualified generalization that emphasizes the by-and-large nature of theoretical statements. (3) Third, when it comes to policy matters, the method of qualified generalization in theory cashes out in terms of practical maxims. I suggest that two central maxims in Hume’s political economy derive from his views of the usefulness of economic liberty and the coordinating nature of the status quo.