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The Role of Political Economy in Hume’s Moral Philosophy

From: Hume Studies
Volume 37, Number 1, April 2011
pp. 43-64 | 10.1353/hms.2011.0649



Hume insisted that property serve as the foundation of society because it best promotes the greatest amount of industry and therefore contributes to public utility. Industry thus plays a central role in Hume’s theory of justice. Given that Hume extensively discussed the social, political, cultural, and moral implications of industry in the Political Discourses, I suggest that Hume’s economic writings should be understood as an integral part of his overall philosophical project. In offering a parallel reading of the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and the Political Discourses, I argue that Hume’s theory of justice does not resolve into a mere theory of property, as many philosophers complain, but rather, emerges as a rich account of how justice both generates the greatest material affluence and promotes the formation of the most virtuous society.