In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Hume Studies Volume 33, Number 2, November 2007, pp. 358-360 Russell Hardin. DavidHume, Moral and Political Theorist. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. 240. ISBN 9780199232567, Hardback, $49.50. Hume scholars treasure the fact that the card catalogue entry in the British Library reads "David Hume, Historian." It is a reminder that once upon a (quaint) time, Hume was known for his best-selling History of England while his writings on metaphysics went largely unstudied. The title of Russell Hardin's thorough and provocative book reads like a new card catalogue entry, one that would have us view Hume in yet a different light. Hardin wants to show that Hume has a systematic project in moral and political theory, and, more controversially, that this project is of a particular kind. There are two propositions to which Hardin thinks Hume is committed. First of all, there is a psychological thesis: whatever views we hold about morality may be traced back to features of our psychology, and these features are entirely sufficient to explain our holding them. The objective truth and falsity of these views play no role. Second, there is an anti-realist thesis: knowledge of the objective truth about morality is not simply unnecessary for the purposes of moral science; there is in fact no such truth for us to know (51). While Hardin acknowledges that Hume occasionally lapses into praising certain virtues over others, Hardin says that these statements should be disregarded as "mere panegyric." Hardin thinks Hume's explanation of our moral beliefs is based on what Hardin calls a "functional" view of moral motivation. That is to say, all statements of the form "you ought to do this" are conditional rather than categorical. They tell us that ifwe have certain interests, we ought to take certain actions (13). This entails that whatever moral obligations we feel ourselves to have, they are at bottom "entirely self-regarding," in that they are part of a long-term strategy to fulfill our desires (which are taken as given) (52). Social institutions arise as the unplanned result of the actions of such self-regarding agents, who see these institutions as vehicles to allow the most efficient fulfillment of their desires (30). Unlike Hobbes, whose doctrine this obviously resembles, Hume makes room for "at least a little bit of benevolence" through sympathy—benevolence is, Hardin says, just another desire that Hume takes as a given, like the desire "to enjoy a hike in the hills" (63). But Hardin says that "Hume and Hobbes blur the normative sense of obligation in the same way" (52). For both philosophers, obligation is to be explained entirely through reference to our own interests. Hardin thinks Hume does more than just appropriate Hobbes's central thesis, however; he improves upon it. Hobbes errs in seeing society and its institutions as the product of agents trying to solve what Hardin calls a "one-time coordination Hume Studies Book Reviews 359 problem." Hume discerns the importance of "iterated interactions," and is thus able to produce a more nuanced explanation of how particular social institutions evolve and why they take the form they do (56). (Hobbes can do no more than tell us that whatever institutions have evolved must be accepted.) Hardin is excellent on the ways in which what he calls Hume's "strategic categories" both anticipate, and, in many cases, improve upon, those current in modern game theory. This is in my view the strongest aspect of the book. Hardin also tries throughout to relate Hume's insights to debates in contemporary political philosophy. I find Hardin's second thesis, that Hume believes virtue and vice have no objective status, both less well-defended and less persuasive. In challenging the interpretation of Hume as a kind of moral realist, argued by David Norton and Nicholas Capaldi among others, Hardin acknowledges that "there are textual warrants for both views. "He claims his own account renders Hume "more systematic" (3). As I have said, Hardin claims that Hume only advocates for a particular moral position when he falls into "panegyric." By panegyric Hardin means an "expression of [Hume's] own personal feelings" about right and wrong (7). He describes...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 358-360
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.