Commentators have sometimes underappreciated or misunderstood the point of Hume’s theory of the passions. This paper offers an overview of the literature on Hume’s psychology of the passions, with the aim of showing that it is not simply another mechanistic analysis alongside the offerings of Malebranche, Hobbes, and Spinoza. Recent discussions reveal that Hume’s theory makes an influential contribution to the eighteenth-century debate on the importance of certain passions in human well-being, offers a conception of a social rather than a solitary self, and, among other things, has important implications for moral and motivational theory. This essay begins with the background to and the details of Hume’s theory, with reference to contemporary interpretive treatments of Hume’s taxonomy of the passions. It then considers specific questions to which Hume’s theory of the passions has given rise, and appraises the various perspectives offered in response. Last, it considers broad interpretations concerning the import of Hume’s theory of the passions on the whole: that the passions are crucial to morality; that the passions offer a solution to the problem of the self; that the passions are key to sociability and self-regulation; and that the passions play a fundamental role in religion and in the appreciation of tragedy. Throughout, this essay also notes topics on which more scholarly discussion would be especially beneficial.


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pp. 565-605
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