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Hume's account of government between reason and history

Okan Ecem, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne

Scholars tend to view Hume’s account of government as mainly historical from the perspective of his Essays and History of England. This leads to a neglect of a full appreciation of Hume’s political philosophy in Treatise. Indeed, a close study of Treatise reveals that Hume puts forward two kinds of argument for the origin of government. The first one is, what I call, a logical argument: he shows that how the imagination -informed by experience and corrected by reason- provides a general framework within which the ideas of justice and government emerge. This constitutes Hume’s response to the metaphysical question regarding the nature and purpose of government. The second one is historical: Hume accounts for the necessary conditions for the emergence of a government. Government arises from the habitual obedience to military leaders during wars. This forms Hume’s response to the question concerning how the government came about in history. While the latter expresses the cause of government that Hume finds in the human nature, the former seems to correspond to the reason of government. These two arguments, which coexist also in Essays, are essential for propounding a true philosophy where history confirms abstruse reasonings.


Keywords: David Hume, government, obedience, political philosophy, history

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