Political Skepticism: Philosophical Skepticism in Hume, Burke, and Oakeshott's Political Thought

Dissertation, Yale University (2001)

Steven J. Wulf
Lawrence University
Scholars frequently assume that David Hume, Edmund Burke, and Michael Oakeshott are radically skeptical, anti-rational, anti-philosophical, or anti-foundational political thinkers. These three philosophers' supposed endeavors to answer questions about politics and practical life without reference to epistemological, metaphysical, or even logical assumptions about the fundamental character of the human condition are responsible for much of their contemporary allure. ;However, this characterization of their political thought is untrue. Hume, Burke, and Oakeshott develop their skeptical critiques of "rationalism" and their positive arguments about political deliberation, statecraft, and constitutions in reference to philosophical understandings of the human condition. ;Interpreting Hume as a "skeptical-empiricist," Burke as a "skeptical-romantic," and Oakeshott as a "skeptical-idealist" demonstrates that the ideas they developed in response the ideas, events, and circumstances of their respective times are products of philosophical reflection rather than mere statements of prejudice or disposition. It also raises new questions about why a philosopher would turn to skepticism at all when he wishes to say something about politics. This dissertation explores these questions and themes.
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