The Skeptical Life in Hume's Political Thought

Polity 33 (1):77-99 (2000)

Steven J. Wulf
Lawrence University
David Hume's political thought is shaped by an expansively conceived skepticism. For Hume, "mitigated skepticism" is a way of life rather than a mere philosophical conclusion. It entails not only philosophical doubt, but also a variety of practical, methodological, ethical, and political commitments. Skeptics acquire these commitments by living a life devoted to philosophy, reading, learned conversation, and ordinary business in a modern society. They in turn may profoundly influence political practice in their societies, though in severely restricted ways. Hume's mitigated skeptics may discover practical political maxims, but they will be loath to act on them. They will tell politicians what to do, but only in order to diminish political conflict. And they will prefer to live in liberal commercial republics, while only defending them obliquely. Despite these limitations, however, Hume thinks mitigated skepticism holds an important place in modern moral and political life.
Keywords Hume  Skepticism  Liberalism  Conservatism  Moderation  Commerce  Modernity
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