Reason and Political Economy in Hume


  • Erik W. Matson New York University, United States



This paper examines some connections between Hume’s epistemology in his Treatise of Human Nature and his political economy. I make three claims: (1) First, I argue that it is the development of Hume’s account of the faculty of reason in Book I of the Treatise that leads him to emphasize social science—including political economy—and the humanities over more abstract modes of intellectual inquiry. (2) Second, I argue that Hume’s conception of reason has implications for his methodology in political economy. His perception of human reason leads him to deploy a method of qualified generalization that emphasizes the by-and-large nature of theoretical statements. (3) Third, when it comes to policy matters, the method of qualified generalization in theory cashes out in terms of practical maxims. I suggest that two central maxims in Hume’s political economy derive from his views of the usefulness of economic liberty and the coordinating nature of the status quo.

Author Biography

Erik W. Matson, New York University, United States

Erik W. Matson is a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University, Department of Economics. He studies the history and philosophy of economic thought, focusing on David Hume and Adam Smith. Some of his recent work has been published in History of European Ideas, The Adam Smith Review, and the Journal of Scottish Philosophy.




How to Cite

Matson, E. W. (2019). Reason and Political Economy in Hume. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 12(1), 26–51.