A Philosopher's EconomistHume and the Rise of Capitalism

A Philosopher's EconomistHume and the Rise of Capitalism

Margaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226597447

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


As part of his study of human nature and the “science of man,” the great Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) wrote extensively on economics. A Philosopher’s Economist is the first systematic study in English of Hume’s economics and positions it in the broader context of his philosophical thought and the European Enlightenment. It argues that economics was not a brief diversion, but rather served as a unifying thread that connects Hume’s life and writings. Hume’s probing insights into epistemology and moral agency laid the foundation for his economic analysis, and his belief that prosperity unleashed important transformations, expanding the sphere of polite society, secular mores, and religious toleration. Above all, Hume wished to promote political stability and global peace, and to that end he recognized the critical importance of understanding the rise and spread of capitalism. Nevertheless, Hume was not an unqualified enthusiast for capitalism. Military conflicts between rival commercial nations, for example, incurred an escalating public debt that destabilized the government. Hume also deplored monopolies, slavery, and colonialization, which were constitutive of the economic expansion of the Western European nations. Hume’s economics was thus forged with a keen eye to explicit and implicit power relations, and the institutions that fostered the spread of trade and commerce. This book demonstrates that Hume’s vision, as a philosopher’s economist, is comparable if not greater in depth to that of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, or John Maynard Keynes.