Hume’s Conservative Sentimentalism

Michael L. Frazer

in The Enlightenment of Sympathy

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780195390667
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199866687 | DOI:
Hume’s Conservative Sentimentalism

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Since reflective sentimentalism begins from the social-psychological forces which are responsible for our accepting the norms and standards that we do, one might reasonably worry that sentimentalism can never successfully criticize existing institutions or practices, that it may be too complacent or conservative. Hume himself was sometimes unduly complacent toward existing standards and practices—although he was also sometimes an adamant advocate of moral, political, and economic reform. Nowhere is Hume’s undue conservatism more evident than in his theory of justice, which describes justice as the virtue of obeying existing social conventions which promote the public interest. Yet this chapter argues that, far from there being a direct connection between Hume’s moral sentimentalism and his political conservatism, the two aspects of his philosophy are in fact incompatible. When sentimentalists are excessively complacent, it is simply because they have failed to subject their convictions to the test of sufficient sentimentalist reflection.

Keywords: David Hume; convention; artificial virtue; John Rawls; justice; conservatism; utilitarianism; sensible knave; sympathy; humanity

Chapter.  11919 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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