Dissertation > Political, legal > Political Theory > History of Political Science,History of Political Thought > World History of Political Thought

Hume's Empirical Political Thought

Author GaoGuoSheng
Tutor FangLei
School Shandong University
Course Political Theory
Keywords Hume the Enlightenments experimentalism political language artificialvirtues justice
CLC D091
Type PhD thesis
Year 2013
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The dissertation follows the methodology of “Cambridge School”, concentrateson how adequately understanding Hume, how historically treating notions that we arefamiliar with. We can understand these ideas and spread concepts which are useful tous, through returning back to “The Enlightenment”, by this way, we can participatein。We understand social transformation through reviewing what the western realmof thought had supplied and how they had reaction in their transformation.The object of the dissertation is Hume’s political thought. In Hume’s view,politics is a experimental science, its object and scope are analogical to the naturalscience. Hence, this dissertation studies Hume’s political thought in term of“experimentalism”. Hume’s experimentalism directly under the influence of Newton’sempirical approach, his method of researching politic is an imitation of it on this sense.According to Hume, Experimentalism not only is the fundamental methodology, butalso the mode and style of treating and thinking political phenomenon. From the scopeof experimentalism, we can generalize the characteristics of his political thought.Therefore, the dissertation takes Hume’s political thought and his experimentalskepticism as a whole.In this dissertation, the author argues it is necessary to recognize two majordifferences in fully understanding Hume’s status. The first difference is the body of hispolitical thought, that is, the difference between the special moral attitude thatdetermines Hume’s thought and classic moral attitude, together with the christen one.The second difference is the moral attitude embodied in Hume’s political thought isindependent from principles of modern sciences, and in this sense it is pre-science.Meanwhile, empirical methodology advocated by Hume just belongs to the moderntimes. These two major immanent contradictions are the foundation of ambiguous inHume’s political thoughts.In chapter Ⅰ, the author examines the social and historical background of theBritain in18thcentury, especially focus on Hume’s quite complex knowledgebackground. The social and historical background in which Hume lived, mainly is theprofound social changes which England and Scotland had suffered since the GloriousRevolution of1688, which in turn constitutes the key to understanding the political discourse of the Hume era. In Hume era there are most major three political discourses:the first one is the gentleman conversation order which was pioneered by Shaftesbury,Defoe and Whigs’ writers in various clubs, aiming at defending the GloriousRevolution and the Hanover ruled regime; the second one is the Protestant natural lawtheory developed in one hundred years after Grotius; the third one is the republicantradition. Meanwhile, we can find Hume and the French philosophes shared the sameNewton’s Mechanical Model and method of experiments. They all try to expand the“natural philosophy” rising in England to analyze human conditions, aiming to use thenew theory which was based on empirical research and had utility for human lifeinstead of metaphysics. In this process of the intellectual extension, Hume insists on thelimits of his experimental method, it can not inquiry the essence of nature and humanmind, and must be limited in the sphere of experience and observable things. Throughthese analyses, the reasons of tension in Hume’s thought are apparent.In chapter Ⅱ, the author expounds the empirical epistemology on which Hume’spolitical thought is based. His empiricism epistemology and methodology directlyinfluenced by the Newton’s experimental methods. The impacts of the expansion of theNewtonians to the moral and political spheres are complicated. Hume is the one of thepioneers of the “social science”, he expected to understand the empirical world, and hiscareer is to establish a science of human nature by imitating Newton. Throughanalyzing Bacon and Newton’s concept of “experience”, the author presents the notionof “experience” in Hume’s empiricism is not in sense of “natural philosophy”. Besides,Hume thought the rhetoric has a critical influence on philosophical writing, his style ofwriting services on the purpose and methodology of his philosophy, and it alsocontributed to the transformation of them.In chapter Ⅲ, the author accounts for moral doctrines in Hume’s empiricalpolitical thoughts. Hume’s political philosophy attempts to provide logically coherentand detailed answers to the problems of moral life, which are also the problem of socialorder. Although this attempt is not only belongs to him, Hume seems to have lessshackles of tradition than their predecessors in many aspects, but actually morecontradictions and tangled than these of them.In the dissertation, the author argues that the “sympathy” and “taste” are the twocore concepts of Hume’s moral doctrine. From the concept of “taste”, we canunderstand his analysis of the problem of moral objectivity. Hume had an unique contribution to moral philosophy which is his dividing virtues into “artificial” ones and“natural” ones. The problem of the motivation is the basis of understanding Hume’s“moral sense” theory and the his analysis of virtue, it is motivation differences thatconstitute a fundamental criterion to distinguish artificial virtues and nat ural ones. Theconsequence of doing so is that he denied that justice is a natural virtue.In the framework of the division of artificial and natural virtues, the necessities tomaintain society or utility become the sole source of them. On this basis, Hume furtherestablished the four standards of distinguishing nature of the soul as good or evil. Dueto the correcting function of the “taste”, his theory avoids to be considered as the moralsubjectivism.In chapter Ⅳ, the author analyzes Hume’s theory of justice in his empiricalpolitical thoughts. As an artificial virtue, the justice does not have natural motivations;they are outcomes of several causes including rational self-interest, the sense of honor,habits, civil law, and government. Thus the realization of justice will inevitably requiresome conditions. Justice conditions include both subjective and objective, the objectiveconditions are moderate scarcity of resources and products, and subjective conditionsare rational selfish, the limited generosity as well as equality both in physical andintellectual capability between people. Without these conditions justice exterminates.Conditions of justice are in human society, the need for rules to regulate behavior andallocation of the results of the cooperation. Classical and theological goals have beenexcluded out, the moral and legal rules can not be derived and proved fromfundamental goods, so that justice rules itself became core concepts in Hume’s justicetheory.In chapter Ⅴ, the author analyzes the theory of government in the Hume’sempirical political thought. Hume’s unique views on the origin, form, and politicalauthority of the government, are the critical points of understanding the basiccharacteristics of Hume’s empirical political science and his responds to therepublicanism thought. On the other hand, He reshapes the argumentation of the naturallaw theory. His sole contribution is the criticism of “the hypothesis of compliance withthe promise”, as the base of the “original contract”, which is core of the contract theory.He believes that motivation to comply with the promise is also the artificial rather thanthe natural, His demonstration of its motivation here is similar to his analysis of thejustice motivation. Hume rejects of the "Whigs" original contract theory and the consent doctrine, hebelieves that the foundation of the government is that the people’s perceptions andbeliefs that the government have ability to guarantee the implementation of the justicerules, and to protect and promote the public interest. He thinks that the government’sauthority is established on the basis of the public’s beliefs about the interests and rights,so the people can feel that they have obligations of obedience and allegiance. Theseefforts are intended to remind people to guard against the growing political factionsbased on superstition and enthusiasm, and to maintain the stability of the Britishconstitutional system.The way of Hume defending the Glorious Revolution and the Hanover regime isusing the gentleman conversation order created by Shaftesbury, Defoe and various clubWhigs writers. Because his suspicion of rationality, Hume gives the imagination anddesire to an important position, and emphasizes the role of the customs and habits ofshaping them. He destroys the epistemological basis of the right language which peoplewell knew at that time. He hopes to use the polite language to recast the mode ofdiscussions about political obligation, and to use the limited resistance theory toboycott the superstition and enthusiasm threaten the stability of political authority.The dissertation presupposes that the empirical political thoughts contained inDavid Hume’s complete works keep the thoroughly consistent, though whollyunsystematic. The chapter Ⅵ shows the significances of Hume’s empirical politicalthoughts separately from the historical, theoretical and practical perspectives. Thehistorical significances consist in Hume’s arguments for Hanoverian Regime appearedafter the Glorious Revolution and his debates about the “Robinocracy” by means ofpolitical writing through which he inherited and improved the three kinds of politicallanguages which were universally accepted at that time. The theoretical significancesconsist in his historical perspective in political thinking, in his response to “the debatesof Ancients and Moderns” which occurred during the process of market society, in hismethodology of empiricism and its secular characteristic. The practical significancesconsist in his first differentiation between Is and Ought which inaugurated a newmethod of political research, and in his improvement in morality and politicalphilosophy as the Classical and Theological tradition had already lapsed during thetransformation of society.Overall, somewhat ambiguous about Hume lies in that he investigated humanscience with the alleged experimental methods, but appeared as a man attaching importance to the flavor in life rather a apathetic intellectual. The English i deology haslargely been shaped by the rigid rationalist individualism philosophers such as FrancisBacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Isaac Newton since seventeenth century. As aScottish, Hume tells us that such mythology is far away from the historical facts.

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