David Hume and contemporary realism in political theory

Below is the abstract and list of references of my MA thesis in political science. The full article can be downloaded here.


Proponents of the recent movement of realism in political theory have expressed dissatisfaction with the typically Kantian and ideal theoretical assumptions that guide much political and normative theorizing. In this paper it is proposed that these realist theorists could find support for their critique of the Kantian legacy, as well as building blocks for a realist alternative, by drawing on the moral and political thought of David Hume. The paper constitutes a reading of Hume’s writings with the contemporary realist critique in mind. The result highlights four themes in Hume’s thought: (1) The empirically informed approach to normative reasoning. (2) An emphasis on that political theorizing must be conducted on the basis of a realistic political psychology. (3) The critique of social contract doctrines, a critique that is directed at idealistic and rationalistic versions of liberalism. (4) Hume’s account of human sociality and the origins of political authority. Lastly, it is suggested that the fact that Hume combines realism with liberalism makes him of additional interest to the many realists who are seeking to correct rather than reject liberal political theory and who are thus wary of finding themselves too close to Machiavelli and Hobbes, the usual realist predecessors.

Key words: realism, moralism, ideal theory, legitimacy, normativity

Length: 19 200 words


Barry, Brian (1989), Theories of Justice (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf).

Buckle, Stephen and Castiglione, Dario (1991), ‘Hume’s Critique of the Contract Theory’, History of Political Thought, 12 (3), 457-80.

Cohen, G. A. (2003), ‘Facts and Principles’, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 31 (3), 211-45.

Cohon, Rachel (2008), Hume’s Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Coventry, Angela and Sager, Alexander (2011), ‘Hume and Contemporary Political Philosophy’, Western Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting.

Curry, Oliver (2006), ‘Who’s Afraid of the Naturalistic Fallacy?’, Evolutionary Psychology, 4, 234-47.

Elster, Jon (2009), Alexis de Tocqueville: the First Social Scientist (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press).

Farrelly, Colin (2007), ‘Justice in Ideal Theory: A Refutation’, Political Studies, 55 (4), 844-64.

Formosa, Paul (2008), ”All Politics Must Bend Its Knee Before Right’: Kant on the Relation of Morals to Politics’, Social Theory and Practice, 34 (2), 157-81.

Frazer, Michael L. (2009), ‘Review of J. G. A. Pocock’s ‘Political Thought and History: Essays on Theory and Method”, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. <http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/24213-political-thought-and-history-essays-on-theory-and-method/>, accessed 2011.11.04.

Frazer, Michael L. (2010), The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press).

Fukuyama, Francis (2011), The Origins of Political Order (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Galston, William A. (2004), ‘On the Rapproachment between Political Philosophy and Empirical Inquiry: A Comment on Rogers Smith’, in Edward D. Mansfield and Richard Sisson (eds.), The Evolution of Political Knowledge: Theory and Inquiry in American Politics (Columbus: Ohio State University Press).

Galston, William A. (2009), ‘Moral Pluralism and Liberal Democracy: Isaiah Berlin’s Heterodox Liberalism’, Review of Politics, 71 (1), 85-99.

Galston, William A. (2010), ‘Realism in Political Theory’, European Journal of Political Theory, 9 (4), 385-411.

Geuss, Raymond (2008), Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Greco, Lorenzo (2007), ‘Humean Reflections in the Ethics of Bernard Williams’, Utilitas, 19 (03), 312-25.

Gunnell, John G. (1982), ‘Interpretation and the History of Political Thought: Apology and Epistemology’, The American Political Science Review, 76 (2), 317-27.

Haakonssen, Knud (1993), ‘The Structure of Hume’s Political Theory’, in David Fate Norton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to David Hume (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Hampshire, Stuart (1991), ‘Nationalism’, in Edna Ullman-Margalit and Avishai Margalit (eds.), Isaiah Berlin: A Celebration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Hardin, Russell (2007), David Hume: Moral & Political Theorist (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Hendrix, Burke A. (2010), ‘Political Theorists as Dangerous Social Actors’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 1-21.

Honig, Bonnie and Stears, Marc (2011), ‘The New Realism: from Modus Vivendi to Justice’, in Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears (eds.), Political Philosophy versus History? Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 177-205.

Horton, John (1992), Political Obligation (London: Macmillan).

Horton, John (2010), ‘Realism, liberal moralism and a political theory of modus vivendi’, European Journal of Political Theory, 9 (4), 431-48.

Hume, David (1983a), The History of England. Volume I (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund).

Hume, David (1983b), The History of England. Volume VI (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund).

Hume, David (1987), Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics).

Hume, David (1998), An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (The Clarendon Edition; Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Hume, David (2007), A Treatise of Human Nature (The Clarendon Edition; Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Hume, David (2011), The Letters of David Hume Volume I: 1727-1765, ed. J.Y.T. Greig (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Kant, Immanuel (1991), Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Keene, Edward (2005), International Political Thought (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Lessnoff, Michael (1990), Social Contract Theory (New York: New York University Press).

Locke, John (2002), The Second Treatise of Government: and A Letter Concerning Toleration (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications).

Machiavelli, Niccolo (1998), Discourses on Livy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press).

MacIntyre, A. C. (1959), ‘Hume on ”Is” and ”Ought”‘, The Philosophical Review, 68 (4), 451-68.

Mackie, John (1980), Hume’s Moral Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).

Miller, David and Dagger, Richard (2003), ‘Utilitarianism and Beyond: Contemporary Analytical Political Theory’, in Terence Ball and Richard Bellamy (eds.), The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Newey, Glen (2010), ‘Two Dogmas of Liberalism’, European Journal of Political Theory, 9 (4), 449-65.

North, Richard (2010), ‘Political realism: Introduction’, European Journal of Political Theory, 9 (4), 381-84.

Pasquino, Pasquale (1996), ‘Political Theory, Order, and Threat’, in Russell Hardin and Ian Shapiro (eds.), Political Order (Nomos; New York: New York University Press).

Peter, Fabienne (2010), ‘Political Legitimacy’, in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition).

Philp, Mark (2007) Political Conduct (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Philp, Mark (2008), ‘Political Theory and History’, in Marc Stears and David Leopold (eds.), Political Theory: Methods and Approaches (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Philp, Mark (2010), ‘What is to be done? Political theory and political realism’, European Journal of Political Theory, 9 (4), 466-84.

Pocock, J. G. A. (1975), The Machiavellian Moment. Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Pocock, J. G. A. (2009), Political Thought and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Raphael, D. D. (1974), ‘Hume’s Critique of Ethical Rationalism’, in William B. Todd (ed.), Hume and the Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 14-29.

Rawls, John (2005), A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press Harvard University Press).

Rawls, John (2007), Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).

Riley, Patrick (1973), ‘On Kant as the Most Adequate of the Social Contract Theorists’, Political Theory, 1 (4), 450-71.

Rossi, Enzo (2010), ‘Review: Reality and Imagination in Political Theory and Practice: On Raymond Geuss’ realism’, European Journal of Political Theory, 9 (4), 504-12.

Sabl, Andrew (2002), ‘When Bad Things Happen from Good People (and Vice-Versa): Hume’s Political Ethics of Revolution’, Polity, 35 (1), 73-92.

Sabl, Andrew (2009), ‘The Last Artificial Virtue. Hume on Toleration and Its Lessons’, Political Theory, 37 (4), 511-38.

Sabl, Andrew (2011), ‘History and Reality: Idealist Pathologies and ‘Harvard School’ Remedies’, in Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears (eds.), Political Philosophy versus History? Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 151-76.

Sleat, Matt (2007), ‘Making Sense of our Political Lives – On the Political Thought of Bernard Williams’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 10 (3), 389-98.

Sleat, Matt (2010), ‘Bernard Williams and the Possibility of a Realist Political Theory’, European Journal of Political Theory, 9 (4), 485-503.

Sleat, Matt (2011), ‘Liberal Realism: A Liberal Response to the Realist Critique’, The Review of Politics, 73 (03), 469-96.

Smith, Adam (1982), Lectures on Jurisprudence (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund).

Stears, Marc (2007), ‘Liberalism and the Politics of Compulsion’, British Journal of Political Science, 37 (03), 533-53.

Stewart, John B. (1963), The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume (New York & London: Columbia University Press).

Werner, John M. (1991), ‘David Hume and America’, in Donald W. Livingston and Marie Martin (eds.), Hume as Philosopher of Society, Politics, and History (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press).

Whelan, Frederick G. (2004), Hume and Machiavelli: Political Realism and Liberal Thought (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books).

Whelan, Frederick G. (2009), Enlightenment Political Thought and Non-Western Societies (New York: Taylor & Francis).

Williams, Bernard (2005), In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press).

Williams, Bernard (2011), Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (London & New York: Routledge Classics).

Wolff, Jonathan (2006), An Introduction to Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Wootton, David (1993), ‘David Hume, ‘the historian”, in David Fate Norton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hume (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 281-312.


Fyll i dina uppgifter nedan eller klicka på en ikon för att logga in:


Du kommenterar med ditt WordPress.com-konto. Logga ut /  Ändra )


Du kommenterar med ditt Facebook-konto. Logga ut /  Ändra )

Ansluter till %s