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Hume and the Utility of Practical Governance - Essay Example

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Hume and the Utility of Practical Governance

Central to this concept is the implicit consent of the governed, whose accession to this arrangement is assumed to be voluntary. Hume disputed this notion, however, citing, as example, that there is nothing voluntary about an individual who is too poor to leave or seek subsistence anywhere but the nation of his birth. “We may as well assert, that a man, by remaining in a vessel, freely consents to the dominion of the master; though he was carried on board while asleep, and must leap into the ocean and perish, the moment he leaves her” (Graham 2011, p. 186). Hume’s essay “Of the Original Contract” argued that ideas about government by consent and the authority of the state must have context and a basis in historical fact to be practical. Hume decried the notion of original contract as put forth by the Whigs, whom he felt offered little concrete evidence and left too much to discretion and interpretation. In his view, it amounted to an invitation to revolt at the drop of the political hat. In other words, such theorizing might encourage citizens to rise up “whenever (the people) find themselves aggrieved by that authority, with which they have, for certain purposes, voluntarily entrusted (the sovereign)” (Forbes 1975, 93). ...
n irresistibly powerful inclination to ascribe “liberal” or “conservative” leanings and associations to individuals who operate on the remotest periphery of the political sphere. Thus, it should come as no surprise that writers and historians have for centuries sought to paint Hume with a Tory or Whig brush (depending on their ideological preferences, of course). In light of the evidence, and Hume’s writings, this is a mistaken perspective. The most revealing information concerning Hume’s position on the original contract, and other political theories, came from Hume himself. “Hume provided an important clue to the proper interpretation of his political writings by referring himself as a ‘philosopher.’ As he pointed out, a philosopher looks at political problems differently than a spokesman for a political party” (Miller 1961). Miller notes – properly – that those who have studied Hume’s beliefs should have concentrated on the “general principles which underly” the seemingly ambiguous statements Hume makes concerning government (Ibid). Miller makes a compelling argument, concluding that Hume cannot be considered partisan since he wrote as a political philosopher. In this light, Hume’s position concerning the original contract is one of pragmatism and expediency. His opinions are crafted so that they address the practical needs of government as he saw them in his day. 3 In his 1742 essay “Of Civil Liberty,” Hume is critical of both Tories and Whigs in regard to their treatment of the original contract. He is opposed to extremes, to the Tories’ “tracing up government to the Deity, (endeavoring) to render it…sacred and inviolate…, ” and the Whigs’ regard of government as absolutely deriving from the consent of the people ...Show more
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Pragmatism Over Partisanship: Hume and the Utility of Practical Governance Name Class Instructor Institution Department Date 1 Pragmatism Over Partisanship: Hume and the Utility of Practical Governance David Hume’s criticism of the original contract is neither ideological nor rebellious radicalism…
Hume and the Utility of Practical Governance
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