Dissertation

Title:  “Toward a Sentimental Civic Liberalism:  David Hume and the Virtues – Rational, Social and Political” (Indiana University, Dept. of Political Science: 2004)

Dissertation Committee:    Profs. Russ Hanson (chair), Jeffrey C. Isaac, Aurelian Craiutu, and Karen Hanson (philosophy department).

Abstract:  My dissertation explores David Hume’s conception of moral virtue and how it relates to his understanding of citizenship.  While Hume has long been recognized as an important voice in debates over the institutional and economic prerequisites of freedom, I argue that his concern for freedom is actually grounded in his understanding of virtue, or moral personality. Understood correctly, I believe Hume offers us a unique kind of liberal theory, which I deem a “sentimental civic liberalism” because it dissents from the rationalism at the heart of predominant forms of liberalism.  Instead of understanding freedom as compliance with Reason or the dictates of natural law, Hume promotes a vision of the virtuous citizen as one who - free from fear and credulity - is animated by sentiments of human sociability to engage in practical moral (and political) reasoning.

“Virtue” and “citizen character” have once again become central topics in political theory, especially in debates between civic republicans and liberals.  Hume’s thinking on these matters can inform this contemporary discussion and, if fully appreciated, would advance the liberal position in interesting ways.  A Humean citizen eschews both the “heroic” rationalism recommended by many forms of liberalism and the heroic participatory ethos recommended by civic republicans.  Preferring the everyday life of human society to any such heroic ideals, the sentimental civic liberal is more tolerant and sociable - embracing politics in all of its ordinariness.

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