Hume's Sentimental Realism: the British Rationalists and the "Treatise of Human Nature"


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




David Hume is typically read as a sceptic about practical reason, and an "anti-realist" about morality: he thinks that there is no such thing as a good reason to act; and he denies that there are moral facts, as opposed to facts about our moral feelings, which make no claim to represent the world. Both readings depend on a failure to appreciate the historical context of Hume's work. By paying attention to the British rationalists he means to criticize—such (relatively) neglected figures as Samuel Clarke, John Balguy, and William Wollaston—we see that Hume is not a sceptic or an anti-realist but a commonsense moralist who insists on the role of passion and the moral sentiments as conditions of moral virtue and moral belief.