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Hume's Sceptical Enlightenment

Ryu Susato

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A systematic reinterpretation of Hume's social and political thought as an Enlightenment thinker

The Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711–1776) has often been regarded as a key Enlightenment thinker. However, his image has been long contested between those who consider him a conservative and those who see him as a key liberal thinker. Hume's Sceptical Enlightenment offers a new interpretation for such diverse images and demonstrates the uniqueness of Hume as an Enlightenment thinker, illustrating how his 'spirit of scepticism' often leads him into seemingly paradoxical positions. This book will be of interest to Hume scholars, intellectual historians of 17th- to 19th-century Europe and those interested in the Enlightenment more widely.


List of abbreviations and conventions
1. Introduction
2. ‘The empire of the imagination’: The association of ideas in Hume’s social philosophy
3. ‘What is Established?’: Hume’s Social Philosophy of Opinion 4. ‘Refinement’ and ‘Vicious Luxury’: Hume’s Nuanced Defence of Luxury
5. Taming ‘the tyranny of priests’: Hume’s advocacy of religious establishments
6. ‘To refine the democracy’: Hume’s perfect commonwealth as a development of his political science
7. Human society ‘in perpetual flux’: Hume’s pendulum theory of civilisation
8.‘The Prince of Sceptics’ and ‘The Prince of Historians’: Hume’s Influence and Image in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain

About the Author

Ryu Susato is Professor of Intellectual History at Kansai University (Osaka, Japan). He graduated from Waseda University and received his PhD from Keio University. He has published several articles in the Journal of the History of Ideas, Hume Studies and Modern Intellectual History. He is also a joint-translator of the Japanese edition of the Stuart volumes of Hume’s History of England (forthcoming).


A generation ago, Duncan Forbes lamented the "terrible campaign country" confronted by those seeking the "essential continuity of Hume’s thought". Ryu Susato takes on that challenge. His nuanced account of Hume’s social and political writings—including the History of England—finds continuity in what he aptly defines as Hume’s Sceptical Enlightenment.

- Mark G. Spencer, Brock University

Susato provides a great deal of compelling philosophical analysis, attention to historical context and careful textual exegesis. He makes judicious contributions to a number of interpretive debates in the secondary literature. Most readers will learn from his discussion of the connection between associationism and Epicureanism in the 18th century and from how Hume's treatment of opinion draws on and differs from that of his predecessors and contemporaries. Susato's navigation of Hume's pro-luxury and anti-religious stances (especially compared to Voltaire's views) is compelling and his subtle reading of the 'Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth' illuminates a notoriously difficult text… It is a worthy addition to the scholarship on Hume's social and political philosophy.

- Angela Coventry and Alex Sager, Portland State University, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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