Hume on the Artificial Virtues

In the Treatise, Hume offers a detailed account of what he calls the artificial virtues: of justice, of fidelity to promises, and of allegiance to political authority, among others. According to virtually everyone, Hume’s discussion of these artificial virtues—and especially of the conventions on which he argues they depend—is inspired, rich, and subtle. At the same time, also according to virtually everyone, Hume’s discussion is deeply puzzling. Indeed, many have thought the puzzles so deep as to render Hume’s position internally inconsistent (or, if not, at least disingenuous). Puzzling though Hume’s discussion is, this chapter argues that Hume’s account of the artificial virtues is not just consistent (and sincere) but plausible and attractive.

Subject Area: 
Paul Russell
Published in: The Oxford Handbook of Hume