Hume on Pride, Vanity and Society

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 18 (2):157-173 (2020)
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Pride is a fundamental element in Hume's description of human nature. An important part of the secondary literature on Hume is devoted to this passion. However, no one, as far as I am aware, takes seriously the fact that pride often appears in pairs with vanity. In Book 2 of the Treatise, pride is defined as the passion one feels when society recognizes his connection to a ‘cause’, composed by a ‘subject’ and a ‘quality’. Conversely, no definition of vanity is provided. Despite Hume's fluctuating vocabulary, I hold that a conceptual difference between pride and vanity exists. To support this claim, I analyse the common features of these two passions, showing that both pride and vanity are indirect passions, are self-regarding passions, and have the same structure. Supported by textual evidence, I then claim that vanity is a desire of reputation, a desire to feel pride, when pride is not in place, because its cause is only imaginary and not real. Nonetheless, I underscore that, at times, ‘vanity’ means simply pride and call for greater attention on this ongoing oscillation. In conclusion, I explore the implications of this account of vanity for social interactions in Hume's philosophy, which illustrates its intrinsic ambivalence.

Author's Profile

Enrico Galvagni
University of St. Andrews


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