Hume's Treatise and Hobbes's the Elements of Law

Journal of the History of Ideas 46 (1):51 (1985)
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Abstract

The central thesis of this paper is that the scope and structure of Hume's Treatise of Human Nature is modelled, or planned, after that of Hobbes's The Elements of Law and that in this respect there exists an important and unique relationship between these works. This relationship is of some importance for at least two reasons. First, it is indicative of the fundamental similarity between Hobbes's and Hume's project of the study of man. Second, and what is more important, by recognizing this relationship between Hume's and Hobbes's works we can come to appreciate the unity of the project of the Treatise itself. My discussion will proceed in three stages. In section I present the evidence for my central thesis. In the second section I shall consider why Hume does not, as one might expect, acknowledge this important debt to Hobbes in the Introduction to the Treatise or in the Abstract. Finally, in the third section I shall note a few points of some importance to the understanding of Hume's philosophy which this relationship between Hobbes's and Hume's work touches upon.

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Paul Russell
Lund University

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