Theses Doctoral

The Making of Liberal Mythology: David Hume, Epicureanism, and the New Political Science

Zubia, Aaron Alexander

As a practical moralist and political theorist concerned with reforming a factious and religious public, Hume recommends a particular outlook that is fit for civilized society. In this dissertation, I present Hume as a contributor to the post-scholastic contest of philosophical systems, as an innovative thinker who revised the modern Epicurean outlook of Hobbes and Mandeville and challenged both the austere Christian Stoicism of Francis Hutcheson and the Platonic rationalism of Samuel Clarke. I argue that the political mentality that Hume presented as suitable for sustaining the prevailing social order constitutes one more step in the development of the modern Epicurean mentality. This mentality, moreover, is not strictly political, but incorporates metaphysical, epistemological, and moral judgments that, in light of the contest of systems, are rightly regarded as a restatement of modern Epicurean positions.
Hume, in accord with the principles of the new political science, sought to protect the gains of civilization from the vestiges of barbarism, which, for Hume, were manifested in the superstitious tribalism of religionists and political partisans. Hume replaces Christian, Whig, and Tory myths—i.e. grand narratives situating human beings as moral and political subjects—with the Epicurean myth of the progress of human society. The end of political society, from this perspective, is neither piety nor moral improvement, but prosperity, ease, and comfort, which, together, serve as the measure of progress and the reason for popular consent to the exercise of public political authority. This mentality, I argue, sheds light on the normative dimensions of Hume’s liberal political science.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2025-06-25.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Urbinati, Nadia
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 4, 2019