Reading Group 25th January

The reading group kicked off with two Hume texts, “Of Commerce” and “Of Refinement in the Arts”, both taken from Political Discourses, and both sketching Hume’s political and economic theories.

“Of Commerce” hinges on discussions of trade, property rights and the value of labour. For Hume, the majority of workers are involved in manufacturing or agriculture, and as a society develops more sophisticated agricultural tools the land is also able to support non-agricultural workers, subsequently more workers are able to divert their labour towards non-agricultural work such as producing luxury goods (OC 256-60). Such an increase in industry, trade and the arts leads to a stronger state and happier people; a line of enquiry which is taken further in “Of Refinment…” where Hume links industry, knowledge and humanity in his discussion of international trade.

Discussions in the reading group focused on Hume’s recognition of the value of labour, and the importance of free trade. We also discussed the role of the mercantile class who would oversee international trade; a group Hume felt held the secret of trade. We also dissected assertions made by Hume on consuming luxury and its relation to the increase in state power and general wealth. By way of conclusion we attempted to tease out the links to later writers and scholars, in addition to trying to frame Hume’s economic subject.

I won’t go into much depth in explaining or analysing the pieces because I’d like to use this report to invite you to explore them at your pleasure. References for each text can be found in the reading group list here:

Next Wednesday we shall be talking about “Of Money” and “Of Interest”. If this sounds like your thing pop along to Room G82, Bennett Link Building at 12.30.

One thought on “Reading Group 25th January

  1. Thanks Ken. I thought it was a great start to this term’s reading group – but I was genuinely surprised at some of what you find even in these initial readings. For me, the way in which Hume discusses the rise of merchant wealth to rival the aristocracy and how best to extract surplus from workers in the public interest was unexpected and gives a clear moral dimension to his advocacy of free trade. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes in future pieces.

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