Hume's nuanced defense of luxury

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13 Citations (Scopus)


The significance of Hume's positive attitude towards luxury might have been overemphasized by his commentators. In fact, arguments in favor of "moderate" luxury had already been entertained before the emergence of Hume's position. Therefore to argue that Hume's argument entailed the defense of moderate luxury is not to identify in it anything particularly unique. Thus, the first aim of this paper is to clarify the nature of Hume's contribution to the ongoing luxury debates. This does not consist merely of an assertion of the compatibility of moral virtue with the enjoyment of luxury, but lies rather in Hume's emphasis on two aspects of the beneficial interaction between morality and luxury. First, the historical process of the introduction of luxury is regarded by Hume as fostering new morals peculiar to the commercial age; and secondly, the enjoyment of luxury is seen as a condition favorable to the maintenance of morals. The second aim of this paper is to shed some new light on an aspect of Hume's thought that, so far, has been relatively neglected, namely, his distinction between "innocent" and "vicious" forms of luxury, as well as his acknowledgement of the possibility of the emergence of the latter, as well as the former, in the modern commercial world. However, this does not necessarily lead us to a more pessimistic interpretation of Hume's view of luxury than those accepted thus far; only to the awareness of how difficult and delicate, in Hume's view, is the maintenance of the balance between the interlinked concepts of industry, knowledge, and humanity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-186
Number of pages20
JournalHume Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006 Apr
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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