Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Eric E. Wilson

Second Advisor

Andrew Altman

Third Advisor

Christie Hartley


In this thesis, I argue that David Hume’s political philosophy is centrally focused on the prospect of social reform. The conception of justice and politics he develops out of his theories of virtue and moral psychology stresses the pervasive effects of institutions on individuals’ abilities to live decent lives and provides criteria for determining the relative success of such institutions. While Hume’s political philosophy has been interpreted as justifying a society’s status quo, I demonstrate that the principles of merit, need, and equality—commonly considered core principles of social justice—each play a vital role in his view of what constitutes a healthy, stable society. In particular, I contend that Hume’s emphasis on institutions guaranteeing equal protection of basic rights, the role of the common good in the moral justification of political institutions, and the material and social circumstances of equality that make the institution of justice possible, suggest that social reform is a central concern of his theory of justice and politics.