"The picture of Hume clinging timidly to a raft of custom and artiface, because, poor skeptic, he has no alternative, is wrong", writes John Steward. "Hume was confident that by experience and reflection philosophers can achieve true principles". In this work Stewart surveys all of David Hume's major writings to reveal him as a liberal moral and political philosopher. Against the background of 17th and 18th century history and thought, Hume emerges as a proponent not of conservatism but of reform. Stewart first presents the dilemma over morals in the modern natural-law school, then examines the new approach to moral and political philosophy adopted by Hume's precursors Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Hutcheson, and Butler. Illuminating Hume's explanation of the standards and rules that should govern private and public life, the author challenges interpretations of Hume's philosophy as conservative by demonstrating that he did not dismiss reason as a key factor determining right and wrong in moral and political contexts.
Steward goes on to show that Hume viewed private property, the market, contracts and the rule of law as essential to genuine civilized society, and explores Hume's criticism of contemporary British beliefs concerning government, religion, commerce, international relations and social structure.