Working Out the Details of Hume and Smith on Sympathy

JOHN MCHUGH

JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

Abstract: Many scholars have had interesting things to say about the relationship between Adam Smith’s and David Hume’s theories of sympathy. The diversity of angles taken in these discussions demonstrates how fertile a topic of investigation this relationship is. This paper takes as its point of entry Hume’s criticism of Smith’s theory. Focusing on Hume’s claim that Smith’s theory describes a phenomenon that only occurs among friends, I argue that the disagreement between them is more about the importance than about the existence of what Smith calls the “pleasure of mutual sympathy.” I conclude that this difference in emphasis might suggest a fundamental difference not just in how they conceive of human sociality but also in the motivations and influences behind their work.