a1 University of Western Ontario
David Hume, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are often viewed as contributors to or participants in a common tradition of thought roughly characterized as ‘the liberal tradition’ or the tradition of ‘bourgeois ideology’. This view, however useful it may be for polemical or proselytizing purposes, is in some important respects historiographically unsound. This is not to deny the importance of asking what twentieth-century liberals or conservatives might find in the works of, say, David Hume to support their respective ideological persuasions. It is only to insist that attempts to use selected arguments, or parts of arguments, from great eighteenth-century thinkers to shore up twentieth-century programmatic political positions must be categorically distinguished from attempts to understand what Hume, Smith, Bentham or Mill actually meant, or could imaginably have meant, to say.